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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Battle Hymn of the Republic

My 106-year-old recording of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" by singer Thomas Chalmers was recorded on May 29, 1917 at Thomas Edison's recording studio in Manhattan. The recording is registered with the Library of Congress. Chalmers, who lived from 1881 to 1966, was a baritone soloist with the Boston Opera Company and the Metropolitan Opera from 1913 to 1921. He eventually became a popular stage and film actor.

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" first gained popularity around Charleston, South Carolina. It became known as "John Brown's Body," following the insurrection at Harper's Ferry, led by Abolitionist John Brown, whose actions, trial and subsequent execution made him a martyr.

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

By the time of the Civil War, the song had become a popular marching song with Union Army regiments. It was when Julia Ward Howe visited Washington, DC on November 18, 1861 that "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was first born.

Howe and her husband were active abolitionists, who had 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 in the nation's capital, Howe 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."

Here are the words to Battle Hymn of the Republic

A photo of Julia Ward Howe made in 1908


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