The American civil war is the most studied and written about event in the history of the United States. Mostly this is because of the contradicting ideologies about the rights of the black people and whether to grant them freedom or not. The effects of the civil war were captured by the various musicians who were composing songs in this era and these songs been used by historians and general audience to further understand the effects and the tactics employed in the war. The civil war sheet music collection which was deposited at the Library of Congress contains over 2500 songs which offer a unique perspective of how the battle was fought on both sides of the conflict ("About this Collection," n.d.). However, a recurring theme and description of the war is evident in most of the songs recorded during this time which included urging people to reconcile, constitutional amendments, and heralding the union.
Looking at the song "battle cry of freedom," which was composed in 1862 by George Fredric Root it can be established that he advocates for the strengthening of the union. In one part the of the song, he indicates that "the union forever, hurrah boys, hurrah. Down with the traitors, up with the stars." By that statement, he expresses his desire to have a stronger union and to accommodate all types of people ("George Frederick Root," n.d.). The term traitor, in this case, is used to refer to the people who were against the union, but he calls upon all Americans to unite and reject the secession movement that is out to bring division and hatred. The civil war is depicted as brutal and costly in most of the songs composed during this time a message which is consistently evident all through the period of the war and posts war period. In a song "Answer to When this cruel war is over," by Schreiner & Son, Macon & Savannah (1864) which was popular in both the union and the Confederate side ("Answer to When this cruel war is over," n.d.). Soldiers express the horrors and the loneliness of war caused about people leaving they're loved once and giving up their lives to fight in an expensive and bloody war that could not produce a winner. Even after the war, the narration never changed, and the songwriters took the opportunity to express their fears and discontent of fighting another civil war. A song composed by Johnson (1889) called prisoners of war talked about the long-lasting effect of war on the soldiers and families' who's loved ones, friends and neighbors perished during the fighting ("Kathy Mattea ? The Southern Soldier Boy," n.d.).
It is important to note that music was not only used in the civil war to tell stories about the fighting but also as a form of entertainment for the soldiers. Even after the war, the song composed during the civil war era remained relevant and entertaining to the retired soldiers, and their families. Based on this fact on September 27, 1974, the United States Congress music division recreated a band of vocal music from the mid-nineteenth century in what was called the Band music from the civil war era ("About this Collection," n.d.). The sole aim of this creation was to bring together the musical scores, recordings, and entertainment which told about the rich history of the American musical past. By this creation, it shows that the music never lost it glamour or its ability to entertain the people as it told of the American conflict stories. The concerts and saxhorns that composed the all-brass bands of the 1860's remained famous throughout the nineteenth century. These bands were useful to both the north and south armies in the field of battle as well as entertainment for the retired soldiers.
"Who will care for mother now" was a song done by Thomson (1864) towards the end of the civil war and depicts a situation where the there was no winners of the war. Everyone had lost a valuable member of the family, and all that was left was pain and misery ("Who Will Care for Mother Now?" n.d.). The call for arms among the American was an ill-advised move which brought about the fruits of destruction and peril. This song is one among many that do not seek to glorify war or tell the tale of war from a perspective of any side winning; instead, it shows how the civil war brought about meaningless pains and sufferings that could have been avoided. The lyrics talk about a dying soldier who has the responsibility of taking care of his aged mother, however, he has a deadly wound which the doctor tells him that he will not survive. With sadness and a trembling voice wonders who will take care of the aging mother once he is gone ("Who Will Care for Mother Now?" n.d.). Therefore, all along, since the start to the very end, most composers understood war to be a tragic human event and no attempt was made to glorify this conflict at any time in the composition of their music.
Conclusively, sheet music collections which were made during and after the civil war had a consistent and precise message about the war. The effects, results, and reasons for fighting this war were evidently of more harm than good on both the Confederate and loyalist sides. So the tales of war are told by the composers in a manner that suggest that war should be avoided at all cost for it is an expression of human failure. This message persisted and is evident in almost all songs of this Era.
About this Collection | Band Music from the Civil War Era | Digital Collections | Library of Congress. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/collections/civil-war-band-music/about-this-collection/. Accessed 24 September 2018
Answer to When this cruel war is over. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200000730/. Accessed 24 September 2018
George Frederick Root - Battle Cry of Freedom (Rally Round The Flag) sheet music for Voice - 8notes.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.8notes.com/scores/3428.asp. Accessed 24 September 2018
Kathy Mattea ? The Southern Soldier Boy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://genius.com/Kathy-mattea-the-southern-soldier-boy-lyrics. Accessed 24 September 2018
Who Will Care for Mother Now? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/songsheets_bsvg200982/. Accessed 24 September 2018
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