Oddly enough, the John Brown originally commemorated in this song was not John Brown
the abolitionist, who was hung on December 2, 1859, for his armed takeover of the
arsenal at Harper's Ferry, but Sergeant John Brown of the Second Battalion, Boston
Light Infantry, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. Sgt. Brown sang second tenor in the
battalion's glee club, and the men in his company amused themselves by improvising
verses about Brown to the tune of an old Methodist hymn, "Say, Brothers, Will You
Meet Us?," by William Steffe. Listeners automatically assumed that they were singing
about the martyred Kansan, an impression the men of the Second Battalion did nothing
When troops of the Twelfth Massachusetts marched through New York City in the summer
of 1861 singing "John Brown's Body," they were instantly christened "The Hallelujah
Regiment," and the song took the country by storm.
The verses given here are the wartime verses.
"John Brown's Body"