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New England Song Series 1a:



Origins of a Civil War song






The Words

By Roger Lee Hall

First verse written by Julia Ward Howe:





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.








"The poem, which was soon published in the Atlantic Monthly, was somewhat praised on its appearance, but the vicissitudes of the war so engrossed public attention that small heed was taken of literary matters. I soon was content to know, that the poem soon found its way to the camps, as I heard from time to time of its being sung in chorus by the soldiers."

--from Reminiscences 1819-1899 by Julia Ward Howe, Boston, Massachusetts, 1899.

Portrait of Julia Ward Howe, about 1865


A more complete account of how she wrote the words for the hymn is reprinted in a document on the multimedia DVD, "Glory, Hallelujah" - Songs and Hymns of the Civil War Era

The first draft of Julia Ward Howe's poem was written in November 18, 1861.

According to James J. Fuld the first printed copy of her poem was in the New York Tribune on January 14, 1862. The following month her poem was published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, which had a wider circulation. Notice that it was first printed without the familiar "Glory, Hallelujah" chorus, as shown here:


In the book about her mother's noble poem, her daughter wrote the following about it in these excerpts:

""In her Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Struggle she ascribes its composition to two causes -- the religion of humanity and the passion of patriotism. My mother had a long cherished love for her country, but it burned more intensely when the war came, bursting into sudden flame after that memorable day with the soldiers."

"It was published in the Atlantic Monthly for February, 1862. The verses were printed on the first page, being thus given the place of honor. According to custom of that day, no name was signed to them. James T. Fields was then editor of the magazine. My mother consulted him with regard to a name for the poem. The price paid for it was five dollars. But the true price of it was a very different thing, not to be computed in terms of money. It brought its author fame throughout the civilized world, in addition to the love and honor of her countrymen."

-- The Story of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Florence Howe Hall, Harper & Brothers, 1916.



The Music

By Roger Lee Hall


"Battle Hymn of the Republic" has been sung countless times since it was first published in 1862.

In the 20th century, it was sung by everyone from the Columbia Mixed Quartet in 1912 to Elvis Presley in the 1970s in Mickey Newbury's "An American Trilogy," and it continues on today.

This stirring patriotic hymn has been sung for solemn occasions, like the worship service at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.

It has also been sung at sporting events and show biz events -- on radio, television, and records.

But few have bothered to find out where this music originated and how it connects to "John Brown (aka: John Brown's Body)."











For more about the John Brown song -- click here




"Glory, Hallelujah" Chorus

The same chorus was used for "John Brown" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." This chorus must have been well known since it was mentioned on the cover of the first printing. Notice that the title is without "The." It is just -- "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The original sheet music cover is shown here:

Adapted to the favorite Melody "Glory, Hallelujah"
written by Mrs. Dr. S. G. [Julia Ward] Howe
Boston: Published by Oliver Ditson & Co.,
277 Washington St., 1862


What most writers have missed about this chorus is an important word was added in the original sheet music printing. In the second line of the Chorus there is an additional Glory making it sound even more stirring:

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.




Read about the amazing performance of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the World's Peace Jubilee in Boston in 1872 by the Afro-American group known as The Jubilee Singers on this multimedia CD-ROM...



Listen to the First Modern Day Recording of the original "John Brown" with "Battle Hymn of the Republic," performed by the Old Stoughton Musical Society Chorus, conducted by Roger Hall:

Medley: "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "John Brown"


This recording is included on this multimedia CD-ROM with historical information and music titled,

"Glory, Hallelujah!" - Songs and Hymns of the Civil War Era



The Hit Record


By Roger Lee Hall



The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, one of America's most popular choruses, has made numerous recordings of Julia Ward Howe's Civil War hymn, especially the 1944 arrangement by Peter J. Wilhousky, which has become the preferred one for choruses everywhere.

It should be mentioned that in the 1944 arrangement, the last verse ends with the original words by Julia Ward Howe:

As He died to make men holy, Let us DIE to make men free.


This was changed in a Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording to:

As He died to make holy, Let us LIVE to make men free.

This is perhaps the first time when that line was changed ffrom the original words of "Let us die to make make men free."

Because it was such a hit, the change was adopted by other performers over the years. The lyrics to "Battle Hymn" were printed on the back of the 45 record sleeve, released by Columbia Records in 1959, and this is the last verse:

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
LIVE to make men free,
While God is marching on!


According to Joel Whitburn in his authoritative The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, this Mormon Tabernacle record was on the Billboard charts for 11 weeks and reached as high as No. 13.

At the 2nd annual Grammy Awards held on November 29, 1959, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, directed by Richard Condie, received a Grammy
Award for Best Performance By a Vocal Group or Chorus.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording was also a shortened version of Julia Ward Howe's Civil War song and was suggested to Columbia Records by the popular and influential Cleveland disc jockey, Bill Randle, so the song would fit easily on a 45 RPM record. Randle was the one who had introduced Elvis Presley on national television in 1956.





The Lecture




Would you like to schedule a lecture for your organization about the origins of the texts and tunes for "John Brown's Body" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with recorded music examples of both tunes and sheet music on display?

For more details about this lecture, click this link:

Lectures and Workshops






Related Links

"Glory, Hallelujah!" - Songs and Hymns of the Civil War Era


"John Brown (John Brown's Body)"

"Lincoln and Liberty" - Music From Abraham Lincoln's Era

"Millennial Praise" - Singing New Englanders

Music in Old Boston

New England Music Archive

New England Song Series No. 2: GOIN' HOME

New England Song Series No. 3: JINGLE BELLS

New England Song Series No. 4: SIMPLE GIFTS

New England Song Series No. 5: SONG OF THE OLD FOLKS

New England Song Series No. 6:

Singing Stoughton - one of America's oldest music traditions



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