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US Civil War Enthusiasts Re-Discover Music of That Era - 2002-09-22

The Civil War saw some of the most horrific battles in US history but also produced some of the nation's most enduring songs - including the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the Yellow Rose of Texas and When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

The battles of the Civil War are replayed today by re-enactors history buffs, like Bob Kilham, who dress up in authentic period costumes and for a day or a weekend live the life of a civil war soldier.

"You eat what they ate, you wear the same clothes, you sleep with the same type blankets, and when you sit around the campfire at night you sing the songs that they sang… the popular music that was of their day," he said.

"So we started to learn this stuff, some of my friends, and lo and behold, out came this marvelous music... this amazing body of American music that hit us on this gut level of 'this is really neat stuff!' and it hit me the way it must have hit those people. It's simple music, it's fun music, but it's got an emotion in there which grabs you," Mr. Kilham said. He was 'grabbed' enough to begin a study of the songs of the Civil War era and the mid-19th century.

While most Civil War era tunes are filled with patriotism and bravado, many like All Along the Potomac, express soldiers' homesickness or grief and mourning for those who died. Some could be considered anti-war songs. Others, like the Confederate tune, Jenny Get Your Hoe Cake Done, were just for fun. Mr. Kilham likens its lively backbeat to American rock and roll dance music.

Bob Kilham's wife Patrice shares his interest in 19th century Americana, and often performs with him. But she says it is more than enjoyment that motivates her to play this music.

"It's a lot of fun to play together, in different groups and for different people and expose them to different kinds of music… but… I think it's important to realize our roots and pass this heritage on to children and so they understand what they have and what it came from and how hard it used to be, and how hard people had to work for simple things, They didn't get to live long lives. And this music was important. This was how they expressed themselves. This is how they sang at church, at school, at home. You had to make your own entertainment," Mr. Kilham said.

Sad or happy, educational or entertaining, many popular songs of the mid 19th century are here to stay. They've become part of the American psyche and musician-scholars like Bob and Patrice Kilham are working to keep them there.