Songs, Clothing and Re-Enactments of the Civil War

By Sally Ann Flecker Premium

The Songs Linger On

Molly Mason admits she didn’t know much about Civil War music when she and her husband, Jay Ungar, were tapped by Ken Burns to play the haunting soundtrack for The Civil War PBS-TV series. (Ungar wrote the now-famous “Ashokan Farewell” used by Burns as the epic documentary’s theme.) “We didn’t watch the footage,” Mason says of the recording session for the soundtrack, “but Burns gave us emotional guidance for the music.”

After they watched the series, Mason and Ungar began to read about the Civil War, visit battle sites and, naturally, look into the music of that period. Mason’s favorite source is a book called Heart Songs: Melodies of Days Gone By. Published in 1907, the book was based on a poll by a popular magazine of the day, asking readers to select their favorite songs. “The book contains light arias that people would have known, Civil War favorites and parlor songs,” she says.

The fact that people were still singing Civil War era-songs in the early 1900s interested her. One of her favorites is “The Faded Coat of Blue” from 1862, which she learned out of the book, as well as the Stephen Foster song, “Gentle Annie.”

“The music industry then — the songwriting boom and business — is so similar to today,” says Mason. “People scribbling on paper in their offices, crumbling up what they’ve written and throwing it away, trying to write a song that will stir the public fancy. And like today there were ones that were great songs and ones that were chaff that in six months fell by the wayside.” The songs that became classics, she says, lived and went out into the folk world. “They jumped off the printed page and were passed down from generation to generation.”

Sources for Ungar and Mason’s period music include:

? Swinging Door Music, 987 Route 28a, West Hurley, NY 12491, <>

? “The Civil War” Soundtrack, cassette, Grammy Award-winning soundtrack to the acclaimed PBS series. (Elektra/Nonesuch)

? Civil War Classics, CD, recording of a concert by Ungar and Mason sponsored by the Civil War Institute and broadcast by NPR. (Fiddle & Dance Records)

? American Dreamer, CD, an essential Stephen Foster collection sung by baritone Thomas Hampson and accompanied by Ungar, Mason and others. (Angel Records)

Dressing in blue and gray

Visitors to the Stonewall Jackson Museum in Strasburg, Va., are impressed with the living historians, the hands-on approach to the exhibit — here’s your chance to heft a Civil War-era rifle — and the relict trenches from 1864. But the best fun comes in the children’ rooms. Reproductions of girls’ dresses, made from period patterns, along with hats and gloves as well as what museum director Babs Melton calls “itty-bitty” soldier’s jackets from both sides of the conflict, haversacks and hats are available for playing historical dress-up. (33229 Old Valley Pike, Strasburg, VA 22657, 540-465-5884, <www.waysideofva. com/stonewalljackson>).

Adults interested in reproductions of Union or Confederate uniforms can find them at C&D Jarnagin Co., where military uniforms and equipment, as well as men’s civilian clothing, are authentic down to the buttons. (Box 1860, Corinth, MS 38834, 662-287-4977. <>)

Interested in making your own? The Genteel Arts Academy offers classes and workshops in historically accurate sewing techniques. Learn how to make a wire-frame bonnet, create the Shanghai Cloak featured in the February 1861 issue of Peterson’s Magazine, or take a class in Essential Stitches and Seams. (Box 3014, Gettysburg, PA 17325, 717-337-0283, <>)

Of course, if you’re making your own reproduction clothing, you’ll need bona fide period fabric. That’s where textile historian and weaver Rabbit Goody comes in. Goody runsThistle Hill Weavers, a weaving mill that recreates fabrics, including a 2/1 twill jean cloth especially designed for Civil War reenactors. (101 Chestnut St., Cherry Valley, NY 13320, 518-284-2729)

The Discovery Trail has received national recognition as one of the White House’s National Millennium Trails. For a visual wallop about how much ground the Civil War covered, send for the Civil War Discovery Trail map. Or better yet, spring for the 300-page Official Guide to the Civil War Discovery Trail. Order from the Civil War Preservation Trust, 1515 Wilson Blvd., Suite 350, Arlington, VA 22209, or < htm#trail>.

From the October 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine