Learning from the Source: Perspectives in Civil War Song Sheets

The Collection Connections section of America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets, provides some great ideas for comparing perspectives of the Civil War based on the lyrics from popular song sheets published during the time period.

The popularity of song sheets reached its peak during the second half of the nineteenth century and a large portion of this collection relates to the Civil War. Searches on terms such as UnionConfederate, and Lincoln, yield songs recruiting and rallying troops on both sides of the battlefield. “Hurrah for the Union” announces, “Our ship’s the Constitution, and good patriots at the helm / Will bring us into action, and our foes we’ll overwhelm” while “Hurrah for the South! Hurrah” declares, “The genius of old Liberty . . . has cast / The tyrant’s might away.”

Confederate songs such as “Old Mr. Lincoln” and “The Retreat of the Grand Army from Bull Run” chronicle victories over the Union army and President Lincoln’s dismay with choruses such as “Poor old Abe Lincoln! / Your power over the South / Indeed is played out!” Other songs such as “The Old Union Wagon” profess faith in the Union and encourage the nation to “Stick to the . . . Old Union Wagon, / The triumphant wagon, Abe Lincoln’s bound to ride.”

  • What types of imagery appear in these songs?
  • How did Union and Confederate songwriters portray their positions in terms of liberty, constitutionality, treason, and tyranny?
  • How did both sides describe the attitudes and actions of their opposition?
  • Do you believe that these were accurate portrayals? Why or why not?
  • Do you think that these songs were helpful in rallying either troops or volunteers? Why or why not?
  • How is Abraham Lincoln described in both Union and Confederate songs?
  • Why do you think that Lincoln and his policies were an important topic in many songs?
For more great teaching ideas using historic song sheets, visit the Collection Connections section of America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets.
For loads more Civil war primary sources and resources, access the Civil War themed link set.