Old Glory 1863

Julia Ward Howe

At the beginning of the Civil War, Samuel and Julia Ward Howe pitched in to help with the United States Sanitary Commission, a private relief agency.1 As a result of their volunteer work, they were invited to the White House to meet President Lincoln. While this couple was in Washington D.C., they visited a Union Army camp in across the Potomac and heard soldiers singing “John Brown's Body,” a song written in admiration of John Brown and his rebellion toward slavery.

Pastor James Freeman Clarke of Boston accompanied the Howe's to Washington D.C. He knew Julia was a published poet and urged her to write a new song for the war effort to replace “John Brown's Body.”2 While staying at the Willard hotel she wrote a poem that soon became the leading anthem for the Union.

The Atlantic Monthly, a magazine publishing company founded in Boston, published Julia's composition in Feburary 1862.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic was first performed on February 22, 1862 at Plymouth Church in Framingham, Massachusetts.3 Public response to this new song was overwhelming. It even brought tears to President Lincoln's eyes when it was later played at a war rally he attended. Lincoln would regard the Battle Hymn as “the song that saved the Union.”4