The Battle Cry of Freedom

Written in response to Lincoln’s call for more troops in 1861, George F. Root’s “The Battle Cry of Freedom” swept through the Union like a firestorm. Its robust patriotism and marchable melody made it an instant favorite at political rallies and theatrical performances as well as on the battlefield. Root was working as a printer for a Chicago publishing house when he first began to compose stirring battle songs and hymns, among them “The First Gun Is Fired” and “Forward, Boys, Forward.” Supported by the firm belief in his efforts and inspired by Lincoln, he composed “The Battle Cry” in propagandistic haste and was thrilled with its immediate and widespread effect, later remarking that he was “thankful that if I could not shoulder a musket in defense of my country I could serve her in this way.”

Although Herman L. Schreiner, a well known Southern composer, adapted a set of lyrics which boldly asserted, “Our Dixie forever, she’s never at a loss,/ Down with the Eagle and up with the Cross,” the Confederacy would never successfully harness its power, and the song remained the distinct property of the North. Stories of that power abound. Singing groups performed it to solace the wounded and dying; battered troops closed ranks and renewed their assaults with it on their lips; one Iowa regiment at Vicksburg returned from the field singing it despite having lost four hundred men. A Confederate major during the Seven Days, after watching decimated Union ranks regroup and fight on to its tune, honored the song in this memorable way:

 

I am not naturally superstitious, but I tell you that song sounded like the knell of Doom, and my heart went down to my boots; and though I’ve tried to do my duty, it has been an uphill fight with me ever since that night.

 

That the song had not even been composed by the time of this battle only elevates its stature. “The Battle Cry of Freedom” was doubtlessly the premier battle song of the Union army. Included here are Root’s two sets of lyrics.


The Battle Cry of Freedom

[Rallying Song]

Yes, we’ll rally ’round the flag, boys, we’ll rally once again,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom;
We will rally from the hillside, we’ll gather from the plain,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom.

CHORUS:
The Union forever, Hurrah! boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitor and up with the star;
While we rally ’round the flag, boys, rally once again,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom.

We are springing to the call of our brothers gone before,
And we’ll fill the vacant ranks with a million freemen more.
We will welcome to our numbers the loyal, true and brave,
And altho’ they may be poor, not a man shall be a slave.

So we’re springing to the call from the East and from the West,
And we’ll hurl the rebel crew from the land we love the best.

[Battle Song]

We are marching to the field, boys, we’re going to the fight,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom;
And we bear the glorious stars for the Union and the right,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom.

CHORUS:
The Union forever, Hurrah! boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitor, up with the star;
For we’re marching to the field, boys, going to the fight
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom.
We will meet the rebel host, boys, with fearless hearts and true,
And we’ll show what Uncle Sam has for loyal boys to do.

If we fall amid the fray, boys, we’ll face them to the last,
And our comrades brave shall hear us, as they go rushing past.
Yes, for Liberty and union we’re springing to the fight,
And the vict’ry shall be ours, for we’re rising in our might.

FATEFUL LIGHTNING: The Civil War Songs of the Civil War The Battle Cry of Freedom