He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword-
His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a 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.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat,
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
O be swift my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on!
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
In 1861, along with Massachusetts Governor Andrews and a Unitarian Church Pastor, Julia and her husband, Dr. Samuel Ward were invited to watch a military review of federal troops. Following the inspection, as the Howes were returning to the city of Washington, the streets were filled with soldiers singing "John Brown's Body", a song named for one who had been hung for his efforts to free the slaves. Pastor Clarke, also hearing this, said, "Why don't you write some decent words for that tune?" Here's her account of what happened next:
"I awoke in the grey of the morning, and as I lay waiting for dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to entwine themselves in my mind, and I said to myself, 'I must get up and write these verses, lest I fall asleep and forget them!' So I sprang out of bed and in the dimness found an old stump of a pen, which I remembered using the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper."
The words for this hymn were first published in the "The Atlanta Monthly" as the "Civil War Battle Song of the Republic".
Hat Tip: Dr Chadwick’s Hymn Backgrounds