A Bit of New Jersey/Hymn Book History

Posted on March 1, 2021.

“Give ‘em Watts, Boys! Give ‘em Watts!” Just over three decades after Watts lived, his hymns helped New World colonists win independence from Old World defenders, not by being sung, but by being ripped from the songbooks.
In June, 1780, Rev. James Caldwell, the “Fighting Chaplain” — a Presbyterian pastor whose wife had been killed by the Redcoats — was present at the Battle of Springfield in what would become New Jersey. The Continental Army and some militiamen put up a fierce fight. In the middle of the battle, the soldiers ran out of the wadding necessary to pack their gunpowder. Without paper for wadding, the muskets wouldn’t fire and the battle would be lost.
That’s when the parson ran into the church, grabbed songbooks full of hymns by you-know-who and ran out shouting, “Give ‘em Watts, boys! Give ‘em Watts!” The Patriots balled up pages from the precious hymnbooks and won the day.