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Jefferson County Civil War Roundtable

Hanson to perform civl War era songs
at Roundtable meeting

He is a retired Ball State professor

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(April 2007) – While most Civil War history buffs are familiar with songs that came from the tumultuous period such as “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Goober Peas,” one ardent historian has uncovered hundreds of little-known Civil War music pieces.

Dr. Wesley Hanson

Dr. Wesley Hanson, a retired music professor from Ball State University, will present a dinner program of rare Civil War music April 13 at the monthly meeting of the Jefferson County Civil War Roundtable. The event will be held at Hanover College’s Brown Campus Center, and the public is welcome to attend. Dinner is $20 and begins at 6:30 p.m. The program will be at 8 p.m. Reservations are required.
During the meeting, Hanson will dress as a Union soldier, and he will sing some of the song selections and play his trombone for others. He will also be using a rare and unusual euphonium called a “backward blaster,” which was actually used during the Civil War.
His horn blows backward, as was usual during that time period. “The horns at that time were not playing for crowds of people lining the streets or for an audience,” he explained. “Instead, they were playing for the soldiers who were marching behind them.”
He will perform songs from the era that trace the course of the war. “There is a parallel than can be drawn between what was happening during the war and the kinds of songs that were being written and sung from both sides,” he said.
For instance, he has found Union songs dating as early as 1859 that talk about the eventuality of a war and how people should use the U.S. Constitution as a guide. He said early Confederate songs declare the South as “a nation among the nations of the world. In the end, though, he said the songs were bitter in the South.
“They were not good losers.”
Hanson said the Civil War has always been a passion of his, even when he was a young child. “The war determined what kind of country we had, which makes a fascinating study,” he said.

Jefferson County
Civil War Roundtable

• Featuring Wes Hanson at Hanover College's Brown Campus Center
• Dinner $20 at 6:30 p.m.
• Program at 8 p.m.
• Reservation required. Call (812) 273-5551 or (812) 265-5284.

In 1992, he retired early from his career as a music professor and has spent the years since traveling across the country searching out rare sheet music from the Civil War era. Hanson and his wife, Ann, who also dresses in period clothing and helps narrate the programs he performs, have traveled to numerous museums, libraries and historical archives around the nation, including various sites in New England, Indiana-polis, Tennessee, Chicago, and Richmond, Va., looking for stocks of old music.
“I search for old printed sheet music and make programs out of what I like,’ he said. He believes the music helps people understand the thinking of people during that period.
The Library of Congress and the research library at John Hopkins University are two places where he has found huge collections of period sheet music.
Apparently, the Civil War was the golden age of music production. According to Hanson, there was more music that came out of that period than that which came out from all the other wars put together, including both World War I and World War II. However, he said most people sing the same old songs over and over.
“I do not sing the popular songs in my programs; instead, I want people to hear the rest of the story,” he said. Recently, Hanson came into possession of a book written in the 1880s titled, “Our War Songs North & South: Best Collection of War Songs Ever Compiled,” which had more than 430 era songs in it. “It is a true treasure trove of songs, some of which I have never heard,” he said.
He has more than 500 rare pieces of Civil War sheet music in his own collection and said the book nearly doubled what is in his files. He said no one really knows how much more is out there. ‘Who knows what will be found in attics, basements and other archives,” he said.
Hanson presents his music programs at various county historical society’s throughout Indiana. He also performs for schools and other historical organizations, including the Indianapolis Civil War Roundtable.
He performs annually at the site of the battle of Antietam in Maryland, the Civil War’s single worst day of battle. He also performs at the Sharpsburg Heritage Festival, which commemorates the Battle of Antietam. “Each year, I come out with new programs of songs that I have discovered,” he said.
Kathy Ayers, Roundtable president, said, “Dr. Hanson is a well-known and well respected authority in the Civil War community. For us to get him to come to our meeting is just exciting.”
“He is an entertaining person in his own right, but then you add in his incredible knowledge about Civil War music, and we are just lucky to have him.”

• The public is welcome, but since seating is limited, anyone interested needs to make a reservation by April 10. Dinner is $20. Call (812) 273-5551 or (812) 265-5284.

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