Today in History:

Music of the Civil War

Sentimental Songs


Annie Laurie W. Douglas
"Annie Laurie" is one of several ballads that friends of Lincoln recalled would "mist his eyes with tears and throw him into a fit of deep melancholy." The song was published in 1838, but the original poem was written in 1685 by William Douglas of Finland, who was in love with Annie Laurie, the beautiful daughter of Sir Robert Laurie, first baronet of Maxellton. The song was immensely popular with the British troops during the Crimean War.

Aura Lea G.F. Poulton
"Aura Lea' (1861) was published in Cincinnati as a song for the minstrel stage. George Poulton, who came with his family to New York from England at the age of seven, was a composer, violinist, pianist, singer and conductor. He dedicated this composition to Campbell of Hooley and Campbell's Minstrels. The poetry by William Fosdick would prove to be less successful than the modern lyrics for the tune - Elvis Presley and Vera Matson's 1956 version was one of the best sellers of all time with the lyrics known as "Love Me Tender."
lyrics listen to song

Barbara Allen Anon.
Abraham Lincoln once said that everything he was or hoped to be he owed to his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. For Abe, one of the most important influences of his mother was her regular reading and singing to the children in the evenings together in their simple log home in Kentucky. She loved to sing old English ballads. Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said in later years that "Barbara Allen" was his mother's favorite song.
lyrics  listen to song

Beautiful Dreamer S. Foster
"Beautiful Dreamer" is among Foster's most memorable sentimental ballads. It was written in 1862, just two years before Foster's death. It comes the closest to the classical song tradition of any of Foster's popular ballads and appears to represent the culmination of an effort to develop a unique style distinct from earlier influences.

Deep River Anon.
"Deep River" likely dates to the mid-nineteenth century. As with most spirituals, the composer is unknown. According to Mr. Jimerson's mentor, Todd Duncan, this was the favorite spiritual of Ezio Pinza - the choice of Rodgers and Hammerstein to star in SOUTH PACIFIC. In speaking of "Deep River," Pinza said he loved spirituals for their humility and their humanity.

For the Dear Old Flag I Die S. Foster
Contrary to popular impression, some of Stephen Foster's best songs were written during the Civil War years. "For The Dear Old Flag I Die" (1863) captures the essence of Foster's gift for crafting a memorable melody that seems to give physical form to human emotions. Lincoln was known to have called for pieces such as this again and again.

Gentle Annie S. Foster
"Gentle Annie" was among the favorite songs of Stephen Foster and his family and was fondly remembered in a letter from Stephen's brother Henry to his sister Ann shortly after Stephen's death. Stephen Foster's grand nephew, Richard K. Foster, recently recounted how the song captured the hearts of the Foster family "when Uncle Stephen wrote the songs shortly after the loss of a dear family friend-Annie." It was also among Abraham Lincoln's favorite sentimental songs.

If You've Only Got A Moustache
lyrics  listen to song

Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair S. Foster
"Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" is perhaps the most famous of Foster's heroines. The Jeanie of this song is no other than Stephen Foster's wife, whose nickname was "Jennie" and whose full name was Jane Denny McDowell. Stephen Foster's niece remembered that her father sang the song to her with the pronunciation of "Jennie" rather than "Jeanie." The song might have helped to bring Jane back to Stephen Foster when they were temporarily separated in 1853, three years after their marriage.
lyrics   listen to song

Just Before The Battle, Mother G.F. Root
"Just Before the Battle, Mother" (1864) was composed by George Root, another gifted composer of Civil War songs. This is one of his best, as it combines a nostalgic melody with stirring words that captured the hearts of many of his day. The reference to his "Battle Cry of Freedom" may have been encouraged by press notices that reported that the song was actually sung by troops marching into battle.

Kathleen Mavourneen F.W.N. Crouch
Another ballad that Abe heard as a child was the Irish song, "Kathleen Mavourneen." It remained widely popular throughout the 19th century and was generally recognized as one of Lincoln's favorites.

Nothing But A Plain Old Soldier S. Foster
There is no documentation of an interview, but "Nothing But a Plain Old Soldier" may be based on Stephen Foster's acquaintance with an elderly Revolutionary War soldier, since there were many living Revolutionary War veterans during Foster's youth.

Old Dog Tray S. Foster
"Old Dog Tray" is a song about Stephen Foster's dog Tray. This special friend of Stephen Foster was the gift of a Pittsburgh lawyer who was a neighbor of the Fosters. "Old Dog Tray" was one of Foster's most successful songs.

The Drummer Boy of Shiloh W.S. Hays
"The Drummer Boy of Shiloh" (1863) was composed by William S. Hays. The Battle of Shiloh was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. This sad song was such a success that many composers followed Hays' example with songs of their own dying drummer boys. The frontispiece included a lithograph of the scene described in song. The most famous drummer boy of the Civil War was Johnny Clem, or "Johnny Shiloh," who reportedly insisted on being referred to as the "Drummer Boy of Shiloh" because it was on that field that he first beat a drum in battle. Mr. Jimerson's great grandfather also was a drummer boy in the Civil War.

Twenty Years Ago W. Willing
President Lincoln's chief of staff, Ward Hill Lamon, was a long-time friend from Illinois and a singer. When the President yearned for the emotional comfort or stirring of music, he would ask Lamon to sing for him. While touring, the Antietam battlefield in October 1862, Lincoln asked, "Lamon, sing one of your sad little songs." Lamon knew what would please the President, and he sang Lincoln's favorite sad song, "Twenty Years Ago." Lincoln was so overwhelmed with sadness that Lamon then sang snatches of a comic song or two to bring him out of his melancholy. The press recorded the event, reporting on only the nonsense songs and creating such scandalous headlines that later it became a real obstacle in Lincoln's campaign for reelection. Lamon said that this, above all others, was the President's favorite, that no other songs so touched his heart, and that he was often moved to tears by hearing it.
lyrics   listen to song

Was My Brother In The Battle? S. Foster
"Was My Brother in the Battle?" is a favorite of Stephen Foster's descendants and is sung on this recording by Mary King. It is one of several songs that Stephen Foster wrote about the young men who had gone to war during the Civil War.

When This Dreadful War Is Ended S. Foster
While Foster is not best known for military songs, "When This Dreadful War Is Ended" captures the spirit of the times. The repeating notes in the melodic line is a characteristic pattern of Civil War songs, and the song evokes strong patriotic emotions.

Your Mission S.M. Grannis
On January 29, 1865, President Lincoln attended an annual meeting of the Christian Coalition at the U.S. House of Representatives, presided over by Secretary Seward. The noted evangelistic singer, Philip Phillips, sang "Your Mission." The president was so impressed with the song that he delivered a note to Seward requesting "Near the close let us have "Your Mission" repeated by Mr. Phillips. Don't say I called for it."