Instruments like bugles and fifes were used for communications on battlefields, and surviving soldiers returning to their hometowns often brought with them new instruments, sounds, and songs – with Maryland rich with military history, it is also rich with military music history. Read a multi-media essay on Maryland’s place in military music:



Military music began informing the cultural landscape of Maryland when soldiers returned to their communities from fronts in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. Some soldiers were fifers or drummers using music and rhythm on the battlefield to communicate commands or to maintain a cadence when marching. Bugles and trumpets would also be used for communications and would later be adapted with other brass instruments into the key sounds of the great American marches and patriotic music of the 19th and 20th centuries.

This essay on Maryland’s military music history is by Marit K. Rodman and is a continuation of the Preservation Maryland series on the history of museum in Maryland. Read previous essays on the following eras: Music Traditions of Indigenous People of Maryland, Colonial Music in St. Mary’s City 1634-1776, and Old-Time and Bluegrass Music in Maryland.

Soldiers would also bring back to their communities popular songs imported and adapted from earlier tunes with updated, sometimes political lyrics— the most enduring example being Yankee Doodle with a tune traceable across continental Europe as early as the 15th century and 18th century. The song has variations in lyrics ranging from anti-colonial denigrations of Americans by British troops to the American appropriation famous today as a patriotic rallying cry and state song of Connecticut.

The military music throughout the American colonies became a unifying force for the new nation as songs written in one region could be spread in taverns and coffee shops all along the highways and byways of the eastern seaboard as troops moved and eventually returned home.


Born in a part of Frederick County that is now Carroll County, Frances Scott Key was a lawyer who enjoyed writing song lyrics in the broadside tradition on the side. Famous for penning the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner, following his observations from a truce ship he was detained on just off Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore on September 13-14, 1814, in his professional life Key would prosecute government corruption and the would be assassin of Andrew Jackson in addition to defending, sometimes pro bono, African Americans in search of freedom.

Key’s ancestors moved to Maryland from London in 1726 and, as a child born of the revolution, he would turn to war and US military victories as his inspiration for several songs beginning with When the Warrior Returns, an 1805 broadside ballad commemorating heroes of the Tripolitan War, also known as the First Barbary War.

A broadside ballad is a set of lyrics printed without musical notation—a much cheaper option—noting what popular tune it is intended to be sung to at the bottom.

Notably, Key’s first lyrics were to be set to The Anacreontic Song, which was the anthem for a posh musical society, The Anacreontic Society, founded in London in 1766 and had been previously adopted for other American patriotic songs or parodies and would continue to be used. Professor Mark Clague of the University of Michigan notes that 80 lyrics set to this tune were published by 1820. When The Star Spangled Banner, with some rhymes and reused phrases from his earlier patriotic ballad was published, it became immediately popular, supplanting his Hail, Columbia from 1798.

Though the US Congress would not officially make the song the national anthem until the Hoover Administration in 1931, the song had long become a de facto anthem, rearranged and played by the US military throughout the 19th century despite its musical complexity and flourishes which originally invited only professional soloists to attempt the tune in the Anacreontic Society.

The Star Spangled Banner has no official version and has been adjusted to better accommodate choral popular singing but remains one of the more challenging national anthems in range and lyric complexity. Maryland’s role as the site of the inspirational victory at Fort McHenry and one of her native son’s poetic talents elevated one of many such military broadside ballads into the national anthem of the United States of America.


While most Americans may only hear the state song of Maryland once a year before the running of the Preakness Stakes in May, everyone recognizes the tune from the 19th century German Christmas song, Oh Christmas Tree. The melody to which the Maryland oriented lyrics are set is appropriated from a 16th century tune often known in German as Lauriger Horatius. Though Maryland, My Maryland was probably the first patriotic song in America to make use of this well known tune, it is notable that it was also adopted by Iowa for The Song of Iowa and, less originally, by Michigan and Florida for their unofficial and former state songs, respectively, Michigan, My Michigan and Florida, My Florida. It has also become the tune for The Red Flag which is the anthem of the British and Irish Labour Parties amongst many other institutional appropriations. Though the melody is not native or distinct to Maryland, the lyrics to the anthem adopted by the State legislature in 1938, are thoroughly infused with her complicated history, telling a tale of war and division that many contemporary listeners would cringe at, if they ever heard more than the commonly sung third verse.

