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Template:Stack "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is an American abolitionist hymn. The lyrics were written by Julia Ward Howe in November 1861 and first published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. It became popular during the American Civil War. Since that time it has become an extremely popular and well-known American patriotic song.


The tune was written around 1855 by William Steffe. The first known lyrics were called "Canaan's Happy Shore" or "Brothers, Will You Meet Me?" and the song was sung as a campfire spiritual. The tune spread across the United States, gaining a reputation as the best song of its time.

Thomas Bishop, from Vermont, joined the Massachusetts Infantry before the outbreak of war and compiled a popular set of lyrics, circa 1860, titled "John Brown's Body" which became one of his unit's walking songs. According to writer Irwin Silber (who has written a book about Civil War folk songs), the original lyrics were only obliquely about John Brown, the famed abolitionist. More particularly the lyrics were about a Scotsman of the same name who was a member of the 12th Massachusetts Regiment, and the lyrics were composed to poke some good-natured fun at the runty, mild-mannered Scotsman who shared the same name as the much more famous and fearsome abolitionist.[1]

Bishop's battalion was dispatched to Washington, D.C. early in the Civil War, and Julia Ward Howe heard this song during a public review of the troops outside Washington on Upton's Hill, Virginia. Rufus R. Dawes, then in command of Company "K" of the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, stated in his memoirs that the man who started the singing was Sergeant John Ticknor of his company. By this time the association with the diminutive Scotsman John Brown was forgotten or unknown to most listeners, who heard only a rough and somewhat oddly-phrased marching song about John Brown the abolitionist. Howe's companion at the review, the Reverend James Clarke, suggested to Howe that she write new words for the fighting men's song. Staying at the Willard Hotel in Washington on the night of November 18, 1861, Howe awoke with the words of the song in her mind and in near darkness wrote the verses to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic".[2] Of the writing of the lyrics, Howe remembers, "I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. 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."[3]

File:Battle Hymn of the Republic.jpg

As originally published 1862 in The Atlantic Monthly

Howe's "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was first published on the front page of The Atlantic Monthly of February 1862. The sixth verse written by Howe, which is less commonly sung, was not published at that time. The song was also published as a broadside in 1863 by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments in Philadelphia.

"Canaan's Happy Shore" has a verse and chorus of equal metrical length and both verse and chorus share an identical melody and rhythm. "John Brown's Body" has more syllables in its verse and uses a more rhythmically active variation of the "Canaan" melody to accommodate the additional words in the verse. In Howe's lyrics, the words of the verse are packed into a yet longer line, with even more syllables than John Brown's Body. The verse still uses the same underlying melody as the refrain, but the addition of many dotted rhythms to the underlying melody allows for the more complex verse to fit the same melody as the comparatively short refrain.

Both "John Brown" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" were published in Father Kemp's Old Folks Concert Tunes in 1874 and reprinted in 1889. Both songs had the same Chorus with an additional "Glory" in the second line: "Glory! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!"[4]

Julia Ward Howe was the wife of Samuel Gridley Howe, the famed scholar in education of the blind. Samuel and Julia were also active leaders in anti-slavery politics and strong supporters of the Union.


One version of the melody, in C major, begins as below. This is an example of the mediant-octave modal frame.


Template:The Battle Hymn of the Republic

Biblical references[]

The song alludes to several Biblical passages. The first verse draws on the Book of Revelation, which describes an angel casting grapes into "the great winepress of the wrath of God" (14:19), and later describes the Word of God who wields "a sharp sword" and "treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" (19:15). The third verse refers to YHWH Elohim's (God's) statement in Genesis 3:15 that the woman's (Eve's) offspring will step on and bruise (or crush) the head of the serpent (and/or its seed), while the serpent will strike at his heel. Indirectly, this also refers to Revelation(Apocalypse in Catholic/Orthodox bibles) 12:1-10, where a woman (often interpreted as being The Blessed Virgin Mary and/or the newly formed Christian Church and/or the ancient Israel) bears a child while engaged in struggle with a dragon/serpent. The dragon/serpent is defeated. The fourth verse alludes to 2 Corinthians 5:10, which states that "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." The fifth verse refers to the doctrine that Christians can be made holy through the death of Christ (Colossians 1:21-22). The sixth verse refers to the Earth as the footstool of God, a claim which appears in Isaiah 66:1, Matthew 5:35, and Acts 7:49.


In later years, when this song was sung in a non-military environment, the clause "let us die to make men free" was sometimes changed to "let us live to make men free". This change can be seen in most modern hymnals. In addition, the term "bosom" in the fifth verse is often changed to "being". Sometimes, gender-neutral language is used and it is sung as "as he died to make us holy, let us live to make all free".

The sixth verse is often omitted, as is the third. Also, a common variant changes "soul of Time" to read "soul of wrong", and "succour" to "honor".

Also, when the sixth verse is omitted, the fifth verse can be sung at a slower pace than the rest of the song.


