We last mentioned Julia Ward Howe in connection with Mother’s Day, and her work in campaigning for a “day of peace” to heal from the Civil War.  But many, if not most, people remember her as the poet who put words to the song “John Brown’s body is a-moulderin in the grave,” and turned it into an anthem for Union troops in that war.

Mine eyes have seen the glory
Of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage
Where the grapes of wrath are stored
He has loosed the fateful lightening
Of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on

I have seen him in the watch-fires
Of a hundred circling camps
They have builded him an altar
In the evening dews and damps
I can read his righteous sentence
By the dim and flaring lamps
His day is marching on

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
His truth is marching on

I have read a fiery gospel
Writ in burnish`d rows of steel
As ye deal with my condemners
So with you my grace shall deal
Let the hero, born of woman
Crush the serpent with his heel
Since my God is marching on

He has sounded form the trumpet
That shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men
Before His judgment-seat
Oh, be swift, my soul
To answer him be jubilant, my feet
Our God is marching on

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
His truth is marching on
His truth is marching on

As recalled in The Atlantic, which published the lyrics in its February 1862, Howe wrote those words in a kind of fever of determination:

I went to bed and slept as usual, but awoke the next morning in the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose, saying to myself, I shall lose this if I don’t write it down immediately. I searched for an old sheet of paper and an old stub of a pen which I had had the night before, and began to scrawl the lines almost without looking, as I learned to do by often scratching down verses in the darkened room when my little children were sleeping. Having completed this, I lay down again and fell asleep, but not before feeling that something of importance had happened to me.

Soon afterwards, she submitted the poem to The Atlantic Monthly, which accepted it and paid her a fee of four dollars. After the verses appeared on the first page of the February, 1862, issue, they quickly caught on as the rallying anthem of the Union troops, and were sung frequently throughout the rest of the Civil War. Howe’s words later inspired American soldiers during World War II, and civil-rights activists during the sixties. Now…..Americans are once again drawing encouragement from Howe’s resolute words.

At WVFC, we offer Howe’s words as a tribute to all that feel that truth did move forward on July 4, 1776 — and that Howe’s vision does sing of the need to speak truth to power, whenever we can. Watch Orson Welles tell her story, and ours:



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