Julia Ward Howe: “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

November 18, 1861/2011
Volume 2, Issue 48 (58 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Julia Ward Howe Writes “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

November 18, 1861. As Julia Ward Howe and others rode in their carriage back to Washington from having attended a military review in Union army camps in Virginia, they sang the well-known abolitionist song “John Brown’s Body” — to the applause of Union soldiers whom they passed along the roadside. Her pastor, who was in the party, suggested that she write better words for the tune.

Julia Ward Howe, 1861

Julia Ward Howe, 1861

Later, Howe remembered what happened that night at the Willard Hotel in Washington, where she and her party were staying:

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 Battle Hymn of the Republic” was first published on the front page of the February 1862 edition of The Atlantic Monthly.

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.


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.


The lyrics contain numerous Biblical references. The famous first stanza may allude to two passages in the Book of Revelation in The Bible (emphasis added):

And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast [it] into the great winepress of the wrath of God.

And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand [and] six hundred furlongs.

Revelation 14: 19-20

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him [was] called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.

His eyes [were] as a flame of fire, and on his head [were] many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.

And he [was] clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.

And the armies [which were] in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.

And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

Revelation 19: 11-15

It may also allude to Isaiah 63: 3-6:

I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people [there was] none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment.

For the day of vengeance [is] in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come.

And I looked, and [there was] none to help; and I wondered that [there was] none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me.

And I will tread down the people in mine anger, and make them drunk in my fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth.


See Poetry and Eloquence from the Blue and the Gray, Francis Trevelyn Miller, ed.  p. 17.

“Now is the Day, Now is the Hour.”

November 23, 1861. Many recruiting posters in Vermont and throughout the North emphasized both patriotism and self-interest, urging men to help “in putting down treason,” and offering both monthly pay and bounty.

Despite the poster’s prediction, the effort in November 1861 to recruit the Seventh Regiment of Vermont Volunteers was certainly not the last opportunity for Vermonters to enlist. Vermont would eventually form seventeen infantry regiments, as well as light artillery, cavalry, and sharp shooter units.

Click on image to see larger version of poster.


Vermont Voices, 1609 through the 1990s, J. Kevin Graffagnino, Samuel B. Hand, and Gene Sessions, Editors, Vermont Historical Society, 1999, p. 189

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1861

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