The American Civil War was one of the most important and devastating events in American history. It shaped our nation in a way that can still be felt today.
To honor those who served, many songs have been written about this tumultuous period, from songs that were actually written during the war to more modern interpretations of its powerful story.
In this post, we’ll explore some of these songs from the Civil War and the ways they are still relevant today.
Top 13 Modern Songs About The Civil War
Explore the American Civil War through the lens of music with this roundup of modern songs about the conflict! Discover new perspectives on the war’s history.
1. “Surrender Under Protest” – Drive-By Truckers
“Surrender Under Protest” by Drive-By Truckers is a powerful, emotional track about standing up for what you believe in.
Drawing on country and alt-country influences, the song creates an atmosphere of defiance against turbulent times, as lead vocalist Patterson Hood’s voice swells with intensity.
The lyrics convey a message of hope in the midst of chaos, urging listeners to fight back against oppressive forces: “Pick your battles / Don’t give it away / Resist the pressure and surrender under protest”.
With its catchy melody and poetic language, “Surrender Under Protest” serves as a brilliant call to arms and reminds us all that we must take action if we are to bring about justice.
2. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” – The Band
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band is an iconic American song written by Robbie Robertson and released in 1969.
It tells the story of a young Confederate soldier’s recollections of the closing days of the Civil War and his feelings about losing his home and way of life.
The lyrics evoke a sense of deep sadness for what was lost, yet also hold on to hope for a better future.
Musically, it features the band’s signature blend of folk, country, blues, and rockabilly, combined with Levon Helm’s plaintive lead vocal performance, making it one of the most beloved songs from The Band’s catalog.
3. “Andersonville” by Dave Alvin
“Andersonville” by Dave Alvin is a poignant meditation on the horrors of war, focusing on the Confederate prisoner-of-war camp – Andersonville.
It follows the story of Oscar King, a Union soldier who is captured and sent to Andersonville, which was one of the most notorious POW camps during the Civil War.
Alvin lyrically captures both Oscar’s horror at his plight and his hope for freedom as he struggles to survive in an environment where disease and starvation run rampant.
Against a backdrop of bluesy guitar riffs and droning harmonica solos, “Andersonville” ultimately serves as an evocative reminder that even in times of mass suffering, hope can still be found.
4. “Ben McCulloch” – Steve Earle
Ben McCulloch was a song written by Steve Earle, which appeared on his album, I Feel Alright. The track tells the story of Confederate soldier Benjamin McCulloch and his participation in the battle of Antietam during the American Civil War.
Its lyrics are incredibly detailed and evoke vivid imagery with their descriptions of the battle and understanding of McCulloch’s experience there.
With passionate guitars and powerful drumming, the song captures both a sorrowful spirit as well as an air of resilience – something that reflects perfectly upon both McCulloch and Earle himself.
5. “When The Master Calls The Roll” – Rosanne Cash
“When The Master Calls The Roll” by Rosanne Cash is a powerful and uplifting song about resilience, courage, and faith in the face of adversity.
It speaks to the importance of maintaining hope, even when life throws obstacles our way. With an emotive melody, Cash’s earnest lyrics sing of her desire to remain strong no matter what comes her way.
Through the hardships of life, we may stumble, but she encourages us to keep going and never give up as “when He calls our name/we will answer every time”.
It is this unwavering trust in whatever lies ahead that makes “When The Master Calls The Roll” such an inspiring song for all who are facing difficult times.
6. “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)” – The Decemberists
“Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)” by The Decemberists is a song about the power of love and longing for a loved one’s return.
Through the lyrics, singer Colin Meloy conveys immense nostalgia and emotion as he sings of someone far away but with whom he always has a deep connection.
Musically, the track is characterized by its lullaby-like melody and sweeping strings accompanied by subtle guitar chords that take listeners on a journey of hope, despair, and longing.
The anthemic chorus swells with passionate vocals as Meloy calls out to his loved one in desperate need of their presence.
