History of John Brown’s Body

John Brown’s Body was one of the most popular marching tunes in its day.

Its origin is American, and during the Civil War it was sung a lot.

Its melody and its ‘authentic’ set of words are as follows:


John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave. (three times)

But his soul goes marching on.


Glory, Glory Hallelujah! (three times)
His soul goes marching on.

He’s gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord,
His soul goes marching on.

John Brown’s knapsack is number ninety-three,
As he goes marching along.

We’ll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree,
As we go marching along.

The tune, fitted to a hymn –

Say, brothers, will you meet us
On Canaan’s happy shore?

made its appearance in in the 1850’s in the camp meetings of the Southern States, and from there traveled northwards; it is believed that the tune is the composition of William Steffe.

Its introduction into the northern army was by reason of the singing of the hymn by a couple of homesick recruits while stationed at Fort Warren near Boston in 1861.

The regiment adopted the melody as its own, and the words which required merely a simple statement without a corresponding rhyme, grew as a ‘chaff’ round a good natured Scotchman named John Brown.

The tune quickly became popular all through the northern states, and was associated with the marches of its army.

The ‘John Brown’ gradually grew to be recognized as the hero of Harper’s Ferry, and a political meaning grew around the doggerel united to the tune.