The Battle Hymn of the Republic

With the 4th of July this past week and the events in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas, I’ve had America on my mind for the past several days. One of my favorite Independence Day songs is The Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia Ward Howe.

Few people know that the song isn’t a Revolutionary War song, however, but set during the Civil War in 1862. Upon visiting a Union camp close to Washington D.C. in November, 1861, Howe heard the men singing a popular folk tune, John Brown’s Body, a song about a man named John Brown, who had died trying to free the slaves:

Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave,
While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;
But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave,
His soul is marching on…

John Brown was John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see,
Christ who of the bondmen shall the Liberator be,
And soon thruout the Sunny South the slaves shall all be free,
For his soul is marching on.

Howe took the familiar tune, added new lyrics and turned it into a marching song for the Union. It was received so well, it reportedly brought Abraham Lincoln to tears at a rally.

150 years later, as we struggle through a season of senseless killings and civil rights, The Battle Hymn of the Republic speaks as eloquently as any poet’s pen could. The never-ending march for justice. An anthem for America and holiness of her cause, safety and freedom for all men:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Valor to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.


*In memory of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and the five officers in Dallas who lost their lives this week, along with the many protestors across the country.

 His truth is marching on.