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American Civil War for Kids - Bugle Calls and Bands Illustration

Civil War Music, Bugle Calls and Bands

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One job some soldiers had in both the Union and Confederate armies was that of musician.

Bugle Calls: Buglers had the job of alerting soldiers to daily activities. The calls and tunes used by both sides were practically the same. Reveille was sounded to begin the day at 5 am. Stable Call sent men to check the horses. Breakfast Call announced breakfast was ready. After breakfast, Sick Call summoned men who were ill to report to the camp doctor. Water Call sent men to fetch water for men and horses and other animals. Fatigue Call announced it was time to clean up the camp. There was a Drill Call, a Dinner Call, various Assembly Calls, and at the end of the day, around 10pm at night, Taps was played to notify the men that it was time to be in bed with all lights out.

Songs: For both armies, music was a popular activity. The men would break into song without embarrassment. Most historians will tell you that more soldiers sang during the Civil War than any other servicemen sang in American history. Each side had their favorite songs.

  • Union Songs: Some of the popular songs in the Union army included "John Brown's Body, All Quiet Along the Potomac", "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp", "Yankee Doodle Dandy",  "The Star Spangled Banner", and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic".  
  • Rebel Songs: Some of the popular songs in the Confederate army included "Dixie", "The Bonnie Blue Flag", "Maryland! My Maryland", "The Yellow Rose of Texas", and "Goober Peas". There was also a Rebel Yell. Nobody alive today has ever heard the real Rebel Yell - it hasn't been heard since 1865 as it was only used in the heat of battle by Rebel troops while running. But back in the Civil War, a Rebel Yell would start at one end of a Southern army on the attack and sweep to the other end. This battle cry gave heart to the fighting men. The Rebel Yell has been described as a mix of wolf and Indian howl, as a yip-yip-yip sound, and as a who-who-ey sound. One Union officer wrote home that it was the ugliest sound he'd ever heard, but it was sweet music to the Rebels.

Civil War Bands: Musicians were combined into bands to play marching tunes, and to provide music for parades and reviews and enjoyment.

  • Union Bands: The Union Army sent bands to march through towns and cities in the North, saving flags. The music was stirring and gay and loud. It was quite a patriotic sight to see a Union band. This sight and sound was responsible for many enlistments. Some bands were ordered to play in the heat of battle to keep up moral. There were about 500 bands and about 9000 military musicians in the Union army. The band instruments included cornets, horns, basses, drums, and symbols. Some bands included clarinets and piccolos. As needed, band members also served as stretcher-bearers and assisted in field hospitals.
  • Confederate Bands: There were not as many bands in the Confederate army because supplies were limited and men were needed to fight. Still, there were about 125 bands and about 1600 musicians.  On warm evenings, as the troops were lying around their campfires, Confederate bands played concerts. The Confederate army allowed privates to act as musicians, along with the paid military musicians, if they had the talent to do so. Paid musicians also served as infantry soldiers.
  • Legend says: One warm evening, the Union and Confederate armies found themselves camped on either side of a river. A Confederate band came down to the riverbank and serenaded the Union army with a lively rendition of "Dixie". A Union band responded with "John Brown's Body". The Rebels retaliated with "The Bonnie Blue Flag". The Union played back "The Star-Spangled Banner". All was quiet for a moment, then a lone bugler played "Home Sweet Home".  There was not a dry eye to be found on either side of the river.

Listen to some Civil War bugle calls

Civil War Songs

Civil War Band Music

Band Music from the Civil War era (for teachers, Library of Congress)

Making Music

Soldiers in the Civil War for Kids

See Also:

The Civil War for Kids, Index

Civil War Interactive Games & Activities for Kids

Civil War Presentations in PowerPoint format

Civil War Video Clips

Civil War Clip Art for Kids and Teachers

Civil War, Free iPad & iPhone apps

American Civil War Lesson Plans for Teachers