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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Bit of Historical Music Trivia by Kaye Spencer

One of the many reasons I enjoy writing historical western romance novels and short stories is the research involved to make sure all the historical details are accurate—or at the very least, reasonably accurate. In a story I’ve been working on, I have a scene in which the heroine has a mental image of someone stomping about in heavy boots while singing a marching-type song.

Battle Hymn of the Republic, John Brown’s Body, and When Johnny Comes Marching Home immediately came to mind, but they weren’t quite right. (Then I couldn’t think of any other songs because all three had achieved earworm status.)

 I realized, though, these songs shared a common thread: the American Civil War. Since my heroine was in her twenties then, she would have known the songs of that time period. So I did a Google search and hit pay dirt right off with a song I should have thought of on my own—Battle Cry of Freedom. Great. I had my song, and I finished writing the scene.

My research could have ended there, but I have a tendency to tumble down research rabbit holes, especially if there’s even the slightest chance trivia will turn up.

So here's a little Battle Cry of Freedom trivia:

  • George Frederick Root, an American composer, wrote Battle Cry of Freedom (aka Rally ‘Round the Flag') in 1862 to support the Union cause.
  • H. L. Schreiner (composer) and W. H. Barnes (lyricist) adapted the song for the Confederacy.
  • Root's version was modified as the campaign song for Lincoln/Garfield for the 1864 presidential election.
  • Garfield used the song during his campaign in 1880.
  • Composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk suggested it should be America’s national anthem.
  • Composer Charles Ives referenced the song in his song, “They are There”.
  • Ken Burns (known for documentaries) referenced the song in “The Civil War” documentary.
  • Film composer John Williams incorporated the song into the soundtrack of the movie “Lincoln”.
  • The 1939 film “Young Mister Lincoln” starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford has the song sung during the opening credits.
Instead of posting the lyrics, here are YouTube renditions of both versions.



References and further reading:
McWhirter, Christian L. (July 27, 2012). "Birth of the 'Battle Cry'". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved January 11, 2016. (

Until next time,


Writing the West one romance at a time



  1. Well Kaye, I wonder sometimes if the reason historical authors choose to write historical fiction is because we like the research. Having fallen into a few rabbit holes myself, I completely understand what you mean by your avid interest in history and enjoying those "rabbit holes."
    Ken Burns wisely used the music from the time of history he documented. I loved that he did that and that he made his documentaries personal by using actual letters from the day.
    I can relate to your love of history, your distraction with research, and your love of period music. My favorite composer from the Civil War period is Stephen Foster. Everything he wrote seemed to be golden.
    Loved your blog, Kaye.

    1. Sarah,

      Yes, thank the history gods for giving us Stephen Foster and John Phillip Sousa. Both left wonderful musical legacies for us.

      Thanks so much for commenting.

    2. Sarah,

      I want to add that I had a grandfather who taught me all the old songs: My Old Kentucky Home, Shenandoah, Red River Valley, Beautiful Dreamer, Down in the Valley, She'll be Coming Round the Mountain... and so on. He was also a musician. He played the trumpet, cornet, tuba, and harmonica. He taught me to play the harmonica. He particularly loved what he called 'parade' music, and John Phillip Sousa, so I, naturally, loved it, too. :-)

      I sing the old folk songs to my grandkids as my little way of passing on a bit of history.

  2. Include me in the research category. Of course I'd been researching for years and the librarian flat out told me I should be writing about the things I was finding. (Hence my love affair with the research on early Colorado women doctors). The natural progression, Historical Westerns since I live in the West.

    You hit a nerve with the music. I suppose, since it's always been a part of my life I just never thought about including it in the stories. Look what you have done...**Smile**. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines-author

    1. Doris,

      I like to include references to the music of the time period I'm writing about, but I'm careful with directly using lyrics. I'll state the title, but just make a passing allusion to the lyrics. Even though copyright has *probably* expired on these old songs, I don't want to go down that legal road, and I haven't wanted to invest the time to investigate the status of the copyright.

      I love your women doctor research that you share, by the way. Thanks for commenting.