Howe, Julia Ward — Charles M. Jenckes [artist]
- The Battle Hymn of the Republic, illuminated by Charles M. Jenckes in watercolor and gouache. [New York: 1865-1869]
- paper, ink, paint
Matted and framed.
"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, to Washington in order to see first-hand the condition of Massachusetts's troops guarding the nation's capitol. 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, 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. 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.
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 three 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. The present manuscript is exceptional, being the only of the aforementioned to be illuminated. The illustrator, who has signed the final illustration with his initials, has been identified as Charles M. Jenckes.
Howe penned this autograph transcript for inclusion in an album of similar illustrated autographs, assembled between 1865 and 1870, which was sold in June 1870 to benefit the New York Women's Hospital. The album included contributions by Henry W. Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harriet Beecher Stowe and others, and each illustrated by noted artists of the day. The album was exhibited at the 1870 Sheltering Arms Bazaar and sold at auction by Leavitt & Co. on 4 June 1870.
Howe's words remain relevant as the most recognized patriotic hymn of all time. The verses's themes of equality and liberty would be taken up again a century later by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement.