First published as an abolitionist (anti-slavery) hymn in The Atlantic Monthly in February of 1862. Lyrics written by Julia Ward Howe in November 1861. The tune was adapted from a popular Union marching song which went in part, “We will hang John Brown’s body from a sour apple tree”.
John Brown was an ardent abolitionist who advocated a slave rebellion in the south. Brown, along with eighteen others, attacked and captured the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The arsenal was held by Brown for two days, before being recaptured by US Marines under the command of Captain Robert E. Lee, soon to command the Army of Northern Virginia for the Confederacy. Brown was captured, tried for capital treason and hanged in Charleston, N. Carolina on Dec 2, 1862, along with four surviving members of his band.
His crimes were seen by the southern slave states as an act of the US government in cahoots with northern abolitionists. His rebellion was idealized by northern abolitionists. The John Brown affair was one of the contributing factors of the war between the states.
The first stanza of the ‘Battle Hymn’ goes:
“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”.
The American Civil War, 1861-1865, cost the lives of 620,000 men… many little more than boys. Some historians place the number much higher, citing incomplete or lost records and the very high number of missing, whose remains have not been found to this day. This war was fought on one side to divide the country and preserve slavery, and the other to preserve the Republic and the freedoms espoused in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Every American should read the lyrics of the battle hymn and reflect on the immense sacrifices of those men to keep this country united and the dream of freedom for all alive.
We are in an undeclared civil war. It’s not about slavery… though the ghosts of the past are with us, and there are those who would, for their own purposes and selfish personal gain, keep those wounds open and suppurating. This war is for the identity of our Republic and the futures of our children. It’s for your freedom and mine.
This war is against those domestic enemies who once again would divide Americans, given the chance. This war is against those foreign enemies, who serve a religion which worships death and practices slavery… it rules by fear and unspeakable cruelty, and seeks to destroy this country. This war is against those in our own government, who would enslave the very people they had been elected to serve.
The Patriots in this war are you and I, they are your families, friends and neighbors. The next three months are the key to victory in this war against those who hate this country and all it stands for.
Semper Vigilans, Semper Fidelis
© Skip MacLure 2010