Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Luke 18:16
Having spent so much time with my nieces and nephews lately, I began to recall the hymn “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Almost everyone knows this hymn, but few of us have sung the three verses that go along with that chorus. And even fewer people realize this was originally a Civil War ballad.
George Frederick Root was born into a large family in 1820, and showed signs of musical genius. By age thirteen he could play thirteen different instruments. As a young adult he taught music in Boston and New York while serving as church organist in his church.
The outbreak of the Civil War deeply affected George, and he immediately began using his gifts to advance the Union war effort, writing several patriotic songs to rally the soldier’s moral. As a serious composer, he was embarrassed at the simple music coming from his pen, so he signed them with the name “Wurzel” the German word for root. Among his most popular pieces was a ballad entitled, “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp!”
After the Civil War, the melody remained popular, but the words were dated. A minster George was friends with, named Clare Woolston, wrote new verses and a chorus. And that’s how a Civil War ballad about a soldier in prison became one of the most popular children’s choruses in history. That’s pretty interesting.