Past Event

How an Illinois Music Store Helped Win the Civil War

A Road Scholar Program by Christian McWhirter

Formed just before the Civil War, the Chicago-based music publishing firm of Root & Cady rose quickly to become the most successful and influential in the nation, providing the Union with some of its most popular and meaningful patriotic anthems, such as “The Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Just Before the Battle, Mother.” The firm’s financial success only accounts for part of its achievement, however, as its songs also contained subtle and overt political content, which shaped how both soldiers and civilians viewed the war effort.

Managed by abolitionists and frequently employing songwriters sympathetic to the freeing and arming of African Americans, the firm increasingly endorsed these causes in its songs. By pairing these controversial messages with catchy tunes, Root & Cady was able to share this message with listeners who might otherwise have objected to it. As the war went on, these themes became more dominant, eventually finding their most pronounced expression in “Marching through Georgia,” written by one of the firm’s most politically radical and skilled songwriters, Henry Clay Work.

When the war ended, Root & Cady was positioned to become one of the leading music publishing firms in the nation and enjoyed that status for a few years, but the Chicago Fire essentially wiped them out. That catastrophe almost eliminated Root & Cady from our collective memory, but its story remains an important and thought-provoking component of the histories of the Civil War, American music, and Illinois.

This event is Free and Open to the public. For more information, please contact Iris Nelson at