Freedom Songs from North and South

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After decades of sectional conflict centered on the question of slavery, the 1860 presidential election appeared to many Americans on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line to represent a point of no return in the ongoing national debate over critical issues ranging from the first principles to territorial governance. Abraham Lincoln’s electoral victory on the Republican ticket was seen by some Southerners as the beginning of the end of their ability to determine the course of national politics, and the governments of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas responded by declaring their intention to secede from the Union during the winter of 1860–1861. Each of these states passed a resolution outlining the justifications for their action; as in the case of Mississippi, these tended to emphasize the centrality of slavery as an institution to the Southern way of life and to paint Northern policies as not only a political but an existential threat.

When Lincoln delivered his First Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861, he sought to alleviate such fears by promising Southerners their regional and state practices would be as safe under his administration as they ever had been. Nevertheless, he also spoke stirringly of the permanent nature of the Union, and promised to defend it against any and all efforts to dismantle it. Although the speech concluded with an invocation of political friendship, Southern leaders such as Vice President of the Confederate States of America (CSA) Alexander Stephens rejected Lincoln’s overtures on the grounds that the Union as it had existed could never be resumed. That government had been fundamentally flawed, Stephens argued, because it was founded upon the principle of human equality. Peace, were it to be achieved, he insisted, could come only at the expense of the Union and the principles of the Declaration of Independence (see his “Cornerstone Speech”).

The competing principles of North and South were not only the preserve of political leaders; they were deeply engrained in the culture of both areas as seen in the lyrics of the two “unofficial anthems” of the war: The Bonnie Blue Flag (CSA) and the Battle Cry of Freedom (USA) (Document E). Here, as in the political texts, competing understandings of liberty and rights emerge as justifications for the war.

Harry McCarthy, “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” sheet music by A. E. Blackmar (New Orleans, 1861); George F. Root, “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” sheet music by Root and Cady (Chicago, 1862).

The Bonnie Blue Flag, Harry McCarthy, 1861

We are a band of brothers

And native to the soil,

Fighting for the property

We gained by honest toil;

And when our rights were threatened,

The cry rose near and far –

“Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag

That bears a single star!”



Hurrah! Hurrah!

For Southern rights hurrah!

Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag

That bears a single star.


As long as the Union

Was faithful to her trust,

Like friends and like brothers

Both kind were we and just;

But now, when Northern treachery

Attempts our rights to mar,

We hoist on high the Bonnie Blue Flag

That bears a single star.



. . .

Then here’s to our Confederacy,

Strong are we and brave;

Like patriots of old we’ll fight

Our heritage to save.

And rather than submit to shame,

To die we would prefer;

So cheer for the Bonnie Blue Flag

That bears a single star.



The Battle Cry of Freedom, George F. Root, 1862

Yes, we’ll rally round the flag, boys,

We’ll rally once again,

Shouting the battle cry of Freedom,

We will rally from the hillside,

We’ll gather from the plain,

Shouting the battle cry of Freedom.



The Union forever,

Hurrah! boys, hurrah!

Down with the traitors,

Up with the stars;

While we rally round the flag, boys,

Rally once again,

Shouting the battle cry of Freedom.


. . .


We will welcome to our numbers

The loyal, true and brave,

Shouting the battle cry of Freedom;

And although they may be poor,

Not a man shall be a slave,

Shouting the battle cry of Freedom.


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