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Stauffer and Soskis use the Battle Hymn as their medium to tell a long, winding tale of American politics both liberal and conservative, race relations both harmonious and abrasive, and religious history both high-minded and acerbic. The different messages of these anthems highlight how the Battle Hymn most closely articulated the type of reconciliation the North and South thought necessary and possible in the post-Civil War period.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic is far more than a musicological treatise. Relying primarily on literary analysis, Stauffer and Soskis use the Hymn to frame topics since the Civil War era in new ways. All of these are different from the song that many of us learned to sing in 20th-century churches and schools. These contemporary versions have been changed depending on the leanings and interests of those who are doing the singing.

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In fact, most people reading this column will have a very specific version of this song in their heads, which probably differs in minor or sometimes major ways from that of other readers. For instance, when it is sung as a hymn in church, the singers rarely think about it as a poem about war.

People the world over sing this hymn, across denominations, and sometimes without knowledge of its specific American historical context. Although the context of battle is often extracted in churches, the poem has been adopted and celebrated because of its emphasis on war and struggle in many other instances. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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It is also often used to honor prominent politicians in death. In Judy Garland sang it on national television in honor of John F. In addition to these numerous political recontextualizations, the poem has had a long and varied life as a pop song, sung by stars such as Elvis Presley , Johnny Cash , and Whitney Houston.

Battle Hymn of the Republic

Her performance for troops at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia is remarkable not only for its beauty, but also because when Houston sings it, she draws on all of its resonances. Her performance honors the deaths and triumphs of the Civil War soldiers while it also honors the sacrifices that these late 20th-century soldiers made far from home in an international war. She invokes its history as an American military song while also using it to serve, strangely, as an anthem of peace — for she is singing to soldiers who have returned home and who cannot yet know what is to come in the decades ahead.

She allows, maybe better than any other performer, this song to be about racial equality, America, and wars across history.

Battle Hymn - John Stauffer

In , Harriet A. Anthony, and Frances E. There was a time when knowledge of Howe as the author of this poem was so universal that few people thought to repeat, record, and therefore preserve her story. But now we only know her — this activist, suffragist, and mother of six, who wrote poems, plays, articles, speeches, travel books, and a novel — through this one poem.

I am probably at least partly guilty here as well, for I have told the story of her poem without really telling her story. We might say, though, that when it comes to poetry, it is the receivers — readers, reciters, singers — that keep the lines alive, and not the author herself.


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Full of surprising twists and turns, it should be on the shelf of everyone who has sung the song-- 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-- Christianity Today 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.


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It receives my strongest recommendation and will be stored among my favorites-- Civil War News The 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-- Journal of Southern Religion 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.