Skip to content

To Live And Die In Dixie: Songs Of The Civil War Listened To Again

To discuss 19th Century American pop music is to discuss Stephen CollinFoster, but to discuss the civil war music is a different subject entirely.

Foster, the songwriter behind "Beautiful Dreamer", "Swanee River", "Oh Susannah", and many others, gave a Southern gait to Minstrel shows in the East but was neither a writer of dance nor folk, but a pop song writer and a harbinger of the great American songbook. Not much separates George Cohan from Foster or Cohan from Gershwin from McCartney for that matter.

So in any real sense, Foster is the beginning of indigenous American POP.

But the Civil War wasn't kind kind to him, and Foster died broke in a flop house on the Lower East Side in 1864 in the middle of the war. He was 37 years old.

The Civil War began 150 years ago today (at 430am!) and continued from 4 years, and ended with the Union winning, the African population no longer forced to be slaves and the birth of the US we know today.

So why would Foster have been big during those four years? It was all fife, drums, folk, sorrow, Hymns… not the place for a populists

Civil War songs were broken up like this according to an excellent website,, sequenced by Benjamin Robert Tubb

1. Patriotic Songs

2. The Soldiering Life

3. Battlefield deaths

4. Emancipation songs

For every "Dixie Land" (you know: "I wish I was in Dixie, to live and die in Dixie") and "When Johnny Comes marching Home" there is a helluva lot of "Emancipation" -a naff English hymn re-written, the people being emancipated were writing much better about.

There is some timeless stuff among the rubble, and never more so than when they stop rah rahing and become nursery rhyme in their attack, "Jimmy Crack Corn" by Daniel Decauter Emmett, another Easterner writing for the Minstrel shows of the time. He wrote "Dixie" as well, in 1859, and was well pissed when it became a Southern anthem.

So some of this stuff is as fresh as today, and some of it calls thru the centuries back to us, and some is just as well forgotten.

I was reading where I man was walking by a black woman on a plantation and heard her singing "Old Abe Lincoln Came Out Of the Wilderness' -nobody knows who wrote the song (though whenever I read "Anon" as the composer, I am guessing that means it was a black person.

The minstrels picked up on it.

Well, they would have.

Leave a Comment


Support Let Me Help Inc by shopping at

Birthday Giving At Let Me Help

By SohoJohnny Pasquale | December 1, 2022 |

Want to join me in supporting a good cause?

Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – December 1980 (Volume 12, Number 7) 

By Steve Crawford | December 1, 2022 |

Boy Howdy! did Susan Whitall put together a solid team of writers

Brief Encounters: New Album Releases 11-25-22 – 12-1-22 Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | December 1, 2022 |

its own glammy road not travelled

In Memory Of The Impeccable Miss Perfect: Lindsey Buckingham And Christine McVie AT Beacon Theatre, Thursday, August 10th, 2017, Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | November 30, 2022 |

Christine’s face

Eileen Shapiro: “Portfolio Of A Rockstar Journalist” Goes To Camden, Sees Adam Ant In 2018

By Eileen Shapiro | November 30, 2022 |

“This was his best performance ever.”

Going Steady: New Singles 11-25-22 – 12-1-22 Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | November 30, 2022 |

his best song since “I Will See You In Far Off Places”

Punk Rock Bowling 2023 Has Announced Its Lineup

By Alyson Camus | November 30, 2022 |

expected series of punk veterans


By admin | November 29, 2022 |


US Top Ten Singles Tracking 11-18-22 – 11-24-22

By Iman Lababedi | November 29, 2022 |

I have this thing where I get older but just never wiser

Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – November 1980 (Volume 12, Number 6) 

By Steve Crawford | November 29, 2022 |

an almost indefinable purity

Scroll To Top