Lesson Plan Idea: Compare Two Versions of a Civil War Song

May 23rd, 2013

Looking for ideas to remember Memorial Day with your students? Read and listen to two versions of one of the Civil War’s most popular songs, “The Battle Cry of Freedom.” Originally written in 1862 by prolific patriotic composer George F. Root (1820–95), it was so highly demanded that printing presses could not produce enough copies. Ultimately, 500,000 to 700,000 copies were produced.

Soon after Root’s publication of the song, lyricist William H. Barnes, the manager of the Atlanta Amateurs, a group of volunteer musicians who performed for the benefit of various soldiers’ relief funds, produced a Southern version, for which the composer Hermann L. Schreiner modified Root’s music.

Look closely at each stanza and at the chorus in both songs. What are the reasons given for going into battle? Like Root’s original, the Southern version makes “Freedom” its battle cry. How can both sides be crying “Freedom”? Do they understand the same thing by “freedom”? Where the Northern version says, “Down with the traitor,” the Southern version says “Down with the eagle,” and speaks of the motto of resistance—“To the tyrants we’ll not yield!” Do these differences point to different reasons for why these men are fighting?


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