The Civil War Through Its Music


Percy Moran’s emotionally powerful but historically misleading painting “By Dawn’s Early Light (1912)”


The Civil War Through Its Music United States History Grade Levels 6-8

Students will examine songs of the Civil War as a framework around which to acquire content knowledge
Goals and Objectives
1. Students will understand how music can be reflective of the events of a time period or a major event.
2. Students will understand the perspective (point of view) that is reflected in various pieces of music in relation to specific historical events
3. Students will understand the major causes and events of the American Civil War.
Essential Question How is the music of the Civil War used on both sides of the war to reflect the feelings of the people?
Students will be given the lyrics for several pieces of music, some from the Union and some from the Confederacy. Students will hear the pieces while looking at the lyrics and analyze them. Teachers will then  provide background information in order for students to be able to understand the events that these tunes represented. Students will then listen to the tunes again with a greater understanding. The culminating activity will consist of students using one piece of music and citing evidence from the song that it reflects events of the time.
Materials Needed
Teachers will need a computer with speakers through which to play the music for students to hear; pre-printed copies of song lyrics so the students can follow the song; teacher and student edition textbooks; Venn Diagrams (pre-printed if you wish)
Time Needed
5 class days
Steps to Delivery
Teachers will present the song lyrics to “The Flag of Secession” which can be found at the Library of Congress  Lyrics for “The Flag of Secession” Teachers will then play the tune
Tune “The Flag of Secession”
while students follow along on the printed lyrics
After students listen to the lyrics, have them look at the vocabulary,(see teacher resources) including secession. Discuss with students what they think the song means. Teachers will then provide background information on Lincoln’s election and the subsequent secession of the Southern States and the formation of the Confederacy,(read more)  the attack on Fort Sumter (read more), and the early advantages and disadvantages of both sides. Teachers can use their classroom textbooks or other sources of information. Once the students have the background information, allow them to listen to the tune again and it should make more sense to them after they receive the background information. Ask them to write a brief one paragraph summary about the meaning of the tune.
Day 2 and Day 3
Provide students with the lyrics for “The Bonnie Blue Flag” for the Union. It can be found on the Library of Congress: (teachers may want to type out the lyrics ahead of time since these are in the form of sheet music)  Then play the tune while the students follow along with the printed lyrics. Have students consider the following questions: What was the mood of the tune? What did the soldiers feel they were fighting for? Do you think this was early in the war or towards the end?
Tune: “The Bonnie Blue Flag” for the Union”
Pass out the printed lyrics for “The Bonnie Blue Flag” for the Confederacy. Have students listen to the tune while following the printed lyrics
Tune: “The Bonnie Blue Flag” for the Confederacy
Ask the questions as you did for the first version. Have students create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the two versions. Teachers will provide background information on the early battles  of the war and the attitudes of civilians and soldiers and how citizens on both sides helped prepare for war.
Play the tune “The Battle at Manassas”
(there are no lyrics to this tune)
Have students listen to the tune and see if they can figure out which side the song is celebrating. Background: This tune was written by a slave by the name of Blind Tom  to celebrate the Confederate victory at the First Battle of Manassas (read more about Blind Tom)
Teachers will provide background information on the war and its major battles including Manassas and Bull Run (read more), The Seven Days Battle (read more), Gettysburg (read more), Fredericksburg (read more), Antietam (read more), Vicksburg (read more). Teachers should include major events such as Pickett’s Charge (read more) and the Emancipation Proclamation (read more)  and the Surrender of Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, VA.  (read more) Teachers can use their textbooks or any other information that they choose to provide the background information.
Day 4
Play the tune “Tenting on the Old Campground” and ask students to do a Venn Diagram or T-Chart comparing it to “The Flag of Secession” that students heard at the beginning of the lesson. Play it again for students. Ask the students to examine the tune and its lyrics (provided) and consider when this tune was written
Lyrics for “Tenting on the Old Campground”
Day 5
The Star Spangled Banner: Although the Star Spangled Banner was written during the war of 1812, it produced a lot of patriotic feelings during the war. By the end of the 19th century it was considered one of the most patriotic songs in the United States and was used by the United States Military. It did not become the National Anthem until 1931. (Read More About the Star Spangled Banner)
Tune: The Star Spangled Banner
Ask students to write answering the following questions. What do you think this tune meant to each side at the end of the war? What kinds of emotions do you think the Confederates felt when they heard it? Why? What kinds of emotions do you think the Union felt when they heard it? Why?
Vocabulary for tunes
Venn Diagram
National Archives Primary Source Analysis worksheets
Standards CCSS:
6-8.RH.1; Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources
6-8.RH.2; Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinion
6-8.RH.4; Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies
6-8.RH.6; Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose
6-8.RH.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and a secondary source on the same topic.
6-8.WH.1a; Introduce claims about a topic or issue acknowledge and distinguish the claims from alternate or opposing claims and organize the reasons and evidence logically
6-8.WH.7; Conduct short research projects to answer a question drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration
NGSSS: (Florida)
LA. The student will use new vocabulary that is introduced and taught directly
LA. The student will use context clues to determine meanings of unfamiliar words
SS.8.A.1.5 Identify within both primary and secondary sources, the author, audience, format, and purpose of significant historical documents
SS.8.A.1.7 View historic events through the eyes of those who were there as shown in their art, writings, music, and artifacts.
SS.8.A.5.1 Explain the causes, course, and consequences of the Civil War (sectionalism, slavery, states’ rights, balance of power in the Senate)
SS.8.A.5.2 Analyze the role of slavery in the development of sectional conflicts
SS.8.A.5.3 Explain major domestic and international economic, military, political, and socio-cultural events of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.
SS.8.A.5.4 Identify the division (Confederate and Union States, Border states, western territories) of the United States at the outbreak of the Civil War.
SS.8.A.5.6 Compare significant Civil War battles and events and their effects on civilian populations.
About the Author Tammy L. Ramirez is a National Board Certified Teacher who has been teaching in Broward County Public Schools for fourteen years. She has taught United States History: Beginnings to 1877 and World History. She is a member of the Broward County Council for the Social Studies and the Broward County Teachers Guild. She spends her summers in professional development opportunities such as the Banner Moments program at the University of Maryland funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Please feel free to contact her at   About Banner Moments Made available as part of the 2014 Banner Moments K-12 Institute—a project of the American Music Institute of the University of Michigan and the Star Spangled Music Foundation, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities