One of the most enduring traditional American hymns and patriotic
songs is Julia Ward Howes "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." It
is a staple with many Christian church choirs and hardly a patriotic
holiday passes without this song being sung and played at ceremonies
nationwide. But is "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" truly
appropriate for religious hymnals and patriotic ceremonies? Who
was the author? What motivated and inspired her? What message was
she trying to convey? What do the words mean? What meaning do they
have for us today?
The author, Julia Ward Howe, was born in 1819 in New York City.
She married a prominent physician, Dr. Samuel Howe Gridley (1801-1876)
in 1843 and they lived in Boston, Mass. Where they raised five
children. She was a much celebrated author, a tireless supporter
of the anti-slavery movement, preached in Unitarian churches, and
was a zealous worker for the advancement of women, prison reform,
world peace and other humanitarian movements. She died 17 October
1910, at her summer home in Oak Glen, Rhode Island.
News reporters of her day delighted in describing this unusual
woman. She was diminutive in stature, barely over five feet; invariably
wearing a white trimmed, black dress and lace cap and had the habit
of peering over her silver-rimmed glasses as she read her lecture
in a crisp Boston-Yankee accent.
But her literary works had dark themes, such as murder, suicide
and betrayal, perhaps reflecting her own unhappy marriage with
her domineering and unfaithful husband. Her church, the Unitarian
Church, although it claimed to be Christian, denied the divinity
of Jesus Christ, the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
And although she was devoted to the anti-slavery movement, like
many other Northern radicals of her time, such as Abraham Lincoln,
her own words reveal her to be a hypocrite on the subject of race.
Julia Ward Howe believed and wrote the "ideal negro" would
be one "refined by white culture, elevated by white blood." She
also wrote, "the negro among negroes, is coarse, grinning,
flat-footed, thick-skulled creature, ugly as Caliban, lazy as the
laziest brutes, chiefly ambitious to be of no use to any in the
world. . . He must go to school to the white race and his discipline
must be long and laborious." Her own disgusting words expose
the kind of hypocrisy that was rampant in the abolitionist movement.
Mrs. Howe and her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, were supporters
of the most radical and violent wing of the anti-slavery movement.
These "disunion abolitionists" wanted to tear apart the
American republic of sovereign, independent states, and reconstruct
it along their own radical political, cultural and religious ideals.
History records only how too well they succeeded with their treason.
Her husband and her pastor, Unitarian Rev. Theodore Parker, were
conspirators in the treasonous group known as "The Secret
Six." These wealthy Northeasterners financially supported
terrorist and murderer John Brown in his insane Harpers Ferry raid,
and advocated slave rebellion that would destroy the original American
Browns Anti-Southern terror campaign started in Kansas in
the mid-1850s. There, on 23 May 1856, Brown and his murderous band
descended on a settlement of Southerners at Pottawatomie Creek.
They carried with them newly sharpened swords an image that
played a prominent part in Mrs. Howes song. Her hero and
his fellow terrorists literally hacked to death five innocent men.
Northern historians try to excuse this crime by saying Brown was
exacting revenge for atrocities committed by pro-slavery "Border
Ruffians." This is a lie!
The first three of his victims, James P. Doyle and his sons, Drury
and William, were Catholics from Tennessee who moved to Kansas
to get away from slavery. They never had a thing to do with the
institution. But because they spoke with a Southern drawl, and
possibly because they were Catholic, Brown marched them to a clearing
where their heads were split open with the sharpened swords. Drurys
arms were chopped off. Mrs. Doyle was later asked why her husband
and sons had been so brutally murdered? She replied, "just
we were southern people, I reckon."
The other victims of Browns murderous rampage were Southern
settlers Allen Wilkinson, executed while his wife and children
stood by in horror, and William Sherman, whose mutilated body was
found floating in the creek with his left hand hanging by a strand
of skin and his skull split open with "some of the brains" washed
When she got word of the massacre, Julia Ward Howes own
words reveal her to have been perversely thrilled and inspired
by this grisly crime. The "terrible swift sword" in her
song was terrible indeed, but hardly reflecting Christian values.
Mrs. Howe and Brown mutually admired one another, as their own
words demonstrate. Mrs. Howe wrote Brown was "a Puritan of
Puritans, forceful, concentrated, and self-contained." Brown
wrote of Mrs. Howe, in a letter to a friend, that she was "a
defiant little woman" and that her personality was "all
flash and fire." After the failure of Browns bloody
raid on Harpers Ferry, her husband, who was deeply involved in
the treasonous conspiracy, like a coward in the night, fled to
Canada until he was assured he was safe from prosecution in Massachusetts.
