Soon after Ebenezer T. Root and Chauncey M. Cady founded their music store and publishing house (Chicago, 1858), they became the city’s leading music dealer. Content at first to be, like other Chicago music companies, a general music dealer and publisher of songs for the local market, the partners could not have imagined that they would be best remembered for the songs they sold nationwide during the Civil War.
During that time, most American music publishers catered to the local market. They made no particular attempt to promote their songs; the songwriters themselves did that. In fact, publishing was usually a retail store’s sideline. If publishers wanted sell much music in other cities, they usually entered into some kind of reciprocal deal with another store somewhere, or perhaps a store in each of several other cities.
Before the war, Root & Cady’s most successful publication was “Zouave Cadets Quickstep” by A. J. Vaas. A band under Vaas’ direction had played it in several Northern cities as part of the nationwide tour of the United States Zouave Cadets under the leadership of Col. Elmer Ellsworth. Ellsworth and his Zouaves became so popular that it is no wonder hundreds of orders came in every day from all over the country.
Perhaps hoping for similar success, the firm issued “The First Gun is Fired! May God Protect the Right!” within three days of the firing on Fort Sumter, which precipitated the Civil War. That was the first of some 80 songs and piano pieces that directly referred to the war or some specific event related to it. Another was Vaas’ tribute to his old traveling companion, “Col. Ellsworth’s Requiem March.”
Ebenezer Root’s brother George Frederick Root joined the firm in 1859 as chief of publications. He was also a successful composer of popular songs. He wrote many important Civil War songs. As part of his managerial responsibilities, Root examined songs that had been submitted for publication. The first time one by local composer Henry Clay Work crossed his desk, Root offered Work a regular job as staff song writer. Work wrote 30 war songs, as well as quite a number of other songs.
Between them, Root and Work wrote nearly all of the war songs that turned out to be hits for Root & Cady. As compared to all the other American music publishers, North and South, the firm issued a disproportionate share of the best known and most successful Civil War songs.
Root & Cady began to expand their operations in 1862, when they began to issue music instruction books in cooperation with the Chicago school system. Beginning with “The Silver Lute,” these also reached a nationwide audience.
Success can be difficult to deal with. After the Civil War ended, America’s tastes became more diverse, but Root & Cady made no attempt to keep up with the times. That could have led to a gradual deterioration of the firm’s status and reputation. As it turned out, though, the end came swiftly. The Great Chicago Fire began on October 8, 1871, and by the time it burned itself out, it had destroyed Root & Cady’s warehouse, including $125,000 worth of inventory.
George Root withdrew before the end of the month, and the original partners had no choice but bankruptcy. Apparently the original plates were in a building that did not burn. Root & Cady sold its sheet music catalog to S. Brainard’s Sons in Cleveland and its instructional books to John Church and Co. in Cincinnati.