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Battle Hymns

The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War

By Christian McWhirter

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 26 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1367-3
    Published: February 2014
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-8262-7
    Published: March 2012

Civil War America

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Music was everywhere during the Civil War. Tunes could be heard ringing out from parlor pianos, thundering at political rallies, and setting the rhythms of military and domestic life. With literacy still limited, music was an important vehicle for communicating ideas about the war, and it had a lasting impact in the decades that followed. Drawing on an array of published and archival sources, Christian McWhirter analyzes the myriad ways music influenced popular culture in the years surrounding the war and discusses its deep resonance for both whites and blacks, South and North.

Though published songs of the time have long been catalogued and appreciated, McWhirter is the first to explore what Americans actually said and did with these pieces. By gauging the popularity of the most prominent songs and examining how Americans used them, McWhirter returns music to its central place in American life during the nation's greatest crisis. The result is a portrait of a war fought to music.

About the Author

Christian McWhirter is assistant editor for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois.
For more information about Christian McWhirter, visit the Author Page.


“Recommended. Lower - and upper-division undergraduates; graduate students; professionals; general readers.”--Choice

"An extensive, descriptive account of music during the American Civil War."--Journal of American History

"Much more than a treat for lovers of good history writing and a fresh look at well-trodden fields, it is also a painful reminder of just how divided a nation we were at birth, and how those divisions live with us still."--Huffington Post Arts & Culture

“A wealth of practical information on who composed what, when, and under what circumstances. [McWhirter’s] discovery of minute details concerning the origins of popular Civil War songs constitutes a real contribution to this area of specialization.”--Civil War Book Review

“A fascinating examination of how popular songs defined and unified ideologies during the Civil War.”--Southern Register

“No historian has done more than Christian McWhirter to open our ears to Civil War music as a very powerful expression of political action.”--McCormick Messenger

Multimedia & Links

Follow the author on Twitter @CLMcWhirter.

Check out his blog, Civil War Pop.