Click here to skip to content

Web exhibitions

Singing the Dream: American Sheet Music at the British Library: Part 4

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

The Civil War, 1861-65

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, the United States was facing its greatest crisis to date. In the preceding few decades the northern states had become increasingly industrial and commercial, while those in the South remained almost totally agricultural. More importantly, however, the issue of slavery had become more and more divisive. In the North, most people wanted to limit the spread of slavery into the western territories; some even wanted to abolish it altogether. In the South, most people wanted slavery maintained or even expanded.

Following Lincoln's election, seven southern states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America on 4 February 1861. On 18 February Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as its President.

In his own Inaugural Address a month later, Abraham Lincoln warned the South: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war...You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to 'preserve, protect and defend it.'"

On 12 April 1861, the Confederate government ordered its artillery to fire on the U.S. Army troops at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, until they surrendered. President Lincoln responded by calling on all states to send troops to quell the revolt; in return four more states seceded. The Civil War had begun.

Initially, both sides believed that the War would be over quite quickly. Yet, it was to become the bloodiest in the nation's history. It took four years for the Union's long-term advantages in geography, transport, manpower, industry and finance to finally overwhelm the South, during which time nearly a million people lost their lives, and four hundred thousand were wounded. The aftermath of this war would be felt for decades to come.

This selection includes a couple of marching songs as well as several items highlighting lesser known aspects of the conflict.

Battle-Cry of Freedom

Battle-Cry of Freedom (12kb)
Enlarged image Enlarged image

Root, George Frederick. Battle-Cry of Freedom.. Chicago: Root & Cady, 1862. G.425.oo.(23)
Copyright © The British Library

Although 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' is now regarded as the pre-eminent Civil War song of the North, Union soldiers were more likely to have bestowed that honour upon 'The Battle Cry of Freedom'. It was written by George Root, a composer and founding partner of the Chicago-based music publishers Root and Cady. With the outbreak of war, Root began writing patriotic songs for the Union. This one was so popular with the public that between 500,000 and 700,000 copies were published and numerous songs imitating its style soon appeared.

 

We'll Go Down Ourselves

We\'ll Go Down Ourselves (11K)
Enlarged image Enlarged image

Work, Henry Clay. We'll Go Down Ourselves. Chicago, 1862. H.1780.s.(55)
Copyright © The British Library

Henry Clay Work was raised in a fiercely abolitionist family and was an active abolitionist and Union supporter. He was self-trained in music and began his working life as a printer. When he approached the music publisher Root & Cady with 'Kingdom Coming' they immediately signed him up. During the Civil War he wrote several hugely popular Union songs, the most famous of which is 'Marching Through Georgia'. 'We'll Go Down Ourselves' articulates the fighting spirit of the Northern women.

 

The Sanitary Fair Grand March

The U.S. Sanitary Commission was founded in 1861 to staff field hospitals, raise money, provide supplies, and generally improve conditions in the Union camps. One of the most successful means of raising money was the local 'Sanitary Fair', at which thousands of items donated by local businesses and individuals went on sale or up for auction. Philadelphia held its Great Central Fair in June 1864. To assist with fund-raising, forty-eight commemorative copies of the Emancipation Proclamation were printed, and President Lincoln, who attended the Fair, agreed to sign several of these copies for auction. It is believed that fewer than half of these documents survived the Civil War. However, one was obtained by the British Museum and is now held by the British Library (C.160.c.4.(1)).

The Sanitary Fair Grand March (12kb)
Enlarged image Enlarged image
Mack, Edward. The Sanitary Fair Grand March. Philadelphia, 1864. H.1459.g.(28)
Copyright © The British Library

 

We Never Can Forget It: Or, The Memories of the Andersonville Prison Pens

We Can Never Forget It: Or, The Memories of the Andersonville Prison Pens (10kb)
Enlarged image Enlarged image

Tucker, Henry. We Never Can Forget It: Or, The Memories of the Andersonville Prison Pens. New York: W. Jennings Demorest, 1865. H.1780.s.(18)
Copyright © The British Library

Andersonville Prison in Georgia was the largest prisoner of war camp in the South. It was opened in 1864 and was intended to hold up to 13,000 Union soldiers, yet by June of that year 26,000 were already housed there. During the fourteen months in which it operated, 13,000 men died of starvation, disease, or exposure to the elements. When Union troops arrived at the end of the War, photographs were taken to record the emaciated condition of the inmates and the horrific conditions they had endured. The treatment of prisoners on both sides became a source of much contention in the years to come, as this song makes clear.

 

Dixie's Nurse

Dixie\'s Nurse (8kb)
Enlarged image Enlarged image

Dixie's Nurse: [A Satirical Song on the Relations of Great Britain and the Confederate States.] Philadelphia, (1865). H.1780.n.(52)
Copyright © The British Library

During the early days of the War, when the North was essentially fighting to maintain the Union, Britain did not seem wholly unsympathetic to the South. British commercial ships frequently slipped through Union blockades of the Confederate states and the Confederacy purchased several warships from commercial ship builders in Britain. The British government never recognised the Confederacy, however. British public opinion was essentially against slavery and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863 - which henceforth linked the Union to the antislavery issue - made support for the Confederacy untenable.

 

Old John Brown's Body. American Army Hymn.

Old John Brown\'s Body (8kb)
Enlarged image Enlarged image

Old John Brown's Body. American Army Hymn. London, 1866. H.1790.b.(33)
Copyright © The British Library

'John Brown's Body' is one of the most well-known marching songs of the Union Army. For many years it was assumed that the song was a tribute to the abolitionist responsible for the Pottawatomie massacre and the raid on the federal armoury at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Now, however, some historians believe that the song was compiled by Union soldiers in the Twelfth Massachusetts Regiment as a means of making fun of Sergeant John Brown, their second in command. Either way, a century and a half after its creation it is still well-known on both sides of the Atlantic.

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10


Top of Page Top of page