Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

Battle-Hymn of the Republic

J ULIA WARD HOWE was in Washington during the winter of 1861, when the question of the abolition of slavery was at fever-heat, and the outbreak of the Civil War at hand. She visited the soldiers encamped outside the city, and heard them singing "John Brown's Body." The majesty of the music to which those words were set struck her at once, and she determined to write new words that should be a hymn of patriotism. The opening line came to her easily, almost as if by inspiration, and she had completed the poem in a very short time. She took it back to Boston with her, and gave it to James T. Fields, editor of the Atlantic Monthly. He printed it on the first page of that magazine for February, 1862, giving it its present title.

The poem attracted very little attention at first, although it was copied into several newspapers. Then one of these newspapers was smuggled into Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia; Chaplain Charles C. McCabe read the poem aloud to a few of the prisoners, and soon all the Union soldiers there were singing it.

As the Union prisoners were released they brought the hymn back to the North with them, and it spread in this fashion until it had become the most popular anthem on the Northern side.

For majesty of thought and beauty of word "The Battle-Hymn of the Republic" stands first among all the poems called forth by the Civil War, and among the first of all poems inspired by patriotism.

Battle-Hymn Of The Republic

by Julia Ward Howe

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.

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 have 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.

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