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A Fiery Gospel: How the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” changed America

The “Battle Hymn” became the leading anthem of the Union cause and would emerge as one of the most enduring works of art of the Civil War years. Meanwhile, the tale of the poem’s composition—one of the great creation stories in American letters—became nearly as famous as the poem itself; it became, in a sense, an inextricable part of the poem. The millennial meanings attached to the hymn, with its portrayal of Union forces—God’s “terrible swift sword”—as apocalyptic agents, and the account of the hymn’s origins fed off each other. Together, they encouraged a sense of providential national identity deeply seductive to American audiences—then and now.

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