An emotional roller coaster ride, Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then) encapsulates the unforgiving beauty of loss while at the same time offering hope in the promise of reuniting with those we hold most dear.
7. “Carry Me Back to Virginia” – Old Crow Medicine Show
“Carry Me Back to Virginia” by Old Crow Medicine Show is a rousing folk anthem that evokes the sound and feel of Americana.
It captures the imagery of the rural South with its acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and drums. The track builds on the traditional song “Oh! Susanna”, as modified by Woody Guthrie in 1940.
It’s an ode to the honest working people of Virginia, singing out: “Bring me my rifle and corn-liquor too/I’m gonna shoot me some possum before I go through”.
It’s a call for simple pleasures like taking a dip in the creek and playing tunes when night descends with raucous enthusiasm.
With both heartache and joy entwined together, it’s clear why this song has become an all-time favorite for fans of roots music around the world.
8. “Final Reward” – Chatham County Line
“Final Reward” by Chatham County Line is a captivating folk-rock ballad about the hope for redemption at the end of life.
With ethereal guitar riffs and powerful vocals, the song captures a feeling of longing for something that awaits beyond this world.
Lyrically, it speaks to our search for comfort in the face of mortality and offers an uplifting message of trust in one’s own journey despite the unknowns of life.
The chorus then drives home its message with a comforting yet resolute sense of faith: “What’s coming at the final reward / It may be good, it may be bad / But I will walk on every day until I find out what I had”.
Ultimately, “Final Reward” serves as a reminder that our lives are but momentary journeys filled with wonders and lessons along the way, and that hope will follow us until we reach our ultimate destination.
9. “Lone Pine Hill” – Justin Townes Earle
“Lone Pine Hill” by Justin Townes Earle is a melancholic guitar-driven song in which he speaks of the trials and tribulations of an unforgiving world.
The track relies heavily on imagery to paint a picture of hope and defeat, exploring the idea that no matter how far one strays from home, there will always be a place to return to.
Loneliness, regret, and solace are all themes threaded throughout the song. Earle’s gruff yet soothing vocals combined with the steady beat make for an easy listen – one you won’t soon forget.
10. “Last Letter Home” – Amazing Rhythm Aces
“Last Letter Home” by Amazing Rhythm Aces is an emotional, heartfelt song about a soldier who is writing for the last time to his family and saying goodbye.
The song conveys a sense of sorrow and longing as the soldier reflects on his life and all he has left behind.
Its lyrics evoke feelings of loneliness and helplessness as he thinks about his uncertain future in war-torn lands.
The song also emphasizes the importance of family, with its refrain “I’ll be home soon” written in bold lettering on the CD package’s liner notes.
Written and performed with heart-wrenching sincerity, “Last Letter Home” is a touching reminder of the sacrifices made by soldiers everywhere in the name of freedom and their families love.
11. “The Battle of Hampton Roads” – Titus Andronicus
“The Battle of Hampton Roads” by Titus Andronicus is a narrative poem that tells the story of an epic battle between two fleets of ships at the close of the American Civil War.
The narrator, a Union soldier, recounts his experience in vivid detail and provides insight into both sides’ strategies to gain naval supremacy in the closing days of the war.
The poem captures both the courage and sacrifice of those who fought on both sides as well as illustrating how crucial battles can be for determining major political events.
By drawing inspiration from literature such as Homer’s “The Iliad”, Titus Andronicus uses poetic language to capture the horror, chaos, and courage experienced by all involved in this conflict, creating an emotionally charged account that conveys its message powerfully.
12. “Lookout Mountain” – Brother Phelps
“Lookout Mountain” by Brother Phelps is an uplifting song that draws on the idea of standing together and keeping a lookout.
The metaphor of standing atop a symbolic pinnacle is used to represent strength and keeping an eye out for those in need of help. With a gentle slide guitar and driven by simple chords, Phelps’ honey-like voice guides listeners through the verse as he paints an optimistic image of staying alert and waiting ‘til someone needs help.
