Robert E. Lee once remarked that without music, there would have been no army. Certainly, music was a large part of life during the War Between the States, both in the camps and at home. Not only was it a major source of entertainment, it was also a way to give voice to feelings that words alone often could not express.
In his excellent volume on the Lower Peninsula campaign of 1862, To the Gates of Richmond, historian Stephen Sears cites an incident that occurred during the Battle of Williamsburg:
[Federal] Corps commander [Samuel] Heintzelman joined the desperate struggle to close the broken ranks. He hit on the novel idea of rallying them with music. Finding several regimental bands standing by bewildered as the battle closed in, Heintzelman ordered them to take up their instruments. "Play! Play! It's all you're good for," he shouted. "Play, damn it! Play some marching tune! Play 'Yankee Doodle,' or any doodle you can think of, only play something!" Before long, over the roar of the guns, came the incongruous sound of "Yankee Doodle" and then "Three Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue." One of [General Joseph] Hooker's men thought the music was worth a thousand men. "It saved the battle," he wrote.
Survivors of General George Pickett's disastrous charge at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 3, 1863) remembered in later years that Confederate regimental bands stationed in the trees played stirring martial airs as they started off across the mile-long field that separated them from George Meade's Army of the Potomac. Those same bands greeted them with "Nearer, My God, To Thee" as they streamed back to the safety of their own lines after being repulsed at the stone wall.
"Music in Camp" illustrates the importance of music
to both armies by recounting an incident that took place along the banks of the
Rappahannock River several weeks after the Battle of Chancellorsville.