Mrs. Howe, in a letter to her sister at the time, made it clear
she was in complete sympathy with the attempt to start a slave
rebellion in the South, and tear the nation apart. She wrote, "I
have just been to church and hear [James Freeman] Clarke [another
Unitarian minister] preach about John Brown, whom God bless, and
will bless! I am much too dull to write anything good about him,
but shall say something at the end of my book on Cuba, whereof
I am at present correcting the proof-sheets. I went to see his
poor wife, who passed through here some days since. We shed tears
together and embraced at parting, poor soul. . . .[Browns]
attempt I must judge insane but the spirit heroic. I should be
glad to be as sure of heaven as that old man may be, following
right in the spirit and footsteps of the old martyrs, girding on
his sword for the weak and oppressed. His death will be holy and
gloriousthe new saint awaiting his martyrdom, and who, if
he shall suffer [execution], will make the gallows glorious like
What "martyrs" could Mrs. Howe have been speaking of
in her letter? Surely she could not mean the early Christian martyrs
who were slain in many perverse, cruel and cold-blooded ways by
the ancient Romans, just as her hero, John Brown, slew the Southern
martyrs in Kansas. Her fascination with his sword is also revealed
in the letter. This grotesque and warped view of Christian values
is reflected in her violent and bloody war song.
Here we have the author of the much revered "The Battle Hymn
of the Republic" condoning murder and treason by a ruthless
and brutal killer. Her dark fascination with Browns bloody
sword and the killers unbridled violence seemed to thrill
the diminutive author. Clearly, the seeds of inspiration for her "The
Battle Hymn of the Republic" had been planted in the poisonous
soil of murder, rebellion and treason.
But what was the final inspiration for the famous lyrics? In November
1861, after the start of the tragic war the Howes had for
so long worked to instigate, a party which included the Unitarian
Rev. James F. Clarke and Mrs. Howe, visited an outpost of the invading
Union troops in Northern Virginia. However an unexpected Confederate
attack canceled the review. Mrs. Howe and her party were waiting
in a buggy while Northern troops came marching by, returning from
the skirmish. The camp visitors heard the Yankees merrily singing
an obscene version of "John Browns Body."
When the party returned to Washington D.C., the Rev. Clarke asked
Mrs. Howe if she could supply more dignified words for the popular
tune. So, inspired by the memory of her late, "martyred hero," John
Brown, and the skirmish that so rudely interrupted her review of
her beloved invading Northern vandals, she wrote the words for
the famous Anti-Southern abolitionist anthem, "The Battle
Hymn of the Republic," by candlelight in the middle of the
night at the Willard Hotel.
James T. Fields, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, accepted
the song and published it as a poem in the February 1862 issue.
This bloody, hate-filled, song has been marching on ever since.
The "hymn," sung by so many church and school choirs,
was inspired not by the Bible or a stirring religious sermon, but
by a dastardly killer, John Brown, and by the march of Northern
invaders trampling over Southern soil, Southern lives and Southern
rights in quest of subjugating or killing the Southern people.
And what horrible crime was the South guilty of to warrant its
The people of the South were guilty of only wanting independence
for a government of their own choosing, a pro-Christian, God-based
government that safeguarded states rights, individual liberty
and put strict limits on the national government. This was the
type of government the founders established in 1776, and the South
was trying to preserve it as handed to them.
It was Abraham Lincoln, who is said to have cried the first time
he heard the abolitionist war song, and radicals like Mrs. Howe
who were the real revolutionaries. It was their forces who, by
brute force of arms, destroyed the original voluntary union of
sovereign, independent states at the cost of 620,000 dead Americans,
and changed the nation into an involuntary union of defeated, militarily
occupied, captive states.
In 1863, Mrs. Howe recited "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at
a gathering of fanatical abolitionists. One of those who saw and
heard her, commented, she had a "weird, penetrating voice." Considering
the bloody, ungodly history of her war song, what a chilling experience
that must have been.
In summary, here is a "hymn" celebrating the killing
of Southerners on Southern soil, written by someone involved in
the most radical causes of her day, who supported the most extreme
and violent response to the South, who wrote the song after being
inspired by the murderous career of John Brown and her Northern
vandal invaders of the South. Whenever "The Battle Hymn of
the Republic" is played, five innocent men hacked to death
by the "terrible swift sword" of John Brown should be
remembered. It is also a dirge for the 620,000 Americans who died
in the War for Southern Independence and which war transformed
America into a despotic centralized state with practically unlimited
What meaning does the song have for the South today?
It is, in effect, a "stealth" heritage attack. It is
conditioning Southerners to accept the Yankee myth of history that
their ancestors were wrong, and their Northern "betters" were
right and they should be glad 260,000 Southrons were slaughtered
in the War for Southern Independence. The message of the song is, "Believe
in Mrs. Howes almighty centralized government to tell you
what is right and what is wrong." Dont listen to the
founders of 1776 or 1861, is the message of this hymn. Yes, Mrs.
