Saturday, January 14, 2012

On This Day in Music (1862): “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” published

The Battle Hymn of the Republic (aka “Glory, Hallelujah”)

Julia Ward Howe (words), William Steffe (music?)

Writer(s): Julia Ward Howe (words), William Steffe (music?) (see lyrics here)

Composed: November 18, 1861

First Published: January 14, 1862

First Charted: August 19, 1916 (Columbia Mixed Quartet)

Peak: 11 PM, 11 CB, 11 AC (different versions) (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 57.12 video, -- streaming

Awards (Howe):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Harrison):

Awards (Mormon Tabernacle Choir):

About the Song:

There is some dispute as to the origins of the music for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” William Steffe is typically credited with composing “Glory, Hallelujah,” possibly in the mid-1850s TY2 but there is no proof of his authorship. AMP He was a musician from Virginia who became the musical director in 1852 at a Georgia camp meeting, which was a religious revival event. SS With no songbooks available, he reportedly created some hymns inspired by Negro spirituals, SS although it is disputed if he created the camp-meeting hymn called called “Say, Brothers Will You Meet Us?” AMP which used the familiar “glory, hallelujah” refrain. In the 2013 book The Battle Hymn of the Republic: A Biography of the Song That Marches On, authors John Stauffer and Benjamin Soskis say the spiritual was written by an unknown composer and published as early as 1807 in a hymnal with the words “Oh brothers, will you meet us on Canaan’s happy shore?”

The tune was then used for “John Brown,” also known as “John Brown’s Body.” It was written in jest about Sgt. John Brown, a soldier stationed at Fort Warren in Boston. It included the line “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave / But his soul goes marching on.” TY2 Some sources suggest it is also connected to the abolitionist John Brown TY2 who was hung in 1859 for his raid on Harpers Ferry, but this has also been refuted. AMP That was published in 1861 by C.S. Hall in Charleston, Massachusetts. AMP

Julia Ward Howe was a writer, abolitionist, and feminist SS who was the wife of government official Samuel Gridley Howe. Along with the governor of Massachusetts and others, she was invited to review the Union troops in Virginia while visiting Washington, D.C. During a sudden attack which forced the troops to return to camp, they were singing songs such as “John Brown’s Body.” One member of Howe’s party, Reverend James F. Clarke, encouraged her to write new lyrics for the tune, celebrating what she saw as a crusade against evil. She wrote them that night at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. TY2 Her first draft was composed on November 18, 1861. AMP

According to James J. Fuld, the first printed copy was in the New York Tribune on January 14, 1862. AMP In February 1962, AMP it was published in Atlantic Monthly, edited by James T. Fields. AMP She was, depending on the source, given five CP to eight dollars SS and the poem gained much wider circulation. AMP It became “the Union’s leading Civil War and anti-slavery rallying cry.” SS Reverend McCabe sang it at a memorial service for Abraham Lincoln and it was adapted as a presidential campaign song for Ulysses Grant, William Jennings Bryan, Herbert Hoover, and Thomas Dewey. SS

In Reminiscenes 1819-1899, Howe said the poem “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.” AMP

Her daughter, Florence Howe Hall, wrote that Howe ascribed the poem’s composition to “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.” AMP She said it brought her mother “fame throughout the civilized world, in addition to the love and honor of her countrymen.” AMP

Chart versions of the song include the Columbia Mixed Quartet (#6 PM, 1912), The Columbia Mixed Double Quartet (#5, 1916), Reinald Werrerath (#4, 1917), Charles Harrison with the Columbia Stellar Quartet (#1 PM, 1918), Thomas Chalmers (#10 PM, 1918), the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (#13 BB, 1959), and Andy Williams (#33 BB, 1968). It has also been performed by Judy Garland, Lee Greenwood, Whitney Houston, and Elvis Presley (as part of “An American Trilogy”). It has appeared in the movies San Francisco (1936), Stars and Stripes Forever (1952), The Five Pennies, and Elvis (1979). It has been sung on solemn occasions such as the worship service at Washington D.C.’s National Cathedral following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. AMP


First posted 8/29/2023; last updated 9/2/2023.

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