Hold the Fort


(picture of William T. Sherman)


“Hold fast till I come” (Rev. 2:25)

     INTRO.:  A song which exhorts us to hold fast until Jesus comes is “Hold the Fort” (#234 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written and the tune was composed both by Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876).  Born at Clearfield County, PA, he went in 1864 to Chicago, IL, in the employ of Dr. George F. Root, the musician, where he was engaged in conducting musical institutes, and in composing Sunday School melodies.  Later he joined Daniel W. Whittle in evangelical work. Bliss produced “Hold the Fort” in 1870 after hearing Whittle relate an incident from the American Civil War.  Just before William Tecumseh Sherman began his famous march to the sea in 1864, and while his army lay camped in the neighborhood of Atlanta, GA, on the 5th of October, the army of Confederate General Hood, in a carefully prepared movement, passed the right flank of Sherman’s army, gained his rear, and commenced 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 one of which was located at Altoona Pass where General Corse of Illinois was stationed with about fifteen hundred men, Colonel Tourtelotte being second in command.

Six thousand men under command of 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; and under a murderous fire, which killed or wounded more than half the men in the fort, Corse himself being shot three times through the head, and Tourtelotte taking command, though himself badly wounded, they held the fort for three hours until the advance guard of Sherman’s army came up and French was obliged to retreat.

The song was first published in Bliss’s Gospel Songs of 1874.  Two years later, Bliss’s death occurred in a railway disaster at Ashtabula, OH. He escaped from the car, but lost his life when he went back in trying to save his wife. Not long before his death, Bliss once told Ira D. Sankey that he hoped that he would not be known to posterity only as the author of “Hold the Fort,” for he believed that he had written many better songs. However, when Sankey attended the dedication of the Bliss monument, at Rome, PA, he found these words inscribed: “P. P. Bliss, Author of “Hold the Fort.”  Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, to my knowledge this song has appeared only in the 1956 Sacred Selections edited by Ellis J. Crum.

The song pictures the Christian’s life as a battle.

I.  Stanza 1 discusses the signal

Ho! my comrades, see the signal,

Waving in the sky!

Reinforcements now appearing,

Victory is nigh!

  1. The signal represents the promise of Jesus: Matt. 28:20
  2. He brings reinforcements because those with Him are called, chosen, and faithful: Rev. 17:14
  3. As a result, His people are assured of victory: 1 Jn. 5:4

II. Stanza 2 discusses the enemy

See the mighty host advancing,

Satan leading on;

Mighty men around us falling,

Courage almost gone.

  1. The mighty host advancing is the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places: Eph. 6:10-12
  2. Our great enemy is Satan who leads them on: 1 Pet. 5:8-9
  3. The fact that many might men around are falling could refer to either those who are passing away or to those who are falling from grace due to error or sin: Gal. 5:4

III. Stanza 3 discusses the banner

See the glorious banner waving,

Hear the bugle blow;

In our Leader’s Name we triumph

Over every foe.

  1. The banner represents the Lord’s leadership over His people: Ps. 60:4
  2. The blowing of the bugle is the call to arms in the fight of faith: 1 Tim. 6:12
  3. As we follow and fight in the Lord’s name, we shall be more than conquerors: Rom. 8:35-37

IV. Stanza 4 discusses the Commander

Fierce and long the battle rages,

But our help is near;

Onward comes our great Commander,

Cheer, my comrades, cheer!

  1. Fierce and long the battle will rage as we wage the good warfare: 1 Tim. 1:18
  2. But our help is our great Commander, the Captain of our salvation: Heb. 2:10
  3. Therefore, even in tribulation we may be of good cheer: Jn. 16:33

CONCL.:  The chorus encourages us to be steadfast and wait for His help.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”

Jesus signals still,

Wave the answer back to Heaven,

“By Thy grace we will.”

Our lives as Christians are often described as a great spiritual warfare in which Satan and his hosts are the attacking enemy, Christ is our Commander, and our responsibility is to “Hold the Fort.”