Civil War 150: John Brown’s Song Marches On

There’s another interesting article today in the New York Times’ ongoing remembrance of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. In “Opinionator” – Benjamin Soskis and John Stauffer – both historians and authors – discuss the spirit, essence and reach of the Civil War anthem “John Brown’s Song” [sometimes known as “John Brown’s Body”]. They set the stage in their opening as they describe an event in Boston, Massachusetts that occurred 150 years ago today – and then track the song throughout the War and after.

On July 18, 1861, the 12th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry left Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor, and marched through the city for an official review on the Boston Common. Leading the way was the regiment’s colonel, Fletcher Webster, the eldest son of Daniel Webster. The regiment’s association with such an eminent personage endeared it to Boston’s most respectable citizens, who lined the streets and cheered as the men trooped by. On the Common, Edward Everett, representing the “ladies of Boston,” presented the regiment with an ornate flag — and then with an equally ornate celebratory address.

But the day’s high point occurred after the festivities, when the men marched back to the fort and the entire regiment took up the song for which they would soon become famous. “John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave/ His soul’s marching on!” they sang, and then belted out the chorus: “Glory, Hally, Hallelujah/ His soul’s marching on!”

Learn more by reading the full article here at

Note: After hearing the song during a parade on a visit to Washington in 1861, poet Julia Ward Howe wrote her own words to the tune – soon published as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”