Hymn Story: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory
Strife hung in the air throughout the American Civil War.
Wife and mother, Julia Ward Howe, heard the troops singing a song, John Brown’s Body. She was impressed with the catchy tune, but not the words. One day in November 1861, she and her husband traveled visiting the troops in Washington, DC. Her minister, Rev. James Freeman Clarke, was part of the traveling party and suggested she write better lyrics. So, Howe took his suggestion and penned the lyrics.
Howe stated “I awoke in the grey of the morning, and as I lay waiting for the 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 hymn was published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862 and soon the entire country was singing the new hymn.
It is reported that President Abraham Lincoln attended a rally, in which the hymn Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory was sung. He was moved by tears and cried out “sing it again”, to which the crowd complied.
The song “links the judgement of the wicked at the end of time with the American Civil War.”
The original text seems to date back to a “campfire spiritual.” William Steffe wrote the original tune sometime around 1856.
Sadly, this song seems to have intensified the Civil War in the Howe’s own marriage.
The hymn has since become a much loved Patriotic song. Rev. Carlton Young stated “the USA’s second and more singable national anthem.”
Julia Ward Howe died on October 17, 1910 at the age of 91.