We are thrilled to have Trevor Kowalski, an American composer, pianist, arranger and songwriter, here today to talk about one of the most important songs in United States history called The Battle Cry of Freedom. Big thanks to Trevor for his contribution.
Family and friends let out a collective “Why?” when I told them I was arranging the 156 year- old, pro-Union Civil War fight song, the “Battle Cry of Freedom” for orchestra. I first heard the song in Ken Burns’ The Civil War, and the simple, beautiful melody and heart-felt lyrics stuck in my head.
Written in 1862 by George F. Root to draw in volunteers for the shrinking, low-morale Union Army, the song is estimated to have sold 700,000 copies in its prime (similar to a hit pop single today), with some saying it should be America’s national anthem. The song strikes an abolition- ist, unionist tone that gives a clear message of what the Union stands for, and stands against:
“We will welcome to our numbers the loyal, true and brave, Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And although he may be poor, he shall never be a slave, Shouting the battle cry of freedom!”
“We are springing to the call with a million freemen more, Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And we’ll fill our vacant ranks of our brothers gone before Shouting the battle cry of freedom!”
Union soldier Henry Stone described the power of the song: “[The Battle Cry of Freedom] ran through the camp like wildfire. The effect was little short of miraculous. It put as much spirit and cheer into the army as a victory. Day and night, one could hear it by every campfire and in every tent. I never shall forget how the men rolled out the line, ‘And although he may be poor, he shall never be a slave.’ I do not know whether Mr. Root knows what good work his song did for us there, but I hope so.”
Kenneth A. Bernard said the song was “an immeasurably important part in restoring and sus- taining morale at home and at the front throughout the entire war.” and the composer himself said of the song’s impact that “…its use in the camp and on the march, and even on the field of battle, from soldiers and officers, up to the good President himself, made me thankful that if I could not shoulder a musket in defense of my country I could serve her in this way.”
Americans have reason to credit The Battle Cry of Freedom for strengthening morale and pre- serving the Union. Without it, the war could have lasted months or years longer, with thousands of additional lives lost. Also, with President Lincoln himself a fan of the song, The Battle Cry of Freedom perhaps had a hand in his Emancipation Proclamation just one year later. Because of its incredibly wide reach, intense emotional resonance, and morale-boosting genius, The Battle Cry of Freedom is the song that saved America.
Listen to Trevor’s warm, expanded version of the Battle Cry for Freedom here below: