Document Type

Research Report




Presented at the VCU Virtual Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, summer 2021. Faculty sponsor: Dr. Sarah Meacham.

Date of Submission

May 2021


The Civil War was the defining event in American history in many ways, and it was just as traumatic to the individuals who lived through it as it was to the nation. One way in which soldiers and civilians were able to process their emotions and understand their wartime experiences was through music. Civilians and soldiers alike wrote, published, performed, and listened to popular songs as a means of healing. This paper explores the variety of ways in which Americans of the North and South were able to do that. It examines the lyrics and music written during the war. Utilizing primary documents such as memoirs, reminiscences, newspaper accounts, sheet music, and song lyrics, as well as a variety of secondary and scholarly sources, dissertations, books, and websites, this paper shows that music served a variety of functions. Music was used for patriotic and political purposes, religious services, entertainment, and nostalgia; however its most overlooked use was as a form of trauma relief. The prevalence and enduring popularity of music in this form demonstrates that nineteenth-century Americans were able to comfort, understand, and express their emotions through popular songs and performances.


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Is Part Of

VCU History Undergraduate Works