In February 1862 the text of this famous hymn was first published in a magazine called Atlantic Monthly. The text was written by the American social rights activist Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910). Howe wrote the song at the height of the civil war, and it was intended as a song for the troops fighting on the Republican side. The text shows influences of pre-existing words sung in the USA, for example ‘John Brown’s Body’ and ‘Oh Brothers will you meet me on Canaan’s happy shore?’ The refrain ‘Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!’ taken and modified from ‘Oh Brothers’ was added to Howe’s text around 1874. The text and tune have always been associated with each other. The combination is stirring and it is this that has made it a popular hymn not just in the United States but around the world. It has been sung at several funerals for prominent figures. Winston Churchill requested it be sung at his funeral, which it was in 1965 at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, and it was also sung at Ronald Reagan’s funeral in Washington National Cathedral in 2004.
The hymn is once again associated with both St Paul’s and Washington National Cathedral as in 2001 it was sung at both places during the memorial services for those who died in the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001.