In the fall of 1861, just a few months after the start of the Civil War, Boston poet Julia Ward Howe heard Union soldiers singing the popular marching tune “John Brown’s Body”—a tribute to the abolitionist who was captured at Harper’s Ferry and later hanged. Howe was inspired by the melody and refrain to write new verses for the song, comparing the Union war effort to the final Biblical judgment of the wicked as described in the book of Revelations.
The re-titled “Battle Hymn of the Republic” lyrics were published in the Atlantic Monthly in early 1862, and this song has endured to the present day—in World War II, during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and immediately after September 11, 2001. Even if you don’t believe, it’s hard not to be moved by that chant of “Glory, glory, hallelujah!”
There is power in these words, and there is danger.
Curtis C. Chen
Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, now a speculative fiction writer and puzzle hunt maker near Portland, Oregon. You may have seen my cat feeding robot presentation at Ignite Portland 10.