×

Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic: A Biography of the Song That Marches On
     

The Battle Hymn of the Republic: A Biography of the Song That Marches On

by John Stauffer, Benjamin Soskis
 

See All Formats & Editions

It was sung at Ronald Reagan's funeral, and adopted with new lyrics by labor radicals. John Updike quoted it in the title of one of his novels, and George W. Bush had it performed at the memorial service in the National Cathedral for victims of September 11, 2001. Perhaps no other song has held such a profoundly significant—and contradictory—place in

Overview

It was sung at Ronald Reagan's funeral, and adopted with new lyrics by labor radicals. John Updike quoted it in the title of one of his novels, and George W. Bush had it performed at the memorial service in the National Cathedral for victims of September 11, 2001. Perhaps no other song has held such a profoundly significant—and contradictory—place in America's history and cultural memory than the "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

In this sweeping study, John Stauffer and Benjamin Soskis show how this Civil War tune has become an anthem for cause after radically different cause. The song originated in antebellum revivalism, with the melody of the camp-meeting favorite, "Say Brothers, Will You Meet Us." Union soldiers in the Civil War then turned it into "John Brown's Body." Julia Ward Howe, uncomfortable with Brown's violence and militancy, wrote the words we know today. Using intense apocalyptic and millenarian imagery, she captured the popular enthusiasm of the time, the sense of a climactic battle between good and evil; yet she made no reference to a particular time or place, allowing it to be exported or adapted to new conflicts, including Reconstruction, sectional reconciliation, imperialism, progressive reform, labor radicalism, civil rights movements, and social conservatism. And yet the memory of the song's original role in bloody and divisive Civil War scuttled an attempt to make it the national anthem. The Daughters of the Confederacy held a contest for new lyrics, but admitted that none of the entries measured up to the power of the original.

"The Battle Hymn" has long helped to express what we mean when we talk about sacrifice, about the importance of fighting—in battles both real and allegorical—for the values America represents. It conjures up and confirms some of our most profound conceptions of national identity and purpose. And yet, as Stauffer and Soskis note, the popularity of the song has not relieved it of the tensions present at its birth—tensions between unity and discord, and between the glories and the perils of righteous enthusiasm. If anything, those tensions became more profound. By following this thread through the tapestry of American history, The Battle Hymn of the Republic illuminates the fractures and contradictions that underlie the story of our nation.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...vivid biography of the song that marches on...engaging...an entertaining tale" —Wall Street Journal

"Stauffer and Soskis bring subtlety and depth to their treatment of the Battle Hymn in the years after the Civil War and into the next century....The ambiguity and multiple meanings in the song resonate throughout the complex story that Stauffer and Soskis tell so well." —Washington Post

"the first comprehensive look at the history of the tune and titular verse" —Library Journal

"Stauffer and Soskis's study breathes new life into Civil War scholarship...The Battle Hymn of the Republic is beautifully rendered history. Full of surprising twists and turns, it should be on the shelf of everyone who has sung the song." —The Christian Century

"...there was a moment when the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" nearly did become our national anthem. This discovery is one of hundreds of insights gleaned from John Stauffer and Benjamin Soskis's book, The Battle Hymn of the Republic: A Biography of the Song That Marches On." —Christianity Today

"John Stauffer and Ben Soskis's The Battle Hymn of the Republic is not only a brilliant and magisterial book but is the best and most impressive work in American history I have read in recent years. It uses popular songs to give a profound reimagining of America history from the Civil War to the present. Few works since the writings of Perry Miller have shown such a subtle grasp of the centrality of religion in American culture. Few if any collective biographies have insightfully dealt with such a range of figures as John Brown, Julia Ward Howe, Teddy Roosevelt, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and Martin Luther King Jr." —David Brion Davis, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University

"The sheer ubiquity of the 'Battle Hymn' makes it almost common cultural coin in America. This marvelous, textured book brilliantly illuminates the origins and ever-evolving history of how an old Methodist camp melody became the most famous marching song and then the warlike anthem sung all across the political spectrum and at all manner of public events. Through the story of a song, surprised readers will learn a great deal about what binds as well as divides Americans." —David W. Blight, Yale University, and author of American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era

"Stauffer and Soskis interestingly show the song's evolution and how it parallels large portions of our nation's history. The song truly captures those events that have shaped the nation. It provides clear examples of what unites and divides us as individuals and collectively as a nation....The book is extremely well organized and well written. Those who love music and the "story behind the music" will really enjoy this work. It receives my strongest recommendation and will be stored among my favorites." —Civil War News

"...[T]he work as a whole is remarkable in its poignancy and thoughtfulness. Those interested in all things political, religious, patriotic, and even musical will find excellent material and useful insight in Stauffer and Soskis's work." —The Journal of Southern Religion

Library Journal
More than the story of the song that we all know and can sing (at least the first verse of) on cue, this title by Stauffer (English, African and African American studies, Harvard) and Soskis (Ctr. for the Study of Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy & Policy, George Mason Univ.) relates every tangent of the history of the tune itself. In its many iterations (such as black spirituals and "John Brown's Body") the tune existed long before Julia Ward Howe penned her famous lines during the Civil War. The book is chronologically dense with descriptions of political and labor wranglings that demonstrate how the tune, whether with the words to "Battle Hymn of the Republic" or some other verse, has been co-opted by causes from abolition to Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Party to the Wobblies with "Solidarity Forever." Martin Luther King often used the first stanza of the "Battle Hymn" in his speeches. VERDICT Florence Howe Hall wrote about her mother's version of this hymn almost 100 years ago; many cultural studies of abolitionism include it. This may be the first comprehensive look at the history of the tune and titular verse, but the academic presentation will be heavy going for all but some scholars.—Linda White, Maplewood, MN
Kirkus Reviews
The history of the hymn that began as a revival hymn in 1807, morphed into a soldiers' marching song and served to replace sorrow with resolve as it did after 9/11. Stauffer (English and American Literature; African-American Studies/Harvard Univ.; Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, 2008, etc.) and Soskis (Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy and Policy/George Mason Univ.) trace the song's beginnings as "Say Brothers, Will You Meet us" to "John Brown's Body" and Julia Ward Howe's version written in 1861. The song has been used to reflect national ideals, borrowing images from the Bible as a call to action whenever war reared its ugly head. The Howe version became a symbol of the reunification of the North and South, at least in the North. The hymn highly offended Confederates, as it reminded them of the words of the "John Brown's Body" version sung by Union soldiers, which swore to hang "Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree." Various versions with new or adjusted lyrics have appeared, modifying the song's imperialistic bent and millennial aspersions. It has been used to express fears, feuds, righteousness and a providentially blessed nation in times of crisis, and it invariably rouses the masses. This powerful song has been called into action by such diverse causes as labor movements, Spanish-American War anti-imperialists, Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Party, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham and leaders of the civil rights movement. Unfortunately, the lengthy biographies of the various adapters of the lyrics are superfluous and, quite frankly, boring. The hymn's growth and adaptation provides a decent story, but not a 300-page one; 100 would have been more than sufficient.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199837434
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
06/06/2013
Pages:
392
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

John Stauffer is professor of English and American Literature and African-American Studies chair of the History of American Civilization program at Harvard. His books include Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race.

Benjamin Soskis is a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy, and Policy at George Mason University. He has taught at George Washington University and the University of California, Washington Center. His writing has appeared in The New Republic, The New York Times, and Slate.com.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews