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Music to Woo and Fight

By Guest Author
April 25, 2023

Music serves as entertainment, a call to action, and a way of bringing people together. Any movie or television show incorporates music – we know from the tempo, the volume, and the instruments how we as an audience are supposed to feel and react to the action on the screen. The style of the music can communicate the time period and setting. Musical themes become associated with characters – when you hear a few bars you know whether to expect Darth Vader or Princess Leia in the Star Wars saga.

But what about books? You can’t quite hear the melody as you turn your pages or swipe to move on. Yet many books incorporate music and musical cues by mentioning them. Diana Gabaldon’s series mentions the Scottish sword dance before battle. The tune GarryOwen is forever associated with Custer’s Seventh Cavalry and is widely used in both books and films to evoke the mood of a cheerful charge into slaughter.

In my books, which cover the period 1859-1920, music plays a part in the American Civil War, the celebration of Christmas, a square dance that brings people together, a marriage proposal, a signal of safety on the Underground Railroad, and a lament of lost opportunity.

In Clouds of War, Albinia Crump uses the song Steal Away to Jesus as a signal to Luther and others traveling to freedom that it is safe to come out of hiding. Other signals and songs were used on the Underground Railroad in various parts of the country, but on the journey from Kentucky to Ohio, this one was common. It was written sometime prior to 1862, by Wallace Willis, who was enslaved to a Choctaw freedman.

Also in Clouds of War, the main character Will Crump attends a Christmas party at the home of John Hunt Morgan in Lexington, Kentucky, where they sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Charles Wesley wrote the lyrics for the hymn in 1739, but the tune we know today was not paired with it until 1855, just four years before the party takes place. It was relatively new, and its popularity grew quickly. I used it to create tension, as the Union supporters sang the hymn readily, but the party also sang Dixie, written the year of the party, 1859, by Daniel Emmett, with the Confederate supporters loudly joining in, while the Union and unaligned were embarrassed. The song Dixie still symbolizes the South as it was before and during the Civil War, and creates tensions today.

Will’s sister Julia attends a barn dance at her uncle’s, hoping to meet a relative of Mary Todd (later Mary Lincoln). The music provided by enslaved musicians from the Waveland plantation allows the couples to dance and socialize in a safe and proper environment. Julia meets her rich man, by entangling his legs, falling over, and knocking him over while square dancing – with the opposite effect of what she anticipated. Her dance partner, Hiram Johannsen, ends up becoming her husband.

During the war period, the song Cheer Boys Cheer was the regimental song for John Hunt Morgan’s Third and Seventh Kentucky Cavalry, similar to the Garry Owen for Custer. Morgan, known as “The Thunderbolt of the Confederacy”, was widely regarded as a hero during the war in the South, and a villain in the North.

Confederate Lyrics of Morgan’s Men

  1.  Bring forth the flag, our country’s noble standard;

Wave it on high till the wind shakes each fold out.

Proudly it floats, nobly waving in the vanguard;

Then cheer, boys, cheer! with a lusty, long, bold shout.

New American Brass Band playing “Cheer Boys Cheer”, from the Ken Burns Civil War documentary.

In The Search, Will Crump spends a lot of time both with soldiers and the Shoshone. In the beginning, he knows nothing of the Indians, but as the book progresses, he learns the language, customs, legends, culture, and a few songs of the Shoshone. Singing and dancing are an integral part of Shoshone life, but it is rare for outsiders to see many of the ceremonies. Will wants to marry Washakie’s niece and lives with the band for a time. After a buffalo hunt, he is invited to participate in the celebration. The Buffalo Walk song is here.

The Founding covers the period from 1868 through 1920, with a wide range of musical styles. The main character, Will Crump, invites Mary King to a dance near the beginning of their courtship, with her parents attending. They do quadrilles, square dances, and the relatively new Blue Danube waltz, first performed February 15, 1867, in Europe, and spread rapidly in upper-class circles, across the Atlantic. It’s said that Strauss’s publisher received so many orders for the piano score that he had to make 100 new copper plates so that he could print over a million copies.

Will and Mary had a long (seven-year) courtship in real life. When Will finally proposed, the Crump and King families met at Will’s ranch and went skating on the pond, as in the picture above. Will hired a fiddler who played as they danced on the ice. A song popular at the time was “Laughing Eyes of Blue“.

I know a maiden fair and young, the most bewitching creature in the village

Her face is like a garden of flowers new sprung, and she dwells within a little rustic cottage.

One day when we were walking side by side, I can never forget the look she gave me

Twas, when I asked her would she be my bride, and she smiled, saying, “Yes if you will have me.”

Will pivots to one knee and brings out the ring. You can hear the song here.

Who could resist a proposal like that?

Music plays a uniting role through most of the Across the Great Divide series, and in other books as well. Keep on singing!

You can find the Across the Great Divide series, The Clouds of War, The Search, and The Founding at

Guest Author
Written by Guest Author

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