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Fifth Grade - Literature - March - Overview

This month in literature, the students read two poems that complement their study of the Civil War in American History: "Barbara Frietchie" by John Greenleaf Whittier and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" by Julia Ward Howe. Students are also taught a lesson on Frederick Douglass' Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written By Himself, a slave narrative that illustrates the conditions of slavery, one of the causes of the Civil War. Use the lesson on Frederick Douglass after American History Lesson 25. The novel students are introduced to, Little Women, also takes place at the time of the Civil War, though no reference to the War is made in the excerpt students read. Three sayings are covered this month: To eat crow; At the eleventh hour; and Lock, stock and barrel.

Fifth Grade - Literature - Poetry - The Battle Hymn of the Republic

Objectives

Read the poem "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Identify images and language the poet uses that combine God and war.
Listen to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" being sung.
Visualize troops marching while singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Materials
One copy for each student of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (attached)
Tape, record or CD containing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (optional)

Suggested Books

Student Reference:

Canon, Jill. Civil War Heroines. Santa Barbara, CA: Bellerophon Books, 1993. This is actually a coloring book (designed for older children) that contains biographical information to accompany the illustrations of Civil War heroines. There is a full-page drawing of Julia Ward Howe on page 21, and interesting information on how she was inspired to write "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Hirsch, E.D. What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Contains a copy of the poem and biographical information on Julia Ward Howe.

Teacher Resource:

Harmon, William, edited by. The Top 500 Poems. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" can be found on page 688, along with biographical information on Julia Ward Howe.
 

Suggested Audio-Visual Materials

Buck, Dennis. "Patriotic Songs and Marches." Long Branch, NJ: Kimbo Educational, 9125C, 1991. This tape contains an instrumental version of the song on side B.

Eric Rogers Chorale. "America Sings." London: Decca Record Company, SP44035. This is a record album that contains a copy of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" being sung.

"More Songs and Music from Gettysburg." Turner Pictures, Inc., 73138-35664-4, 1994. This tape contains an instrumental version of the song that you might wish to use for accompaniment when students sing.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir. "Songs of the Civil War and Stephen Foster Favorites." New York: Sony Music Entertainment Inc., MDK 48297, 1992. This CD contains a beautiful version of the hymn being sung.
 

Teacher Background

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) wrote the words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" early in the Civil War. She intended for them to be sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body," which was an antebellum song about the abolitionist leader, who was hanged in 1859. With her husband, Samuel G. Howe, Julia Ward Howe edited an antislavery newspaper. In addition to being an abolitionist, she was an active writer and lecturer in support of women's rights.

The words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" were published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. This battle hymn has been associated with the Union side of the War, though over time the partisan significance has dwindled.

Note that the poem has been printed twice on the attached sheet; this is so that when copying it, you can save paper by cutting the duplicates apart to distribute to students. The study of this poem coincides with the study of the Civil War in American History this month; use what the students have learned in history class to put the poem into context and to enrich their understanding.

Procedure

Begin today's lesson by asking students if, when traveling, they have sung to pass the time. Tell students that in November 1861, that is just what Julia Ward Howe (write this name on the board) was doing. She had been on a picnic lunch with friends outside Washington D.C. While eating, they watched Union troops perform maneuvers. On the way back to Washington, Julia Ward Howe's carriage was among many in a traffic jam. She began to sing a popular army song about an abolitionist named John Brown, called "John Brown's Body." The Union soldiers marching back to Washington alongside the carriages sang along with her. One of the other carriage passengers suggested to Julia that she write some good new words to the stirring tune. Julia, who was a writer and an abolitionist, said she had often thought of doing so, but that no new words had come to mind.

Early the next morning Julia lay in her hotel bed in Washington. She could hear the Union troops marching outside her window. Suddenly, new lines for the song came to her, and she got out of bed to write them down before she forgot them. She found an old pen and a sheet of her husband's stationery and began writing the lines in the form of a poem. The poem, titled "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," (write the title on the board) was published in a well-read magazine in February 1862. Union soldiers who heard the words were inspired by them and began to sing them to the tune of "John Brown's Body." Though "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" became perhaps the most popular marching song for Union soldiers, Julia Ward Howe meant it primarily as a call to end slavery.

Distribute the poem and tell students that as you read it to them, they should follow along and look for the line that most obviously reveals the poet's intention to plea for an end to slavery. Read the poem and ask: What line might have inspired Union soldiers to give their lives to end slavery? ("let us die to make men free")

Direct students' attention to the title of the poem. Ask: What unusual combination of subjects do you see in the title? ("Battle" and "Hymn") Tell students that in the poem, the poet does indeed combine God and war. Divide students into cooperative groups of four or five and assign each group a stanza. Instruct students to examine their stanza, using a dictionary if necessary, and pick out of the stanza the lines, phrases or words the poet uses to mesh the images of God and war. In other words, how does the poet make it seem that God is involved in the war effort? Allow groups approximately ten minutes to examine their assigned stanzas, then reconvene as a class. Ask each group, beginning with the groups who were assigned the first stanza, to share the words, phrases and lines that unite God and war. (Possible answers are listed below.)

Stanza One: He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on

Stanza Two: I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps; His day is marching on

Stanza Three: He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; Our God is marching on

Stanza Four: While God is marching on

Tell students that in keeping with these blended themes of God and war, Julia Ward Howe has described God in the poem not as kind and merciful, but as someone who is angry over the sins (primarily slavery) of man and is seeking justice. Ask: What lines and phrases does Howe use to describe God this way? (He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; His righteous sentence; He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgement-seat) If necessary, explain to students that the word "sentence" in this context means a punishment meted out, as when a criminal gets a prison sentence. The second line of the poem might also require some explanation. Tell students that the poet is comparing God's anger (wrath) to grapes. When grapes are ripe, they are pressed into wine. Howe is saying that God's anger has been growing and is now mature and strong; he is ready to act upon it the way a wine-maker would press grapes into a vintage wine.

Ask: How might Union soldiers have felt to believe that God was marching beside them, as the song implies? (Answers will vary.) Tell students that they will now hear "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" being sung. As they listen, they should close their eyes and visualize the image of Union soldiers marching and singing the song. Play for students one of the sung recordings listed above. If none is available, play one of the instrumental versions and teach students to sing along with it. If that is not feasible either, sing the song yourself to students or enlist the help of a music teacher or someone else musically inclined.

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" by Julia Ward Howe

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgement-seat;
Oh be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free;
While God is marching on.
 

Fifth Grade - Literature - Poetry - Barbara Frietchie

Objectives

Read the poem "Barbara Frietchi