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Civil War Music In The 20th Century
Battle Hymn of The Republic
Battle Hymn of The Republic
Performed by Thomas Chalmers
Recorded May 29, 1917
Written by Julia Ward Howe

The tune was written, around 1855, by South Carolinian William Steffe. The lyrics at that time were alternately called "Canaan's Happy Shore" or "Brothers, Will You Meet Me?" and the song was sung as a campfire spiritual. The tune spread across the United States, taking on many sets of new lyrics.

A man from Vermont named Thomas Bishop joined the Massachusetts Infantry before the outbreak of war and wrote a popular set of lyrics, circa 1860, titled "John Brown's Body" which became one of his unit's walking songs. According to writer Irwin Silber (who has written a book about Civil War folksongs), the song was not about John Brown, the famed abolitionist, but a Scotsman of the same name who was a member of the 12th Massachusetts Regiment. An article by writer Mark Steyn explains that the men of John Brown's unit had made up a song poking fun at him, and sang it widely.

Bishop's battalion was dispatched to Washington, D.C. early in the Civil War, and Julia Ward Howe heard this song during a public review of the troops in Washington. As with many others, she assumed it was about John Brown the abolitionist. Her companion at the review, the Reverend James Clarke, suggested to Howe that she write new words for the fighting men's song, and the current version of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was born.

Howe's "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was first published on the front page of The Atlantic Monthly of February 1862. The sixth verse written by Howe, which is less commonly sung, was not published at that time. The song was also published as a broadside in 1863 by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments in Philadelphia.

Julia Ward Howe was the wife of Samuel Gridley Howe, the famed scholar in education of the blind. Samuel and Julia were also active leaders in anti-slavery politics and strong supporters of the Union. Julia was visiting a Union camp when she heard the soldiers singing "John Brown's Body" and was inspired to write the words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".

78Edison DD 5591
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Last modified July 11, 2012