"John Brown’s Body"
[Battle Hymn of the Republic]. American Songs of Revolutionary Times and the Civil War Era. 12 180. LaserLight, 1993. CD 414

Battle Hymns of the Republic

In September 1859, on the eve of the Civil War, Daniel Decatur Emmett was composing "walkarounds"-the grand finales of minstrel shows-for a troupe called Bryant's Minstrels. Emmett unwittingly created a Southern anthem when he penned "I Wish I Was in Dixie's Land." Although the song started out popular with both Northern and Southern troops, by the second year of the Civil War the Southern cause had appropriated "Dixie" and it became the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy, much to the dismay of Emmett, who came from a family of active abolitionists. 

Autograph manuscript of "Dixie's Land."

Autograph manuscript of "Dixie's Land." In book of "walk-rounds," composed by Daniel Decatur Emmett, 1859-1868.

From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.

"Dixie" stretched across the war years, accompanying Jefferson Davis' first inauguration and the siege of Fort Sumter and reappearing after the Confederate surrender, when Abraham Lincoln, shortly before his assassination, requested it as one of his favorites.

Because of its Confederate connections, "Dixie" has declined in popularity, and public performances are rare today. Chief Justice William Rehnquist was criticized for including it in a sing-along during a 1999 judicial conference, and the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, bowing to protests by an African-American student organization, agreed to play the song only at "historically appropriate events."

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

Autograph copy, signed, of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" by Julia Ward Howe. February 1904.

From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.

Originally a Southern camp-meeting song, "Say Brothers, Will You Meet Us on Canaan's Happy Shore?" became one of the most popular Union ballads when members of the 12th Massachusetts Infantry in 1861 penned new words, renaming the song "John Brown's Body." The John Brown who inspired the lyrics was actually a soldier in the Infantry's second battalion, but as the song spread through the Union ranks, it became associated with another, more famous, John Brown-the abolitionist remembered for his attack on Harper's Ferry.

After hearing the song on a visit to the Army of the Potomac in 1861, Julia Ward Howe transformed the lyrics once again, writing stirring patriotic verse. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" made its first published appearance in the February 1862 Atlantic, earning Howe a payment of five dollars.

Photograph of Julia Ward Howe

Photograph of Julia Ward Howe. Boston, [1900].

Gift of Mrs. William A. Stuart.

The Drummer Boy of Shiloh

[Hays, William Shakespeare]. The Drummer Boy of Shiloh. Arranged by E. Clarke Ilsley. Augusta, GA: Blackmar, [1863].

Gift of Mrs. Jean R. Pitzer.

"The Drummer Boy of Shiloh" immortalizes drummer boy Jesse Nelson, a "stripling youth" who was shot down at the battle in 1862 after he had tossed aside his drum to join the fight.

Another drummer boy won fame on that same battlefield. Johnny Clem, who had run away from home at the age of nine to join the 22nd Michigan Infantry, earned the nickname "Johnny Shiloh," when his drum was reputedly smashed by cannon fire during the bloody two-day battle. Unlike Jesse, Johnny Shiloh survived the war.

John Brown, and "The Union Right or Wrong" Songster

John Brown, and "The Union Right or Wrong" Songster. San Francisco: Appleton, 1863.

Purchased with the William O'Neal Fund.

The Rebel Songster

The Rebel Songster, Containing a Choice Collection of Sentimental, Patriotic and Comic Songs. Richmond: Ayres & Wade, 1864.

The Songs of War

Homer, Winslow. "The Songs of War." Facsimile of illustration. Harper's Weekly 23 November 1861: 744-745.