Shout, Shout the Battle Cry of Freedom

James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford Press, 1988) has been sitting on my shelf for a number of months.  And as I read through other Civil War volumes, the more I would see this landmark book referenced—and for good reason.  Written in 1988, it received the coveted Pulitzer Prize. 

Before the book gets into even the Preface, the explanation of the book’s title is given.  Battle Cry of Freedom was a song written during the Civil War in 1862 by George F. Root, one of the leading Civil War composers.  If you have watched the Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War, you will hear this catchy tune all through the project. 

But what I did not realize is that there is a Union version and a Confederate version of Battle Cry of Freedom.  Below is the Union version:

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, 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,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And we’ll fill our vacant ranks with a million freemen more,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

Chorus

We will welcome to our numbers the loyal, true and brave,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And although they may be poor, not a man shall be a slave,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

Chorus

So we’re springing to the call from the East and from the West,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And we’ll hurl the rebel crew from the land we love best,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

And now the Confederate version, which was adapted by H.L. Schreiner and lyricist W.H. Barnes.

Our flag is proudly floating on the land and on the main,
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!
Beneath it oft we’ve conquered, and we’ll conquer oft again!
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!

(Chorus)
Our Dixie forever! She’s never at a loss!
Down with the eagle and up with the cross!
We’ll rally ’round the bonnie flag, we’ll rally once again,
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!

Our gallant boys have marched to the rolling of the drums.
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!
And the leaders in charge cry out, "Come, boys, come!"
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!–

Chorus

They have laid down their lives on the bloody battle field.
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!
Their motto is resistance — "To the tyrants never yield!"
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!–

Chorus

While our boys have responded and to the fields have gone.
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!
Our noble women also have aided them at home.
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!–

Chorus

In analyzing this, we see that they have a different view of ‘freedom’ that crystallized the battle cry.  In the Union version, the third verse has a phrase, “And although he may be poor / Not a man shall be a slave.”  In the Confederate version, their third verse has the phrase, “Their motto is resistance, to tyrants we’ll not yield!”

For the Union, the freedom cry was, eventually by late summer of 1862, to emancipate the slaves.  For the Confederates, it was to run the Yankees out of their land who tried to bend their will by forceful coercion (which is why Southerners sometime call it the War of Northern Aggression). 

Commonalities to Christians’ View of Freedom

When Christians begin to view freedom, they fall on one of two sides.  One side says, “I’m free in Christ—I have the liberty to do what I please.”  Paul dealt with this in Romans 6:1-4:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

By Paul saying that where sin increases, graces increases all the more (Romans 5:18-21), some said they were now free to sin so grace would increase.  No, this is not the type of freedom Scripture speaks of.  We are joined to Christ—that old life and old desire is gone (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

The other camp says that we are now free to obey Him:

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

Christians are now instruments of righteousness, set free to obey the desires given us by the Spirit. 

So many different views of freedom—but for the Christian, we have never been given liberty to sin!  Let’s be sure we define our freedom in Christ correctly. 

And praise Him that the Son has set us free (John 8:31-36). 

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