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The Words

By Roger Lee Hall

First verse:

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;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

"The poem, which was soon published in the Atlantic Monthly, was somewhat praised on its appearance, but the vicissitudes of the war so engrossed public attention that small heed was taken of literary matters. I soon was content to know, that the poem soon found its way to the camps, as I heard from time to time of its being sung in chorus by the soldiers."

--from Reminiscences 1819-1899 by Julia Ward Howe, Boston, Massachusetts, 1899.

Portrait of Julia Ward Howe, about 1865


A more complete account of how she wrote the words for the hymn is reprinted in a document on the multimedia DVD, "Glory, Hallelujah" - Songs and Hymns of the Civil War Era

The first draft of Julia Ward Howe's poem was written in November 18, 1861.

According to James J. Fuld the first printed copy of her poem was in the New York Tribune on January 14, 1862. The following month her poem was published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, which had a wider circulation. Notice that it was first printed without the familiar "Glory, Hallelujah" chorus, as shown here:

In the book about her mother's noble poem, her daughter wrote the following about it in these excerpts:

""In her Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Struggle she ascribes its composition to two causes -- the religion of humanity and the passion of patriotism. My mother had a long cherished love for her country, but it burned more intensely when the war came, bursting into sudden flame after that memorable day with the soldiers."

"It was published in the Atlantic Monthly for February, 1862. The verses were printed on the first page, being thus given the place of honor. According to custom of that day, no name was signed to them. James T. Fields was then editor of the magazine. My mother consulted him with regard to a name for the poem. The price paid for it was five dollars. But the true price of it was a very different thing, not to be computed in terms of money. It brought its author fame throughout the civilized world, in addition to the love and honor of her countrymen."

-- The Story of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Florence Howe Hall, Harper & Brothers, 1916.



The Music

By Roger Lee Hall


"Battle Hymn of the Republic" has been sung countless times since it was first published in 1862.

In the 20th century, it was sung by everyone from the Columbia Mixed Quartet in 1912 to Elvis Presley in the 1970s in Mickey Newbury's "An American Trilogy," and it continues on today.

This stirring patriotic hymn has been sung for solemn occasions, like the worship service at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.

It has also been sung at sporting events and show biz events -- on radio, television, and records.

But few have bothered to find out where this music originated and how it connects to "John Brown (aka: John Brown's Body)."

It is not an easy puzzle to solve but I'll make an attempt...


The John Brown Song

John Brown (1800-1859)


In his book, John Brown, Abolitionist, David S. Reynolds wrote:

"No one in American history--not even Washington or Lincoln--was recognized as much in drama, verse and song as was Brown. One piece, the song, "John Brown's Body," was unique in American cultural history because of the countless transformations and adaptations it went through."

This song known as "John Brown's Body" (first titled, "John Brown") was first published in July of 1861, and includes the Glory Hallelujah Chorus.

It was reportedly first sung at Fort Warren in Boston on May 12, 1861, and later on July 18 by the 12th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Irwin Silber, in his book, Songs of the Civil War, provides a detailed description:

"By a strange quirk of history, together with the fact that there are few, if any, more common names than John Brown, "John Brown's Body" was not composed originally about the fiery Abolitionist at all. The namesake for the song, it turns out, was Sergeant John Brown of Boston, a Scotsman, a member of the Second Battalion, Boston Light Infantry, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. Sergeant John Brown, as luck would have it, also happened to be a singer, a second tenor in the battalion glee club. Among the most popular airs sung by the choristers was an old Methodist tune which went:

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

The song jokingly begins:

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 goes marching on."




In Vera Brodsky Lawrence's lavish book,Music For Patriots, Politicians, and Presidents, she includes an illustration of the first known printing of the song [shown at left], arranged by C.B. Marsh and copyrighted on July 16, 1861 by C.S. Hall, 256 Main Street, Charlestown, Massachusetts and just underneath the title on the left side it is listed as "ORIGIN, FORT WARREN." This Fort Warren song was the one Julia Ward Howe was referring to as the one she knew, not the Methodist hymn.





Who Wrote The Tune?

In Book of World-Famous Music (5th ed, 2000), James J. Fuld has written an extensive and authoritative account of how the Battle Hymn and the "Glory Hallelujah" chorus evolved from the 1850s to the early 1860s.

Fuld writes:

"On Nov. 27, 1858, 'Brothers Will You Meet Us?' was copyrighted as a separate hymn by G.S. Scofield, New York, NY. No copy of this separate publication has been located, but it was soon reproduced in the Dec. 1858 issue of Our Monthly Casket, published by the Lee Avenue Sunday School, Brooklyn, vol. 1, no. 8, p. 152. The music and words of the Glory Hallelujah Chorus are present. The opening words of the song are "Say, brothers, will you meet us," and the song became known as a Methodist hymn by this title. The hymn has been often credited to William Steffe but proof of his authorship is not conclusive."


