Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History

Alternate Activity 1: The Battle Hymn of the Republic

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Handout 3, The Battle Hymn of the Republic
  • Copies of Singing the Living Tradition, the UUA hymnbook, for all participants
  • Optional: Musical accompaniment, recorded or live

Description of Activity

Share this background about the origin of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," from the online Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography:

On a trip to Washington in 1861, (Julia and Samuel Howe) went to watch a Union army review which was suddenly dispersed by a Confederate attack. On the way back to the city in their carriage surrounded by retreating troops, the Howe party began to sing patriotic songs, including the popular "John Brown's Body." James Freeman Clarke, one of the party, suggested to Julia that she write new and better lyrics for the tune. At the hotel late that night, the words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" began forming in her mind. Careful not to wake the children, she groped in the dark for pencil and paper and wrote the poem. In the morning she made only one or two changes. In February, 1862, The Atlantic published "The Battle Hymn," paying its author 5 dollars. Gradually the song caught on until it swept the North.

Pass out Handout 3, The Battle Hymn of the Republic and sing (with accompaniment, if possible) all of the verses. Discuss the lyrics by asking:

  • In what contemporary context have you heard this song?
  • What do you think about the religious references?
  • How might the song have been received differently in the era in which it was written?

Distribute Singing the Living Tradition and invite everyone to turn to Reading 573, "Mother's Day Proclamation." Have the group read it in unison, or invite a volunteer to read.

Follow with this quote from Howe about the creation of the poem:

I was visited by a sudden feeling of the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest. It seemed to me a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed. The question forced itself upon me, "Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?" I had never thought of this before. The august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities now appeared to me in a new aspect, and I could think of no better way of expressing my sense of these than that of sending forth an appeal to womanhood throughout the world, which I then and there composed... The little document, which I drew up in the heat of my enthusiasm, implored women, all the world over, to awake to the knowledge of the sacred right vested in them as mothers to protect the human life, which costs them so many pangs.

Discuss the difference between the Mother's Day poem and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic:"

  • What changed for Julia Ward Howe between 1861 and 1870?
  • How do you think her experience as a nurse in the Civil War affected her?