Maryland, My Maryland, a nine stanza poem, was written as an ode to secessionist values by the Baltimore expatriate James Ryder Randall, who was teaching in Louisiana when he heard of the death of his friend, Francis X. Ward, in the Baltimore riots of April, 1861. It was published in the New Orleans Sunday Delta and was quickly set to the familiar tune by Jennie Cary, the sister of the Baltimore Confederate sympathizer and the designer of the first three Confederate Flags, Hetty Cary.

The song has been referred to as The Marseilles of the South as Confederate troops sang it frequently when marching into or through Maryland, and it is this anthem played in the background of the ballroom sequence in the film, Gone With the Wind, reflecting its popularity throughout the south.

Though the Maryland legislature voted to remain in the Union, there were 13 votes against that decision and many stipulations put to Lincoln to reduce Union troop presence in Maryland, closing rail links to the north. The problems began when Union troops started channeling in through the Port of Baltimore, a city where many people owned house slaves or had connections to tobacco plantations on the Eastern Shore using slave labor, so the broad sentiment in that city was toward not waging war against their southern neighbors. A riot ensued in which both sides saw fatalities and Randall’s outcry, which he claimed to have penned in one feverish night, speaks to Maryland’s awkward position as a Union slave state, with many abolitionists/unionists in the west, yet with great Confederate sympathies, mostly in the east.

The lyrics are extremely bellicose as a call to arms for Maryland and the south to drive out the despot and tyrant, understood to be Abraham Lincoln. It makes references, oblique to today’s listeners, to Maryland-born heroes of the Mexican-American War, including Samuel Ringgold, William H. Watson, and Charles Augustus May and also to Enoch Lewis Lowe, the then-recent governor of Maryland who oversaw the adoption of the Constitution of Maryland but moved to Richmond, Virginia during the Civil War.

The culminating lines of the 6th stanza reveal Randall’s classical education evoking the expression Sic Semper evello mortem Tyrannis, associated with the death of Julius Caesar meaning, Thus always I bring death to tyrants. This expression is the basis for the motto on Virginia’s state seal and, probably due to the popularity of Randall’s song, became the inspiration for fellow Marylander, the infamous John Wilkes Boothe, to shout Sic Semper Tyrannis after shooting Lincoln.

The only stanza typically sung today is the third, which nostalgically, and seemingly benignly, refers to Charles Carrol, the wealthy descendant of early emigrant’s to the colony and proponent of independence from Britain and Maryland’s representative to the Continental Congress and state governor, John Eager Howard.

  • Remember Carroll‘s sacred trust,
  • Remember Howard‘s warlike thrust,-
  • And all thy slumberers with the just,
  • Maryland! My Maryland!

However, even these figures are praised for their rebellion and apparent contribution to war rather than for their legislative or entrepreneurial contributions to the state’s development. It is notable that in 2016 a legislative bill to change the state anthem passed in the state Senate, though it was held up in the House so, as of now, there are no plans to recast the tone of Maryland, My Maryland either through new lyrics or an entirely new song. 


The fifes and drums used on 18th-century battlefields and in colonial militias would be the backbone of American military music but, in the 19th century, Maryland would play an important role in expanding the range of instrumentation beyond the functional instruments on warships and battlefields toward full orchestras as the home of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, which was founded in 1846.

Their first ball required the US Marine Band to come in from Washington, DC by barge since the only musicians on the campus were the fife and drummers. By 1852, plans developed to form an official Naval Academy Band with 12 musicians, including the bandleader. Despite a temporary relocation during the Civil War to Newport, RI, the band would return to Annapolis in 1865 and steadily grow in number and diversity of instruments for the next century, defining and re-defining American military music and its role in popular culture and our national self-image. Though drawing on talent from all over the United States, and often from immigrant talents in its early days, the Naval Academy Band and has benefited significantly from the contributions of Marylanders.


