Battle Hymn of the Republic

Words by Julia Ward Howe; tune "John Brown's Body," 1862

Were you surprised to learn that "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was a marching song? Why or why not?

At what tempo do you usually sing this song? What words or phrases would you use to describe the feeling of the song when it is sung at a marching tempo versus a slower hymn-like tempo? How does changing the tempo change the message of the song?

Why did Julia Ward Howe call her song a "hymn"? What about the music seems hymn-like? What about the words seem hymn-like? Who does "He" and "Him" refer to in the verses?

Do you think “John Brown’s Body” also seems like a hymn? Why or why not?

By calling this song a hymn and using religious images, what message was Howe sending about the war? Whose side did she believe God was on?

What might Confederate troops have thought when they heard this song?

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" has remained as popular as ever, even though most other songs from the Civil War have not. Why do you think this song has lived on, long past the events it refers to?

What is your favorite part of the song? Why?

Julia Ward Howe was an abolitionist. But would you have to be an abolitionist to appreciate this song? If you were not an abolitionist, could you still support this song’s message?


"Battle Hymn of the Republic" performed by D.C. Hall's New Concert & Quadrille Band on Union & Liberty! Troy, New York: Dorian [DOR90197], © 1994. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

D.C. Hall’s Concert & Quadrille Band prides itself on using period instruments in historically informed performances. In this recording the solo tenor sings all the verses, including those not as familiar, with great sensitivity. Described in the liner notes as including “music heard on the Northern homefront,” this recording recreates what some Americans may have heard in parlors during the Civil War.

View the lyrics for "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

View the published score.

“Battle Hymn of the Republic,” The Atlantic, February 1862.

Abolitionist Julia Ward Howe penned the words to this American perennial after a visit to the troops in November of 1861 where they were marching through the streets of Washington DC singing "John Brown's Body." Howe felt the Union cause was a holy one and wanted to contribute something significant to the war effort because her husband was too old and her sons were too young to enlist.

Its first publication in The Atlantic Monthly in 1862 did not include music; only when they were combined later that year was the piece successful.

 

 

Compare this song to:

"John Brown's Body" in this unit, and "Solidarity Forever" (Unit 6): all these songs share the same tune.

"Marching through Georgia" and other rallying songs in this unit.

"Deep River," an African American spiritual, the equivalent of a hymn.

"Amazing Grace" (Unit 3) and "Old Hundred" (Unit 1), Anglo-American hymns in earlier units.