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Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood
March 1, 1862


Lt. Col. Benjamin F. Cook, History of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers.
Boston: Twelfth (Webster) Regiment Association, 1882. p. 39

Mar. 1. Cold. At twelve M. marched up Bolivar Heights, through Charlestown, passing the spot where John Brown was hung, with colors flying, and the band playing its very best music. Camped about a quarter of a mile outside of Charlestown. During the day a man had hoisted a secesh flag in the village: some of the inhabitants objected, and during the argument the man was killed.


James Beale, “A Famous War Song” The Magazine of History with Notes and Queries, Vol. 12 (July-December 1910), pp. 71-72

The firing on Fort Sumter and consequent rally to arms caused Fort Warren, Boston Harbor, to be occupied by a military force, the Second Battalion of Massachusetts Infantry, commonly known as the "Tigers." They found the fort in a very unfinished state, work on it having been stopped when Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War, and as a natural result "fatigue-parties" were very numerous. After the day's work was over a favorite amusement was singing, for there were some excellent voices in the company, notably one quartette—Charles E. B. Edgerly, James Jenkins, Newton J. Purnette, John Brown. The latter, a Scotchman, was the subject of many jokes and puns, owing to the similarity of his name to that of the famous Ossawatomie Brown, then but recently executed.

The Scot rather resented these quiddities, and this of course made them more constant. He looked very well for a dead man, "he had a lively gait for a corpse," etc. The story goes that one evening, when two of this quartette were returning to the Fort—John Brown and the other being seated near the sally-port—the query was shouted "What's the news?" Promptly came the retort, "Why, John Brown's dead." Some one added "But he still goes marching round."

Unlike a rolling stone, the ideas gathered as the changes were rung on them, and by dark the camp-meeting tune had undergone revision, for the "Tigers" were chanting

John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
But his soul goes marching on.

May 25, 1861, the "Tigers" left Fort Warren, but as on May 7 the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers had reached the Fort, many of the " Tigers " enlisted in the Twelfth or " Webster" Regiment, the quartette separating; Jenkins and Brown to Company A, Purnette and Edgerly to Company E, all four being sergeants. Of course they carried their song with them, and it became the fashion after dress-parade for the regiment to strike up the song and march around the parade-ground.

. . .

The Webster Regiment first sang it in Boston, July 18, 1861, when their colors were presented by Edward Everett; leaving Boston July 23, on the next day they electrified New York City with the weird chorus; Baltimore heard it on July 26, and on March 1, 1862, at Charles Town, Va., on the spot where Ossawatomie was hanged, the Webster Regiment sang

John Brown's Body.

Regiment after regiment adopted the song, and thus it ceased to be the exclusive property of the Websters, who gradually disused it. Perhaps the fate of (their) John Brown, who was accidentally drowned at Front Royal, June 6, 1862, may have had a deterring influence; the song was never used in the later days of the regiment's existence.

. . .

James Beale,
Late Twelfth Mass. Volunteers


Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: March 1862

West Virginia Archives and History