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Julia Ward Howe and the Battle Hymn of the Republic by Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

Julia Ward Howe and the Battle Hymn of the Republic
by 
Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

For more than 150 years there has been a concerted, consistent teaching of the Northern Yankee interpretation, of what they call the “Civil War.” This effort has been met with great success. In the 1845 Noah Webster’s Dictionary, there are two words that we need to re-familiarize ourselves with: “➀ Propagandism: The art or practice of propagating tenets or principles. ➁ Propagandist: A person who devotes himself to the spread of any system of principles.” 1 This is what has taken place for these past 150 plus years. The practice of propagating tenets or principles of this so called Civil War. After all, we know well, to the victor, they have the privilege to interpret the history of this brutal war. They tell us they were the good guys.

From the book entitled “Famous Leaders Among Women,” published in 1895, we are told that “Julia Ward Howe has used her high social position and brilliant talents for the good of the world. She was born May 27, 1819, in a handsome home in Bowling Green, at that time the fashionable part of New York City. Her father, Samuel Ward [III], was a merchant and
banker of New York, of the firm of Prime, Ward, & King.” 2 Julia was the fourth of seven children Julia was the second of three daughters born to an upper middle class couple. Her father Samuel was a Wall Street stockbroker, a banker and a strict Calvinist. Her mother Julia Rush Cutler, the occasional poet died of tuberculosis when Julia was five 3 years old. The children of Samuel and Julia were
Samuel, Henry, “the first little Julia” who died at four years of age, Julia, Francis, Louisa and Ann. 4 

Julia’s education has been described that “Her first lessons were from governesses and masters; when she was nine years old, she was sent to a private school in the neighborhood. She was placed in a class with older girls, and learned by heart many pages of Paley’s ‘Moral Philosophy’; memorizing from textbooks formed in those days a great part of the school curriculum. ... At nine years old she was reading ‘Pilgrim's Progress,’ and seeking its characters in the people she met every day. She always counted it one of the books which had most influenced her. Another was Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,’ which she read at seventeen.” 5 It is easy to see that young Julia’s life has had many opportunities for her mind to expand learning about many cultures and peoples of the world. Even by sixteen she spoke French fluently. 6 

Then we are told that “Some years later, when the eldest son,
Samuel, returned from Europe, bringing with him a fine collection of books, Mr. Ward built a library specially for them. This was the house into which the family moved in 1835, Julia being then sixteen years of age; this was the house she loved, the memory of which was dear to her through all the years of her life.”

Now, to be sure, the trademarks for raising a child can be both a positive experience and negative experience. As already stated, Julia’s father Samuel was a strict Calvinist? Julia’s book entitled “Reminiscences, 1819-1899,” published in 1900, gives us her description of her father: “My father’s jealous care of us was by no means the result of a disposition tending to social exclusiveness. It proceeded, on the contrary, from an over-anxiety as to the moral and religious influences to which his children might become subjected. His ideas of propriety were very strict. He was, moreover, not only a strenuous Protestant, but also an ardent ‘Evangelical,’ or Low Churchman, holding the
Calvinistic views which then characterized that portion of the American Episcopal church.” 8 Also critical to the background in this narrative, is to be reminded that Julia’s mother Julia Culter Ward died in 1824, making her father’s influence, a dominated influence in Julia’s life, as well as her siblings. Samuel Ward was a strict Calvinist and fiercely protective them, establishing spiritual boundaries.
When the children’s father died in 1839, Julia was twenty years old – and after her brother Henry died in 1840, she turned to the religion of her upbringing, but that only repelled her all the more. Later she wrote, “I studied my way out of all the mental agonies
which Calvinism can engender and became a Unitarian.” 9 Julia was sent a sermon by William Ellery Channing, of Boston, and had a profound effect on her. Julia traveled Boston in 1841 and heard Channing preach and would later attend a Ralph Waldo Emerson lecture and had a conversation with Margaret Fuller, all of whom
were leading Unitarians. Also, in 1841, during Julia’s visit in Boston, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – and Charles Sumner took her to visit the New England Institute for the Blind 10 and met Laura Bridgman, who was a blind, deaf-mute student of Samuel Gridley Howe, who had become a
pioneer educator of children with multiple handicaps. 


Soon after they met, with Samuel, eighteen years Julia’s senior a courtship began and a “wedding, a quiet one, took place at Samuel Ward's house, on April 23, 1843” 11 “when she was in her twenty-fourth year.” 12 Their “first child was born, and named Julia Romana, after the city of her birth [Rome – March 12, 1841].” 13 They would have five more children: Florence Marion, Henry Marion, Laura Elizabeth, Maud, and Samuel, Jr. 

