A Song for Jennie

By Claire Bickers ’20


The above-pictured sheet music is an ode to Gettysburg’s own Jennie Wade, who was killed in the crossfire of July 3rd, 1863. The simple tune was created by lyricist E. B. Dewing and composer J. P. Webster who hoped they would inspire patriotism in their female audience while they worked to become accomplished musicians. When the Civil War broke out, the young women who played the piece had been left behind on the home front, only to imagine what horrors their men were facing. The government and the warfront alike relied on the homefront to present a brave and loyal face in order to maintain support for the war effort through the fostering of a nationalistic, sentimental culture that bled into all aspects of Union life. Music was a feminine expression of patriotic devotion that many women used to empathize with those on the battle front as well as to inspire themselves and their peers toward acts of patriotic sacrifice on behalf of their war-torn nation. After the war ended and America moved into Reconstruction, music like “Jennie Wade, the Heroine of Gettysburg” continued to inspire women, who were busy honoring the dead and healing the country’s gaping wounds.

In that vein, in 1865, Dewing and Webster produced a collection that was patriotically themed. One of the songs in that collection was “Jenny Wade, the Heroine of Gettysburg,” which was a simple tune included in an educational musical collection that described itself as being “divided into two kinds of lessons—the one for musical culture and the other for muscular culture… those lessons which are designed to awaken, develop, and strengthen a love for music.” Since the performers played this piece to develop their piano and vocal skills, it is likely that many of the earliest performers were young and still early on in their musical journey. It is also likely that many of the earliest performers of the song were in fact young women. Since musical ability was considered an asset for women’s marriageability and a marker of femininity and social class, many nineteenth-century young women were musically trained from an early age. If the intended audience for this music was indeed young women, then that makes it all the more interesting that the subject matter of this song is also a tribute to a woman. The women who played the music likely saw themselves in Jennie’s story; the shared experience of being a woman in a war-weary nineteenth century was a unifying force in the lives of both the consumer and the subject of the tune.

The message that these women consumed in the lyrics that Dewing wrote tap into nineteenth century ideas of sentimentalism. Soldiers and civilians alike relied upon the framework of sentimental thinking to understand and justify the brutality and fatality of war: Sentimentalism was an ideology that promoted unfailing courage in the face of seemingly overwhelming grief and honorable sacrifice in the name of a higher cause. Sentimentalism also emphasized the deep-rooted connection between soldier and home, reminding women on the homefront of their duty to remain stoic in the face of loss. Southern historian Lisa Laskin argues that “the people to whom the soldiers looked for emotional support also proved to be the group most capable of sabotaging soldier morale.” To protect soldiers’ morale, it was vital for women to maintain their patriotism during the war, and composers and lyricists such as Webster and Dewing monopolized upon the thirst for inspirational entertainment through the rapidly expanding genre of patriotic music.

At the onset of the Civil war, the patriotic music industry boomed, featuring many different styles of music, a large amount of which was styled after the Napoleonic epic of “The Battle of Prague.” Similarly styled songs, including “The Battle of Manassas” and “Battle of the Wilderness,” were composed throughout the war and attempted to capture the horrors of the battlefield through music, even calling for vocal sound effects (The “Battle of Manassas” encourages performers to exclaim “Chu Chu” at one point to imitate a train’s arrival) and dramatic gestures. Although the patriotic musical genre was dominated by battle songs and odes to the masculine, Dewing and Webster chose to honor a more feminine subject for a predominantly young, predominantly female audience. The song employs patriotic imagery as they praise her, saying her “spirit yet shall serve Free men defending right” because she died with the “courage of a woman true, [as she] Upheld the dear old flag.” Dewing intentionally chose these words to remind women of their bravery and sacrifice throughout the war, traits they would continue to need while facing its aftermath.

