In 1862, after the fearsome Battle of Fredericksburg, the Union and Confederate armies went into camp on opposite sides of the Rappahannock River. Soon a new battle emerged, as soldiers volleyed competing songs back and forth across the water: “The Battle Cry of Freedom” from the North. “God Save the South” from the Confederates. “Yankee Doodle.” “Dixie.” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” “The Bonnie Blue Flag.”
As winter set in, however, the men and boys on both sides found themselves longing for the same thing, and thinking of the same song. As the notes of “Home, Sweet Home” rose up over the river, enemies were united in song. For one night, they found common ground.
Interwoven with soldiers’ letters and journal entries, this true story shows the power of music–and the possibility of seeing the humanity even in one’s enemy, even in those with whom we are locked in conflict.
Ages 8 up
* “An arresting, soulful tribute to the power of music and the shared humanity that underlies conflict.”
–Booklist (starred review)
* “Through insightful narration and vibrant silhouettes and cartooning, Levy (I Dissent) and Ford (The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring) vividly bring to life a chapter in the U.S. Civil War and the integral role music played during the conflict.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A moving tale of ordinary soldiers in a great conflict who find solace in music.”
” . . . a sophisticated picture book . . . . Levy and Ford leave readers satisfied.”
–School Library Journal
Civil War Trust
This organization is dedicated to the preservation of Civil War battlefields, and its website is a fount of information about that war. The web pages under its “Education” tab are excellent–I recommend starting with “Civil War Facts.”
Listen to “Home, Sweet Home”
As President Lincoln heard it: Soldier Song relates a story about how President Lincoln and his wife, Mary, asked an Italian singer named Adelina Patti to sing “Home, Sweet Home” when she visited the White House. This occurred in 1862 (the same year as the Battle of Fredericksburg), so of course there is no recording of this private concert. However, Adelina was only 19 years old at that time, and she lived until 1919–by which time the phonograph had been invented. Forty-three years later, when she was in her 60s, Adelina made a recording of the song for the newfangled record-player–and we can listen to it today. Just think: we’re hearing the voice the Lincolns heard when, mourning the recent death of their son Willie, they asked Adelina to sing “Home, Sweet Home” to help ease their pain. Listen here.
As played by a brass band: The Federal City Brass Band plays “Taps” and then “Home, Sweet Home” in 2012 in this video, much as the Union and Confederate musicians would have played these tunes in the time of Soldier Song.
Soldier Song in the Classroom
The American Association of School Librarians has published librarian Tom Bober’s guide to using Soldier Song and primary sources in the classroom. You’ll find this excellent resource here.
Here are some vintage pictures I examined in researching Soldier Song (hover mouse over thumbnail for caption; click for larger image):