Bugle Resounding: Music and Musicians of the Civil War Era

By Bruce C. Kelley; Mark A. Snell | Go to book overview

Music and Community in the
Civil War Era

DEANE L. ROOT

The Civil War, the nation's most consuming conflict, was also the period of its first outpouring of enduringly popular songs. Was the connection between war and music a coincidence? Or did the songs take some special hold of the public imagination across subsequent generations because of their association with battles and so had the ability to evoke the feelings of wartime? Or was there perhaps a deeper reason for their popularity, perhaps stemming from some fundamental aspect of human behavior? Much of the literature on music of the Civil War era develops the second of these questions. This paper makes a case for the third one, examining ways that individuals and groups used music to create notions of communities with shared interests.

The historians and performers brought together by the National Conference on Music of the Civil War Era focused on a wide array of topics, but much of the music they described could also be identified with distinct groups or communities of people. Although the presenters employed several different methods of humanistic inquiry and discussed different formats of materials (for example, songsters, archives, and instruments), they also drew attention to practices employing those materials that built a sense of community among even far-flung practitioners of the music.

Understanding history through communities is a hallmark of Civil War studies, as it underlies much of the humanities. Many of the historians who attended the conference relate to their topics through their own connections or fascinations with historical communities. But the orientation to communities is not only a trait of scholarship,

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