Hymn History: Hold the Fort - Enjoying the Journey
“ And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” – Revelation 22:12
We are thrilled to share a series of brief accounts of how some of the great hymns of our faith were written. Each synopsis has been compiled through the research of Jerry Vargo and is shared by permission. It is our hope that these stories will be a help and encouragement to your Christian walk. This week we read the story behind a mighty hymn, “Hold The Fort”.
This hymn was written by Philip P. Bliss after hearing an action packed Civil War story by Major Daniel W. Whittle. After earning rank of Major, during the Civil War, Whittle became an evangelist doing similar work as D. L. Moody. Philip Bliss was the song leader for Major Whittle and travelled with him in all of his meetings until Bliss was killed in a train wreck.
This historical incident was related by Major Whittle at a Sunday-school meeting in Rockford, Illinois, in May, 1870:
Just before General Sherman of the Union Army began his famous march to the sea in 1864, his army lay camped in the neighborhood of Atlanta. On the 5th of October, the army of Confederate General Hood, in a carefully prepared movement, passed the right flank of Sherman’s army. They gained his rear, and commenced with the destruction of the railroad leading north, burning blockhouses and capturing the small garrisons along the line. Sherman’s army was put in rapid motion pursuing Hood, to save the supplies and larger posts; the principal post was located at Altoona Pass. General Corse, of Illinois, was stationed here with about fifteen hundred men with Colonel Tourtelotte being second in command. A million and a half rations were stored here, and it was vital that the earthworks commanding the pass and protecting the supplies should be held.
Six thousand men, under command of Confederate General French, were detailed by Hood to take the position. The works were completely surrounded and summoned to surrender. Corse refused and a sharp fight commenced. The defenders were slowly driven into a small fort on the crest of the hill. Many had fallen, and the result seemed to render a prolongation of the fight hopeless. At this moment, an officer caught sight of a white signal flag far away across the valley, twenty miles distant, upon the top of Kenesaw Mountain. The signal was answered, and soon the message was waved across from mountain to mountain:
“Hold the fort; I am coming. W. T. Sherman.” Cheers went up; every man was nerved to a full appreciation of the position; under murderous fire, which killed or wounded more than half the men in the fort—Corse (himself being shot three times through the head) had Tourtelotte (though himself badly wounded) take command — they held the fort for three hours until the advance guard of Sherman’s army came up. French was then obliged to retreat.
After telling the story, Major Whittle made the application. This is an illustration of our spiritual conflict, of the need to remain faithful to our charge, and continue on until Christ comes again. Christians should not be dismayed by Satan and his power – we have the promise that Jesus Christ is coming again!
Mr. Bliss was present at the Sunday school meeting when Major Whittle told this story, and the song Hold the Fort was at once born in his mind. The next day, Whittle and Bliss held a meeting in the Young Men’s Christian Association rooms in Chicago. Bliss went on the platform and wrote the chorus of this hymn on the blackboard. There, he sang the verses for the first time in public, and the audience joined in the chorus. Soon after, he had it published in sheet form.
Hold the Fort:
1. Ho, my comrades, see the signal, waving in the sky!
Reinforcements now appearing, victory is nigh. [Refrain]
[Refrain] “Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”
2. See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on,
Mighty ones around us falling, courage almost gone! [Refrain]
3. See the glorious banner waving, Hear the trumpet blow!
In our Leader’s Name we triumph over every foe. [Refrain]
4. Fierce and long the battle rages, but our help is near,
Onward comes our great Commander, cheer, my comrades, cheer! [Refrain]