Mount Auburn & The Civil War: “Battle Hymn of the Republic” published

February 22, 2012

As part of our commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, we celebrate Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Written by Howe in November of 1861, the song was published by the Atlantic Monthly in February of 1862. 

In November of 1861 Julia Ward Howe and her husband Samuel Gridley Howe were visiting an encampment of Union solidiers near Washington, D.C. After hearing the troops go into battle singing the popular marching tune “John Brown’s Body,” Howe was inspired to write new words for the tune she had just heard, naming her version of the song “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  In her later memoir, Reminiscences: 1819-1899 (Houghton Mifflin: New York, 1899), Howe remembered:

“I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, ‘I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.’ So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper”(p.275).

The tune of “John Brown’s Body,” to which Howe set her lyrics, had an evolution of its own. Composed by William Steffe in around 1856, the first known lyrics were called “Canaan’s Happy Shore” or “Brothers, Will You Meet Me?” and the song was sung as a campfire spiritual. The tune soon spread throughout the country and earned acclaim as the best song of its time. Though authorship is disputed, another version of the melody called “John Brown’s Body” was made popular by abolitionists following the execution of abolitionist John Brown and became a favorite marching tune with Union soldiers.

Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” appeared on the front page of the Atlantic Monthly in February 1862, minus the sixth verse, which is not commonly sung. By 1864 the song had swept the nation and became a powerful recruitment tool for the Union Army.

“Battle Hymn of the Republic” made Julia Ward Howe famous. Though she went on to champion many important social causes, her Civil War anthem remains one of her most well-known legacies.  When she died in 1910, more than 4,000 people attended her memorial service held at Boston’s Symphony Hall and joined in chorus to sing “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  

 

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 Battle Hymn of the Republic

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.”

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

 
 
 
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