Battle Hymn of the Republic Recording is 100 Years Old

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 has loosed the fateful lightening
of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on


Thomas Chalmers' recording of "Battle Hymn Of The Republic" is 100-years-old this year. He recorded his version on May 29, 1917 (Edison Records, 82133-R).

According to the Library of Congress, "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."

(Julia Ward Howe, April 27, 1908)

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."

As Howe explained it, the verses came to her in a single night:

"I went to bed and slept as usual, but awoke the next morning in the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose, saying to myself, I shall lose this if I don't write it down immediately. I searched for an old sheet of paper and an old stub of a pen which I had had the night before, and began to scrawl the lines almost without looking, as I learned to do by often scratching down verses in the darkened room when my little children were sleeping. Having completed this, I lay down again and fell asleep, but not before feeling that something of importance had happened to me."


"Battle Hymn of the Republic" was first published in The Atlantic Monthly on February 1862.

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


Comments

Popular Posts