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Prelude to a Battle


James McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom” is considered by experts to be the best one-volume history of the Civil War.

The book covers the war, defined broadly. It describes the economic, political and social forces that made war more or less inevitable. McPherson examines the desperate struggle of the south to be recognized by the European powers — and the equally desperate efforts of the north to prevent that from happening. He examines the role of women and free (and freed) blacks during the war and the evolution of armaments, military medicine and military strategy during the conflict.

It’s a magisterial work. A particularly great passage deals with the music that was played on the eve of a battle in Tennessee. In the north, the battle he describes was called the Battle of Stones River. In the south, it was the Battle of Murfreesboro.

As the two armies bedded down a few hundred yards from each other, their bands commenced a musical battle as prelude to the real thing next day. Northern musicians blared out “Yankee Doodle” and “Hail Columbia” and were answered across the way by “Dixie” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag.” One band finally swung into the sentimental strains of “Home Sweet Home,” others picked it up, and soon thousands of Yanks and Rebs who tomorrow would kill each other were singing the familiar words together.

The writing is great as well. More on the book. Above, Bobby Horton — who is billed as a Civil War Musician — plays “Home Sweet Home.”

Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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