Battle Hymn of the Republic
The complete text and a full-page image of Julia Ward Howe’s poem as it appeared in the February 1862 Atlantic.
On the morning of September 17, 1862, the day that would prove the bloodiest of the Civil War, Major General Ambrose Burnside ordered his Ninth Corps to attack General Robert E. Lee’s weakened right flank in the fields outside Sharpsburg, Maryland. A steep-banked creek, the Antietam, separated 12,000 Union troops from the gathered enemy, including several hundred Georgian troops—some of whom were lodged in trees, lashed to branches to help steady their aim. A three-arched stone bridge spanned the creek.
The larger set-piece battles at Antietam, which took place across acres of cornfields and woods, were diffuse, complicated, and often ambiguous in outcome. The clash at the creek was none of these. On one bank, Union soldiers. Above them, on the hill opposite, Confederate sharpshooters. Between them, a narrow bridge.
When the 11th Connecticut Regiment launched the first attack, attempting to ford the creek, its soldiers were cut down at once by the Georgians. Another Union attempt was made, a double-quick march toward the bridge. This was also a bloody failure. Finally, Brigadier General Edward Ferrero’s brigade, made up of the 51st Pennsylvania and the 51st New York, rushed the bridge. The Southerners, low on ammunition, retreated. The Union troops took the bluff. Dead Confederates littered the hill and hung in the trees. The Union dead and wounded numbered in the high hundreds. (In all, the Battle of Antietam would leave 23,000 Americans dead, wounded, or missing.)