The publishers included a short line at the top of the sheet music that gives a brief explanation of the events that led up to Jenny’s death, noting that “the heroic girl…was making bread for our soldiers in a house between the two armies, and exposed to the fire of both, although repeatedly urged, she would not desist from her labors, and fell victim to her patriotism.” This story must have been striking to the young musicians who were playing the song for the first time. The young women who performed the piece doubtless all knew a man who had gone to war and would never return, but they were far less likely to have met a woman in the same situation. Being presented with the story of a young woman who died a bloody, masculine death must have been a stark reminder of the heavy cost of war: Even a northern woman, who was theoretically supposed to be safe from the danger of battle’s crossfire, could be killed in an instant and that minie balls did not discriminate on the basis of gender.

However, the description that Dewing wrote about Jennie’s death sanitized her passing as much as possible, distancing her death from the battlefield and aligning it with the feminine sphere. Dewing and Webster did not specifically mention how exactly Jennie died; they simply alluded to it and allowed players to infer the rest. Instead, the two men focused on what Jennie was doing at the time of her death – baking bread. This choice in details conveyed the message that Jennie’s physical and symbolic role in the war like all other women and civilians, was meant to be separate from the front-line action. Instead, a woman should prove her patriotic devotion by selflessly serving in the feminine sphere.

At twenty years old, Jennie Wade was probably not much older at her death than many of the musicians who played this piece. The song’s attempts to sentimentalize her death by laying Jennie to rest “with our bravest,” implied to performers that her sacrifice was just as deep and meaningful as the deaths of the more than seven thousand young men who fell on the Gettysburg battlefield. Consumers of “Jenny Wade, the Heroine of Gettysburg” and its message were presented with a sentimental interpretation not of those men’s deaths, but of the death of the one and only civilian killed during the battle. The song gives a face to this feminine martyr while inextricably linking the necessary and heroic sacrifices and sufferings of both the battlefield and the home front. Dewing and Webster’s song inspired their audience with the heroism that was expected of every American, civilian or soldier, in their country’s time of need.


Laskin, Lisa. “”The Army Is Not near so Much Demoralized as the Country Is”: Soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate Home Front.” In The View from the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, 91-120. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2007.

Marisi, Rossella. “Female Music Making in the Nineteenth Century.” Review of Artistic
Education, no. 5/6 (September 2013): 18–24.

Morgan, Elizabeth. “Combat at the Keys: Women and Battle Pieces for the Piano during
the American Civil War.” 19th Century Music, 40, 1 (2016):7–19.

“Welcome To Jennie Wade House.” Jennie Wade House | Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Accessed  March 26, 2019.

“The Colored Volunteers”: A Recruiting Tune for the USCT

By Jen Simone ‘18

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

“The Colored Volunteers.” Song sheet. This song, encouraging black men to enlist, makes light the threat posed by Jeff Davis’s Special Order 111. After Fort Pillow, the reality of Confederate policy towards captured USCT became all too clear. Despite Confederate atrocities, black men continued enlisting throughout the war. Courtesy of Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College.

Given the dreadful reality of the Civil War, there was little use for songs that accurately reflected the duties and risks of soldiering when it came to recruiting civilians to fight.  The danger involved in the war was high for all men, but black soldiers faced additional, unique threats. The particular hostility of Confederates to armed black men and distrust from their white Union comrades meant that they were especially vulnerable targets of wartime atrocities. Possibly written by a private in Company A of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first official African American units, “The Colored Volunteers” (also referred to as “Give Us a Flag”) was a song used as recruitment propaganda to encourage black men to enlist during the Civil War.  The song’s lyrics sanitize many very serious issues and threats soldiers faced, offering a romanticized representation of the challenges a black enlistee would face.

Continue reading ““The Colored Volunteers”: A Recruiting Tune for the USCT”

Instruments of War: A Canadian Musician in a Rhode Island Regiment

By Ryan Nadeau ’16

Canada! America’s hat! Our friendly little brother to the north. The home of hockey and Tim Horton’s and your home, too, when that other political party elects their crazy candidate. All jokes aside, the United States has long had a close relationship with our northern neighbor, and the Civil War proved no exception. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Canadians fought during the war, typically on the side of the Union due to their geographic proximity and cultural sympathies. Of that number, approximately 5,000 were killed.

