Hold the Fort

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Hold the Fort  (1870) 
by Philip Paul Bliss
Hold the Fort is an 1870 hymn based on an event in the civil war. See a music file for the hymn.
Major Whittle relates the following incident, upon which the song is founded:

During October, 1864, just before General Sherman commenced his famous march to the sea, while his army lay camped in the neighborhood of Atlanta, the army of Hood, in a carefully perpared movement, passed the right flank of Sherman’s army, and gaining his rear, commenced the destruction of the railroad leading north, burning block houses and capturing the small garrisons along the line. Sherman’s army was put in rapid motion following Hood, to save the supplies and larger posts, the principal of which was located at Altoona Pass, a defile in the Altoona range of mountains, through which ran the railroad. Gen. Corse, of Illinois, was stationed here with a Brigade of troops, composed of Minnesota and Illinois regiments, in all about 1,500 men; Col. Tourtelotte being second in command. A million and a half of rations were stored here, and it was highly important that the earthworks commanding the Pass and protecting the supplies should be held. Six thousand men, under command of Gen. French were detailed by Hood to take the position. The works were completely surrouded and summoned to surrender. Corse refused, and sharp fighting commenced. The defenders were slowly driven into a small fort upon 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, fifteen 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 the full appeciation 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, Col. 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.

No incident of the war illustrates more thrillingly the inspiration imparted by the knowledge of the presence of the Commander; and that he is cognizant of our position; and that, doing our utmost, he will supplant our weakness by speedy reinforcements. So the message of Sherman to the soldiers of Altoona becomes the message of the Great Commander, who signals ever to all who fight life’s battle, “Hold the Fort.”


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Ho! my comrades, see the signal
   Waving in the sky!
Reinforcements now appearing,
   Victory is nigh!

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
   Jesus signals still,
Wave the answer back to Heaven,—
   “By Thy grace, we will.”

See the mighty host advancing,
   Satan leading on;
Mighty ones around us falling,
   Courage almost gone.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
   Jesus signals still,
Wave the answer back to Heaven,—
   “By Thy grace, we will.”

See the glorious banner waving,
   Hear the bugle blow;
In our Leader’s name we’ll triumph
   Over ev’ry foe.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
   Jesus signals still,
Wave the answer back to Heaven,—
   “By Thy grace, we will.”

Fierce and long the battle rages,
   But our Help is near;
Onward comes our Great Commander,
   Cheer, my comrades, cheer!

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
   Jesus signals still,
Wave the answer back to Heaven,—
   “By Thy grace, we will.”

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.