Julia became a poet and an author of several books in the area of
poetry, novels and biographies,  but of course the best known of here writings was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Now, we come back to the terms mentioned earlier in this writing – “propaganda: A person who devotes himself to the spread of any system of principles.” This term has been hammered over and over throughout the years. From the book entitled, “Famous Leaders Among Women,” published in 1895, we are told that “Julia Ward Howe has used her high social position and brilliant talents for the good of the world.” 14 Point is – Julia was a socialite and a woman of position and means, at this time in her life.

This anthem or hymn, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” was written in December of 1861 and was first published in the “Atlantic Monthly” in the month of February, 1862. It became a huge successful influence in the North and contributed in a major way to the development of the mind-set or attitude that many in the North had, when thinking of the Confederate South.
So, what could possible be the issue about this hymn that we need to be aware of? To know Julia’s new found religious belief in Unitarianism is to truly understand the directed meaning(s) of her
famous hymn. To begin with, Julia’ husband Samuel Gridley Howe, being a Unitarian as well was a member of the “The Secret Six,” also called the “Secret Committee of Six,” which was a group of men who secretly funded the 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry Federal Armory by abolitionist John Brown and eighteen other men and was squelched under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee. 

Also, it also needs to be noted on the system in which both Julia and Samuel handled their view of theology, the Study of God. When these fundamental are clarified, then we have a better understanding of the true meaning of the words and phrases in the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Unitarianism is the belief that God exists in one person and not three. In other words, they believe in a non-Trinitarian in their theology. An example of their view on the Trinity is told to us by S.
Fletcher Williams commenting in his book entitled, “Beliefs and Opinions of Unitarianism,”: “...they (Christians) believe that there is no one person embracing all the others and all of the Divine Nature that exclusively can be called God, but a Trinity, three persons who together constitute His oneness. We, on the other hand, in opposition to all such metaphysical distinctions—the last stage of the world's polytheism before it developed into the grand truth of monotheism,—we say one God, one Person, one Life, one centre and circumference of the whole vast range of being, above, below, without and within, now and forever.” 15 In other words, God is one entity and Christ is only human. Now we must stop and ask the question, “Is this the position of the Christian Church throughout the ages?” Historically, the Christian Church has always taught that the one God (Jehovah) reveals Himself as: the Creator and Lawgiver, through the office of Father; as the Redeemer through the office of Son and; as the source of grace through the office of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word is clear on this issue:

Isaiah 9:6 – “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” 16

Matthew 1:23 – “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” 17

Isaiah 44:24 – “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone.” 18 

John 1:1-4 – “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” 19 

I labored a bit here because the point is, Unitarians do not adhere to the Doctrine of the Trinity, as well as to the full divinity of Jesus Christ, which means, they reject the divinity of Christ. In Christian Systematic Theology, denying the full divinity of Jesus Christ quickly places Unitarianism in another category of a belief system. It is not and cannot come under the heading of Christianity. It is considered as heretical and starkly places Unitarians and their beliefs completely outside the theology of  Christianity.

As stated already Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was first in the format of a poem in early 1862, published in the month of February, less than a year into the war by the Atlantic Monthly and was paid five dollars. But for today we know it as the anthem/hymn that it became. In fact the tune had become famous in Union marching tunes such as, “John Brown’s Body Lies A Moulderin In The Grave and We’ll Hang Old Jeff Davis From A Sour Apple Tree.” 20 

Throughout the years and specifically today, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” occupies a prominent position within the programs of nearly every nationalistic celebration and has become a part of many Christian services and celebrations today. Honestly, the anthem tune sounds good but it is completely foreign from being a Christian hymn, in the true meaning of the term. The term “hymn” defined for us in the 1845 Webster’s Dictionary says this: “A song or ode in honor of God.” 21 More specifically in “The Illustrated Bible Dictionary” of 1908 it tells us this: “‘Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ are twice joined together by St. Paul (Eph.5.19: Col. 3.16), as if he were enumerating three distinct classes of composition. And no doubt there is in a general way a broad distinction between them. The essential feature of a psalm is that it is sung to instrumental music at times of private or public worship; that of a hymn that it ascribes praise to God; while a song (or ode) is of a more general nature, and implies anything uttered by the singing voice...” 22

Point is, by definition, a hymn is a song that ascribes praise to God, bringing theological truth into its text. Wonderful examples of Christian hymns are “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” by Martin
Luther – “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Chisholm – and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts. With this narrowed definition we can easily pinpoint Mrs Howe’s meaning of her hymn, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It is not about Christ “marching” against sin and it is not about the Church being “victorious” over evil. Many Christians throughout the years have heard the words of the song and have walked away with the image of a victorious Church. Never was that the intent of Mrs. Howe. This hymn is written with no desire for the Lord Jesus Christ to be seen as the center focus, whether as Lord or as Savior. Mrs Howe’s focus in this anthem are anti-Christian and anti-Biblical.