The chorus builds further on this message, with twangy backing vocals providing a sense of hope as it crescendos from soft optimism to a grand celebration.
Overall, “Lookout Mountain” is an inspiring tune that encourages us to reach out and be there for each other during tough times.
13. “Sandy Ford (Barbara Lee)” – Jim Lauderdale
Penned by Jim Lauderdale and Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead, “Sandy Ford (Barbara Lee)” was released in 2004. The song tells the story of a soldier reluctantly caught up in the conflict of his times, who longs to return to his beloved Barbara Lee.
As he makes his way home through Carolina and points below, he declares that though he may point his gun and fire, he won’t shoot to kill, doing whatever is necessary to survive.
His sentiment on the war is clear as he invites Barbara Lee to join him in praying for better times ahead — a dream of love despite the violence of his surroundings.
Top 10 Great Songs From The Civil War
Step back in time to explore the turbulent era of the Civil War with these songs! Discover thought-provoking lyrics, stirring melodies and powerful stories that will transport you through history.
1. “John Brown’s Body” – Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger’s “John Brown’s Body” is a timeless folk song about the struggle for justice and transformation.
Written in 1858 by Captain John Brown, it pays homage to the martyrdom of one man’s effort to bring slavery to an end in America.
The song was inspired by an incident that occurred when Brown and his men attempted to capture the United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in Virginia. Pete Seeger recorded this version of the moving tune with some minor lyrical changes in 1960.
Like many versions of the song, it features a call-and-response format where people answer each other with different lines or refrains as they sing together. It is considered an anthem for freedom fighters all over the world, even today.
2. “The Bonnie Blue Flag” – Harry Macarthy
“The Bonnie Blue Flag” is a song that was popular among Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War.
The lyrics of the song were written by Harry Macarthy in 1861 and the tune was adapted from an Irish air called “The Irish Jaunting Car”.
The song speaks of the “single star” on a “bonnie blue flag” which the author portrays as a symbol of independence for southern states that had seceded from the Union; hence, it has become known as an unofficial national anthem of sorts for the Confederacy.
It was also used as a rallying cry by some who supported slavery and secession as well. Although it is not widely used today, “The Bonnie Blue Flag” is still sung at Confederate events to honor those who fought and died during one of America’s most tragic wars.
3. “The Battle Cry of Freedom”- George Frederick Root
“The Battle Cry of Freedom”, composed by George Frederick Root and with lyrics adapted by William H. Barnes for the Southern version, is a powerful and stirring song that evokes feelings of patriotism and national pride.
It has become an iconic symbol of the American Civil War era, and its strong rhythms and passionate chorus have been used to inspire soldiers in both the Union army as well as Confederate forces.
The lyrics themselves consign glory to brave soldiers who fought for freedom on both sides of the conflict, celebrating their courage and valor in pursuit of liberty.
As such it encapsulates the spirit of America during a period when its soul was laid bare through years of conflict.
Even today “The Battle Cry of Freedom” continues to remain close to hearts throughout America, reflecting their shared hopes for freedom from tyranny wherever it may be found throughout the world.
4. “We Are Coming Father Abraham” – James Sloan Gibbons
“We Are Coming Father Abraham” is a patriotic song written by James Sloan Gibbons with music composed by Luther O. Emerson.
It was composed in 1861 during the American Civil War and quickly gained widespread popularity as a rallying march for Union troops.
The lyrics evoke a sense of strong nationalistic pride, calling on Abraham to send his sons from all around “four hundred thousand more” to join in their fight for freedom and justice.
The high tempo of the song and its inspiring refrain, “Glory, glory hallelujah!” encourages listeners to keep fighting until victory is won. Even today, it serves as an evergreen reminder of patriotism and courage in the face of adversity.