Charles Adams Zimmermann, a graduate of the Peabody Institute of Music in his mother’s native city of Baltimore, became the 6th and youngest ever bandmaster of the Naval Academy Band at age 26 in 1887. Though he joined as a cornetist, Zimmermann also performed on the violin, cello and organ in addition to leading the Midshipman choir and founding the Midshipman theatrical club, The Masqueraders.

He was prolific in composing marches, often dedicated to each graduating class and toured the east coast bringing the band’s talents to universities and wealthy resorts expanding the notoriety of the ensemble and reinforcing patriotism through music in the 1890s leading up to the Spanish-American War. He famously lead a 120 piece dance orchestra for Grover Cleveland’s inaugural ball, gaining him wider recognition which would eventually lead to an offer in 1897 by, then Asssitant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, to head the US Marine Corps Band. However, Zimmermann declined and remained in Annapolis.

Ten years later, one of his choir members, Midshipman Alfred H. Miles, requested, “to have a piece of music that would be inspiring, one with a swing to it so that it could be used as a football marching song, and one that would live forever.” Miles collaborated on the lyrics and that song, Anchors Aweigh, became the official Naval Academy fight song, though with revised lyrics in 1926 and again in 1997 has become the unofficial anthem of the Navy, removing the sporting connotations of the original stanzas in favor of more general, military ones.

The first mention of a performance of Anchors Aweigh was at the Farewell Ball, held on February 12, 1906. Anchors Aweigh received its first public performance at Franklin Field in Philadelphia for the 1906 Army-Navy football game, and for the first time since 1900, Navy defeated the Cadets 10-0, no doubt adding to the power of the song. In 1920, the USNA Band recorded this song which may have helped it gain popularity in that decade to become an unofficial song for the broader navy.


Baltimore native, Lt. William Sima, was a musical prodigy who became the musical director of the Wilson Theater at age 15 and joined the naval academy band three years later in 1910.  As bandleader from 1932, he composed scores for naval themed musical theatrical productions at the Academy including Gangway and Cease Firing and he also performed in civilian venues like Ford’s Theater, expanding the range and accessibility of military music beyond the parade grounds and war bond concerts previously associated with the genre and made standard by Zimmermann and John Phillip Sousa of Washington DC.

In 1933, Sima collaborated with two midshipmen during an Atlantic Ocean practice cruise to pen the lyrics to Victory March reportedly in just 15 minutes and, within days, had completed the arrangement, which is still played at most naval sporting events. The American tradition of merging military and patriotic music with sporting events – even having marching bands in pseudo-military uniforms – may not have taken off without the quality of instrumentation coming out of our National Military Bands and the Military Academies.

Congress steadily grew the band to 78 musicians by 1939, the year the Naval Academy Band began broadcasting performances over local Maryland radio stations and also traveled to New York City to represent the State of Maryland at the 1939 World’s Fair.


On December 8, 1972, the USNA Band swore in its first official female instrumentalist, Heidi R. Hunter, of Reisterstown, Maryland. The soon to be MU2 Hunter, a guitarist assigned to the Naval Academy Band, enlisted under a new program designed to attract female instrumentalists into the Navy Music Program. The diversity of programming from the Naval Academy Band spread in the 1970s to include ensembles of every genre, aimed at attracting and reaching out to the youth who were alienated from the military, often in opposition to the Vietnam Conflict. A rock band from the academy, Tidal Wave, which formed in 1972, did the bulk of the performing in this period when budget cuts reduced the overall size of the Academies and their bands in the 1970s. A local recruit from Davidson, Maryland, Ben Winter, would leave the academy to join Country Current, a bluegrass and country section of the US Navy Band.


Though a native of New England, Marit K. Rodman is now a proud resident of Maryland having moved to Silver Spring to teach Film Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. She has graduate degrees from NYU in Cinema Studies and Museum Studies, and a PhD in Film Studies from the University of Kent at Canterbury in the U.K., where she specialized in European Cinema. With an undergraduate degree in Art History, Marit has broad interests in all the arts and the conservation/preservation of our history and culture, which includes involvement in historic dance groups as well as jobs in museums and art galleries. She is currently pursuing an advocacy role in promoting the arts and historic preservation with an emphasis on community outreach and engagement.