Escape from "Goober Peas"

Give the "Camptown Races" a break:

The repertory of American sheet music was enlarged in the first decades of the nineteenth century by the songs of English-born musicians living in America (Benjamin Carr, James Hewitt, Raynor Taylor), by popular airs from ballad operas, by Irish songs, and by songs arranged from favorite Italian operas of Donizetti, Bellini, and their contemporaries.

See for yourself:

This song begins with dramatically declaimed text against an arpeggiated accompaniment, continues with dramatic recitative on the words "Is my Father coming? tell me, Has our army gain’d the day?," and moves to an arioso-like treatment of the text beginning with "Is he well, or is he wounded?," and would not be out of place as a small scena in an opera by Donizetti or one of his contemporaries. Even the details are right—the dramatic punctuation of the text with chromatic chords, the pause on a note just before the final chord. Music in the style of Italian opera in the context of the American Civil War? Once one knows what to listen for, there are many examples.

I'll say one thing in favor of the school of "Goober Peas" Civil War music. Actually, I'll take it from the cited article (with my emphasis added again):

Most music published during the war—and all the music in this album—appeared as single pieces of sheet music, as songs for solo voice and keyboard (or occasionally guitar) accompaniment. This was music for performance in the home, by people of modest musical ability.
"Camptown Races" music represents very modest musical ability - is it not fair to represent the body of Civil War musical tastes driven by these "people of modest musical ability"?

No, I think not. Consider what you just read. In the 1860s, modest musical ability embraced certain operatic conventions. The modest musical ability of today is painfully modest by comparison.

"Camptown Races," etc., are songs at the absolute bottom end of the reading and technique scale. Kid stuff. For the real Civil War stuff, seek out the arpeggiations and dramatic recitatives.