Graham on Davis, 'Maryland, My Maryland: Music and Patriotism during the American Civil War'
James A. Davis. Maryland, My Maryland: Music and Patriotism during the American Civil War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019. Illustrations. 390 pp. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4962-1072-2.
Reviewed by David K. Graham (Snow College) Published on H-CivWar (March, 2020) Commissioned by G. David Schieffler (Crowder College)
Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=53702
In recent years, historians of the American Civil War have explored the role of music during the war and the importance it held to both soldiers and civilians. Musicology professor and historian James A. Davis provides an important and unique contribution to this growing body of scholarship in his latest work, Maryland, My Maryland: Music and Patriotism during the American Civil War. Davis’s book is, in many respects, a microhistory centering on the popular Civil War era song “Maryland, My Maryland.” Originating from a poem written by James Ryder Randall and set to the tune of “Lauriger Horatius,” “Maryland, My Maryland” became a popular song among Confederate soldiers. The song portrays a state sympathetic to the Confederacy but languishing under the despotic “heel” of Abraham Lincoln and the Union. Much later in the 1930s, it would become the official state song of Maryland.
Davis primarily outlines the wartime history of the song and uses the song as a medium to explore larger issues of the war, including patriotism, nationalism, loyalty, and music. As Davis ably demonstrates, a microhistorical study of “Maryland, My Maryland” reveals the importance and power of Civil War music because of how intensely this one particular song was contested and often manipulated. This stands out as perhaps the book’s greatest strength. Through “Maryland, My Maryland” we see how music during the Civil War took on added meaning to soldiers and civilians alike. Davis recounts numerous parody versions of the song that developed in the fall of 1862 and summer of 1863 in response to events on the battlefield and within Maryland. Through these chapters, the reader sees how politics and military encounters affected perceptions of the tune and frequently led to its manipulation to suit the historical moment.
Maryland, My Maryland is an engaging read, in part, because of its prose but also because of its uniqueness. It stands out as a microhistory in that it focuses on a song of the war that does not hold as central a place in our collective memory of the war compared to tunes like “Dixie” and "Battle Hymn of the Republic.” In that respect, Davis very much has a new story to tell of a song that represented the divisiveness of the time. The book’s uniqueness is also reflected in its interdisciplinary nature. In some sections, it reads as a work of musicology and even literary study, with the author breaking down the lyrical and musical qualities of the song and showing how these influenced its popularity and how people perceived of the song as art. These descriptions are often combined with theoretical political definitions and interpretations of patriotism and nationalism. Most of the book serves as a work of historical inquiry, beginning with the start of the war and progressing year by year to its conclusion. Davis is laudably effective and appears equally comfortable writing in these different disciplines. He is also skillful in his merging of these academic fields to present the reader with a dynamic and scholarly narrative of an important cultural artifact.
There are exciting connections to be made with Davis’s approach in Maryland, My Maryland and other developments in the Civil War historical community. In particular, Civil War memory studies would appear to fit nicely with this particular account. Davis writes in his epilogue, “Many listeners cared little for what occurred in the real state, preferring instead the imagined realm of the song’s metaphorical land of suffering” (p. 301). This is undoubtedly true of the way people in the United States perceived and talked about Civil War Maryland in the postbellum period. The “metaphorical land of suffering” was used and manipulated by former Unionists and Confederates to serve their purposes decades after the Civil War. As “Maryland, My Maryland” was used to serve sectional interests during the war, so too would it be used in the struggle over the state’s Civil War memory. Maryland, My Maryland is a strong and important contribution to the field of Civil War history and hopefully will inspire others to take up their own microhistory research to shed more light on the most divisive period in US history.
Citation: David K. Graham. Review of Davis, James A., Maryland, My Maryland: Music and Patriotism during the American Civil War. H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews. March, 2020. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53702This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.