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Civil War era music, at the Music Library

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Cover to the sheet music for Bonnie Blue Flag, courtesy of the Laurie Music Library

The Laurie Music Library, located on the lower level of the Douglass Library, holds a large collection of 19th century sheet music covering most of that century. While there is certainly an aesthetic value attached to the collection, it is the sheet music's historical value that is most significant, since by studying the music and lyrics much can be learned about daily life in various decades of the 1800s. One of the more fascinating parts of this collection is the music from 1860-1865, the Civil War era.

April 2011 marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, when Confederate forces attacked the Union soldiers stationed at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. In commemoration of this historical event, we present here two songs from our collection.

The first song is one of the most popular Confederate songs, "The Bonnie Blue Flag," (listen to the song at the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project here) arranged by Harry Macarthy, the Arkansas comedian, and based on a traditional Irish tune, "The Irish Jaunting Car" (as performed by Polk Miller and his Old South Quartet.) First published in New Orleans in 1861, the song celebrates the symbol of the Confederacy.

When Northern treachery attempts our rights to mar,
we hoist on high the Bonnie Blue Flag, that bears a single star.
Hurrah! Hurrah! for Southern rights hurrah!

The following verses describe the secession of the other southern states, culminating in the final verse

Then cheer, boys, cheer, raise the joyous shout,
For Arkansas and North Carolina now have both gone out;
And let another rousing cheer for Tennessee be given -
The Single Star of the Bonnie Blue Flag has grown to be Eleven.

In response, a year later, Oliver Dio. of Boston, MA published the song, "The Bonnie, Red, White, and Blue, or Our Beautiful Flag" written by J.C.J. to the same tune as "The Bonnie Blue Flag." Its lyrics are a direct response to the Confederate tune, in which the Union replies

We never wished to harm you, we'll welcome you again
When you tear down the rebel flag, as brothers and as men.
When Sumter's walls were battered, what could we, freemen, do.
But rally round our beautiful flag, of Red White and Blue.

The Northern version of the song also encourages the "southern poor man" to

Strike off the captive's chain!
And rally round the starry flag to sing in loud refrain:
Hurrah! Hurrah! for a nation's rights hurrah!

These songs, as well as other songs of the era, serve as first-hand accounts of attitudes during the war. A greater understanding of views of the North, South, soldiers, and civilians can be attained by studying the music of this period. You can contact Michelle Oswell, Music/Performing Arts Librarian, at to arrange to see these and other items from the 19th-century sheet music collection in the Music Library.

Story written by Sara Rizzo,
A student in the Masters of Library and Information Science program

Posted April 18, 2011