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Musical History of the Civil War

The Civil War lasted for four long years, and during these years, numerouse songs and ballads were composed. On the field, fifers played shrill tunes accompanied by drummers beating various beats. While many documents and artifacts of the Civil War have not survived, most of the music played and enjoyed during that period still survives today. That is not to say, however, that some tunes have not been lost over the years; they have, but many more have survived.

The songs sung during the war can be divided into several categories. There were inspirational marching songs written to boost the morales of soldiers on both sides. There were negro spirituals and other traditional slave songs. There were songs that soldiers sang when they were sad and thinking of home; there were songs that families sang at home when thinking of loved ones away at war. Obviously, not all Civil War songs fit into those categories, but the majority of them do.

Drumbeats originally served two purposes: to tell soldiers what to do, and to keep them in step. Drum calls issued commands to soldiers, while other drumbeats with fife accompaniments helped soldiers march. Fife music was popular during the war because the shrill tone of the fife could be heard well above the rumbling of cannon and the other noises on the battlefield.

Buglers were crucial in the war because they too were responsible for sounding out commands. These included reveille in the morning, tattoo at night (and numerous calls in between), as well as field commands such as advance and retreat.

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