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7 Facts About “Battle Hymn of the Republic”



Julia HoweThe “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (also known as “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”) was written in 1861 by Julia Ward Howe, wife of Samuel Howe – a scholar in education for the blind. Both Julia and Samuel were active leaders in anti-slavery politics and strong supporters of the Union, so it’s no surprise that the song is heavily associated with the Civil War. In the years since the war, however, it has become a staple in American patriotic music.

While you may find yourself singing it on the 4th of July, you probably don’t know all there is to this inspiring song. Check out these 7 facts about “Battle Hymn of the Republic” below.

It Was A Favorite of Walt Disney Among Others

“Battle Hymn…” was said to be a favorite of Walt Disney’s so much so that it was played at the end of his private funeral in 1966. It was also one of Winston Churchill’s favorite songs and was played at his state funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It has been performed at other memorial services, most notably the service at St. Paul’s Cathedral for those lost on 9/11, at the Requiem Mass for Bobby Kennedy, and at Senator John McCain’s funeral at the Washington National Cathedral.

It Is A Remake…Of A Remake

The story of the song’s creation begins with a visit to a Union army camp near Washington DC. Julia Howe heard a group at the camp begin to sing a popular war song titled “John Brown’s Body” (which was sung to a tune borrowed from the hymn “Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us”. One of the other visitors at the camp, Reverend James Freeman Clarke, suggested that Mrs. Howe pen new lyrics to the same tune. She awoke the following morning and in a flash of inspiration, wrote the lyrics for “Battle Hymn of the Republic” that we sing today.

Its Opening Lines Were The Last Words Spoken By Martin Luther King Jr.

On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech in support of sanitation workers in Memphis. He announced, “I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” The next day he was assassinated on the second floor of the Lorraine Motel.

Howe Was Paid $5 For The Poem

The Atlantic Monthly published the poem in February 1862 and paid Julia Ward Howe $5 (note that some say it was actually $4). While that doesn’t sound like a lot, it is actually equivalent to $124.97 today. The publisher was also the one who gave the poem its title.

It Made The Hot 100 Charts

In 1960, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s recording rose to #13 on the Hot 100 and it even won them a Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus.

It Inspired Numerous Other Works

When you read the lyrics, one of the most obvious inspirations that becomes apparent is the title of John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath which came from the line “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” It also inspired the title of John Updike’s In The Beauty of the Lilies.

Numerous other songs have been set to the same tune. For example, the University of Georgia’s fight song “Glory Glory to Old Georgia”, the parody song “The Burning of the School”, and a version that Mark Twain wrote to comment on the Philippine-American War titled “The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Updated”.

Its Publication Was Probably Against Her Husband’s Wishes

Many historians agree that Julia Ward Howe’s writing had been a source of bitterness and strife in her marriage to Samuel Howe. He worked diligently to stop her intellectual aspirations and isolate her from literary outlets. Still, she defied his wishes where she could, even publishing an anonymous book of poems at one point. That enraged him and he began badgering her for divorce and separation – which she declined. In the end, she could not be silenced as “Battle Hymn” lives on as a lasting contribution.

The Parker Symphony and the Colorado Mormon Chorale will perform the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” among other patriotic pieces on October 26 at 7:30 PM at the PACE Center.


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