Hearing the Civil War: Music of the Civil War

by fifer1863 on July 25, 2012

Various types of music played key roles throughout the Civil War from the fife and drum to the bugle calls which rallied the soldiers and directed them on the parade ground and in battle. There were sentimental and patriotic songs which soldiers sung in camp in order to pass the time while remembering the homes they left behind.

There are numerous activities which will expose students to some of the most popular sounds of battle and songs of camp life, thereby bringing the emotions of the period to the forefront. The following example provides combines the use of low tech audio CDs with the high tech Internet.

First, the teacher can purchase any number of Civil War music CDs. Groups such as the 97th Regimental String Band, Acoustic Shadows of the Blue and Gray and David Kincaid provide an excellent collection of some of the most popular songs of the period while Camp Chase Fifes and Drums is a nationally known fife and drum group with three CDs from which to choose. Some of these websites even provide sample clips from some of their more popular songs.

If you have access to iTunes, then you can search for Civil War era music. If you search for 119th NYSV within iTunes, you should get a list of songs from the 119th New York Field Music. These songs provide not only some of the more popular marching tunes of the period but also some of the camp duties musicians would have been required to play.

Second, search the Internet for the lyrics to several popular songs. The website Poetry and Music of the War Between the States has lyrics to many period songs. Then you can divide the class into several different groups, perhaps one Union and one Confederate, and assign each group a particular song. Each group can learn to sing their song and discuss the words as they relate to the context of war.

Next, provide the entire class with the words to “Home, Sweet Home.”This is a tune which both sides of the war would have known and sung. Students can then talk about the commonalties among all soldiers, such as missing the comforts of home and the companionship of loves ones.

Finally, do a YouTube search for Camp Chase fifes or even Civil war fife and drum and you will get a great collection of videos of Civil War reenactors playing period songs on fifes and drums.  Below is a sample of Camp Chase Fifes and Drums playing Frog in the Well and Old Zip Coon:

Enjoy the music…

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