With the Fourth of July holiday still fresh on our minds, residents are beginning to recover from the celebrations and annual festivities. Some things we do, we don’t know why… “we’ve just always done it that way.” Did you know, though, the city of Vicksburg, Miss., did not celebrate the fourth for over 80 years? S’true. July 4 is the day it surrendered to U.S. troops under the command of General Grant.
As always on the fourth, patriotic tunes flood the airwaves and churches. I contend that one popular tune, however, shouldn’t be sung in our churches as it is certainly not “Christian” and is definitely not patriotic for Southerners (Northerners might consider it patriotic). Which song you say?
The Battle Hymn of the Republic began as the camp-meeting song “Say Brothers, Will You Meet Us on Canaan’s Happy Shore.” It became a popular Union army ballad when members of the 12th Mass. Infantry wrote new words and renamed it “John Brown’s Body.” The song was not about the famous terrorist John Brown who attacked Harper’s Ferry and assorted places in Kansas, but one of the men in the 12th. Over time, it did grow to mean the famous John Brown.
Julia Ward Howe, who is given credit for writing the song, visited a Union camp, heard the song, and then rewrote the lyrics the next day.
Howe was married to Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, a well-known radical abolitionist and a financial supporter of the abolitionist-terrorist John Brown. Most historians believe Howe was likely one of the “Secret Six” financial contributors of John Brown.
The Howes were devout Unitarians. As such, Julia denied the divinity of Jesus and did not believe in the Holy Trinity—elements, which I’m betting most Southern clergy will say are crucial to the “Christian” faith.
In fact, many Christian hymnals have removed her third verse because it doesn’t line up with most Christian beliefs. It reads as such: I have read the fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel As ye deal with My comtempters, so with you My grace shall deal Let the hero born of woman crush the serpent with his heel Since God is marching on.
“Burnished rows of steel” is a reference to bayonets, and the “serpent” is a reference to the South (The Union plan to split the Confederate States was actually called the “Anaconda Plan”).
Yet, Howe’s tune is heralded as a “Christian” tune and sung in churches throughout the U.S.
Further, the double meaning behind Howe’s lyrics is the conquest and utter destruction of Southerners. Howe was not inspired to write the lyrics after a revival meeting, but after a tour of a Federal camp.
Her lyrics, used as an inspirational battle tune even during The War, are about “Lord” Lincoln using his armies to vent out his vengeance on the South, proving not that God was on the side of the North, but as Voltaire put it, “God is always on the side of the big battalions.”
As Americans, we wouldn’t revel in the destruction and death of over 2000 killed at Pearl Harbor. We wouldn’t sing, “The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor and they killed 2000 men, they sunk the Arizona and the Utah went down too. He has loosed the fateful lightning of His kamikaze plan, God’s truth is marching on.” Yet, in essence, that is what every Southerner is doing when they sing the Battle Hymn. I had two grandfathers serve in WW2 and I couldn’t sing the above. I had grandfathers serve in the Confederate army and I can’t sing Howe’s version either.