Format Web Pages
Contributors Library of Congress
Dates 2002
Location Washington
Washington D.C.
Subjects Article
Popular Songs of the Day
Songs and Music
Songs Collections
Title
Battle hymn of the republic
Created / Published
Library of Congress, Washington, DC, 2002.
Subject Headings
-  Popular Songs of the Day
-  Songs and Music
-  Songs Collections
Genre
article
Other Formats
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.200000003/mets.xml


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Image: Battle hymn of the Republic Battle hymn of the Republic by Mrs. Julia Ward Howe. Published by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments. [n.d.] Music Division

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored . . .

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" went through a number of versions in the years immediately before the Civil War. Its tune and its early lyrics were written by William Steffe about 1856. Its first verse and refrain were:

Say brothers, will you meet us?
Say brothers, will you meet us?
Say brothers, will you meet us?
On Canaan's happy shore?

Glory, glory hallelujah!
Glory, glory hallelujah!
Glory, glory hallelujah!
For ever, evermore!

The song first gained popularity around Charleston, South Carolina, where it was sung as a Methodist Camp Meeting song, particularly in churches belonging to free Blacks. By contrast, it was also used early on as a marching song on army posts.

The song gathered new verses following the insurrection at Harper's Ferry, led by John Brown and carried out by a cadre of nineteen men on October 16, 1859. Brown's actions, trial and subsequent execution made him a martyr to Abolitionists and African-Americans and prompted some people to add the following lines to Steffe's by then popular song.

John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
His soul is marching on!

Some have also theorized that the new verses were written about an inept Army sergeant named John Brown, thus giving the lyrics a kind of humorous double entendre.

By the time of the Civil War "John Brown's Body" had become a very popular marching song with Union Army regiments, particularly among the Colored troops. The Twelfth Massachusetts Regiment, in particular, has been credited with spreading the song's fame on their march to the South, where Confederate soldiers then inverted the meaning of their words and sang, "John Brown's a-hanging on a sour apple tree." The war's rivalry continued to be carried on in music as the northerners then sang in turn, "They will hang Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree."

But it was when Julia Ward Howe visited Washington, DC in 1861 that the tune properly came to be called "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Howe and her husband, both of whom were active abolitionists, experienced first-hand a skirmish between Confederate and Union troops in nearby Virginia, and heard the troops go into battle singing "John Brown's Body." That evening, November 18, 1861, Ward was inspired to write a poem that better fit the music. It began "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." Her poem, which was published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1862 soon became the song known as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

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Related Web Sites
Print Bibliography
  1. Addeman, J. M. Reminiscences of two years with the colored troops. Providence: N. B. Williams & Co., 1880. Call Number: E528.R47
  2. Bakeless, Katherine Little. Glory, hallelujah! The story of the Battle hymn of the republic. Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1944. Call Number: ML3561.B25 B3
  3. Cook, Lieutenant-Colonel Benjamin F. History of the Twelfth Massachusetts volunteers (Webster regiment). Boston: Twelfth (Webster) regiment association, 1882. Call Number: E513.5 12th C
  4. DeVillers, David. The John Brown slavery revolt trial: a headline court case. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 2000. Call Number: KF223.B765 48 2000
  5. Featherstonhaugh, Thomas. John Brown's men: the lives of those killed at Harper's Ferry. Washington, D.C.: [s.n.], 1899. Call Number: E451.F27
  6. Richards, Laura E. and Maud Howe Elliott. Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1916. Call Number: PS2018 .R5 1916