Of the 412 marches related to the Civil War in the Library of Congress Civil War Sheet Music Collection, 26 are by E. Mack. I never suspected that 6% of the collection would be written by someone I had never heard of. I was not surprised to see so many unfamiliar names among march composers, but I never thought the composer of the most marches would be such a cipher, and I never thought one man would write more than twice as much as second most prolific composer.
George Root’s 12 contributions (mostly arrangements and not original compositions) include three different editions of “How It Marches The Flag Of The Union”. In third place, Septimus Winner composed seven marches and arranged three more. There are two editions of his “Col. Ellsworth’s Funeral March.” These composers may not be household names now, but they both had national reputations during their lifetimes.
Among Mack’s marches in the collection, there are three editions of “General Grant’s Grand March,” two of “Major General Sheridan’s Grand Victory March,” and an arrangement of Henry Clay Work’s “Marching Thro’ Georgia.” That still leaves 22 original marches. Who is this person?
According to the Keffer Collection of Sheet Music at the University of Pennsylvania, his full name is Edward Mack. He was born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1826) and his parents emigrated to the United States when he was 5. At some point, he became blind. In 1844 he entered the Philadelphia Institute for the Blind. Except for a brief stay in New London, Connecticut, he remained in Philadelphia until his death in 1882. I have located no other biographical references at all.
As a composer, he mainly wrote dance music and marches for the piano. He must have been very prolific. The Library of Congress copyright deposits include 711 pieces by Mack. I notice from looking at the selection on the University of Pennsylvania’s web site and the Library of Congress Civil War Sheet Music Collection that nearly all of Mack’s pieces were published in Philadelphia. At the time, most composers of popular music had little more than local reputation. Mack’s music must have been pleasing enough and novel enough to keep Philadelphia families buying enough of it for the publishers (mostly Lee & Walker) to keep issuing more of it.
The picture shows an edition of “Gen. Grant’s Grand March” published by Oliver Ditson of Boston in 1889, seven years after Mack’s death and four years after Grant’s. It is part of a series of pieces written in Grant’s honor that Ditson republished. No fewer than three of Mack’s pieces appeared in the set with this same cover. Surely Grant received many more musical tributes than Ditson chose to reissue. Edward Mack might not be a big name in American popular music, but he must have had something more than just a local reputation.
Photo from the Library of Congress Civil War Sheet Music Collection.