Approximate Length of Time: One 50-minute class period
Goal: Students will understand how different groups of Americans used similar types of music to express opposing opinions, and gain an appreciation for Civil War music.
Understand and discuss the lyrics to different Civil War era songs.
Interpret the lyrics to figure out who was likely to have written, or sang, each song during the war.
Understand how different groups of Americans used popular music to express themselves and their opinions during the Civil War.
Copies of lyrics to:
Battle Cry of Freedom (Northern)
Battle Cry of Freedom (Southern)
Weeping, Sad, and Lonely
When Johnny Comes Marching Home
No More Auction Block for Me
Marching Song of the First Arkansas
Dulcem Melodies: 2nd South Carolina String Band CD
The Songs of the Civil War: Irwin Silber CD
Investigating Song Lyrics Assessment Sheets
Set Hook: Ask students what their favorite songs are, and why these are their favorites. How does music help people express themselves? What kinds of things do people write songs about? Love, friendship, happiness, sadness, loss? Can they think of any patriotic songs, or songs about conflict?
Introduction:Instructors will explain that music has always been a popular way for Americans to express themselves during wartime. Americans used music in many different ways during the Civil War. Music was used to recruit soldiers, keep their morale high, and gave them a way to express their feelings about the hardships they were facing. Women and children on the home front utilized music to express their fears about their loved ones fighting in the war, and their hopes that they would come home. Music was also used by African-American slaves, who often wrote and sang songs that expressed their suffering, and their hopes for freedom as a result of the war. Music is one way that people today can relate to Americans that lived during the Civil War, and come closer to understanding the emotions that the war inspired.
Divide the class into three groups.
Explain that the United States was bitterly divided during the Civil War, and that the music of the period expressed the viewpoints of many groups of Americans, particularly Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers, Northern and Southern civilians on the home front, freed slaves, and African American soldiers. Teachers should write these groups on the board.
Distribute lyrics and Investigating Lyrics worksheets to the class. The students will get copies of every song.
Assign each group of students one pair of songs to examine (both Battle Cry of Freedom’s; Weeping, Sad, and Lonely with When Johnny Comes Marching Home; and No More Auction Block with The Marching Song of the First Arkansas.) Have students quietly and independently read the lyrics to their assigned songs. Then, in 10-15 minutes, the groups will determine:
Which groups of Civil War Americans would have sang what song
What the songs have in common
How the songs are different
In their groups, the students will fill out the Investigating Song Lyrics worksheet that corresponds with each of their two songs.
During this time, the teacher will prepare the CD player and CD’s.
When all the groups have finished working, the teacher will explain that each of the six songs represents a different viewpoint. Each will take a turn presenting explaining the meaning of their songs to the class, and the class will discuss them.
Before the first group presents, the teacher will play their songs and ask the students to follow along by looking at the lyrics. With the teacher acting as a facilitator, the group will explain the answers to Investigating the Song Lyrics, and the class will have a short discussion about the meaning of the song.
Closure:Hold a short discussion about how Americans during the Civil War used music to express their feelings about the war.
Assessment: Ask the students to write their own lyrics to a Civil War song. They can make up their own music, or use the music from another song. Or, ask students to write an essay using the song lyrics as a primary source. Students can pick one of the groups discussed in the activity (Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers, women and children on the home front, freed slaves, or African American soldiers), and discuss in a short essay how they felt about the Civil War using the songs as evidence.