"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is one of the best-known songs of the 1800s. It combines patriotism and religion into a tribute to the Union cause during the American Civil War.
It has been performed by many, my personal favorite is Elvis Presley, and most Americans know at least the opening line of “Mine eyes have seen the glory.”
In July 1880, 140 years ago this month, the man credited with making the song popular paid a visit to Jamestown.
Clarence McCabe had been a chaplain for an Ohio Infantry unit during the Civil War. He had the misfortune of being captured by Confederate forces in 1862. He was sent to Libby Prison.
Libby Prison, located in Richmond, Virginia, was where the Confederate Army sent Union officers it captured. Captured soldiers were sent to Andersonville Prison. Both were overcrowded and short on food and medical supplies.
The death rate at each facility was high.
McCabe continued his spiritual ministry in the prison and also tried to raise the spirits of the prisoners. He found an old newspaper that included the words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" with a note it was to be sung to the melody of “John Brown’s Body.”
He taught the song to the prisoners and they carried throughout the nation when they were released.
Julia Ward Howe, the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," credited McCabe for making the song popular in her writings later in life.
McCabe spent the years after the Civil War as a Methodist minister and ultimately advanced to the post of bishop within the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1896.
He also toured the country doing a presentation titled the “Bright side of life in Libby Prison.” That task brought him to Jamestown where he packed the schoolhouse with people who wanted to hear his story.
While I think it would be tough to find humor in stories from a prisoner of war camp, McCabe seemed to accomplish it.
“Now most of us had entertained the idea that there was no bright side to it,” wrote The Jamestown Alert. “The eloquent chaplain convinced us that there was such a thing as have real fun even in such a place as Libby.”
Among the stories McCabe related was how the prisoners constructed an American flag out of old clothing and raised on a flagpole at the prison on the same day the confederacy surrendered and lowered its flag.
And I would bet "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was sung a few times with a lot of gusto at the meeting.
Author Keith Norman can be reached at www.KeithNormanBooks.com