BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC (JULIA WARD HOWE/WILLIAM STEFFE) (1861)

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About 1856 William Steffe of South Carolina wrote a camp-meeting song with the traditional "Glory Hallelujah" refrain. It started with the words "Say, brothers, will you meet us on Canaan's happy shore?" The tune had such an infectious swing that it became widely known.

Early in the Civil War, a regiment stationed in Boston included a soldier named John Brown. This regiment using Steffe's tune sang about the fiery John Brown of Kansas who shortly before had made his stand against slavery, but directed it as a jest toward their contemporary John Brown.

This version, using the words "John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on," soon became popular among the Union troops. In December 1861, Julia Ward Howe heard this version being sung, and at the suggestion of a friend, she went back to the Hotel Willard in Washington... and wrote the new words for Steffe's tune, now known as "Battle Hymn of the Republic." This stirring poem was published in The Atlantic Monthly in February, 1862, and soon the words of Mrs. Howe of Boston, sung to the tune by the Southerner, William Steffe, became synonymous with the Union cause.

William A. Ward (ed.), The American Bicentennial Songbook, Vol. 1 (1770-1870s), New York, NY, 1975, p. 236

Lyrics as reprinted ibid., pp. 236-237;
omitted stanza (in italics) as reprinted in C. A. Brown (revised by Willard A. Heaps), The Story of Our National Ballads, New York, NY, 1960, p. 181

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.
CHORUS:
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 His fiery gospel writ in rows of burnished 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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