‘With Such Great Variety and True Musical Merit’: The Dissemination of Scottish National Song Culture in Civil War America by Catherine Bateson

Dr Catherine Bateson graduated from the University of Edinburgh, where her AHRC/SGSAH-supported History PhD focused on the culture and sentiments of Irish American Civil War songs and music. She studies the way in which Irish singing culture influenced American musical culture in the mid-nineteenth century and how song was used to express the wartime experiences of the Irish diaspora in America. She has written about particular aspects of this research, including a recent article in the Journal of History and Cultures. She has also written about the way American Civil War songs reflected British Isles and Irish identity associations and how a four nations approach to transnational identity studies can be heard in wartime ballads. Catherine is currently a tutor and lecturer of American history and researcher at Durham University, the Vice-Chair of the Scottish Association for the Study of America (SASA) and the co-founder of the War Through Other Stuff Society. She is on Twitter @catbateson.


If you had read the advertisements printed at the back of Dwight’s Journal of Music in the United States on 28 February 1863, you would have spotted a notice of One Hundred Songs of Scotland. This was ‘a good edition of the songs of Scotland’, containing traditional ballad pieces, lyrics and music notations of a ‘quaint simplicity…great variety and true musical merit’. This collection’s Scottish songs were ‘and always will be favourites, when many of our newer productions are forgotten’. So important were these ballads that ‘a musical family cannot afford to be without’ their own version. Indeed, ‘in a musical library of half a dozen volumes, these songs should be one of the six’. Finally, the advertisement highlighted that One Hundred Songs of Scotland was ‘cheap enough for anybody’: hard-back editions with an illustrated board cover cost fifty cents and a paper musical score copy cost forty cents (1862: 50). It was, the advert insisted, a price worth paying to own such significant Scottish music and songs.

One of two advertisements for ‘One Hundred Songs of Scotland’ printed in ‘Dwight’s Journal of Music’, 19 June 1858. Courtesy of Catherine Bateson.

This advertisement was indicative of several trends within mid-nineteenth century American song and musical culture, all of which relate to the wider discussions and examples shown in Romantic National Song Network research. English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh national song culture also generated important, impactful and influential transnational networks of each country’s individual and combined song cultures. Diasporas carried traditional ballads with them through their migrations, and established their own place in the musical and singing culture of new adopted home countries. Nowhere is this more pronounced than amongst immigrant communities in the United States, where many of the works discussed across the blogs and the project here were also heard, performed, transmitted, included and subsequently shaped American aural singing traditions and musical discussions. The fact that the originally classical, operatic and art music magazine Dwight’s Journal of Music began to publish adverts for Scottish, Irish and Welsh song productions is symptomatic of this song culture impact.

The legacy and influence of British Isles and Irish national song culture from 1750-1850, particularly those from the Celtic nations, was heard in the United States in the decades after this project’s focus, especially in the song productions of the American Civil War (1861-1865). Of the estimated eleven thousand songs written in the conflict, several hundred were published by, and were about, Irish, Scottish and Welsh (along with German) born and descended soldiers and their wartime experiences. These were produced alongside productions that continued traditional song, folk tunes and musical hall oral culture form these respective nations. Of the dozen volumes that an American musical family should possess, according to the One Hundred Songs of Scotland advert, it is very likely that two of them would have been Irish related due to the plethora of Irish songs and music in America by the 1860s. One of those works would have been the continually re-printed and distributed Irish Melodies by Thomas Moore, containing his compendium of Irish traditional ballad culture. Its songs and tunes, such as The Last Rose of Summer, made appearances in wartime songsters and songsheets, and in references to which airs should be used for new lyrical compositions.

‘Auld Lang Syne’, New York: J. Andrews, 1862. Courtesy of Catherine Bateson.

