Today in History:

Music of the Civil War

Campfire Songs


All Quiet Along The Potomac Tonight J.H. Hewitt
"All Quiet on the Potomac Tonight" (1863), by John H. Hewitt, was immensely popular during the Civil War. During the early days of the war, a common newspaper announcement was "All quiet along the Potomac." Although the sound of conflict was silenced by nightfall, music could often be heard after dark as military bands played, sometimes with units of the North and the South echoing favorite melodies directly across a river or stream from each other. The cornet used on the recording was owned by William A. Brown, Company D, 7th Maine Infantry; he was a professional musician who played cornet from August 1861 until March 1865, when he became terminally ill.

Glendy Burk S. Foster
"The Glendy Burk" is an upbeat levee song of his later years, written in 1860. The boat was an actual steamboat built in 1851 that worked the Mississippi out of New Orleans. The narrator has decided to return to the carefree life as a dockworker in New Orleans, since he finds the work in the Midwest too hard. The original title page featured an approaching steamboat and the narrator waiting on a dock with a bundle tied to a stick.
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Goober Peas P. Nutt
"Goober Peas' was a favorite song of the Confederate soldiers. Clearly the soldiers' meager rations were gladly supplemented with goober peas, that is, Georgia peanuts. The source of the song is uncertain, since the composer, as shown in the earliest know printed edition of the song (1866), was clearly not "P.Nutt" himself.

Hard Times Come Again No More S. Foster
"Hard Times Come Again No More" was based upon a spiritual that Stephen Foster heard as a child. Stephen Foster's brother, Morrison, described in detail the origins of this song in his biography of Stephen:

When Stephen was a child, my father had a mulatto bound girl named Olivia Pise, the illegitimate daughter of a West Indian Frenchman, who taught dancing to the upper circles of Pittsburgh society early in the [nineteenth] century. "Lieve," as she was called, was a devout Christian and a member of a church of shouting colored people. The little boy was fond of their singing and boisterous devotions. She was permitted to often take Stephen to church with her…A number of strains heard there, and which, he said to me, were too good to be lost, have been preserved by him, short scraps of which were incorporated in two of his songs, "Hard Times Come Again No More," and "Oh, Boys, Carry Me Long." (Morrison Foster, MY BROTHER STEPHEN, Indianapolis, privately published, 1932, pp 49-50)

Home, Sweet Home H.R. Bishop
"Home Sweet Home" was likely the most popular song of the nineteenth century around the world. It was written as part of the operetta "Clari" in 1823 in a collaboration between Henry R. Bishop of England and John H. Payne of the United States. During the Civil War this was a nostalgic favorite of the soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Civil War accounts document an occasion when the opposing armies were encamped along opposite banks of the Potomac River and singing martial songs, patriotic songs, and sentimental songs. One of the armies took up the refrain of "Home, Sweet Home" and suddenly the melody rose from both sides of the Potomac --the two armies sharing a common emotion.

Some Folks S. Foster
"Some Folks" is a tongue-in-cheek toast to the carefree life. It also was printed as a piano piece under the title "Some Folks Polka."

Oh! Susanna S. Foster
"Oh! Susanna" was one of the earliest hits of the Christy Minstrels, one of the many minstrel groups that dominated the performing stage of nineteenth century America. Minstrel songs have proven to be among the most popular of all American songs. What made the minstrel groups and their songs unique was their innovative blend of Afro-American and European melodic and rhythmic influences. The musical instrumentation of minstrel performances featured the violin, the concertina or accordion, and the early banjo (minstrel banjo), which had quickly evolved from an African instrument made with a gourd into the quintessential American instrument. While the fashion of whites dressing up as blacks and performing a style of songs heard around southern plantations is frowned upon today, it did result in the popularization of many famous American folk songs such as "Turkey in the Straw," "Pop Goes the Weasel," and "Oh! Susanna."

Actually "Oh! Susanna" was first performed at Andrew's Eagle Ice Cream Saloon in Pittsburgh. Stephen Foster apparently wrote the song for informal use by a men's social group of which he and his brother Morrison were members. Whatever the early forum, the song was adopted by America's frontier people, especially the gold-hungry 49er's. Although this is one of Stephen Foster's most popular songs, Foster is remembered for many other songs, some of which are state songs-such as the state song of Kentucky, "My Old Kentucky Home." Stephen Foster is the only musician in the world for whom there is a national holiday, Stephen Foster Memorial Day, on January 13, as enacted by Congress in 1951.