Antebellum America, 1784-1865

All American
>Antebellum and Civil War America 



  • John Antes
  • Amy Beach 
  • Supply Belcher 
  • George Bristow 
  • John Dwight 
  • Daniel Emmett 
  • Stephen Foster 
  • William Fry 
  • Benjamin Grehorne
  • Henry & Steinway 
  • Francis Hopkinson 
  • Francis Scott Key 
  • George Frederick Root 


1797: Henry & Steinway piano company begun
1800: Antes invents mechanical page-turner 
1803: Grehorne makes first authentic American piano
1837: Dwight founds Harvard Musical Association
1838: Boston Musical Gazette appears
1845:  first American composes Italian-style opera 
1849: first important string chamber music group established in America


  • Music School of Boston 


Updated November 12, 2001
© Mark Canada, 2001


By Jason Ivey, Annette Johnson, Marvin Kelly, and Laura Smith
Students, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

American music during the antebellum period flourished due to a variety of cultural developments.  During this period the number of professional musicians in America increased significantly.  In 1793, Philip Roth and Philip Phile, both Americans, wrote several patriotic songs, including "The President's March."  Born in 1819, Samuel Parkman became a noted composer as well as choral conductor and organist for a church in Boston.  Included in Parkman's published works were cantatas, part-songs, and anthems.  In 1859, George Frederick Root, a composer from Chicago, wrote national songs, including "The Battle Cry" and "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp."  Writing cantatas was another of Root's accomplishments.  Stephen Collins Foster emerged in the latter part of the period in Pennsylvania.  He did a great deal of study at Jefferson College and the Academy at Athens.  "Swanee Riber" was only one of the 175 songs that he composed. Two the most famous composers of minstrel-show songs were Foster and Daniel Decatur Emmett, best known for his song "Dixie." Composing patriotic and religious music, foreign opera, compositions, and folk music allowed these composers to conform to popular forms of the antebellum period. Background patriotic music was one of the most popular musical forms during the antebellum and Civil War years.  This type of music inspired and motivated hundreds of soldiers along their hard long journey to war.  Tunes such as “Chester,” written by William Billings, "The Star-Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key, and “Yankee Doodle,” attributed to Dr. Richard Schuckburg, were among the favorites.  Religious music also inspired many townspeople.  Most of the tunes came from the Book of Psalms in the Bible.  Also, Catholic hymns sung in the church were a major type within the religious form.  Foreign opera and composition were also popular in America. This type of music exhibited elegance, superiority, and a high-class taste that could only feed the very best of Americans.  During the antebellum era people came to appreciate fine music even though Americans did not compose it.  Folk music, used to entertain people and to lift their spirits, emerged at this time. This type of music inspired lively participation; listeners sometimes shook, clapped their hands, and stomped their feet.  Another popular style throughout the 19th century was blackface minstrelsy, also known as "burnt-cork" minstresly.  Blackface minstresly was performed by white entertainers who masqueraded as black people and played bogus "Negro" songs that were influenced mainly by the banjo tunes of blacks on southern plantations.  Along with written music, musical instruments played a major role in antebellum America.  Among the most common instruments were brass.  Civil War brass horn  instruments were classified into four categories.  The shape of the instruments and the direction of the bell generally determined  these categories.  The four general categories were bell front, upright, circular, and the over-the-shoulder.  The brass instruments were further classified by the type of valve mechanism used.  The two most common sub-classifications were the “American string linkage rotary valve,” which consisted of the top and side action, and the “berliner piston valve."  The berliner piston valve was the most frequently used because it was inexpensive to produce and less likely to be damaged.  The material used to make these Civil War horns mainly consisted of brass and German silver.   As a whole, music in the antebellum period contributed a great deal to cultural landmarks in society.  Established in 1842, the New York Philharmonic Society was the first permanent symphony orchestra. The first Italian style grand opera with English lyrics was composed by William Henry Fry in 1845.  Furthermore, Amy Marcy Beach was the first American female to write a symphony.  Other noted events during this time period included the publication of several hundred "tune-books" in New England.  Each contained a variety of different types of music, including evangelical hymns, spiritual songs, anthems, paraphrases of the psalms of David, and some patriotic songs.  Music  truly was an intregal part of the culture in antebellum and Civil War America. 


Detheridge, Joseph.  Chronology of Music Composers. 2 volumes. St. Clair Shores, Mich.: Scholarly Press, 1937.
Detheridge's Music Composers presents a timeline of  composers from A.D. 1000 through 1900, along with information about several composers' lives and works. Detheridge has researched many deceased composers as well as gathering information from living composers themselves.
Morris, Richard B. “Music in Antebellum period and Civil War.” Encyclopedia of American History. 6th edition. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. 
The Encyclopedia of American History features information about antebellum music, discussing a variety of types, including religious music, opera, symphonic music, and patriotic music. 
Garofalo, Robert, and Mark Elrod. Civl War Musical Instruments and Military Bands.  Charleston, West Virginia: Pictorial Histories, 1985.  ML1311.4.G33.
This secondary source places emphasis on  music instruments and military bands used during the era of the Civil War.  It specifically concentrates on the origin of these instruments and their different category groupings. Although this book was written in 1985, it provides relevant information pertaining to the history of music during the Civil War era.  Because the Civil War ended more than a century ago, the book is sufficiently timely. Garofalo is a professor of music and conductor of wind ensembles at the School of Music, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.  He has a master’s degree and a doctorate in musicology from Catholic University.  He is the author of several books, articles, and publications in the field of instrumental music performance, pedagogy, and history.  He has also recorded two albums of Civil War military brass band music.  Mark Elrod is a graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy and Salem College.  He is a Vietnam veteran and is an authority on American bands, instruments, and music of the nineteenth century.  He collects Civil War era band music and musical instruments and isconsidered to have one of the largest collections of its type in the United States.