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Child: Who was Julia Howe?

Mother: She was a woman from the Sanitary Service who believed there were two great goals in life, one was peace, and the other was equality. In 1862, President Lincoln invited Julia to come to Washington to show the Civil War troops how to be more clean, in order to stop the spread of disease. As she walked through the squalor of the encampments and passed from one campfire to the next, she heard the soldiers singing a song about abolitionist John Brown. James Clarke, who knew of Julia's poems, asked her to come up with a poem that would be more appropriate for the soldiers to sing.

 

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
He is tramping out the winepress where the grapes of wrath are stored.
He hath loosed the fateful lightnings of his terrible swift sword.
His truth is marching on.

 

Child: I wonder how she came up with the words?

Mother: Julia had always been a free thinker and even though her husband felt that married women should only stay home and raise kids, Julia felt women should be involved in doing work for the betterment of all people. That night as she mingled through the encampments the words to a poem began to form. She went to bed that night and when she awoke she found a pen and an old scrap of paper and began writing the words so as not to forget them.

 

I have seen Him in the watchfires of an hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps.
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps.
His day is marching on.

 

Child: If she believed in peace, then why did she write a song about war?

Mother: Listen to the words, maybe people aren't really understanding what the words mean.

 

I have read a burning Gospel writ in fiery rows of steel.
As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal.
Let the hero born of woman crush the serpent with His heel.
Our God is marching on.

 

Child: What is a contemner?

Mother: I think she is saying that if you fight honorably and honestly against that which is bad or evil then God will be gracious to you. Maybe the serpent is war itself.

 

He has sounded out the trumpet that shall never call retreat.
He has walked the earth's dull sorrow with a high ecstatic beat.
Oh! Be swift my soul to answer Him, be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on.

 

Child: What is 'high ecstatic beat'?

Mother: She is saying be happy as you work for the betterment of people. All the country was fighting, brother against brother, and it was a time of upheaval and pessimism.

 

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave.
He is wisdom to the mighty, he is succor to the brave.
So the world shall be his footstool, and the soul of time his slave.
Our God is marching on.

 

Child: Will it ever happen again, a war of brother against brother?

Mother: Some say we are all brothers.


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