Howes abolitionist hymn is still doing her work, quietly
and covertly, of destroying Southern heritage by conditioning Southerners
to accept her fanatically leftist cultural and religious philosophy.
How ironic that such a joyous traditional Southern song as "Dixie" is
now all but banned throughout the South, while a vicious Anti-Southern
war song such as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is
sung in churches and patriotic ceremonies all over the Confederate
What meaning does it have for the Church?
Did Jesus Christ teach that God is a vengeance seeking, sword-wielding
maniac that slaughters innocents and tramples people under His
wrathful feet, as Mrs. Howes violent and bloody lyrics would
have you believe? No, such lyrics dont fit in with any Christian
liturgy Im familiar with. They do fit in the theology of
radical egalitarianism which says everyone must be equal in all
aspects of life, or the full force and power of the federal government
will destroy you. It also fits in the philosophy of giving to the
government god-like powers to declare a whole segments of humanity
as non-persons, such as the unborn, who can then be legally slaughtered
by the millions at the whim of the mother and abortionist.
If Americans truly care about individual liberty, limited, constitutional
government, and the sacred right of self-government of the people
in their states assembled, then all such false icons as "The
Battle Hymn of the Republic" must be exposed and rejected.
For further reading, I suggest:
"The Secret Six: The True Tale of the
Men Who Conspired with John Brown," by Edward J. Reunion
Jr. (New York, 1995)
The Secret Six: John Brown and the Abolitionist
Otto Scott (Murphy, Calf., 1993)
"The Singing Sixties: The Spirit of the Civil War Days
Drawn from the Music of the Times" by Willard A
and Porter W. Heaps (Norman, Okra., 1960)
"Notable American Women 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary" Vol.
11, Article on Julia War Howe, (Cambridge, Mass.)
"The Encyclopedia of Religion" Vol. 15&16,
Article on Unitarians, (New York, 1995).
" I do not believe in battles ending this war. You may plant
a fort in every district of the South, you may take possession
of her capitals and hold them with your armies, but you have not
begun to subdue her people. I know this seems like absolute barbarian
conquest, I allow it, but I do not believe there will be any peace
until 347,000 men of the South are hanged or exiled. (Cheers)....in
a speech by Wendell Phillips in Rad Repub Rev Beecher's church.
While the jaunty southern air, Dixie, is frowned
upon, we are urged to rejoice in the pumping, tramping sounds of
the Battle Hymn of the Republic ~ the song that accompanied
the gruesome work of the Yankee and his Terrible, Swift,
Sword. I don’t know what a “battle hymn” is.
I know what a battle is, and I know what a hymn is, but somehow
I never did connect the two. Here, in the South, we sing hymns
to God and pray that we can stay out of battles. I guess we just
don’t share the Yankee appreciation of war; nor understand the
allegorical message of hate that Mrs. Howe so cunningly disguised.
Mrs. Howe’s lyrics emphasizes the largely believed notion the
only way to achieve victory over the South was kill its citizens
and their soldiers. She simply applied the lyrics to the music
of John Brown’s Body, a marching tune favored by
Northerners, blaming the Lord with issuing the grisly order to
go forth and kill. John Brown, a crazed murderer, may have been
an inspiration for the North, we Southerners hung him!
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
I have seen him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps,
etc. It is blasphemous, gory, and profane, and credit
must be given to church choirs who remove it from their repertoire
upon learning of its irreverent symbolism.
Mrs. Howe intended it to spur the Northern soldiers
into trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath
are stored”, and this means trample out the South. The
bleeding purple of the wine vat was the blood of southerners. What’s
more she incites Yankee soldiers, aided by God himself, to wreak
vengeance on the South with the fierce lightning of his terrible,
A more bloodthirsty song was never written! First, Mrs. Howe crams
Southerners into a wine vat and tramples them to a bloody pulp.
Then, we are to be hacked through and through with the terrible
swift sword of ~ yes indeed ~ God himself.
The Battle Hymn of the Republic is now sung, North
and South, as the ultimate paean of true American soul. In
the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea, with
a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me; as he died to
make men holy, let us die to make men free, as we go marching on.
Southerners being from the Bible Belt, can’t help but know that
men cannot be transfigured. The Transfiguration of the Holy Mount
happened only to Jesus. Her words, however, imply that crushing
Southerners may have the same beatifying results.
No wonder the gray-clad boys wished they were in the land of cotton!
....by David Wright (excerpts from "The Last Rebel Yell" by
Michael Andrew Grissom
Suggested Reading: "From
Godly Inspiration To Human Desecration - An Analysis of the Battle
Hymn of the Republic" by
Rev. Fr. Alister C. Anderson.
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