John Brown’s Body

Traditional

“His soul goes marching on….”

Noah Brooks

It was the Union soldier’s favorite song, they say—it was mostly civilians who favored “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe’s mystical, quasi-religious poem set to the same melody. But it was “John Brown’s Body” that a soldier said “swept weirdly over the bloody field” after the Union’s costly triumph at Gettysburg.

General William Tecumseh Sherman also describes his loose-stepping army singing “John Brown’s Body” in unison as they left Atlanta to begin their March to the Sea. In Reunion, it is performed offstage by four men as a nurse describes the eerie aftermath of the war’s most famous three days.

Lyrics

The stars above in heaven now are looking kindly down,
The stars above in heaven now are looking kindly down,
The stars above in heaven now are looking kindly down,
On the grave of old John Brown.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His soul goes marching on.

Song Excerpt

Listen to “John Brown’s Body” performed by the original New York cast.

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