Sunday, February 5, 2012

Battle Hymn of the Republic Published

150 years ago today the Battle Hymn of the Republic was published in The Atlantic Monthly. It was written by Julia Ward Howe, whose husband was Samuel Gridley Howe. He was a Boston doctor, Unitarian and an abolitionist. Samuel Howe was one of the Secret Six, who funded John Brown to go to Virginia to incite a slave rebellion at Harper's Ferry.
Julia Ward Howe
In November, 1861, Julia Howe met Abraham Lincoln at the White House. A popular song at the time was John Brown's Body, a marching song which glorified Brown and portrayed him as the forerunner of the Civil War. While the Howes were in Washington a friend suggested, "Why do you not write some good words for that stirring tune?" Howe did so, and wrote this of writing the song:
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.
The song was printed in The Atlantic Monthly 150 years ago today, and went on to become one of the most famous American songs, even to this day. In the words, the author's Unitarian and abolitionist beliefs shine forth clearly. Today it is viewed by many as a hymn, but although biblical words are used they are not used in a Biblical sense. The "coming of the Lord" is used to refer to the Northern armies attacking the South. She even likens Christ's death to the death of the Union soldiers. The lyrics printed where these:
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.

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."

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.


Anonymous said...


A truculent and theologically challenged scrap of melodramatic propoganda definitely not worthy of the name of a hymn.

Some would charge my assessment of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as unpatriotic, as the disrespecting of something sacrosanct, as near blasphemy. Don't misunderstand me; I'm very patriotic indeed. But the plain and simple fact is that this "hymn" is blasphemous, ascribing the unrighteous slaughter and devastation of Northern armies to the name of God.

(I find myself curiously wondering, who in the world the "hero born of woman?" That line really creeps me out.)

I think, with that, I must introduce myself. My name is Andrew R., and I am a sixteen-year-old home-educated Christian young man out of Northern Illinois. I've been following this blog unofficially since its beginning, and it's been a real pleasure. Thanks so much for all of your work-it's been very rewarding to read.

Stand Fast,

Andrew R.

Joshua Horn said...

I agree with you completely. A blasphemous propaganda song by someone we would consider to be a heretic, is in almost all hymnals and played as a patriotic classic.

Thanks for your comment, glad you enjoy the blog, its fun to do.

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