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Battle Hymn of the Republic

posted May 28, 2014, 9:12 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Nov 15, 2014, 8:11 AM ]
In the early days of the Civil War, John Brown's Body was a wildly popular song. Borrowed
from an old Methodist hymn, Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us?, both Union and Confederate soldiers sang it with their own version of lyrics. But Rev. James Freeman Clarke challenged his friend Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, to write a version with more uplifting words. Her text first appeared on the front page of the Atlantic Monthly in February, 1862. The editor paid her $5 for it, and named it the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

It's usually heard at the national conventions of both the Republican and Democratic Parties. In 1960 the Mormon Tabernacle Choir won a Grammy Award with it for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus, reaching #13 on Billboard's Hot 100. Judy Garland sang it on her television show in December, 1963 to honor the recently assassinated John F. Kennedy. It was also played at the funerals of Sir Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan. It was played in September, 2001 at the Washington National Cathedral and at St. Paul's Cathedral in London during memorial services for the victims of the 9/11 attacks. The Marine Corps Band performed it when Pope Benedict XVI was greeted on the South Lawn of the White House by President George W. Bush in 2008. And the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sang it at Barack Obama's Second Presidential Inauguration Ceremony last year.

Words from the first verse gave John Steinbeck's wife the title of his 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath. The title of John Updike's In the Beauty of the Lilies also came from this song. Lyrics appear frequently in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches; and in his final sermon I've Been to the Mountaintop, delivered in Memphis, TN the night before his assassination. In fact, his last public words were
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!