So, what are the meanings of the terms and phrases found in this anthem/hymn? Mrs Howe’s daughter’s, Laura Elizabeth Richards
and Maud Howe Elliott explains the interpretation of their mother’s song: “Waking in the gray of the next morning, as she lay waiting for the dawn, the word came to her. ... She lay perfectly still. Line by line, stanza by stanza, the words came sweeping on with the rhythm of marching feet, pauseless, resistless. She saw the long lines swinging into place before her eyes, heard the voice of the nation speaking through her lips. She waited till the voice was silent, till the last line was ended; then sprang from bed, and groping for pen and paper, scrawled in the gray twilight the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic.’” 23

To begin with, we can know that this “sudden wakening up” is not
identified as the work of the Spirit of God because she did not hold to the Doctrine of the Trinity. In other words, there is no office of the Holy Spirit which is the source of grace for mankind. There is no office of the Son, which is mankind’s redeemer. So, the only way the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” can be understood is within the framework of Mrs Howe’s belief system, found in the Transcendentalist-Unitarian creeds or tenants. 

Verse 1 of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”: 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.

Mrs Howe took from the apocalyptic judgment, found in Revelation 14:17-20 and Revelation 19:15, to depict the Confederate nation. In Revelation 14:17-20 it says, “17Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, "Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe." 19So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse's bridle, for 1,600 stadia.” 24 In Revelation 19:15 it says, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” 25 In Historical Christian Hermeneutics, these passages are attributed to and only to the Judgement Hand of God. Mrs Howe pictures these passages as the Union Army, not only as the instrument that would cause Southern blood to flow but also, that the Union Army is the very expression of “His terrible swift sword.” This phrase is a reference to Christ's sword and only Christ sword in Revelation 19:15. To the Transcendentalist-Unitarians, they believed that the evil in man,  could be rooted out by government action. Thus, the South was evil and thus, was deserving of judgment of the most extreme nature. 

Also, to attribute the phrase, “He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword – His truth is marching on” to the Union Army – is blasphemous, irreverent and worldly, giving the Union Army the divine power to judge? Understand, the Union Army marching is not God's truth personified, not when the Bible reserves that honor only for Jesus Christ in John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” 26 

Certainly, this was only the first verse but it does demonstrate the overview of the total hymn.  The message of the hymn is saturated with religious terms, intended to convince the people of the North that they were involved in a “holy war” for a righteous cause. Simply stated, it was used as a war propaganda tool by the Lincoln Administration for brainwashing the citizens of the North, that they might invade and destroy the South.

Endnotes

1  Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845), 647.

2 Sarah Knowles Bolton, Famous Leaders Among Women (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, Publishers, 1895), 272.

3 Laura E. Richards, Two Noble Lives: Samuel Gridley Howe, Julia Ward Howe (Boston: Dana Estes & Company, Publishers, 1911), 39.

4 Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Elliot, Julia Ward Howe 1819-1910, Volume 1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), 17-18.

5 Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Elliot, Julia Ward Howe 1819-1910, Volume 1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), 32-33.

6 Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Elliot, Julia Ward Howe 1819-1910, Volume 1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), 32.

7 Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Elliot, Julia Ward Howe 1819-1910, Volume 1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), 42.

8 Julia Ward Howe, Reminiscences, 1819-1899 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Company, 1900), 49.

9 Polly Peterson, Gail Forsyth-Vail, Stirring the Nation's Heart: Eighteen Stories of Prophetic Unitarians and Universalists of the Nineteenth Century (Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, 2010), 1.

10 Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Elliot, Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910, Volume 1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Company, 1915), 74.

11 Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Elliot, Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910, Volume 1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Company, 1915), 78.

12 Sarah Knowles Bolton, Famous Leaders Among Women (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, Publishers, 1895), 281.

13 Sarah Knowles Bolton, Famous Leaders Among Women (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, Publishers, 1895), 281.

14 Sarah Knowles Bolton, Famous Leaders Among Women (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, Publishers, 1895), 272.

15 S. Fletcher Williams, Beliefs And Opinions Of A Unitarian (London: British & Foreign Association, 1885), 226.

16 The Holy Bible, Updated New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 591.

17 The Holy Bible, Updated New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 819.

18 The Holy Bible, Updated New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 623.

19 The Holy Bible, Updated New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 903.

20 Mark Mayo Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary (New York: David McKay Company, 1959), 51.

21 Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845), 424.

22 William C. Piercy, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1908), 361.

23 Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Hall, Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910, Volume 1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1915), 187.

24 The Holy Bible, Updated New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 1054.

25 The Holy Bible, Updated New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 1057.

26 The Holy Bible, Updated New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 920.

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