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Civil War Music

Updated on March 18, 2018

Music played a vital role in the War Between the States. The Civil War lasted four long years and many ballads were composed during this time. Drummers kept soldiers in step and, accompanied by a fife, helped soldiers march. Bugles also sent out commands from reveille in the morning to tattoo at night. Music served as a diversion from the battles of the day. Civil War era music inspired artists such as Elvis Presley and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Robert E. Lee once said that without music, there would have been no army.

The Drums - Drums played a major role on the battlefield. It is often thought that the drummer's only job was to keep beat and rhythm for his unit while they marched. Young drummers had many other responsibilities. They were the communicators for the unit and could always be seen beside a high-ranking officer in case their services were needed. Drum calls were used for everything including assembling officers for strategic meetings and sounding retreat in the middle of enemy fire. Drums alerted the troops about what operations or movements were expected from them.

The Fife - The fife is a small flute-like instrument with a loud, shrill sound due to its narrow bore. Fifes,along with drums, were used to keep tempo in marches during the war. It was a very popular instrument because its shrill tone could be heard above cannon and artillery fire. Usually made of rosewood, the fife was also used to entertain soldiers in the camps.

The Bugle - The field music of buglers during the Civil War guided the actions of the troops in battle. It was also used to tell time and duties. Commanders found the bugle could be heard over a greater distance than the drum and fife. Soldiers would quickly learn the different bugle calls. From the first signal of the day, called reveille, which meant it was time to get up to "tattoo" which signalled it was time to secure the post and settle in, the bugle established routine. It included meal calls, sick calls, drill calls and, of course, taps.

The Harmonica - The harmonica was introduced to America during the Civil War. The Hohner "Pocket Pal" harmonicas were carried by soldiers from both sides. Abraham Lincoln was said to carry one. The soothing sound of the instrument provided solace to the soldiers. These harmonicas later gave way to the sound of the blues harp, echoing the soulful blues of the black man.

The Ballads - Ballads portray history and it was no different during the American Civil War. Songs sung during this time can be divided into several categories. There were songs the soldiers sang when they were sadly thinking of home. There were inspirational marching songs composed to boost the morales of the soldiers on both sides. There were black spirituals and other slave songs. There were the songs sung by the families of the soldiers as they missed their loved ones serving in the war. Ballads drew a picture of the day in history. Here's a link to some of those songs -


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    • Reginald Thomas profile image

      Reginald Thomas 

      23 months ago from Connecticut

      Nice article ! This was a very special time in American History.

      I enjoyed the musical examples you included. Great rudimental drumming.

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      A certainly educational hub, I have an old mono 78 speed record that has many Civil War songs, some common and others not. I learned about the signals to a greater degree here as well,

      thanks for entertaining and teaching,


    • platinumOwl4 profile image


      9 years ago

      This is another interesting article. Your articles never cease to amaze me. strategically placed in every article is an explosive bit of information that can easily go unnoticed. I love it. Say, for instance the development of the blues harmonica from the pocket pal. The female jazz musician who was detained in Germany for two years, who died in the 50's. These small explosions in your articles lead me to discover more information. Thanks again.

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 

      10 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Wow--Love your Hub--am a History Buff. Check out my Civil War Hub on TAPS.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Nice hub on Civil war music. I like much of the music of that period.

    • Amez profile image


      10 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Wow this is great, Your Selection of Video just made this a site to return to, when you need a picker-Upper. I really appreciate your Talents to build excellent Subjects to build Hubs around.This kind of makes me understand why I enjoyed the Song "Battle of New Orleans" so Much Ed

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks, Ben - Music has certainly played a crucial role in all of history.

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 

      11 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      When I was a kid at a Nature Conservation camp we woke to reveille every morning! Let me tell you, that horn will get you moving and in a hurry! My brothers and I would laugh thinking about the European style of warfare (we have Native American blood) and how strange it must have appeared to the American Indians who fought stealthily with guerrilla tactics. Thanks for the education, now that you've said it Suzie, it makes so much sense that the instruments were used not only for entertainment but also for instruction/communication on the field of battle. Cool article lady friend!

    • Bhawna Sharma profile image

      Bhawna Sharma 

      11 years ago from Mumbai, India

      Never knew that music never leaves us...

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks for stopping by, Ralwus. And thanks for letting me know about the video. I'll have to find a new one.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Thought it was time I came for a visit. So glad I did too. I really enjoyed this one as I am kind of a buff on this stuff. Loved the music too. Thanks, good job girl. CC btw, the first vid link is gone.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks for reading. wsp. I really enjoy the history of music as it so reflects the events and mood of the day. It gives history a human face.

    • wsp2469 profile image


      11 years ago from Alta Loma, Ca

      I think I have written features on Civil War-related topics including music for other websites. I know i've done website reviews on sites that talk about the subject. It's more popular than you would imagine.

      I thought it was funny that the Byrds covered "Oh! Susannah" a song that was in the top ten when Lincoln was president.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Kosmo - music is always welcome in hard times as well as good.

      Thank you all for reading.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      11 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Interesting Hub!

    • fishtiger58 profile image


      11 years ago from Momence, Illinois

      Great hub I loved the videos. I am going to have to show my sister this hub she loves anything to do with the civil war.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley Marks 

      11 years ago from Sacramento, California

      As bad as that war was, I'm sure they had to play some tunes to relieve the boredom and reduce the terror, if such a thing were possible. Civil War history is always fascinating. Later!

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Putz - yes, the music still lives on - it is beautiful in its simplicity.

      Ethel and Naomi - thanks for stopping by.

    • Naomi R. Cox profile image

      Naomi R. Cox 

      11 years ago from Elberton, Georgia

      Excellent hub, susie. The video's are wonderful. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      11 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Unusual hub. Very interesting. Now I know why the song says "with your musket, fife and drum"

    • Putz Ballard profile image

      Putz Ballard 

      11 years ago

      Suziecat, I have heard some of the Civil War tunes and also learned that ther were many soldiers on both sides who played fiddle. I bought a CD at Mast General Store several years ago of these Civil War tunes and the liner notes were very interesting and gave accounts of some of the music. thanks i love this hub.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Asheville, NC

      JayJay, Habee - thanks for reading. Randy - I hope the fiddle stays in your family for a very long time. Imagine if it could talk.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 

      11 years ago from Southern Georgia

      My great grandfather carried a fiddle to war with him and it survived and is still being played by one of my cousins. It still sounds wonderful although it has been repaired many times. Nice hub!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      11 years ago from Georgia

      What a great hub!

    • jayjay40 profile image


      11 years ago from Bristol England

      very interesting, I've learnt something new today thanks


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