Of course, not all Canadians who partook in the war were there to fight. Among the number who volunteered in the Union army was a young musician by the name of Calixa Lavallée, who some two decades after the war became responsible for one of the most enduring symbols of Canada (at least as we perceive it here in the United States): the music of their national anthem, “O Canada.” Born in Quebec to parents of French descent, he was only sixteen when he traveled to the United States for the first time to join a traveling minstrel show based out of Rhode Island. Already an extremely versatile musician, he journeyed across the politically-tense nation to cities like New Orleans, Vicksburg, Richmond, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York to perform on tour. On 19 January, 1861, Lavallée and his troupe were in Atlanta when Georgia seceded from the Union.

Calixa Lavallée in his later years, defying typical post-war facial hair trends. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.
Calixa Lavallée in his later years, defying typical post-war facial hair trends. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “Instruments of War: A Canadian Musician in a Rhode Island Regiment”

Hamilton: Musical Theater, Public History’s New Frontier?

By Megan McNish ’16

Hamilton is one of Broadway’s newest musicals and it’s the hottest thing to hit the stage in a long time. The show, a rap-opera, follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s ‘forgotten Founding Father.’ The show has had immense success since it opened in August 2015, with thousands of followers on the show’s Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube pages. It has exploded from the stage into a cultural phenomenon, but what makes the story of this Founding Father so compelling for audiences? Previous productions of historical musicals and plays have failed on the stage, while Hamilton thrives. What is its secret?

The album cover for the original Broadway cast recording of the new musical Hamilton. Image Courtesy of Atlantic Records.

Continue reading “Hamilton: Musical Theater, Public History’s New Frontier?”

The Music of “1865” in 2015: A Civil War Musical Retrospective by Anonymous Four

By Meg Sutter ’16

Last Sunday, the Lutheran Theological Seminary Chapel was packed full of people eager to see the world-renown a capella group Anonymous Four for their final touring season. For nearly thirty years, the four women who make up the group have performed around the world with their unique style and sound. This season, Anonymous Four invited Bruce Molsky, “one of America’s premier fiddling talents,” to join them for their “1865” concert celebrating the end of the Civil War through their own interpretation of Civil War music. The event, co-sponsored by the Civil War Institute and the Sunderman Conservatory of Music, opened with remarks by the Civil War Institute’s Dr. Jill Titus, on the importance of analyzing and studying music when trying to understand the culture of the Civil War Era.

The Anonymous Four
The program for Anonymous Four’s “1865” concert. Photograph courtesy of author.

Continue reading “The Music of “1865” in 2015: A Civil War Musical Retrospective by Anonymous Four”

“Caught between Southern Pride and Southern Blame”: Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist”

By Brianna Kirk ’15

An ongoing and rather controversial debate in the Civil War world is that over the rightful placement of the Confederate battle flag in American memory. Being such a provocative symbol both in terms of history and race relations, its ‘true’ meaning and ‘true’ symbolism are constantly in flux. With recent disputes on the removal of the Confederate flag from Robert E. Lee’s tomb at Washington and Lee University making their way into the mainstream news, the complicated meaning of the rebel symbol and where it belongs in American memory have earned their places at the forefront of the national consciousness.

Brad Paisley worked the issue even further into the public arena with the release of the song “Accidental Racist” on his 2013 album Wheelhouse. Set toward the end of the album, the country song with a little flavor of rap features LL Cool J as a guest artist. Immediately after its release, the song drew criticism both from white and black Americans about its aims and the intended meaning behind its unusual yet distinctive lyrics.

Brad Paisley's 2013 album Wheelhouse. bradpaisley.com
Brad Paisley’s 2013 album Wheelhouse.

Continue reading ““Caught between Southern Pride and Southern Blame”: Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist””

Driving Dixie Down

By Ian Isherwood ’00

Trade ad for The Band's single "Time To Kill" / "The Shape I'm In." Wikimedia Commons.
Trade ad for The Band’s single “Time To Kill” / “The Shape I’m In.” Wikimedia Commons.

