Six months into the Civil War, things were not going well for the Union (the north). Their army lacked effective leadership, comprehensive training, and many of the engagements took place in Confederate territory, allowing the advantage of familiar terrain. Virtually everyone had presumed the conflict would last 90 days; the terror, destruction and carnage that followed was difficult to fathom.
While in D.C. in November 1861 with her husband, Julia Ward Howe overheard the tune “John Brown’s Body,” the self-chosen theme song of regiments in the area, and entertained the idea of re-writing the lyrics. Later that night, she awoke from a sound sleep with the words in her head that would become the anthem of the Union Army, and subsequently the Union. Even today “the Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a familiar tune, although contemporary understanding is only the first verse, and little on its meaning.
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 hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
(Chorus) Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on.