Who Wrote the Patriotic Tune “Battle Hymn of the Republic”

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!, voices cry out against a steadily marching beat and victorious trumpet blasts. It is the swelling sound of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a timeless song that inspires and unites. More than 150 years old, the patriotic tune seems to have always existed, but it had to come from somewhere.

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Who Wrote It?

The traditional tune’s lyrics were penned by abolitionist writer and poet Julia Ward Howe, who adapted her version from the popular Civil War-era marching song “John Brown’s Body” in 1861.

She first heard the soldiers’ tune while touring Union Army Camps near Washington, D.C. in the early months of the war. She found the song’s words – with lyrics like John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave and They will hang Jeff Davis to a tree – divisive and coarse.

According to thehighgroundatgettysburg.org, she was challenged by Reverend James Freeman Clark to pen new lyrics to the tune. In mere hours and after a good night’s rest, she did just that.

“I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly,” she recalled in her Reminiscences, 1819-1899. “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.”

Her lyrics took on a religious stance, becoming more of a hymn by combining Biblical imagery with the battlefield. The tune suggests only the righteous will arise victorious in war.

Howe’s version was published in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine in 1862. It was not long before the nation was united in singing the tune that would become known as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

(Photo Credit: Gettyimages.com)

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