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Music on the Battlefield

Music on the Battlefield

Music and song pervaded the experience of soldiers during the Civil War. The onset of war stimulated the music-publishing industry, which flourished particularly in the North. George McClellan, the subject of the song sheet displayed here, was the most musically-honored general. There were two categories of army music. Field music refers to the fifes, bugles, and drums that initiated basic camp duties or signaled to soldiers on the battlefield, while band music was played by full-scale concert ensembles made up of brass and percussion. Band music encouraged soldiers on the battlefield and in camp.

Letter, Elizabeth Scott to Her Uncle Benjamin David, November 21, 1863.

General Order 48 of July 31, 1861 allowed two principal musicians, up to twenty field musicians and up to twenty-four band musicians per regular army infantry or artillery regiment, with sixteen band musicians in cavalry regiments, although these rules were rarely followed to the letter. When not performing, musicians generally served as stretcher bearers or assisted surgeons. Writing to her uncle Benjamin David in New Brunswick, Elizabeth Scott described a soldier-musician relative in this letter. "He is in a company of 25 musicians. It [is] a cornet Brass Band. He gets good wages. He is armed with a sword & pistol, but no gun…."

Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty. Some Rations from "The Haver Sack." The Song Souvenir of Old War Songs. Bradford, Pennsylvania: S.R. Averill, 1910.

Letter, Jacob Wyckoff of New Brunswick to His Mother, July 27, 1861.

Informal hymn-singing was popular in camp, as can be seen in this letter from Jacob Wyckoff, a pious New Brunswick youth, to his mother: "It is now Saturday nite and all things are assuming its generally natural ways of Camp life some are singing some of the best Patriot songs some of the men are enjoying a nice little sing Hymns of the soldiers book and some are playing instruments."

[Septimus Winner]. "Give Us Back Our Old Commander." Song Lyrics. New York: Charles Magnus.