Antebellum America, 1784-1865
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Events1793: Chestnut Street Theatre built
1798: "Hail Columbia"
1814: "Star-Spangled Banner" first printed
1859: "Dixie Land" presented for first time
1859: Root & Cady opens
Patriotic MusicBy Laura Smith
Student, University of North Carolina at Pembroke
In antebellum America many people expressed their love of their country through a variety of patriotic songs. According to John Howard and George Bellows, authors of Music in America, the many songs that were written resulted from the "many skirmishes and battles of the colonies--even as far back as the French and Indian War" (59). Many noted composers of these tunes had ties with the wars that were occuring. William Shakespear Hays, composer of "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh," was simply ready for the war to end and the country to return to peace. Charles Carroll Sawyer, who focused primarily on soldiers' mothers, wrote "Who Will Care for Mother Now," as well as "I Dreamed My Boy Was Home Again." Another composer who viewed the war extremely seriously was Walter Kittridge. After accepting a draft notice he composed "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground." Patrick S. Gilmore was a composer strongly concerned with the Union victory. His song "When Johhny Comes Marching Home Again" described such an event. Other noted patriotic composers of this time period were Septimus Winner, John Hill Hewitt, Benjamin Russell Hanby, and Luther Orlando Emerson. Like the composers, many of the famous patriotic tunes had ties to the wars. This music of war began soon after the colonization of the British. Some patriotic tunes favored a religious theme while others were secular. Parodies, set to familiar tunes, were among the many songs that were often sung by the enemy. In addition, after historical war events such as defeats of generals and the boycot of English Tea, numerous ballads evolved. Ranking high in honor, these songs were appropriate in the battlefield, among the public, and in the church. The "Yankee," a symbol of America as a new nation during the Revolutionary War , was characterized in the song "Yankee Doodle." On a night in April 1775, British troops marched to the beat of "Yankee Doodle" as they set out to capture Samuel Adams and John Hancock. From this moment on, this was to be an American patriotic song. "Hail Columbia," one of the most noted anthems, originated while France and America were on the verge of battle. This song, along with the "President's March," was performed in the presence of George Washington at this time to emphasize America's patriotism. America's undying song, "The Star-Spangled Banner," composed by Francis Scott Key, came to life after the battle of 1812. To the tune of "To Anacreon Heav'n," the verses of the "The Star-Spangled Banner" were hurriedly sketched as Key saw the faint outlines of the Stars and Stripes that remained flying. Interestingly, this song was later rewritten as "The Southern Cross." Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and writer of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," was successful at saving this song from destruction. Howard and Bellows recount how Howe heard troops "murder" this song. Having heard only a few lines, she rewrote the anthem with inspiring versus which begun: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord" (133). "Dixie," another famous patriotic tune, began as a walk-around song for minstrel shows. Written by Daniel Decatur Emmett, this song became symbolic of the Confederate States of America, as well as carefree America. "America" differs from most other patriotic songs in that it does not address war and is solely a national hymn. It was adapted from the English tune "God Save the King." "America" was written by Samuel Francis Smith in 1831. John Howard, author of Our American Music, reveals that Smith was unaware that he had written a true national hymn (128). Furthermore, patriotic music composed from 1784-1865 portrayed aspects of people during this period. Many of the songs were used to express feelings of fear toward the wars. Others resembled the battles themselves, revealing the opposing views of the warring parties. Other music included songs of bereavement or celebration. Furthermore, mere entertainment was a way in which some of the tunes were used. Lastly, patriotic music served to remind people of what their soldiers were fighting for-- their country's freedom, a vital aspect of life in antebellum America.
Bowman, Kent. Voices of Combat. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.