The Battle-hymn Of The Republic by Julia Ward

Start Your Free Trial

Download The Battle-hymn Of The Republic Study Guide

Subscribe Now

"His Truth Is Marching On"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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...

(The entire section is 440 words.)