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By no one has the history of the Civil War been · more competently and devotedly served than Boyd B. Stutler. His "Notes ¿r Queries" column, which he has editedsince the inception of "CivilWar History ," is only one of the media by which Mr. Stutler has disseminated a steady outflow of hard-core facts about the CivilWar, among them this year an exhibit of original John Brown and Harpers Ferry material and a long feature—for its 180th anniversary —of the history of his own National Guard Regiment, the 150th Infantry. John Brown's Body BOYD B. STUTLER John Brown's body lies a-moldering in the grave, His soul is marching on! "put into one sum the time[s] the name of Lincoln, the Martyred President , and Grant, the Peerless General, have been uttered and it would not make a hundredth part the number of time[s] that represents the utterance of John Brown's name in this song." That was the enthusiastic estimate of Alfred S. Roe in 1883, written at a time when there were probably more people in America who could sing "John Brown's Body" than any other song or hymn. This estimate may not have been an exaggeration, for "John Brown's Body" was the mighty war song that had roared its way from first to last through all the four years of the Civil War—and was carried over with but little loss of popularity into the immediate postwar years. It was a song for the camp and field, and for the long marches—but it also caught the popular fancy of the folks at home, and, if we are to believe contemporary records, the song was heard everywhere, in homes, at public meetings, and on the streets, in the northern and midwestern states. Indeed, its popularity spread to foreign lands, where it was sung in English and in alien languages. 251 f>r>-? B O Y 1) B . STUT I. F, H Set to the easy swing of a simple old Methodist air, slightly jazzed up, which was well known to the great mass of church-going people, with a beat that made it an almost perfect marching tune, the doggerel verses of the original composition contained the elements of simplicity and sentiment —with a touch of humor—that were essential in a popular expression to reflect the patriotic frenzy in the early months of the war. Once launched, the John Brown song rolled on like a great snowball, gaining favor and collecting scores of variant lyrics, the greatest of which—Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic"—has worn well through the years as a minor national anthem. That is the John Brown song in its glorified form. The origin of the song has been curiously confused and involved by myth-makers, uninformed writers, and some dozen or more false claimants to the composition of both words and music. But the story is made quite clear by careful research through newspapers of the war period, letters, and old records. The most amazing feature—not, however, a recent discovery —is that John Brown, the militant antislavery crusader whose name had been impressed upon the public consciousness by his raid on Harpers Ferry and his execution at Charlestown on December 2, 1859, was not the John Brown of the original song! But to the great Northern public there was but one John Brown—he of Osawatomie and Harpers Ferry—and the song was accepted as a tribute to the man whose antislavery raid was one of the principal contributing causes of the war. The original Brown named in the song was Sergeant John Brown of Boston. John Brown, the raider, got his song because of a public misconception , a circumstance that caused Dr. Frank H. Hodder to write that the posthumous fame of John Brown came about partly as the result of propaganda and partly as the result of the accident of the "John Brown song." ß ß ß When the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, war fever was worked up to a white heat in Boston. Young men flocked to the headquarters of organized military units to enlist for immediate service in the South...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 251-260
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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