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Battle Hymn of the Republic

       As Shira Wolosky states in Emily Dickinson: A Voice of War, "The Civil War deeply implicated the whole institution of religion in America. Its outbreak was marked with a call, not only from the government, but from the churches, for the country to stand or fall. The issues at stake were universal and spiritual rather than local and political only" (45). In Puritan theology, an event like the Civil War was a cross roads in the providential plan that pitted good against evil. One route led to perdition, the other salvation. The connection between the church and state in America during the Civil War was not a novel partnership; indeed much of the history of the Federal Government and America's governing instruments is tied to Puritan concepts and interpretations of God's laws as imparted to man.

       The "Battle Hymn of the Republic" is a prime example of how religious rhetoric and a sense of righteousness was used by the church to fuel public sentiment that war was not only inevitable, but necessary and part of God's plan. The language used in the hymn, such as "I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;" and "Let the hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel;" is the type of war rhetoric that infused sermons of the period.

       This battle piece was written by Julia Ward Howe after a visit to an encampment of the Union army. Its publication in the Atlantic Monthly in February of 1862 ensured it would reach a wide audience. It quickly became an anthem and rallying cry against Southern insurrection. Dickinson would most likely have read this piece as it appears in a publication that the household subscribed to, and one we know she read thoroughly because of her response to Higginson's "Letter to a Young Contributor" several months later.