Moore’s Scottish equivalent in terms of the sheer lyrical and musical influence was Robert Burns, whose transnational American use is well documented. During the Civil War, Burns poems and song compositions were printed across the warring Union and Confederate states. In the former, two versions of Auld Lang Syne appeared. One was on a New York printed songsheet with pertinent words for Scottish migration and American conflict dividing families: ‘Though fortune points thy path of life, far, far away from mine’ (Burns, 1862a). The second version, which was just a couple of verses and chorus included in The Camp-Fire Songster, bore the more familiar lyrics: ‘should auld acquaintance be forgot’ (Burns, 1862b: 60). By comparison, the Confederacy adopted Bruce as part of broader Southern culture, with his refrains appearing throughout the war in various guises. His 1793 Scots Wha Hae can be seen and heard within songbooks such as the Virginia Songster, which printed the ballad under its alternative title Bruce’s Address to His Army in between pro-Confederate anthems (Burns, 1863: 45). When ‘a Musical Gentleman of’ Richmond complied The Rebel Songster for Confederate publication in 1864, he included the wartime composition Texan General’s Address to His Army’. Its title noted that the tune for the piece was Scots Wi’ Ha’e We Wallace Bled (1864: 25-26) (1). That same musical reference was also seen on a songsheet for the Union ballad War Song for the 79th Regiment, written for the largely Scottish-American army unit formed from the sons of the diaspora and Scottish-American fraternities, and who served admirably from the conflict’s earliest days (1861).

It was not just Robert Burns who influenced American wartime song culture. In the Confederate songbook The Southern Soldier’s Prize Songster, a ballad appeared called Clocknaben. This wartime composition drew on ethnic Scottish and musical traditions. It also included a rare musical footnote under the lyrics to give readers and singers an explanation about the title. It ‘was the gathering cry of one of the clans of Scotland’ the note explained. It then used Sir Walter Scott’s writings from The Antiquary (1816) to support this claim (1864: 96-97). As with the pervious lyrical examples, this demonstrates how Scottish literature shaped and informed American Civil War musical culture.

‘Clocknaben’, printed in ‘The Southern Soldier’s Prize Songster (1864). Note a rare example of a songbook footnote at the bottom on the page. Courtesy of Catherine Bateson.

Certainly, the influence of Irish music and song is more pronounced in the United States, but in almost all Irish-American examples, strains of Scottish airs and lyrical notations can be heard as well. This is especially true of Southern and Confederate American national musical culture. It employed Scottish traditional song and music styles and examples to create a separate, secessionist singing culture. Indeed, the national songs of Scotland and Ireland, along with Welsh and English contributions, highlight their unavoidable influence in forming and framing American national song culture via transnational song culture adoption. If anything, this was their ‘true musical merit’ as contemporary ballad advertisements extolled.


(1) The ballad adopted a similar passionate warlike tone to the original Burns composition:

Who for Texas land and law

Freedom’s sword will strongly draw

Freeman stand or freeman fa’,

Let him follow me!

It should be noted that this refers to Texan state secession and Confederate ‘freedom’ from the American Union (not freedom for the enslaved over whom the American Civil War was fought).

Reference list

(1861). War Song for the 79th Regiment, New York: printed by J. Wrigley.

(1862). One Hundred Songs of Scotland Advert, Dwight’s Journal of Music. 28 February. Boston: John Sullivan Dwight.

(1864). Texan General’s Address to His Army, in The Rebel Songster – Containing a Choice Collection of Sentimental, Patriotic and Comic Songs. Richmond: Ayres and Wade.

Belton, Arthur. (1864). Clocknaben, in The Southern Soldier’s Prize Songster. Mobile: W.F. Wisley.

Burns, Robert. (1862a). Auld Lang Syne, New York: printed by J. Andrews.

Burns, Robert. (1862b). ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The Camp-Fire Songster: A Collection of Popular, Patriotic, National, Pathetic, and Jolly Songs, Suited for the Camp or March, Containing a Number of Songs Never Before Printed. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald.

Burns, Robert. (1863). Bruce’s Address to His Army, in Virginia Songster. Richmond: J.W. Randolph.


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