5. “Maryland, My Maryland” – James Ryder Randall
“Maryland, My Maryland” is an iconic poem written in 1861 by James Ryder Randall honoring the state of Maryland’s resolve to fight in the Civil War.
The poem was famously adopted as the official song of Maryland and set to the music of “Lauriger Horatius”, a German drinking song from the 16th century.
Its stirring lines invoke memories of Maryland’s heritage invoking “The despot’s heel is on thy shore” and rousing patriotic sentiments especially when it calls for statesmen to rise against “Northern scum” who have come to oppress them.
Despite its obvious connotations, it has remained a beloved tribute to the spirit of Maryland to this day.
6. “Grafted into the Army” – Henry Clay Work
Henry Clay Work’s song “Grafted into the Army” is an old Civil War folk tune that reflects the joyous feeling of union soldiers during their victorious march through Virginia.
Written in 1864, the song celebrates the entrance of African American troops into the Union army. It paints a vivid picture of wartime camaraderie, highlighting not just the excitement of joining forces against slavery but also the racial unity fostered by those who fought together to end it.
The lyrics capture how “We come from everywhere and play our music in the air / We all are grafted in one big family around here.”
This powerful testament to solidarity demonstrates how people from all walks of life could come together on common ground and work for a shared cause.
7. “That’s What’s the Matter” – Stephen Foster
“That’s What’s the Matter” is a song composed by Stephen Foster in 1850, one of his earliest works. The song is an expression of nostalgia for childhood and innocence, meaning that as we get older, these things slip away from us.
It uses a wistful melody to enhance this feeling of longing for simpler times and to make the point that growing up means learning to accept difficult realities.
The lyrics “Oh! happy days of childhood, when joys come thick and fast; Ah! Why can we not always be children?” drives home this sentiment.
Stephen Foster was able to capture something so real in his music that continues to evoke emotion in listeners today.
8. “Tenting on the Old Campground” – Walter Kittredge
“Melancholy songs about the life of the soldier were popular around campfires and fireplaces, with the most renowned being “Tenting on the Old Campground” (or “Tenting Tonight”) written by Walter Kittredge, a New Hampshire native who never served as a soldier.
The song expresses the suffering of military life: separation from family and friends, enduring long marches and battles, and death of companions.
The song’s climax always moves its listeners when the chorus changes from “Tenting tonight, tenting tonight / Tenting on the old camp ground,” to “Dying tonight, dying tonight / Dying on the old camp ground.”
9. “Weeping Sad and Lonely” – Charles C. Sawyer, Henry Tucker
“Known as “When This Cruel War Is Over”, this melancholic song was so popular in the United States during the war that several Union generals banned it from being performed in camps out of fear that it might dishearten their troops and lead to desertions.
Written from the perspective of a lover who imagines her partner lying wounded on a battlefield, calling for help but to no avail, its powerful lyrics touched hearts across the country and resulted in more than a million copies of its sheet music being sold in Northern states.”
10. “All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight” – Ethel Lynn Beers, John Hill Hewitt
“All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight” is a renowned American Civil War poem by Ethel Lynn Beers and music by John Hill Hewitt.
The poem was originally published in 1861, as a way of gaining sympathy for the South during the war. In the poem, Beers paints a picture of life along the Potomac River near Washington D.C., which is completely silent due to the ongoing battle between North and South forces.
It speaks about how life has been reduced to hopelessness, fear, and death. It emphasizes that hopes have faded away since soldiers from both sides died on this majestic river during the war raging all around it.
This powerful and moving work offers a stark reminder of how destructive warfare can be and serves as an important reminder of those who gave their lives serving their country during this tumultuous time in our nation’s history.
Below are some faqs about songs from the civil war:
What songs that represent the Civil War?
Some of the popular songs that represent the Civil War period are “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Julia Ward Howe, “The Bonnie Blue Flag” by Harry Macarthy and “Dixie’s Land” by Dan Emmett.
