During the American Civil War, women in the parlor imagined life at the front through music, playing pieces and singing songs on topics related to the conflict. Among the genres that they performed were battle pieces for the piano, episodic works that depict incidents of battle and their outcome in victory. These pieces constituted a genre that had long been a favorite of female amateur performers, their lineage beginning with Frantisek Kotzwara's 1788 Battle of Prague, which remained steadily popular throughout the nineteenth century.
This article examines Civil War battle pieces by tracing their roots to Kotzwara's famous piece. By constructing a reception history of that work as it appears in nineteenth-century literary sources, the article retrieves some alternatives to the abundant satirical readings of the Battle of Prague in period fiction. It suggests that Civil War battle music played several important roles in the lives of its players. The music invited women to imagine and embody the conflicts on the battlefield, to challenge society's expectations of women as both pianists and as contributors to the war effort in public capacities, and to reflect on the costs of the war. The article goes on to examine a battle piece by a female composer and to consider amateur women's performances of battle repertoire during the war years. Finally, drawing inspiration from the accounts in fiction of Kotzwara's Battle of Prague, it concludes by imagining a woman's performance of a battle piece on the heels of the Battle of Gettysburg.