Popularity and widespread use[]

In the years since the Civil War, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" has been used frequently as an American patriotic song.[citation needed]

This song is usually heard at the national conventions of both the Republican Party and Democratic Party,[citation needed] and is often sung at Presidential inaugurations.[citation needed]

Recordings and public performances[]

In 1960 the Mormon Tabernacle Choir won the Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus. The 45 rpm single record, which was arranged and edited by Columbia Records and Cleveland disk-jockey Bill Randle, was an unlikely commercial success and reached #13 on Billboard's Hot 100 the previous autumn.[5]

Judy Garland performed this song on her weekly television show in December 1963. She originally wanted to do a dedication show for JFK upon his assassination but CBS would not let her, so she performed the song without being able to mention his name.[6]

Influence on other media[]

Words from the first verse gave John Steinbeck the title of his 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath. The title of John Updike's In the Beauty of the Lilies also came from this song, as did Terrible Swift Sword and Never Call Retreat, two volumes in Bruce Catton's Centennial History of the Civil War.

The lyrics of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" appear in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s sermons and speeches, most notably in his speech "How Long, Not Long" from the steps of the Montgomery, Alabama Courthouse on March 25, 1965 after the 3rd Selma March, and in his final sermon "I've Been to the Mountaintop", delivered in Memphis, Tennessee on the evening of April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination. In fact, the latter sermon, King's last public words, ends with the first lyrics of the "Battle Hymn", "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

The opening line to 'These Things Take Time' by The Smiths alludes to the first line of 'The Battle Hymn': 'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the sacred wunderkind / You took me behind a disused railway line.'[citation needed]

In Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, one of the colony names for the Believers faction is "Terrible Swift Sword" (their colonies are all named with references to Christianity).[citation needed]

Other songs set to this tune[]

The tune has been used with alternative lyrics numerous times. The most famous variant is "Solidarity Forever", a marching song for organized labor in the 20th century.[7] It was also the basis for the anthem of the American consumers' cooperative movement, "The Battle Hymn of Cooperation", written in 1932.[citation needed]

The United States Army paratrooper song, "Blood on the Risers", first sung in World War II, is set to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".[citation needed]

A number of popular terrace songs (in football) are sung to the tune in Britain; renditions include "We're not Brazil, we're Northern Ireland", Glory Glory Leeds United", "Glory Glory Man United", and "Glory Glory Tottenham Hotspur".[citation needed] The 1994 FIFA World Cup official song "Gloryland" interpreted by Daryl Hall and the Sound of the Blackness has the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".[citation needed]

Len Chandler sang a song called "move on over" to this tune on Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest TV show.[8]

The British band Half Man Half Biscuit used the melody for their song "Vatican Broadside".[citation needed]

"lief klein konijntje" is a popular Dutch children's song.[9]

Cajun country singer Johnny Rebel used the tune for his song "The White Man Marches On," as a parody of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". Rebel's song was also used in the film American History X as Seth Ryan, played by Ethan Suplee, was driving his van and singing along to the lyrics while it was playing on the radio.[citation needed]

Various parodies have been written using the song. "The Burning of the School" is a well-known one.[citation needed] A somewhat more mature parody is "The Ballad of Harry Lewis", by Allan Sherman.[citation needed] Another parodoy is Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory of the Coming of the Titan for Improbable Island[10]

"Queen's College Colours," written in 1898 by student Alfred Lavell to inspire Queen's football team to victory after a disappointing loss to the University of Toronto, is also set to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

See also[]


  1. George Kimball, "Origin of the John Brown Song", New England Magazine, new series 1 (1890):374. (online via Cornell University)
  2. "Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910, Vol. I". 1912-06-01. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  3. Howe, Julia Ward. Reminiscences: 1819-1899.Houghton, Mifflin: New York, 1899. p. 275.
  4. Hall, Roger L. New England Songster. PineTree Press, 1997.
  5. "Battle Hymn of the Republic (original version)". Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  6. Sanders, Coyne Steven (1990). Rainbow's End: The Judy Garland Show. Zebra Books. ISBN 0821737082 (paperback edition).
  7. " ''Solidarity Forever'': Melody - "Battle Hymn of the Republic", William Steffe?, 1862". Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  8. “” (2008-11-14). "Len Chandler & Pete Seeger - Move on Over (John Brown's Body)". YouTube. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  9. “”. "Lief klein konijntje". YouTube. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  10. "Improbable Island Enqurier". 2008-05-04. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 

Further reading[]

  • Claghorn, Charles Eugene, "Battle Hymn: The Story Behind The Battle Hymn of the Republic". Papers of the Hymn Society of America, XXIX.
  • Jackson, Popular Songs of Nineteenth-Century America, note on "Battle Hymn of the Republic", p. 263-4.
  • Scholes, Percy A. (1955). "John Brown's Body", The Oxford Companion of Music. Ninth edition. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Stutler, Boyd B. (1960). Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! The Story of "John Brown's Body" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Cincinnati: The C. J. Krehbiel Co.
  • Clifford, Deborah Pickman. (1978). Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Biography of Julia Ward Howe. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.
  • Vowell, Sarah. (2005). "John Brown's Body," in The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad. Ed. by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus. New York: W. W. Norton.

External links[]

da:Battle Hymn of the Republic de:The Battle Hymn of the Republic fr:The Battle Hymn of the Republic he:מזמור הקרב על הרפובליקה lb:The Battle Hymn of the Republic ja:リパブリック讃歌 pl:Hymn Bojowy Republiki pt:The Battle Hymn of the Republic ro:The Battle Hymn of the Republic sl:The Battle Hymn of the Republic fi:The Battle Hymn of the Republic sv:Battle Hymn of the Republic vi:The Battle Hymn of the Republic zh:共和國戰歌