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 to discourage.

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"