Music has always been a critical part of American culture and tradition. Folk songs and hymns passed down from generation to generation provided people with a sense of unity and camaraderie. Music could also be used to teach and transfer information, as the low literacy rate in the United States prevented many people from learning from books or newspapers. In times of war, this purpose was no different. Music was accessible to all classes and races, unlike education, and it served to unite each side of the war under a common anthem. “All are influenced by it - the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the educated and the uneducated” (McWhirter, 2012, p.12).
Though the previous decades had seen music as prominent components, the popularity of music grew during the mid-nineteenth century. “Established songwriters and amateurs alike received inspiration from the conflict that raged around them, especially during the first two years of fighting. Many of their songs were original pieces, but several offered only new lyrics for existing tunes” (McWhirter, p. 16). Though Confederates published fewer songs (which makes sense due to the turmoil taking place in the Southern states and industries), there are still somewhere between six and seven hundred pieces that can be attributed to that era. As McWhirter’s book indicates, the success of Civil War era songs was able to grow due to the large regional unity of North and South. “...wartime conditions made it easier for a song to cross class, community, and sectional barriers” (McWhirter, p. 17). Songs such as “Dixie” became anthems throughout the southern states. “Even before Virginia seceded, the Richmond Dispatch labeled ‘Dixie’ the ‘National Anthem of Secession’ and the New York Times concurred a few months later, observing that the tune ‘has been the inspiring melody which the southern people, by general consent, have adopted as their national air’” (McWhirter, 2012).