Charles Caldwell McCabe

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Charles Caldwell McCabe (October 11, 1836, Athens, Ohio-December 20, 1906, New York, NY), also known as "Bishop" C. C. McCabe and Chaplain C. C. McCabe, was credited by Julia Ward Howe [1] as having popularized her famous piece, The Battle Hymn of the Republic after his imprisonment as a prisoner of war by the Confederates in Libby Prison during the Civil War.


McCabe's career was built on his charisma as a popular and entertaining speaker and a singer whose rich baritone and sparkling manner charmed both Christians and non-Christians alike. He was very successful as a missionary and a fund raiser for the Methodist church, as reported in the biography of him, created by his family after his death.

During his youth while studying at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, he courted an heiress Mary Monnett who ended her relationship with him without explanation. Only years later did he learn that she had been advised by a local leading minister that her wealth would tarnish the reputation of young McCabe, who clearly was destined for greatness with his forceful, joyful manner, good looks and sanctified air. Monnett eventually went insane and McCabe encountered her in an insane asylum and learned, after all those years, the reason she had jilted him. By that time each had married others.

McCabe learned about the Battle Hymn of the Republic, according to his biography, when a newspaper was slipped through the bars of the Civil War prison where he and others were being held. Nineteenth-century newspapers featured poems and other art forms, including the lyrics to songs. Along with the lyrics to this newly written song was a notation telling readers it should be sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body Lies A-Mouldering In His Grave." McCabe liked the song, sang it, and taught it to his fellow prisoners—doctors, lawyers and other professionals—to pass the time in prison. Soon afterward, when the war was over, McCabe included the singing of this song with an ever-changing motivational talk he gave about the Bright Side of life at Libby Prison, where he joked about the vermin that crawled over them at night and made clever remarks about the lawyers who weren't such bad guys if you had to be in a prison with them. McCabe himself nearly died in prison due to the unsanitary conditions, suffering from chills and fever from the illness he contracted there, but, using black humor, joked during his talks about the treatment of himself and other prisoners.