Patriotic Music: Battle Hymn Of The Republic

America is a tune. It must be sung together. ~Gerald Stanley Lee, Crowds

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 watchfires
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.


I have read a fiery gospel writ
In burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with My condemners,
So with you My grace shall deal":
Let the Hero born of woman
Crush the serpent with His heel,
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.


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.


About This Music

Everyone knows that the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was written during the War Between the States, but not everyone is familiar with the circumstances surrounding its composition.

In the early days of the War, the song "John Brown's Body" was wildly popular. Although in its original incarnation it had nothing to do with the notorious abolitionist leader hanged at Harpers's Ferry on December 2, 1859, it became inextricably identified with him and acquired new verses that were sung by Federal troops and Union sympathizers alike. The tune was borrowed from an old Methodist hymn, "Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us?," by William Steffe.

In November of 1861, Julia Ward Howe was touring Union army camps in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., with her husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, a member of President Lincoln's Military Sanitary Commission. With them was Reverend James Freeman Clarke. During the course of their visit, the group began to sing some of the currently popular war songs, among them "John Brown's Body." In one of those rare flashes of inspiration that leave their mark on the history of a nation, Reverend Clarke was moved to suggest that Mrs. Howe pen new lyrics to the familiar tune. She replied that she had often thought of doing exactly that. The following morning, as Mrs. Howe later described it, she " the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose, saying to myself, 'I shall lose this if I don't write it down immediately.'"

Mrs. Howe's lyrics first appeared on the front page of the Atlantic Monthly in February of 1862. Editor James T. Fields, who paid her $5 for the piece, is credited with having given the song the name by which it is known today.

The tune was written, around 1855, by South Carolinian William Steffe . The lyrics at that time were alternately called "Canaan's Happy Shore" or "Brothers, Will You Meet Me?" and the song was sung as a campfire spiritual . The tune spread across the United States , taking on many sets of new lyrics.

Thomas Bishop, from Vermont , joined the Massachusetts Infantry before the outbreak of war and wrote a popular set of lyrics, circa 1860, titled " John Brown's Body " which became one of his unit's walking songs . According to writer Irwin Silber (who has written a book about Civil War folksongs), the song was not about John Brown , the famed abolitionist , but a Scotsman of the same name who was a member of the 12th Massachusetts Regiment. An article by writer Mark Steyn explains that the men of John Brown's unit had made up a song poking fun at him, and sang it widely. [citation needed]

Bishop's battalion was dispatched to Washington, D.C. early in the Civil War, and Julia Ward Howe heard this song during a public review of the troops in Washington. As with many others, she assumed it was about John Brown the abolitionist. Her companion at the review, the Reverend James Clarke, suggested to Howe that she write new words for the fighting men's song, and the current version of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was born [1] .

Howe's "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was first published on the front page of The Atlantic Monthly of February 1862. The sixth verse written by Howe, which is less commonly sung, was not published at that time. The song was also published as a broadside in 1863 by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments in Philadelphia.

Julia Ward Howe was the wife of Samuel Gridley Howe , the famed scholar in education of the blind. Samuel and Julia were also active leaders in anti-slavery politics and strong supporters of the Union. Julia was visiting a Union camp when she heard the soldiers singing "John Brown's Body" and was inspired to write the words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".