In December 1861, during the first year of the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe traveled to Washington, D.C., with her husband and a group of friends. After going to see troops conducting maneuvers in the countryside, Howe and friends made their way back to the city amid soldiers marching homeward. To lift the spirits of the soldiers around them, Howe's party began singing army songs, one of which was "John Brown's Body." Howe had often wished to write different lyrics to this well-known tune.
Upon waking the next morning, words came to mind and Howe penned a poem that could be sung to the "Brown" tune. A short time later, she gave the lyrics to the editor of Atlantic Monthly magazine, who named the piece the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and published the song in February 1862.
As the Civil War progressed, Howe had all but forgotten about her published poem when she learned that the hymn had often been sung by war prisoners in the South and had become a popular song. Credited with writing a moving hymn, Julia Ward Howe
felt the source of her poem was the difficult and heroic struggle of the Civil War. Howe is also known for helping war widows who were struggling financially. She worked for equal opportunity for women in education as well as business.