Singing the Songs of Zion
Soldiers' Hymn Collections and Hymn Singing
in the American Civil War

Mark D. Rhoads

"Every night the holy songs of Zion go up on this balmy spring air, a sweet incense, I think,
to the throne of the Eternal.
" Rev. William Hauser, chaplain of the 48th Georgia

Home | Soldier's Hymn Collections: Southern Books | Northern Books

Getting Started

I have cataloged and illustrated all known soldier's hymn collections for both the Southern and the Northern armies. Many of the collection, especially the Southern collections, have been scanned and appear in their entirety online. These I have embeded with my description of the collection so that you can page through them. In other cases I have pdf's of the entire collection and I have provided links to these. Several of the Northern books have not been scanned. I have access to a hard copy of these and hope to make a scanned versions of the entire collection available at some future date. In all cases I have included representative images for each collection. When a contemporaneous reference to a particular collection is available, I've included it at the bottom of the page.

Finding Soldier's Hymn Collections

To my knowledge no one has ever written about hymn collections printed for and distributed to Civil War soldiers, or determined how many there are. I found the collections in various places including Ebay, blind hunting with World Cat, and through references in period literature. This catalog may not represent all such collections. In several cases I have found titles that look promising but have not been able to examine the contents. If you know of any soldier's hymn collections not listed, or have complete copies where I have only titles, please let me know.

Introduction to Soldiers' Hymn Collections

For the Soldiers

While I have no doubt that some soldiers carried denominational hymnals or any number of other hymn collections published in America during the mid-nineteenth century, many carried hymn collections specifically assembled for and distributed to Civil War soldiers for devotional use in a wide-spread evangelistic effort seen in both armies. These books are small, usually about four inches high, two and a half inches wide, and a quarter inch thick. It was impractical to carry most hymnals of the day. The small soldier's hymn collections were cheap to produce and fit compfortably in a shirt pocket.

Many books in this catalog are dedicated hymn collections, but some have other primary purposes, like The Soldier's Prayer Book or The Army and Navy Prayer Book. These are abbreviated from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer from the North and South respectively with a collection of hymns appended. The Soldier's Friend was published by the U. S. Sanitary Commission to give Union soldiers advice on things like burials and where to get an artificial limb. It too has a collection of hymns appended that takes up more than half the book.

Since these books were carried by soldiers, extant copies sometimes have markings made by their owners in the form of signatures, inscriptions, drawings, an "x" next to a favorite hymn, or other notations. A touching note appears in a copy of the Union The Soldier's Hymn Book with the song "Home, Sweet Home:" "Warren, this a true song, Nellie." Sometimes hymn-books and other items in the breast pocket of a soldier with his name and regiment and home address written inside served as the only way to identify him after his death. (Lemuel Moss, Annals of the United States Christian Commission, Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1868, p. 475)

More Than a Million
 
Although distribution figures are seen throughout the reports of various Christian organizations from both armies there is no way to accurately determine how many soldier's hymn books and other hymn collections were distributed to soldiers during the Civil War. One source suggests that over one million soldier's hymn books were distributed to the Union army by the United States Christian Commission (USCC) alone (Rhodes, James Ford. A History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the Final Restoration of Home Rule at the South in 1877, Vol. V, 1864-1864. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1906.) While the USCC was probably the major distributor of hymn books as well as Bibles and other Christian literature, this figure would not have included all the hymn collections published in the north by every major denomination, The U. S. Sanitary Commission, and various branches of the Y. M. C. A., and distributed by individual chaplains or denominational colporteurs. The Rev. Dr. Marks, chaplain of the Sixty-Third Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, for example, reported that on the first Sabbath he arrived in camp gave away more than three hundred hymn books to those who called at his tent. (Hackett, Horatio Balch. Christian Memorials of the War or Scenes and Incidents Illustrative of Religious Faith and Principle, Patriotism and Bravery in our Army. Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1864 ). Soldier's hymn collections published for the Confederate army could have easily reached a similar distribution. William Bennett, Superintendent of the Soldier's Tract Association, an arm of Virginia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, reported that up to May, 1864, the association had distributed 70,000 copies of The Soldier's Hymn Book: for Camp Worship to Southern soldiers. (Jones, Rev. J. William. Christ in the Camp or Religion in Lee’s Army. Richmond, VA: B. F. Johnson & Co., 1887. p. 611) This was only one of at least eleven hymn collections published by agencies of the southern branches of the Baptist, Methodist,

 

 

Presbyterian and Episcopal churches, as well as the South Carolina Tract Association.

Hymns and Tunes

All of the Southern soldier's hymn collections and all but three of the Northern collections contain only the words of the hymns. This was typical in an era when hymns and tunes had historically appeared in separate books. (See a complete explanation of this practice in the preface to the Reenactor's Hymn and Tune Book.) Two of the Northern collections, however, Hymns Religious and Patriotic for Soldiers and Sailors and The Soldier's Hymn Book with Tunes, have thirty appended tunes with the direction that all of the hymns in the book could be sung to these tunes. Since there are more hymns than tunes, a single tune would serve more than one hymn. In the third collection with tunes, Army and Navy Melodies, most hymns are paired with a notated tune and those that are not, have a suggested tune, either one somewhere else in the book or a well-known tune like "Dixie" or "The Stars Spangled Banner."

Some Anomalies

Although they were not compiled and published specifically as soldier's hymn books, I have included the American Sunday School Union Hymn Book and Songs of Zion because there are accounts of them being used by or given to soldiers in the Union army.

A Common Repertoire

There were thousands of hymns in use during the Civil War period. More than 300 are reprinted in the Northern and Southern soldier's hymn collections cataloged on this website. I was impressed as I indexed the hymns from soldier's hymn collections of both armies that North and South share a common repertoire. At the core of both Northern and Southern hymn collections , are a considerable number of hymns by Isaac Watts. The Psalms and hymns of Isaac Watts formed a common thread that runs through almost every denomination. Other English evangelical hymn writers are also well represented including Charles Wesley, John Newton, William Cowper, Philip Doddridge, Charles Wesley, James Montgomery, and Anne Steele. Popular campmeeting songs with choruses are laced throughout the repertoire. A large number of hymns appear in both Northern and Southern collections; and while some hymns appear only in soldier's hymn collections of the Southern army, for example, that same hymn can be found in church hymn books of the North. The opposite is also true. The whims of hymnal editors has led to the alterations of many hymns and variants often appear.

Northern collections contain a number of traditional patriotic hymns, songs that were lost to the South upon secession from the Union. Commenting on the inclusion of such songs in the Southern Hymns for the Camp, an article in the Richmond Daily Register (July 16, 1861) states: " Three societies at the North are each preparing a volume of hymns, to be used in the Northern army. In one of these are to be found the ‘"Star Spangled Banner,"’ ‘"Yankee Doodle,"’ &c [I have yet to find "Yankee Doodle"]. . . . . Instead of imitating the Yankees, and inserting ‘"Dixie,"’ nothing will be published but such old-fashioned hymns as our oldest soldiers have heard from their childhood...."

I have made a comprehensive index of all the hymns in all of the books both Northern and Southern. Among other things this index gives a sense of a hymn's popularity to the degree that frequency of publication is an indicator.