Civil War music, part 2

by | Feb 28, 2018 | History

By Dan Augustine
First posted within THE DRUM & BUGLE
Voice of the Rappahannock Valley Civil War Round Table
Rappahannock Valley Civil War Round Table Newsletter
March 2018, Volume 15, Issue 3

Battlefield Deaths

600,000 Americans killed. Civilians of all ages are far more subject to sudden fatal illness than are people today. Death was a common fact of existence and was openly discussed.

“In Civil War parlor music the dying hero is often given time to say his piece, and the piece unfailingly turns out to be appropriate as a set of last words.” *Civil War Songbook

This type of music plays the sentimental strain most freely. Here now are the opening bars of, “For the Dear Old Flag I Die”.

The Home Scene

A good portion of Civil War music portrays the feelings of those who waited at home for absent sons, fathers, and husbands. These songs dramatized the fact that this was a war fought by volunteers, not by professional armies.

Home life was brightened by the occasional upbeat, optimistic song, such as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”.

There were also some comic songs that became very popular: “Grafted into the Army” depicts a mother reacting to the unfamiliar vocabulary of her son’s military situation; and Jefferson Davis’s capture in Georgia after the end of the war was mocked in “Jeff in Petticoats”.


Civil War emancipation music did not concentrate on black civil rights, or on blacks and whites living together. They were, for the most part, abolitionist anthems.

“The New Emancipation Song” was sung by the Hutchinson Family who were professional singers that worked for abolition.

“Glory, Glory! The Little Octoroon” is about biracial children being welcomed into Union Army camps. Although black and biracial children were not likely to be welcomed into army camps, the song was popular with abolitionists.

“Kingdom Coming” was done in dialect and drew its roots from minstrel show music.

“No More Auction Block For Me” is a genuinely black emancipation song. No one knows who wrote the words. The music is a traditional African Ashanti tune. Union Colonel T. W. Higginson recorded the words to this song in his book “Army Life in a Black Regiment”.

Civil War Music Today

The end of the Civil War did not mean the end of Civil War music. The Broadway musical “The Civil War” contains no less than 29 original works.

The song “Free and Green” was composed by David Kincaid. His song tells the story of the fictional Captain Taggart of the Irish Brigade and his death in battle. Some years after writing this piece, Mr. Kincaid discovered that there really was a Captain Taggart who commanded a company in the Irish Brigade’s 116th Pennsylvania regiment. The real Captain Taggart was killed at Ream’s Station, Virginia on August 25, 1864, and died in the same way as described in the song.

After President Lincoln was told of the Lee’s surrender, a band appeared on the White House lawn to serenade the President. When asked what he would like to hear, he responded by asking them to play a song the he was especially fond of. This song was a Northern minstrel song called “Dixie”.

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