Homemakers of the Civil War: Sheet Music and a Forthcoming Exhibit

Sheet Music, "We'll Go Down Ourselves"
Work, Henry C. "We'll Go Down Ourselves". Chicago: Root & Cady, 1862. VM 1497.M67
Edmonds, "Unsexed: Or, The Femail Soldier"
Sarah Emma Edmonds. Unsexed: Or, The Female Soldier. 1864. F 8344 .2499

The Scholl Center staff is currently at work on an exhibition in partnership with, and with major funding from, the Terra Foundation for American Art. The exhibition, opening at the Newberry in autumn 2013, will explore the ways in which lives on the home front were altered by the Civil War. It will juxtapose an outstanding group of paintings from the Terra Foundation for American Art collections with a wealth of material drawn from the Newberry, including popular prints, illustrated newspapers, photographs, maps, magazines, sheet music, fashion plates, letters, diaries, advertisements, and other ephemera.

Among the Newberry’s abundance of material on the American Civil War is a deep collection of sheet music, such as that on the top left, published in 1862 by the famed Chicago-based firm Root and Cady. This imaginative cover illustration displays a gang of determined women successfully fighting back a group of Confederate soldiers—the “seceshs”—armed with nothing but common household items, including a scalding tea-kettle. The lyrics speak of women tired of waiting at the hearth and passively longing for peace, who decide to take the matter into their own hands:

What shall we do when all the men
For battle have enlisted
And yet the rebels hold their ground
And law is yet resisted?
Instead of doing as I should
The theme politely dropping
I ventured yet one question more
Oh didn’t it set them hopping!

What shall we do? What shall we do?
Why lay them on the shelves, and we’ll go down ourselves
And teach the Rebels something new, and teach the Rebels something new!

Although a gang of broom-wielding ladies may have been a rather fanciful image, such sentiment appears to have in fact inspired women to battle.  Sarah Emma Edmonds (bottom left) of the 2nd Michigan Infantry, whose memoir is available in the Newberry’s collections, was one of a handful of women who enlisted and fought for the Union. However, this is just one example of the many ways in which the realities of the Civil War were manifested in the lives of northerners, which can be researched at the Newberry and which will be featured in our upcoming exhibit. 

By Carmen Jaramillo

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