May - June 2006

Patriotic Music

I.   Introduction
II.  The Revolutionary and Civil Wars
III. World War I

IV. World War II
V.  Vietnam War


Do you know how much music has been written at times of war?   Music has been composed for just about every type of human event imaginable, but music written for wartime is especially poignant.  Now don't get the idea that I believe in any type of war because I don't, but this is not a political essay so I only want to emphasize how important this music has been to comfort, console and sometimes keep the soldier's morale up.  Some songs are funny, some are ballads, some are angry, but read on and you'll see the great variety of songs and realize how many of these you probably already know.

Return to Top

Music in the Revolutionary and Civil War  
One of the characteristics of military music for hundreds of years has been drums, bugles and fifes.  Going back to the Revolutionary War, you can find picture after picture of the bands surrounding George Washington and other war heroes.     Many of the surviving songs and band pieces utilize these instruments.  Think of "Yankee Doodle"

Barbara Allen
This song "Barbara Allen" is a sad, love ballad. This song was also a favorite of George Washington. There are many different versions ranging from the British to Scottish, but there was also an American version. The song is about a man named Sweet William, who dies from his heart split in two over his better half, Barbara Allen, who is treated very cruel. In 1976, the song was two hundred years of age. 
Music has always been an important part of American society and it was no different during the Civil War.  Military bands were called upon to play at recruitment rallies and their patriotic marching tunes were sometimes a great incentive to inspire young men to enlist.

 Return to Top

Music in World War I             

The music of WWI, just like the music of the other wars, reflects the time and the culture in which it was written.  War is always a frightening and sad time, but somehow, people manage to come up with rousing, upbeat songs and music that helps everyone to get through it. 
Some of the songs that you probably already know from WWI are:

  • "Over There"

  • "Waltzing Matilda"

  • "La Marseillaise"

  • "It's a long, long way to Tipperary"

  • "I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier"

How do you feel when you listen to these songs? click here to listen

All of these songs feel very sad to me even though they have an upbeat tempo.

 Return to Top

Music in World War II                               

Women made a big contribution in WWII doing everything from working factory jobs at home to fighting in the trenches to singing war-related songs in clubs and on stage.

 A well-known icon is WWII is Rosie the Riveter

Songs that you may know are:

  • I Wish that I Could Hide Inside this Letter (1943)
    Little Bo Peep has Lost her Jeep (1942)

  • Lili Marlene

  • Mairzy Doats

There is a lot to be found on WWII and its music at

Return to Top

Music in the Vietnam War

This is the first war that I really remember and even though I was a teenager, I really didn't understand what it was all about.  I do vividly remember hearing Peter, Paul and Mary singing "Blowin' in the Wind" and other protest songs.  Some you might remember are :

  • Ballad of the Green Berets

  • Tie A Yellow Ribbon

  • Up, up and Away

The song  that best captures the spirit of this day is “The Wall” by Vietnam Veteran Tim Murphy.  His haunting chorus reminds us that when a soldier dies, part of our spirit dies with him.

“And every name’s a father or a husband or a son or a daughter or a brother or a cousin to someone or a name might be a classmate or a friend you may recall there’s nearly sixty thousand fallen names still waiting at The Wall.”

Many of these songs and a lot more can be found online and are fun to go through and listen to samples.  It also gives a tremendous feeling gratitude to the men and women who have risked and sometimes lost their lives so that we can be a free country.

Celebrate Memorial Day by listening to some of our rich treasury of songs!


Alice H. Cash, Ph.D., LCSW



Ezine Archive