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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The "Our Nation's Second National Anthem" Story

Preface:  Ever get a song in your head and can't forget it.  That's what I did a few weeks ago and it took me a few days before I began to sing another song to myself at work.  The song I had in my head for those few days was of all things, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."  Glory, glory Hallelujah, Glory, glory Hallelujah, Glory, glory Hallelujha, His truth is marching on! stuck and stuck in my head no matter how I tried to forget it.  Eventually I had to "Google" it and my findings are my story for Flag Day.  Be careful as you read my story today, or you may also have the tune embedded in your memory for some time.

It was an ordinary day.  Looking through the 1940 Protestant Episcopal Church Hymnal that was presented to me in 1955 as an award for "Effort in St. James' Church Choir" by the Rev. Robert C. Batchelder who was the Rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  I was searching through the hymnal to see if I could find "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" which is considered by many to be our nation's second National Anthem.  One section of the hymnal lists hymns to be sung on National Days.  Songs such as "America" which begins with My country, 'tis of thee, a "National Hymn" which begins with God of our father, whose almighty hand, and a second hymn titled "America" which begins with God bless our native land, are all included along with our country's National Anthem, but not "The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
 The lyrics to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" were written by Julia Ward Howe after visiting a Union Army Camp on the Potomac River near Washington D.C. in December of 1861.  While visiting the army camp she heard a favorite marching song of the Union Army which was set to the melody from the parody song "John Brown's Body."   Soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the Massachusetts militia put words to the popular "John Brown's Body" song as an inside joke to another soldier who happened to have the same name as the infamous abolitionist executed before the Civil War.  The original song and lyrics to the tune began with a campfire spiritual made famous about five years earlier, before the Civil War, by a South Carolina organist and choirmaster named William Steffe.  He had titled his song and melody "Say Brothers Will You Meet Us."
Music to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"
Click on page to enlarge.
The soldiers of the 2nd Battalion's lyrics are recognizable as "John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave / His soul is marching on!"  Many of you may recognize those lyrics as well as the tune.  Then the Reverend James Freeman Clark challenged Julia to write a poem with a more powerful meaning using the same melody as John Brown's Body.  Later that night she dreamed the first line, awoke from her sleep and wrote the entire poem by candle light before dawn.  The Atlantic Monthly Magazine paid her five dollars for the poem and published it in their magazine in 1862.  James T. Field, of The Atlantic Monthly is the one who named the poem/song "The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Eventually the chaplain of the 122nd Ohio Regiment taught the song to Union soldiers everywhere.  
Lyrics to John Brown's Body song.
It has been said that the song was so moving that President Abraham Lincoln wept when he heard it.  The song has been said to mirror how the country felt about war at the time.  On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rose to speak in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.  "I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.  And, I'm happy tonight.  I'm not worried about anything.  I'm not fearing any man."   He then closed by saying ... "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."  The next day he lay dying on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel.  His last words were from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."  A fitting finale to the life of a great American because the story of the "Battle Hymn" is the story of the United States.  
Cover of the sheet music for the song.
The song has inspired suffragists, labor organizers, civil rights leaders as well as a few novelists—such as John Steinbeck who wrote The Grapes of Wrath.  The song is a hallowed treasure as well as our second National Anthem.  The song was used at Winston Churchill's state funeral in 1965, was one of Walt Disney's favorite songs and played at his funeral and was performed in St. Paul's Cathedral on September 14th, 2001, as part of a memorial service for those lost in the World Trade Center attacks.  As for me, at times I begin to whistle it and before long I'm singing it.  Just sticks and sticks in my head.  But, can that be all that bad?  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  PS - Click on YouTube link below for a rousing rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

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