Oak Glen – Julia Ward Howe home

How the Battle Hymn of the Republic was Written – Julia’s Own Words
It was during the second year of the war and I had gone to Washington with my husband and pastor, the Rev. James Freemann Clarke. I had wished many times that I could do something for my country but the way seemed closed. My husband was too old and ill to go; my son was only a boy. The children were young so I could not leave my home for long myself. While we were in Washington there was a great review of troops across the river. We drove to out to see it. While it was in progress there was a dash made against some of the troops by the enemy. It was repulsed, but the review was abandoned, and the troops came thronging back to Washington and we with them. The progress of our carriage was slow, for the roads were crowded with soldiers. To encourage the men we began singing various songs and hymns and they would join the the chorus. After we had sung “John Brown’s Body” Dr. Clarke turned and asked me why I did not write some new words for that music. I replied that I had tried several times, but never could seem to write any good enough. The next morning just about 4 o’clock I woke suddenly. As I lay there in bed the words of the hymn began to form themselves in my mind. I got up and by the faint light of the early morning scrawled them on a piece of paper and then went back to bed and sound asleep again. That is the way the hymn was written. (Saturday Evening Post- as quoted in the Newport Mercury May 30, 1914)

Julia’s words were published in the Atlantic Monthly in February of 1862. Set to music (from John Brown’s Body) it became a rallying cry for the Union. Although it is more of a Christian hymn, the song was used by the anti-slavery and suffrage movements as well.