Composing the Battle Hymn

Mrs. Julia Ward Howe thus narrates the circumstances under which she composed her famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic”:

Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe

“I was on a visit to Washington,” she said, “during the first winter of the war, with Governor Andrew and other Massachusetts friends. We had been spending the day in the soldiers’ camps on the Potomac, and I had heard the ‘John Brown Hymn’ sung and played so often that its strains were constantly sounding in my ears.

As the words in use seemed an inadequate expression of the music, I wished very much for an inspiration which would provide a fitting rendition of so beautiful a theme; but it did not come, and I retired to bed. Early in the morning, before daybreak, I awoke, and my mind, in a half-dreaming state, began at once to run upon the rhythm of the ‘John Brown Hymn.’

Very soon the words commenced fitting themselves to its measure, and the lines spun themselves off without further effort. I said to myself, ‘Now I shall lose all this unless I get it down in black and white.’ I arose, groped about in the dark, collected such stationery as may be found in the room of a Washington hotel, sat down and wrote, as I frequently do, without lighting a lamp, the poem called the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic.’”

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Women’s Suffrage Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily (1849-1856), National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881), The Revolution (1868-1872), The New Citizen (1909-1912), The Western Woman Voter (1911-1913), The Woman’s Tribune (1883-1909) and the antisuffrage newspaper, The Remonstrance (1890-1913).

Source: The Revolution, February 23, 1871

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