Today in History:

Music of the Civil War

Rallying Songs of the North


Battle Cry of Freedom G.F. Root
"The Battle Cry of Freedom" was introduced at a war rally in Chicago on July 24, 1862. Diaries and newspaper stories are replete with anecdotes about the inspirational effect of this song for the Union Army. On the other hand, Confederate troops dreaded the song. One Confederate Major wrote about the first time he heard the song, "I was on picket…(I)t seemed to me the whole Yankee Army was singing…I am not naturally superstitious, but I tell you that song sounded to me like the 'knell of doom,' and my heart went down into my boots; and though I've tried to do my duty, it has been an up-hill fight with me ever since that night." This is certainly a vivid illustration of why Robert E. Lee said that without music he would not have had an army.
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Battle Hymn of the Republic G.S. Scofield
"Battle Hymn of the Republic" (1861) was a marching song of the Northern army during the Civil War. It brought tears to Lincoln's eyes on various occasions. The original popular lyrics were "John Brown's Body." The tune is that of an old Methodist hymn, although the closing theme is attributed by some to Stephen Foster's "Ellen Bayne."

I'll Be A Sergeant H.A.W.
"I'll Be a Sergeant" is the Civil War ancestor of the World War II British marching song, "I've Got Six-Pence." The song is credited to an unknown H.A.W. , but may be a reworking of an older song. A Civil War variant of this song begins "I love a six-pence, Jolly, jolly six-pence."

Marching Through Georgia H.C. Work
"Marching Through Georgia" (1865) was composed by Henry Clay Work, one of the most talented composers of the age. "Marching Through Georgia" was one of the most popular Civil War songs for decades after the Civil War, as it glorified the North's remembrance of victory. However, it was also extremely unpopular in the South, as it seemed to praise the often senseless destruction that General Sherman's forces inflicted on Georgia during their devastating month-long march at the end of 1864.

That's What's The Matter S. Foster
"That's What's the Matter" (1862) was one of several songs that Stephen Foster wrote specifically to appeal to the Union soldiers. Foster wrote "That's What's the Matter" for the famous minstrel singer, Dan Bryant. Foster undoubtedly hoped that Bryant's success with this song would rival his success with another song specifically written for Bryant and the minstrel stage-"Dixie."

Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! G.F. Root
"Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!" (1863) is perhaps George Root's most famous song. It was written to appeal to Northerners who yearned for news about friends or loved ones who were incarcerated in southern prisons. Within six months of its publication the song had sold 100,000 copies of the sheet music (a huge number for the times). It is one of the greatest marching songs of all time.

We Are Coming Father Abraam S. Foster
"We Are Coming, Father Abraam" (1862) was one of the most notable pieces of Foster's later years. There were other settings of the same popular poem of James Gibbons, but Foster's is the most lyric and theatrical. The verse was written in response to President Lincoln's call in July 1862, after a series of disheartening Union defeats, for 300,000 Union volunteers to enlist for three years. The song was first performed for President Lincoln at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. A chorus, led by the President's flag waving son, Tad, sang "We Are Coming, Father Abraam."

When Johnnie Comes Marching Home P.S. Gilmore
While the tune of "When Johnnie Comes Marching Home' sounds Irish, it was composed by the American, Patrick Gilmore, who came to the United States from Ireland in the late 1840's. He composed this song in 1863 while in New Orleans as bandmaster for the U.S. Army in Louisiana. Gilmore went on to establish himself as the most famous bandmaster in the country prior to John Philip Sousa.