Friday, September 23, 2022

Booknotes: Irish American Civil War Songs

New Arrival:
Irish American Civil War Songs: Identity, Loyalty, and Nationhood by Catherine V. Bateson (LSU Press, 2022).

By University of Kent historian Catherine Bateson's estimate, over 11,000 songs were published during the American Civil War, and Irish Americans were responsible for an outsized proportion of that prodigious output in both numbers and cultural influence. Bateson's Irish American Civil War Songs "provides the first in-depth exploration of Irish Americans’ use of balladry to portray and comment on virtually every aspect of the war as witnessed by the Irish on the front line and home front." Over the length of the war, Irish American soldiers and sailors "shared their wartime experiences through songs and song lyrics, leaving behind a vast trove of ballads in songbooks, letters, newspaper publications, wartime diaries, and other accounts. Taken together, these songs and lyrics offer an underappreciated source of contemporary feelings and opinions about the war."

Bateson's study seeks to promote a wider appreciation for the scholarly value of Irish American Civil War song lyrics along with the material culture associated with those songs. Her consideration of the "lyrics, themes, and sentiments of wartime songs produced in America," gives rise to new insights "into views held by the Irish migrant diaspora about the conflict and the ways those of Irish descent identified with and fought to defend their adopted homeland." As one example, the book's analysis of Irish American song lyrics challenges the scholarly view that a sharp break in Irish attitudes toward the war and war service occurred in 1863. Also, with Irish immigrants in America being so closely associated with Catholicism, it is perhaps surprising that Bateson's examination of their war ballads found the lyrics to be "relatively silent on religious affiliation and related topics."

The first chapter discusses the cultural influence of Irish American music and songs in the years leading up to the Civil War, and the next chapter follows the dissemination of Irish American wartime songs from battlefield to American society at large. Chapter 3 relates how these songs conveyed the Irish American war experience to a broad audience and extolled the exploits of Irish-born Union war heroes such as generals Michael Corcoran and Thomas Meagher. Expanding on the previous chapter's martial theme, Chapter 4 examines "the diaspora's lyrical recollection of Irish foreign fighting service and expression of ethnic cultural heritage within the warring country." The fifth chapter focuses on expressions of Irish nationalism within the ACW ballads. The ways in which songs addressed contemporary politics is the subject of the next section. The seventh and final chapter delves into the ways in which Irish American songwriting explored issues of identity and loyalty, with Bateson coming to the conclusion that, while traditional Irish culture was surely represented in the lyrics of their war songs, it was an "American spirit" and identity that dominated.

Employing transnational and interdisciplinary approaches, Bateson's research "enhances our understanding of the Irish contribution to the American Civil War. At the same time, it demonstrates how Irish songs shaped many American balladry traditions as they laid the foundation of the Civil War’s musical soundscape."

No comments:

Post a Comment

When commenting, PLEASE SIGN YOUR NAME. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be deleted. Thank you.