Celebrate President's Day with Patriotic Music

Posted by Kathryn Brunner on

Guest Post by Kristen from "A Mom's Quest to Teach"

Music is such an integral part of our everyday lives.

It is no wonder that songs also hold a special place in the study of history. 
Young children can learn songs about history! Songs make history come alive!
Looking at a timeline of how music has changed over the course of history, we can see the impact it has had on culture, people, religion, and technological advancement. Music also has the ability to impact people. People impact history. With this in mind, we find that:
Music has the power to impact history.

One could look at any time period to study music, but today let’s look at several examples of patriotic music in American history—specifically during the mid-1800s. 

Wars often spark and produce many songs including many patriotic songs. Some of those songs have even stood the test of time such as the national anthem of the United StatesThe Star Spangled Banner. The lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key after a battle at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Seeing the stripes and stars of the American flag still flying after a long night, Key was inspired to put pen to paper. If you'd like to learn more about the history of the song, click here for a quick overview.
Another song that has stood the test of time is that of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with lyrics by Julia Ward Howe. The first draft of the song was written in November 1861 after Howe and a group visited army camps and listened to some of the popular songs of the day. The Reverend James Freeman Clarke suggested she write new lyrics to the tune.
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1862.  
Other patriotic songs are not as well-remembered but are just as interesting for helping us study history. For example, Stephen Foster who is well-known for many songs including “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Oh! Susanna,” and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” also wrote a great number of songs connected to the Civil War. 

One of Foster's songs provides an opportunity to study people, events, and places from the Civil War by researching the lyrics.

There were a great number of songs written about the Civil War that were optimistic. Music has a way of inspiring both civilians and the young men who were fighting the war.

Patriotic songs also fostered myths and legends.
Historians share the details of letters and diaries written by both Union and Confederate soldiers about how songs affected them and their fellow men.

One of the Union songs, for example, “The Battle Cry of Freedom” has been mentioned on numerous occasions as bringing back good spirit and cheer after a battlefield defeat. 

“Oh, we’ll rally ‘round the flag, boys, we’ll rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom”
No matter how worn out and tired the soldiers were, these lyrics would be sure to inspire the men who were fighting for the cause of freedom. 

In addition to Patriotic songs, there were also songs about events on the battlefield, domestic events and families eagerly awaiting the return of sons, husbands, etc, and songs that celebrated emancipation.

Some of my personal favorites include “Weeping Sad and Lonely” and “Just Before the Battle, Mother.”

Songs have a way of capturing emotion. The lyrics within the songs can help both writer and listener focus on the same idea and follow it to the tune's end.
Just as love songs can be happy, sad, or encouraging the writer and listener alike, songs whose topics are historical events—whether general or specific—can encourage, brighten, or sadden listeners similarly.
The bards (the songwriters or poets) of an era can speak to following generations and give a glimpse into the feelings of a time in a way the mere printed word may not.

Do you have memories about patriotic songs that you learned as a child?

Maybe your music teacher in school taught you to sing some of them? Maybe you heard some of these patriotic songs on national holidays?

Share your childhood memories of patriotic music in the comments below! We'd love to hear them! 

Suggested Activities

Here are some ways to incorporate these songs and others into your day at home with little ones or into your homeschooling day? 
  1. Grab some pots and pans from under your kitchen cupboard. Scroll to one of the songs above and have a patriotic percussion party with your little one as you listen!
  2. Learn how to play or sing one of the songs mentioned above by practicing a little bit of it every day with your child. 
  3. Draw your own U.S. Flag while you listen to patriotic music together. 
  4. Find your favorite song above and dance together while you listen.

To dive deeper into the historical background of the content above:

  1. Read more about the battle at Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. Visit the National Park Site in Maryland, if possible.
  2. Learn more about Stephen Foster. Read about the Civil War through “Better Times Are Coming.” 
  3. Some of the songs written during the Civil War were actually ones where new lyrics were set to traditional songs. For example, “The Bonnie Blue Flag” was set to “The Irish Jaunting Car” and “Maryland, My Maryland” was set to “O Tannenbaum.” Can you find more examples? Why not try your hand at writing new lyrics for traditional songs?
  4. What song or songs have the power to lift your spirit the way some of the Civil War songs lifted the spirit of the soldiers? 

About the Author

Kristen is a housewife and mother to a teen stepson and two younger children (son, 5, and daughter, 3). She is a certified social studies teacher and has worked as a volunteer at a National Park site, in the education department of a metropolitan zoo, and as a high school history teacher. Kristen has maintained a blog where she relates her family’s learning experiences at http://momquesttoteach.blogspot.com since 2015.

A Mom’s Quest to Teach is a regular column covering elements of teaching and learning (with an eye towards homeschooling), parenting, crafting, and all of the discoveries, joys, and daily roller coaster rides that occur while being a mom. 

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