These songs were performed by both Union and Confederate troops and have become iconic symbols of the war.
What song was popular during the Civil War?
One of the most popular songs during the Civil War was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” written by Julia Ward Howe.
The song quickly became an anthem of the Union cause, and its lyrics captured the spirit of hope and resilience that every side had during this tumultuous conflict.
What is the song from Ken Burns Civil War?
The song from the Ken Burns Civil War documentary is Ashokan Farewell by composer Jay Ungar.
What songs did slaves sing during the Civil War?
During the Civil War, many African-American slaves sang spirituals such as
- “Go Down, Mose”
- “Come On, Let’s All Go to the House of God”
- “Oh Freedom , and “Promised Land”
- “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”
- “Wade in the Water”
- “Steal Away to Jesus”
These were songs of liberation, hope, and freedom from the shackles of slavery, which expressed their desire for independence.
What was the civil wars biggest hit?
The Civil Wars’ biggest hit was their single “Barton Hollow” from their 2011 album of the same name. The song peaked in the Top 10 on adult and alternative radio, receiving a Grammy Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
The song reached number 1 on the US Hot Rock Songs chart and was certified 3x Platinum in Australia for sales of over 210,000 copies.
The Civil War’s biggest hit was the song “Boots of Spanish Leather,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts in 2011.
And “The One That Got Away,” which topped the U.S. Folk chart and peaked at number 20 on the Billboard Hot
What band sings about Civil War?
- Band of Horses released the song “The Funeral” off their 2006 album Everything All the Time which tells a story of a family caught up in the struggles and losses of the civil war. The poignant track has since become one of the band’s best-known works.
- The Irish band The Pogues is known for their song “The Broad Majestic Shannon,” which references the civil war in Ireland. They have also released songs such as “Billy’s Bones” and “Cotton Fields”, both of which reference the legacy of the civil war.
- The band Union Station released a handful of songs about the Civil War and the experiences of people living at that time. Their songs focus on topics such as slavery, how women were affected by the war, and even how small towns dealt with issues of loyalty to either side.
What were songs used for during slavery?
During the era of slavery in the United States, African Americans were deprived of their freedom, but not their creative spirit.
Many created songs and poems to express their feelings about their plight and hope for a better future.
From spirituals like “Bound For The Promised Land” to protest songs such as “Steal Away To Jesus,” these songs served as a shared language among enslaved people and helped them keep hope alive.
What were the songs that American slaves used to sing?
American slaves used to sing a variety of songs from spirituals and folk songs to lullabies and work songs. Some examples include “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Go Down Moses,” “Oh Freedom,” and “Steal Away”.
What was the most famous song of the civil right movement and who wrote it?
The most famous song of the civil rights movement was “We Shall Overcome” and it was written by folk musician Pete Seeger.
What songs did slaves sing on the Underground Railroad?
Slaves used songs to keep the rhythm and for inspiration on their journey along the Underground Railroad.
Popular songs included “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “Go Down Moses,” and spirituals like “Steal Away.” These songs spoke of hope, freedom, and a better life ahead.
How many popular Civil War songs were there?
During the civil war, there were over 100 popular songs written about and by both sides of the conflict.
Some of the more popular tunes and songs included “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Dixie,” “Just Before the Battle, Mother” and many others.
What was the most famous song of the American Revolution?
The most famous song of the American Revolution was “Yankee Doodle,” a patriotic song from the British point of view.
The song was originally written by an anonymous British soldier and became popular in the colonies during the war. It is still sung today for its historical significance and sense of national pride.
In conclusion, the Civil War has been an important part of American history and many songs have been written to commemorate this war and its events.
From traditional folk songs to modern compositions, songs about the Civil War have found their way into our culture over the years.
The themes of these songs are often deeply affecting, reflecting on how much was lost during this turbulent period in US history.
Whether learning through music or another medium, exploring the stories connected to the Civil War is an important way of preserving its memory for future generations.