HOWE, Julia Ward (1819-1910)
Autograph manuscript signed, the complete five stanzas of the Battle Hymn of the Republic
[No place]: 4 August 1900. 1p., single small folio sheet. [WITH:] Battle Hymn of the Republic. [Boston:] Published by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments, . 1p. Approx. 9 1/2 x 6 inches.
Housed in a blue morocco box.
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord..."
In November 1861, Julia Ward Howe accompanied her husband Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, a member of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, and a small party of volunteers to visit Washington in order to see first-hand the condition of Massachusetts's troops guarding the nation's capital. On the outskirts of the city, they passed numerous small groups on picketing duty, each alight with watch-fires, the camps encircling the city. Howe would later write: "I distinctly remember that a feeling of discouragement came over me as I drew near the city of Washington. I thought of the women of my acquaintance whose husbands were fighting our great battle." Arriving after a long journey, the party settled at Willard's Hotel, in the heart of the city, amidst the great movement of soldiers, horses, ambulances, the wounded and the dead. After several days touring the city's hospitals, upon the arrangement of Governor Andrew, the party met at the Executive Mansion with President Abraham Lincoln. "I remember well," Howe would later write, "the sad expression of Mr. Lincoln's deep blue eyes, the only feature of his face which could be called other than plain ... The President was laboring at this time under a terrible pressure of doubt and anxiety." Days later, Howe travelled outside the city for a review of troops. Describing her return, she would later recount: "For a long distance the foot soldiers nearly filled the road. They were before and behind, and we were obliged to drive very slowly. We presently began to sing some of the well-known songs of the war, and among them: 'John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave.' This seemed to please the soldiers ... and themselves took up the strain. Mr. [James Freeman] Clarke said to me, 'You ought to write some new words to that tune.' I replied that I often wished to do so." That popular Union marching song, celebrating Brown's 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry and his martyrdom, was set to the tune of William Steffe's camp meeting folk hymn. The song, however, would be twisted by Confederate troops, who sang their own version ("John Brown's a-hangin' on a sour apple tree"), perhaps explaining Howe's desire to compose new lyrics. "In spite of the excitement of the day," Howe continued in her description of the origins of the Battle Hymn, "I went to bed and slept as usual, but awoke 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 ... I lay down again and fell asleep, but not without feeling that something of importance had happened to me." After revising the hymn, including dropping a sixth stanza which she felt inferior and anti-climactic, Howe would submit it to the Atlantic Monthly, where it would be published in the February 1862 issue. Explaining her motivation and inspiration for penning the hymn, Howe would later write: "When the war broke out, the passion of patriotism lent its color to the religion of humanity in my own mind, as in many others, and a moment came in which I could say: Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord! -- and the echo which my words awoke in many hearts made me sure that many other people had seen it also." The Battle Hymn of the Republic would become the best-known song of the Civil War, arousing fervor as it was sung by the Union armies marching into battle. Equally, the words spread comfort and hope in the depths of despair to the wounded and captured. Howe's words would remain relevant, becoming the most recognized patriotic hymn of all time. The verse's themes of equality and liberty would be resonated by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. Complete transcripts of the hymn entirely in Howe's hand are very rare. Howe's daughter would write shortly after her mother's death: "My mother was called upon to copy the poem times without number. While she was very willing to write a line or even, upon occasion, a verse or two, she objected very decidedly ... to copying the whole poem. Always responsive to the requests of the autograph fiend, she felt that so much should not be asked of her." In the last half century, only five complete fair copies of the Battle Hymn of the Republic entirely written in Howe's hand have appeared at auction including copies in famed auctions such as the Sang sale, the Doheny sale and the Coyne sale. Also appearing at auction, in both the 1985 Middendorf sale and again in the Forbes collection was Howe's first version, hastily penned in the middle of the night in Willard's hotel before returning to sleep, recently selling at Christie's New York, 7 December 2012 for $782,500.
Cf. Julia Ward Howe, Reminiscences (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1900); Florence Howe Hall, The Story of the Battle Hymn of the Republic (New York and London: Harper, 1916).