Boyd B. Stutler wrote a 1960 publication titled, Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! The Story of "John Brown's Body" and " Battle Hymn of the Republic." In it he disputes the myths of who wrote the "John Brown's Body" tune. Here are several excerpts:

"Most persistent in urging their claims were William Steffe of Philadelphia, Thomas Brigham Bishop of New York, and Frank E. Jerome of Russell, Kansas - but in each case their claim can easily be dismissed on examination of the records and proven facts.

The William Steffe myth is the one that has really muddied the waters, and he is the one who has profited the most - in name only - from his assertion that he composed the music of 'John Brown's Body,' later to be captured by 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'

Whatever his private claims may have been, Steffe was not publicly credited with the composition until November 3, 1883, when Major O.V. Bosbyshell published an article...Steffe was a life-long Philadelphian. His activities can be traced through the years as a clerk, insurance agent, manager of a heating stove works, and as an active Mason for more than fifty years - but in all the records there is no mention of him as a composer of music other that the John Brown tune. In some way most of the narrators have transported him as a Charleston, South Carolina music writer, but sometimes from Richmond, Virginia - and the statement is frequently made that a Northerner (Daniel Decatur Emmett) wrote 'Dixie,' the great war song of the South, and a Southerner (William Steffe?) wrote the most popular war song of the North, 'John Brown's Body.'

Anyway, Steffe has reaped a rich reward of unearned posthumous fame."

Then, if not William Steffe, who did write "John Brown's Body"? It remains a mystery. The most likely guess would be it was written by one or more forgotten tunesmiths at a camp meeting and it became the Methodist hymn tune. Even though Steffe had claimed to have written the tune, he never provided any proof so his claim is highly suspect.


"Glory, Hallelujah" Chorus

The same chorus was used for "John Brown" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." This chorus must have been well known since it was mentioned on the cover of the first printing. Notice that the title is without "The." It is just -- "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The original sheet music cover is shown here:

Adapted to the favorite Melody "Glory, Hallelujah"
written by Mrs. Dr. S. G. [Julia Ward] Howe
Boston: Published by Oliver Ditson & Co.,
277 Washington St., 1862


What most writers have missed about this chorus is an important word was added in the original sheet music printing. In the second line of the Chorus there is an additional Glory making it sound even more stirring:

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.



Read about the amazing performance of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the World's Peace Jubilee in Boston in 1872 by the Afro-American group known as The Jubilee Singers on the multimedia DVD mentioned below.




The Recordings



The First Modern Day Recording of "John Brown" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic," is included on this multimedia DVD:

"Glory, Hallelujah!" - Songs and Hymns of the Civil War Era



The Hit Record


By Roger Lee Hall



The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, one of America's most popular choruses, has made numerous recordings of Julia Ward Howe's Civil War hymn, especially the 1944 arrangement by Peter J. Wilhousky, which has become the preferred one for choruses everywhere.

It should be mentioned that in the 1944 arrangement, the last verse ends with the original words by Julia Ward Howe:

"As He died to make men holy, Let us DIE to make men free."

This was changed in later Mormon Tabernacle Choir recordings to:

"As He died to make holy, Let us LIVE to make men free."

Unfortunately, this word change distorts the original expression of the Civil War hymn. Like, another famous hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers," the Battle Hymn was written as a defiant call to war using religious righteousness. If the altered word is used, then the audience should be informed about this change when performed in a concert.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir had their biggest million-seller of the song in 1959 when the 45 RPM record of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" made the pop charts. This is perhaps the first time when the line "Live to make men free " was replaced for "Die to make make men free." Because it was such a hit, the change was adopted by other performers over the years.

According to Joel Whitburn in his authoritative The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, this Mormon Tabernacle record was on the Billboard charts for 11 weeks and reached as high as No. 13.

At the 2nd annual Grammy Awards held on November 29, 1959, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, directed by Richard Condie, received a Grammy
Award for Best Performance By a Vocal Group or Chorus.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording was also a shortened version of Julia Ward Howe's Civil War song and was suggested to Columbia Records by the popular and influential Cleveland disc jockey, Bill Randle, so the song would fit easily on a 45 RPM record. Randle was the disc jockey who introduced Elvis Presley on national television on "Stage Show" in 1956.

The lyrics to "Battle Hymn" were printed on the back of the 45 record sleeve:





The Lecture




Would you like to schedule a lecture for your organization about the origins of the texts and tunes for "John Brown's Body" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with recorded music examples of both tunes and sheet music on display?

For more details about this lecture by
Roger Lee Hall, click this link:

Lectures and Workshops






Related Links

"Glory, Hallelujah!" - Songs and Hymns of the Civil War Era


American Music Recordings Archive [AMRA]

"Lincoln and Liberty" - Music From Abraham Lincoln's Era

"Millennial Praise" - Singing New Englanders

Music in Old Boston

New England Music Archive

New England Song Series No. 2: GOIN' HOME

New England Song Series No. 3: JINGLE BELLS

New England Song Series No. 4: SIMPLE GIFTS

New England Song Series No. 5: SONG OF THE OLD FOLKS

New England Song Series No. 6:

Singing Stoughton - one of America's oldest music traditions



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