Stauffer and Soskis bring subtlety and depth to their treatment of the “Battle Hymn” in the years after the Civil War and into the next century. They are attuned to the currents of historical thinking about Reconstruction, the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, and they show how each period adapted a version of the “Battle Hymn” for contemporary purposes. For example, Theodore Roosevelt and the impassioned delegates at the Progressive Party convention of August 1912 used the “Battle Hymn” as one of the rallying melodies for their program of economic and political reform.
In a more overtly religious context, 20th-century revivalists such as Billy Sunday and Billy Graham employed the words and melody to help bring potential converts forward during their crusades. With equal passion and moral intensity, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s explored the many ways in which the hymn could evoke and amplify devotion to racial justice.