Historical Legacy of Music During Wartime


The tradition of music in American wars owes its origins to Europe and especially Britain, which has had an extensive history of military bands ; by the 1600s drums, fifes , bugle horns, and trumpets were all commonly used by military musicians (Olson, 4). The tradition of military bands carried over into the Revolutionary War and was adopted by the colonial armies. During the Revolutionary War, most of the British regiments, and the elite colonial regiments had bands of music that accompanied them (Olson, 5) . Over the course of the eighteenth century a number of new instruments were introduced into the ranks of military bands such as bells, triangles, drums, symbols, and wind instruments (Olson, 6-7).


Civil War bands owe their existence equally to the traditions of the British army (and European tradition), and the American civilian instrumental tradition (Olson, 7). In the specific case of the Civil War it was the creation of citizen -soldier units that engendered the promotion of band music (Olson, 11). Despite the undeniable link between musicians and militaries , Civil War musicians joined out of a response to the significant expectations of their fellow soldiers (Olson, 33).


During the Civil War, the enlistment of a band of musicians allowed for some of the comfort and safety of home to be brought onto the battlefields. The music performed a specific and poignant role for the soldiers. It could comfort and encourage, reminding the men of home, loved ones, and life before the war. It could inspire their patriotism and empower them to go on with the fight. Kenneth Olson writes, “The soldiers wanted-- even needed--the bands. Multitudes of musicians responded to their urgent pleas and marched off to war” (Olson, 33). During the war, music played the twofold role of ritualizing the war and civilizing the fight (Olson, 34).

 

 

Home