Charles Frazier's Use of Music in Cold Mountain
The American Civil War was a bitter, grief-filled conflict with oddly musical overtones. A Southern soldier, Alexander Hunter, recalled that “There was music in plenty,” (Lawrence 169) just as Charles Frazier’s character Stobrod in Cold Mountain remarks that “there was so much music back then” (407). While both the Union and the Confederacy placed great import on music, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier focuses primarily on the Southern perspective of the war, in all of its aspects. Spiritual music gave soldiers hope, gave them something cheerful to listen to after their days of slogging through the grime of human remains, as Inman discovers during his journey. Songs of homecoming and perseverance also strengthened the women, children, and parents left behind, waiting with fearful hopes for the return of their loved ones. Ada’s continual reference to “Wayfaring Stranger” illustrates this point beautifully. Finally, the musical natures of both armies created a bond that otherwise would not have been possible, forming brief alliances among enemies. The impact of music during this period of American history was so great that General Robert E. Lee was heard to say “I don’t believe we can have an army without music” (Wiley qtd. in Waller and Edgington 147). Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain exemplifies this statement, interweaving music throughout the struggles of Ada and Inman, using it as a tool to express emotion and to give a common thread to the broken culture that was the American South. The dissonant harmonies of Civil War-era music both complemented and contrasted itself, creating new forms from old ones and forging bonds where there had been nothing.
Hope was a rare privilege during those times, and spiritual music was one of the few things that was able to elevate the downed spirits and give faith back to the faithless. It was said that the book most commonly owned by a Civil War soldier was a Bible, followed closely by a songbook, also known as a “songster” (Waller and Edgington 147). This was particularly true in the case of the black regiments that fought under the Confederate flag; because of the deep musical heritage carried by the African Americans from their homeland, it was only natural that they in turn transformed well-known spirituals and ballads into music suitable for wartime. Captain George Sutherland noted that “the black soldiers’ life was full of either music or religion,” and although this statement related directly to a Negro regiment it could have also been applied universally, to the entirety of both armies (Wilson 148). Religion and music have long been associated, and this union was not broken by the splitting of the United States. Rather, it was strengthened as the fighters searched desperately for a sold ideal to hold on to amidst the carnage– many found their salvation through music.
All faith-based hymns were not necessarily peaceful and loving,...