"His Truth Is Marching On"
Context: To a tune usually ascribed to a Southern writer of Sunday School songs, William Steffe, a woman suffragette and social reformer, wrote several patriotic stanzas at the suggestion of James Freeman Clarke (1810–1868). The two were in Washington at the time (1861), watching McClellan's army marching past, singing other words put to that same tune and called John Brown's Body, with its stirring refrain of "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah." There is a different story: that Mrs. Howe was inspired to write the patriotic stanzas by watching the 12th Massachusetts Regiment swinging by, on its way to the train, and singing that same song. From chronology, either version can be true. But both show how popular among the soldiers was the melodic ballad about the American abolitionist, John Brown (1800–1859), who tried to capture Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, to get a place for the protection of fugitive slaves. Defeated and captured, he was hanged, but by his martyrdom he attracted many to the defense of the slaves so that his soul went marching on. James T. Fields (1817–1881) gave Mrs. Howe's words their present title when publishing them in the Atlantic Monthly, in February 1862. They became immediately popular as a war song. Since they were intended to inspire patriotic fervor, and not as a work of great literature, only a carping critic would notice that "evening dews and damps" was a prosy phrase dragged in by the rhyme and that Christ was not born "in the beauty of the lilies," but in the chill of winter. Here are four of the five stanzas, the third one being omitted.
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.Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!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.. . .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 die to make men free,While God is marching on.