Today in Religion – Julia Ward Howe

Battle Hymn of the Republic

On November 19, Julia Ward Howe committed “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to paper.

In my high school, each year, at graduation, the choir and band performed the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” In my church, we sang this song often. My father even taught me a parody song using the same tune. Yet, I never learned the interesting story behind the song.

Julia Ward Howe, an accomplished writer, and Unitarian lived during the Civil War of the United States. In the autumn of 1861, she and others saw some federal troops and heard them singing a song called John Brown’s Body. It had a catchy tune. Either someone suggested it to her or she felt the original words trite, or both. She decided to write something better to sing to that tune.

The next morning as the gray light of early morn woke her, words came to her. Getting up quietly she wrote several stanzas before falling back asleep. She felt these words were better than what she had written before. Later, she refined the stanzas and published the poem. Set to that original tune, her words grew in popularity giving us “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Do you think Julia Ward Howe would be happy that her song lasted over a century, or that it is mostly associated with the Christian religion?

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