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Civil War Music: A Classic Primary Source Set Plays a New Tune

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Portrait of a Confederate soldier with a saxhorn

The Civil War was a most musical conflict: Soldiers were awakened by bugles in the morning, sang as they marched, and, in many cases, brought their saxhorns, violas, and banjos with them as they went to war. On the home front, songs of victory and hymns of peace filled parlors, churches, and music halls in Union and Confederate states alike.

One of the Library’s primary source sets for educators, Civil War Music, has recently been re-tuned to reflect the central role that music played in the Civil War, with the addition of more than a dozen items from the Library’s collections. These items were the results of research conducted by Stanford student Kirk Steyer, who spent a summer at the Library as a Liljenquist Family Fellow.

Portraits from the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs allow students to see soldiers posing with their musical instruments, while photos of military bands show the variety of instruments–and uniforms–involved in official martial music. Sheet music provides students with an opportunity to explore various emotional responses the war elicited and the ways in which they were expressed. Meanwhile, audio recordings from decades later encourage listeners to sing along, while also reminding them of the lasting emotional impact that these songs, and the memory of the war, had on the nation’s cultural life.

In addition, the set contains the Library’s primary source analysis tool, which allows teachers to support their students as they engage with these primary sources and make observations, create inferences, and discover new questions to investigate.

Whether this set is a longtime favorite or a new discovery, we invite you to explore it and to let us know in the comments which items catch your–or your students’–interest.



  1. I used this most interesting collection of photographs and appreciate your suggestion for adding the music. The Arts are
    Helpful when teaching youth the history of humanity.

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