Julia Ward Howe, a writer, lecturer, and antislavery reformer, was visiting a Union army camp near Washington, D.C., during the Civil War when she heard soldiers singing the song “John Brown’s Body,” which began with the words “John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave.” A clergyman who accompanied her suggested she write new lyrics to the tune. Howe went back to the Willard Hotel in Washington, and then, as she told it:
||I went to bed and slept as usual, but awoke the next morning in the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose . . . searched for an old sheet of paper and an old stub of a pen which I had had the night before, and began to scrawl the lines almost without looking.
Howe submitted her verses – which began “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” – to the Atlantic Monthly
, which accepted them and paid her a fee of four dollars. The magazine printed the lyrics on the first page of its February 1862 issue under the title “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
The song quickly became a favorite of the Union army. In the decades since, in times of war and peace, it has remained one of America’s most-loved hymns.