In the recent Journal-World insert regarding the Black Jack Battlefield, there is a page with this John Brown song on it and it says that it is "sung to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic." Was that maybe the other way around? Was the Battle Hymn sung to the tune of John Brown's Body?
The John Brown song came first, according to the Public Broadcasting Service Web site, pbs.org. A Massachusetts volunteer militia started the song as a joke about one of its own members whose name was John Brown. It was picked up by other military units, words were added, and it became a song about the abolitionist when he was caught at Harper's Ferry.
According to pbs.org, poet Julia Ward Howe heard the Brown song at a military parade, took the tune and wrote in her own words, which became the Battle Hymn of the Republic. That was in 1861.