Glory Hallelujah: Julia Ward Howe and the 
Battle Hymn of the Republic


Julia Ward HoweIt would be impossible for me to say how many times I have been called upon to rehearse the circumstances under  which I wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I have also had occasion more than once to state the simple story in writing. As this oft-told tale has no unimportant part in the story of my life, I will briefly add it to these records.  I distinctly remember that a feeling of discouragement came over me, as I drew near the city of Washington, at the time already mentioned. I thought of the women of my acquaintance whose sons or husbands were fighting our great battle; the women themselves serving in the hospitals, or busying themselves with the work of the Sanitary Commission. My husband was beyond the age of military service, my eldest son but a stripling; my youngest was a child of not more than two years. I could not leave my nursery to follow the march of our armies, neither had I the practical deftness which the preparing and packing of sanitary stores demanded. Yet, because of my sincere desire, a word was given me to say, which did strengthen the hearts of those who fought in the field and of those who languished in the prisons.

We were invited, one day, to attend a review of troops at some distance from the town. While we were engaged in watching the manoeuvres, a sudden movement of the enemy necessitated immediate action. The review was discontinued, and we saw a detachment of soldiers gallop to the assistance of a small body of our men who were in imminent danger of being surrounded and cut off from retreat. The regiments remaining on the field were ordered to march to their cantonments. We returned to the city very slowly, of necessity, for the troops nearly filled the road. Mr. Clarke was in the carriage with me, as were several other friends. To beguile the rather tedious drive, we sang, from time to time, snatches of army songs; concluding, I think, with John Browns body lies a-mouldering in the ground; His soul is marching on.

The soldiers seemed to like this, and answered back, Good for you! Mr. Clarke said, Mrs. Howe, why do you not write some good words for that stirring tune? I replied that I had often wished to do this, but had not as yet found in my mind any leading toward it.  I went to bed that night as usual, and slept quite soundly, according to my wont. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them. So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen, which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper. I had learned to do this when, on previous occasions, attacks of versification had visited me in the night, and I feared to have recourse to a light lest I should wake the baby, who slept near me. I was always obliged to decipher my scrawl before another night intervened, as it was legible only while the matter was fresh in my mind.  At this time, having completed my writing, I returned to bed and fell asleep, with the reflection, I like this better than most things that I have written.  The poem, which was soon after 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 knew, and was content to know, that the poem soon found its way to the camps, as I heard now and then of its being sung in chorus by the soldiers.  As the war went on, it came to pass that Chaplain McCabe, newly released from Libby Prison, gave a public lecture in Washington, and recounted some of his recent experiences. Among them was the following:

He and the other Union prisoners occupied one large, comfortless room, in which the floor was their only bed. The official in charge of their quarters told them, one evening, that the Union army had just been terribly defeated. While they sat together in great sorrow, the negro who waited upon them whispered to one man that the officer had given them false information, and that, on the contrary, the Union soldiers had achieved an important victory. At this good news they all rejoiced, and presently made the walls ring with my Battle Hymn, which they sang in chorus, Chaplain McCabe leading. The lecturer recited the poem with such effect that those present began to inquire, Who wrote this Battle Hymn? It became one of the leading lyrics of the war. In view of its success, one of my good friends said, Mrs. Howe ought to die now, for she has done the best that she will ever do. I was not of this opinion, feeling myself still full of days works, although I did not guess at the new experiences which then lay before me.

FROM: Reminiscences of Julia Ward Howe published in The Atlantic Monthly (May 1899). In The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals, Library of Congress.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

STANDARD 4: The sources and character of cultural, religious, and social reform movements in the antebellum period. 

Standard 4A: The student understands the abolitionist movement.

7-12: Analyze changing ideas about race and assess the reception of proslavery and antislavery ideologies in the North and South. [Examine the influence of ideas] 

Standard 4C: The student understands changing gender roles and the ideas and activities of women reformers.

5-12:Analyze the activities of women of different racial and social groups in the reform movements for education, abolition, temperance, and women's suffrage. [Examine the importance of the individual] 

Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877) 

STANDARD 2: The course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people. 

Standard 2B: The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and homefront

5-12: Compare women's homefront and battlefront roles in the Union and the Confederacy. [Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas] 

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Broadside, Glory hally, hallelujah! or The John Brown song! Hip, hip, hip hurrah! ! Published by Horace Partridge, No. 27 Hanover Street, Boston.
     n. d.
    REPRODUCTIONSHow to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHTCopyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

  2. DESCRIPTION:  Sound recording, John Brown's a-Hanging on a Sour Apple Tree
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Jul. 17, 1967
    SUMMARY FROM AMERICAN MEMORY: Henry Reed's air is evidence of the folksongs in circulation about John Brown that became the basis for Julia Ward Howe's patriotic hymn "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." His version implies a verse and refrain using essentially the same melodic material, as is the case with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection
    REPOSITORY:  Reed family home, Glen Lyn, Virginia (Giles County)

  3. DESCRIPTION:  Sheet music, Glory, hallelujah; The popular refrain of Glory, hallelujah; [Battle hymn of the republic]
    COMPOSER: William Steffe (ca. 1830-1890)
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920 (from Duke University)
    REPOSITORY:  Duke University

  4. DESCRIPTION:  Broadside, Battle hymn of the Republic / by Mrs. Julia Ward Howe. [Philadelphia] : Published by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments, [1863?]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Philadelphia, 1863
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress

  5. DESCRIPTION:  Photograph, [Julia Ward Howe, half-lenght portrait, seated, facing left]
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Apr. 27, 1908
    REPRODUCTIONSHow to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHTCopyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  By Popular Demand: "Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

  6. DESCRIPTION:  Letter, George H. Stuart to Abraham Lincoln  (U. S. Christian Commission)
    REPRODUCTIONSHow to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHTCopyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:  The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

Additional Media Resources

African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

An American Ballroom Companion: ca. 1490-1920

The American Variety Stage, 1870-1920

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885

"We'll Sing to Abe Our Song": Sheet Music about Lincoln, Emancipation, and the Civil War

Secondary Resources

Wilson, Edmund. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. W. W. Norton & Company, reissued 1994.

Fahs, Alice. "The Feminized Civil War: Gender, Northern Popular Literature, and the Memory of the War, 1861-1900" The Journal of American History (Mar. 1999): 1461-1494.

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This document packet was researched and developed by Nancy Bramucci.


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