ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Civil War Music

What do songs of the Civil War tell us about the North and South?


Key Staff

  • Classroom teacher
  • Assistance of music teacher will be valuable

Key Skills

Making Art: Performance Skills and Techniques
Information Media and Technology: Research and Information Fluency


Using source materials to study the music of the Civil War, students will compare and analyize song lyrics, then perform one of the songs, either vocally or with instruments.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Compare and contrast lyrics of Civil War songs of the North and the South.
  • Identify whether a song is intended as a rallying song, recruiting song, popular entertainment song, campfire song, sentimental song, or patriotic song.
  • Identify primary and secondary sources of archival material using the Internet.
  • Interpret a Civil War song through performance with voice or instrument.

Teaching Approach

Comprehensive Arts Education

Teaching Methods

  • Discussion
  • Guided Listening
  • Multimedia Instruction
  • Research

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Learner
Technology Notes

While students are doing small-group research, multiple computer stations with headphones will be a help.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

General understanding of the Civil War (the sides, the timeline, the economic and cultural differences, the issues). To brush up on your Civil War knowledge, visit these resources:

Familiarity with popular music of the Civil War era, examples of which may be found at these websites:

Teachers should be aware that music of the Civil War era, including the original lyrics to “Oh! Susanna,” often contain language that we would consider offensive. Depending on the class, teachers may choose to restrict the students’ internet research to the sites we’ve suggested, or to discuss the way language changes to reflect changes in culture and in attitudes.

Prior Student Knowledge

A general understanding of the Civil War

  • Causes
  • Major events
  • Outcomes

Physical Space

  • Computer Lab
  • Classroom
  • Media Center or Library


  • Individualized Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction
  • Large Group Instruction


Gather any musical instruments available. Keyboards, guitar, trumpet, harmonica, and snare drum would be characteristic instruments.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Have students listen to and sing along to "Oh! Susanna" by Stephen Collins Foster. This song from the 1840s was still a popular dance during the Civil War.

2. Have students complete the True or False Quiz handout. This can be a pre-test to identify students’ preconceptions, or an opportunity to try out online research by searching for the answers. The handout is available in the Resource Carousel.

Build Knowledge

1. Discuss "Oh! Susanna" and how music can play an important part as a messenger of the past. We can read the lyrics, hear the music, and play the songs written over 135 years ago. Through music, people separated by hundreds of years can share a special connection and discover one another’s stories and personal journeys.

2 . Explain to students that they will explore four other songs of the Civil War:

  • "Lincoln and Liberty"
  • "We Are Coming Home Father Abraham"
  • "The Battle Cry of Freedom"
  • "Tenting Tonight or Tenting on the Old Camp Ground"

Students can work on this and the following steps in small groups or individually, depending on the number of computers available.

3. Have students search for one of these songs using the Web sites listed in the Sources section of this document.

Students should recognize whether the source is a primary or secondary source (sheet music from the time, or just a print of lyrics). Encourage students to seek out web sites that include sound files and lyrics. Have them record the lyrics and lyricist on the Civil War Music Data Sheet, available in the Resouce Carousel.

4. Review basic information about the Civil War:

  • The Union Flag
  • The Confederate Flag
  • Basic conflicts between the North and the South.

5. Have students compare two versions of the same song, "The Battle Cry of Freedom." Both the North and South used this song during the Civil War. Compare and contrast the two versions using the interactive Venn Diagram.

Have students classify the song as a rallying song, a recruiting song, a popular entertainment song, campfire song, sentimental song, or patriotic song. Students should explain why it is one of these with two supporting points.

6. Have students locate and analyze four more songs. Students should find a Union song, a Confederate song, a song with different versions (such as “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which was also sung with words beginning “John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave” and also “We’ll hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree”), and a song enjoyed by both. Have students use the Civil War Music Data Sheet and Venn Diagram to record what they learn.


1. Have students choose songs to perform as soloists or in groups. They may be sung or performed on instruments.


1. Distribute the accompanying Answer Key handout to the True or False Quiz handout to the students. Discuss answers and have students share which answers they found surprising. The handout is available within the Resource Carousel.

Extending the Learning

  • Students may perform more than one song. Each of the pieces may be recorded and used as a reference for future classes.
  • Students can compare the songs of the Civil War with songs of the Revolution, World War I, World War II, or the Vietnam era.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
National Standards in Other Subjects



Rebecca Haden

Mary Beth Bauernschub
Original Writer

Kennedy Center arts education resources have a new home!

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

ArtsEdge is an education program of

The Kennedy Center 

with the support of

The US Department of Education 

ARTSEDGE, part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program, is generously funded by David Rubenstein.

Additional support is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee
for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.
Unless otherwise stated, ArtsEdge materials may be copied, modified and otherwise utilized for non-commercial educational purposes
provided that ArtsEdge and any authors listed in the materials are credited and provided that you permit others to use them in the same manner.

Change Background:

Connect with us!    EMAIL US | YouTube | Facebook | iTunes | MORE!

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  
    Privacy Policy
| Terms and Conditions


You are now leaving the ArtsEdge website. Thank you for visiting!

If you are not automatically transferred, please click the link below:

ArtsEdge and The Kennedy Center are in no way responsible for the content of the destination site, its ongoing availability, links to other site or the legality or accuracy of information on the site or its resources.