Julia Ward Howe
Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe woke up before sunrise one morning in 1861, and history was made.

When she woke, Julia heard the tramping of soldiers marching beneath her window in her room in Washington. Suddenly, the words of a poem came to her, and she leaped out of bed and began writing. The result was what became known as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and it would become the rallying song for the Union army in the Civil War.

Julia had been inspired the day before after watching an army review just across the Potomac (an event that is included in my next novel, “The Lincoln League”). On the way back into Washington, she overheard soldiers singing a tune that opened with the words, “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave”–a reference to the fiery abolitionist John Brown, who was executed for leading a slave revolt in Harpers Ferry.

The words of Julia’s poem were merged with that tune, and the rest is history. Many of us are familiar with the first verse of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but do not know the other four verses. Here are all of the verses:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.”

4. 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.

5. 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.

By Doug Peterson

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