July 2012. My best friend and I packed into my 2003 VW Jetta wagon and headed out from Gettysburg, bound for Virginia. We were on Grantcation, a Civil War road trip of two former college buddies. Our mission was to wander battlefields in 100 degree plus heat, a trip which our wives endorsed willingly, I suspect, because they both knew it was far better for us to do it together than subject them to such unabashed nerdery.

As we pulled into Appomattox, my friend cued up The Band’s The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down on das Stereo. We both chuckled and I turned it up to decibels more commonly familiar in teenager’s cars than my early-thirty-something-grocery-puller. The song finished, we got out of my VW and walked up to the McLean House to see where Dixie was, indeed, driven down. Continue reading “Driving Dixie Down”

Heavy Metal Gettysburg and the Allure of Emotive History

By Kevin Lavery ’16


In July 1863
A Nation Torn In Tragedy
A Trick Of Fate, Two Great Armies Merge
Gods Of War At Gettysburg
Devastation Lies Ahead
50,000 Bodies Litter The Land
Hell Rages Three Full Days
The Reaper Sows, There’s The Devil To Pay.

Thus begins the first song in Iced Earth’s three-part ballad inspired by the Battle of Gettysburg. The heavy metal epic is intense, dramatic, brutal, tragic, and romantic. Released in 2004 on their album The Glorious Burden – which, incidentally, also features songs inspired by Attila the Hun, the Red Baron, Waterloo, and Valley Forge – Iced Earth’s “Gettysburg (1863)” trilogy offers listeners a vivid musical interpretation of the memory of Gettysburg popularized by Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. Beginning with the “The Devil to Pay” and continuing in “Hold at All Costs” and “High Water Mark,” each song in the trilogy is devoted to the events of a single day of the battle. Encapsulating some of Gettysburg’s best-known moments, the songs each convey a sense of the battle’s epic scale and its powerful legacy. In consequence, however, the ballad reinforces an exclusively emotional interpretation of the Civil War that can obscure a more meaningful understanding of the battle and its larger implications. Continue reading “Heavy Metal Gettysburg and the Allure of Emotive History”

“”So here’s to the stars and stripes, me boys, And to Ireland’s lovely shore”

By Sarah Johnson ’15

“Irish Brigade Monument at Gettysburg,” Wikimedia Commons.

The Dropkick Murphys is a popular American Celtic Punk band known for their combinations of punk rock and bagpipes. Their songs are filled with Irish pride and often have something to do with hard partying and whiskey. However, in their 1999 album The Gang’s All Here, the Murphys took on the topic of Irish soldiers in the American Civil War. The song “The Fighting 69th” was first sung by the Irish band The Wolfe Tones on their 1993 album Across the Broad Atlantic. The album features several songs dedicated to Irish immigrants to America and holds a certain fascination for the Irish American. The Wolfe Tones version of the song is a more traditional-sounding Celtic song detailing the journey of Irish immigrants as “they sailed away/and they made a sight so glorious/as they marched along Broadway…and from there they went to Washington/and straight into the war.” When the Murphys released their version of the song in 1999, they added their signature punk anthem sound to make their version a hard rocking ballad dedicated to the men of the Irish Brigade.

“Dropkick Murphys live in the Reading Festival 2008,” Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading ““”So here’s to the stars and stripes, me boys, And to Ireland’s lovely shore””

The Almost National Anthem

By Meg Sutter ’16

Julia Ward Howe, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” The Atlantic Monthly 9, no. 52 (February 1862): 10.
Julia Ward Howe, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” The Atlantic Monthly 9, no. 52 (February 1862): 10.

Before “The Star-Spangled Banner” became the United States’ national anthem in 1931, there was another: “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” In 1861, the Committee for a New National Hymn became one of the first efforts to enact an official United States national anthem. There were 1,200 submissions, but the committee was not satisfied. Those citizens against the committee held up “John Brown’s Body” as an example of what a national anthem should be. This popular Civil War song would go through many changes before it became what we know today as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Today “The Battle Hymn” represents an invented Union cause for the Civil War and symbolizes a false reconciliationist notion of unity.

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