Steyn transcribes the score.
In 1861, the United States had nothing that was recognized as a national anthem, and, given that they were now at war, it was thought they ought to find one – a song “that would inspire Americans to patriotism and military ardor”. A 13-member committee was appointed and on May 17th they invited submissions of appropriate anthems, the eventual winner to receive $500, or medal of equal value. By the end of July, they had a thousand submissions, including some from Europe, but nothing with what they felt was real feeling. It’s hard to write a patriotic song to order.
At the time, Dr Samuel Howe was working with the Sanitary Commission of the Department of War, and one fall day he and Mrs Howe were taken to a camp a few miles from Washington for a review of General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. That day, for the first time in her life, Julia Ward Howe heard soldiers singing:
John Brown’s body lies a-mould’ring in the grave
John Brown’s body lies a-mould’ring in the grave…
Ah, yes. The famous song about the famous abolitionist hanged in 1859 in Charlestown, Virginia before a crowd including Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson and John Wilkes Booth.
Well, no, not exactly.
It’s another of Mark’s brilliant musical-history essays, with all the usual unexpected twists and turns, so naturally you’ll want to read it all.