Antebellum America, 1784-1865

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  • Stephen Foster 
  • Benjamin Russell Hanby 
  • Julia Ward Howe 
  • Andrew Law 
  • George Frederick Root 
  • Charles Carroll Sawyer 
  • Henry Clay Work 


1793: Chestnut Street Theatre built 
1798: "Hail Columbia" 
1814: "Star-Spangled Banner" first printed 
1859: "Dixie Land" presented for first time 
1859:  Root & Cady opens 


  • Yorktown, Virginia 
  • North Redding, Massachusetts 

Updated November 12, 2001
© Mark Canada, 2001

Patriotic Music 

By 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.

Voices of Combat is a secondary source that briefly describes some of America's most loved patriotic tunes. This book addresses several wars, such as the Civil War and the War of 1812, along with the many songs associated with these conflicts. Published in 1987, Voices of Combat discusses historical events that have not changed. Therefore, the material available in this book is timely. The author, Kent Bowman, gives proof of his careful research in this area by adding several footnotes throughout each chapter. Moreover, his bibliography cites numerous sources including memoirs, diaries, books, and periodicals.   Howard, John. Our American Music. 3rd ed. New York: Thomas Crowell Co., 1946. Our American Music is a secondary source for information concerning patriotic music. One of the book's main highlights is the information on composers who were popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Also discussed are several famous war songs and their histories. Having been published in 1946, Our American Music is a fairly dated book. Even so, the information documented took place many years before and historically did not change. It may be possible that more in-depth information could have been found, but, as far as accuracy is concerned, the book is current. John Tasker Howard has written several other books, including Modern Music; a Popular Guide to Greater Music Enjoyment and Our American Music, Three Hundred Years of It. Howard, John, and George Bellows. A Short History of Music in America. New York: Thomas Crowell Co., 1957.  A Short History of Music in America is a secondary source that provides a general picture of America during the antebellum period. The authors list wars and patriotic songs that emerged from them. Historical music facts have not changed since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Therefore, this book is relevantly timely. John Tasker Howard has written several other books, including Modern Music; a Popular Guide to Greater Music Enjoyment and Our American Music, Three Hundred Years of It.