In the years before the Civil War, music had become a regular part of daily life. Schools to teach singing and instrument playing were opening up around the country. Band concerts were popular and held in cities, both large and small. Piano sales increased, with spinets showing up in parlors of well-to-do citizens. Sheet music was also selling at a record rate.
Music during the Civil War era was much like music today. It entertained, brought pleasure and comfort and was integral in all parts of life. In fact music was so important during the Civil War that most regiments, both North and South, had their own bands that accompanied them into battle.
So what tunes were our ancestor’s humming around the campfire or singing as they were marching on to yet another battle?
Our Confederate ancestors were singing Dixie or Dixieland, of course. Considered the South’s National Anthem, after it was played at Jefferson Davis’ inaugural ball, Dixie spoke of love of southern heritage and pride in the land of birth, as verse two states:
I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!
In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand
to live and die in Dixie.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie1
In fact it’s been recorded that after Robert E. Lee surrendered, Abraham Lincoln, on one of the last days of his life, asked a Northern band to play “Dixie” saying it had always been one of his favorite tunes. No one could miss the meaning of this gesture of reconciliation, expressed by music.2
A close second to Dixie as a southern favorite was Bonnie Blue Flag. In fact the lyrics of Bonnie Blue Flag gives us a look into the meaning of the Confederacy for those serving. A band of brothers fighting for home, loyal, seeking independence from the North’s dominance and influence.
We are a band of brothers
And native to the soil,
Fighting for the property
We gained by honest toil;
And when our rights were threatened,
The cry rose near and far--
“Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag
That bears a single star”3
A marching favorite was Goober Peas. Light and fun to sing Goober Peas helped a soldier forget sore, aching feet and the heat and dust of marching. One of the verses:
Just before the battle, the General hears a row
He says ‘The Yanks are coming, I hear their rifles now.’
He looks down the roadway and what d’you think he sees?
The Georgia Militia cracking goober peas.
Peas, peas, peas, peas
Eating goober peas
Goodness how delicious
Eating goober peas4
Northern soldiers had their favorite tunes as well. Songs like Battle Hymn of the Republic, We Are Coming Father Abraham, and of course this one:
When Johnny comes marching home again,
We'll give him a hearty welcome then,
The men will cheer, the boys will shout,
The ladies they will all turn out,
And we'll all feel gay
When Johnny comes marching home.5
Around the campfire our weary soldiers, both Northerners and Southerners, sang Home Sweet Home. In the late evening when soldiers would write home to their sweethearts, wives or mothers, the regimental band would play. Home-sick for loved ones our soldier would sing these words:
Mid pleasures and palaces though I may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home;
A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek thro’ the world, is ne’er me with elsewhere
Home! Home! Sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home,
There’s no place like home6
Whether marching, fighting or at the end of their day, music was a part of our Civil War ancestor’s life. Songs produced feelings of loyalty and unity, they provided motivation to fight and sacrifice for freedom and like today makes us a bit happier.
As you document your Civil War ancestor’s story you might include a couple of these songs in your narrative. He was sure to have hummed along and the words will add another insight into the life he lived as a Civil War soldier.
Wikipedia contributors. "Dixie" Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Sep. 2017. Web. 12 Oct. 2017 ↩
Music of the 1860's." Civil War Trust. Civil War Trust, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2017. ↩
Harry McCarthy. “Civil War Lyrics Bonnie Blue Flag by Harry McCarthy | Civil War Music.” Civil War Trails in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina. A.E. Blackmar, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2017 ↩
Pinder, A. "AmericanCivilWar.com." Goober Peas Song Lyrics Confederate Civil War Song. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2017. . ↩
Gilmore, P.S. “Songs for Our Times.” When Johhny Comes Marching Home - Songs for Our Times- Classroom Activity | Teacher Resources - Library of Congress. N. p.. n.d. Web 12 Oct. 2017. . ↩
Payne, John Howard. “Home Sweet Home” In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 12 Oct 2017. ↩