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


Civil War soldiers were singers, and they sang a wide variety of songs. You don't have to read very far in soldiers letters or even The New York Times to discover that Christian hymns had a significant presence in the repertoire of what soldiers sang. But hymns and hymn singing by soldiers are seldom mentioned in discussions of soldier's music. Many soldiers carried hymn collections specifically assembled for and distributed to Civil War soldiers for devotional use or in a wide-spread evangelistic effort seen in both armies. This website is devoted to the cataloging of these hymn collections and a general discussion of hymn singing by Civil War soldiers.

On This Page

An introduction to the importance of religion in the Northern and Southern Armies and hymn singing among the soldiers both in church and as pastime.

Soldier's Hymn Collections

A Catalog of hymn collections compiled specifically for soldier's in both armies by various agencies.

Reenactor's Hymn & Tune Book

26 hymns selected on the basis of popularity among soldiers of both armies. Download and print each hymn with musical scores of suggested tunes

Your Comments

I lauched this site in May, 2012. Over the next few months I hope to add more period anecdotes related to both the hymn collections and the hymn and tune book. As a long term project I want to add sound recordings of the selected hymn tunes in the Reenactor's Hymn and Tune Book as well as a tutorial on how to choose your own hymns and tunes.

Your comments about this site would be appreciated. You'll find my contact information on the About the Author page.

© 2012 Mark D. Rhoads

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Page 2: Hymns in the Lives of Civil War Soldiers

That God is sovereign, that we are in God’s hands in life and in death (Faust calls this a willingness to accept one’s “fate”) is seen in the popular hymn by Edward Perronett, “All hail the power of Jesus' name! . . . and crown him Lord of all,” or in the first line of the “Doxology” (Hymn #151 in Hymns for the Camp) often sung at the end of Christian services: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” or this hymn by William Cowper, the first couplet of which became a common maxim still used today:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
(hymn #116 in Hymns for the Camp).
and quite explicitly in this quatrain by Benjamin Beddome
My times of sorrow and of joy,
Great God, are in thy hand;
My choicest comforts come from thee,
and go at thy command
(Hymn #71 in Hymns for the Camp)
Furthermore, the belief that God is gracious in carrying out his sovereign will and that God guides the believer throughout life is seen in words like:
In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.
(“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord”)
or in William William’s
Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
(“Guide me, O thou great Jehovah”)
The concepts that Christ is the way of salvation through the blood of Christ is laced throughout the entire hymn repertoire and especially in the words
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.
(“Rock of ages cleft for me”)
and in these words by William Cowper:
There is a fountain filled with blood
drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
lose all their guilty stains.
E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
and shall be till I die.
(“There is a fountain filled with Blood”)
The hope of heaven for those who trust in the atonement of Christ for sin is spoken about specifically with words like

When I can read my title clear
to mansions in the skies,
I bid farewell to every fear,
and wipe my weeping eyes.
Let cares, like a wild deluge come,
and storms of sorrow fall!
May I but safely reach my home,
my God, my heav’n, my All.
(“When I can read my title clear”)
or in the popular hymn sometimes sung by soldiers on the march
There is a happy land,
far, far away,
Where saints in glory stand,
bright, bright as day.

Oh, how they sweetly sing,
worthy is our Savior king,
Loud let His praises ring,
praise, praise for aye.
Come to that happy land,
come, come away;
Why will ye doubting stand,
why still delay?

Oh, we shall happy be,
when from sin and sorrow free,
Lord, we shall live with Thee,
blest, blest for aye.
(“There is a happy land”)
Hymns of warning and invitation to those who fail to heed the call of grace include Joseph Hart’s
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready waits to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow'r:
He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more.
Come, ye needy, come and welcome;
God's free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings us nigh,
Without money, without money,
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.
(Hymn #43 in Hymns for the Camp)

or in this summative stanza:
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
(“Just as I am, without one plea”)
and in this pointed hymn
Hasten, sinner, to be wise!
Stay not for the morrow’s sun:
Wisdom if you still despise,
Harder is it to be won.
Hasten, mercy, to implore!
Stay not for the morrow’s sun,
Lest thy season should be o’er,
Ere this evening’s stage be run.
(Hymn #62 in Hymns for the Camp)
Hymns that speak of the nature of the Christian’s life on earth include words like these by Isaac Watts:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
(“When I survey the wondrous cross”)
or in another by Watts that was often related to the present war though it was written at the beginning of the 18th century:

Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith’s discerning eye.
(“Am I a soldier of the cross”)

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