Independent Baptist Songs: Hold the Fort by Philip P. Bliss

philip p bliss

Philip P. Bliss

From time to time, I plan to post lyrics from the songs we sang in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches I grew up in and pastored. Unbelievers and non-Fundamentalists might find some of these lyrics quite interesting, and, at times, funny or disturbing. Enjoy!

Today’s Independent Baptist Song is Hold the Fort by Philip P. Bliss. I was able to find a video of this song being sung by the Cleveland Baptist Church congregation.

Hold the Fort was a favorite in the churches I pastored, and it was also a favorite at camp meetings and preachers meetings. Militaristic songs are quite common in IFB circles. One word I never paid attention years ago was Bliss’ use of the word comrades. Today, the word comrades is associated with communism or socialism. I wonder how the song and the use of this word is perceived in IFB churches.

When the churches I pastored sung this song, we would stand, sing lustily, and when we came to the line in the refrain that said “Wave the answer back to Heaven” we held our King James Bibles high and waved them towards Heaven (or the auditorium ceiling), signaling to Jesus that we were on the battle line, with sword in hand, waging war against Satan and sin.

According to the Explore Southern History website, Hold the Fort was inspired by a Civil War battle, The Battle of Allatoona Pass.

The Battle of Allatoona Pass was fought in Bartow County, Georgia, on October 5, 1864. It was signals sent before the first gun was fired, however, that inspired one of America’s most beloved Christian hymns.

“Hold the Fort!” was written in 1870 by Philip Paul Bliss, an evangelist and composer, after he heard the story of the Union defense of Allatoona Pass told in a Sunday School class. The use of signal flags to send messages from Kennesaw Mountain near Atlanta to the threatened garrison holding Allatoona Pass was held forth as an example of how Jesus Christ signals Christians to hold strong to their beliefs, for “He is coming.”

The meeting attended by Bliss took place in Rockford, Illinois, on a Thursday and Friday, April 28-29, 1870. Among the speakers was Major Daniel Webster Whittle, who told how on the day before the battle, General William Tecumseh Sherman had sent messages by signal flag to urge the garrison at Allatoona to hold out.

Whittle remembered the message as saying, “Hold the Fort; I am coming!”

His telling of the story so inspired Bliss that he based a hymn [Hold the Fort] on the story of Allatoona
Pass.

….

Philip Paul Bliss and Daniel Webster Whittle traveled through great areas of the country over the years that followed the publication of “Hold the Fort!”

They served as traveling evangelists, speaking to crowds large and small and carrying the story of the signals to Allatoona Pass and the song with them.

In 1876, they actually visited Georgia and climbed to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. There they saw the ruins of the Civil War signal tower and in the distance could see the Allatoona Mountains.

It was a moving moment for both men and after kneeling in prayer, they sang “Hold the Fort” together. Bliss told a friend that he almost expected to see Jesus returning in the sky at that moment.

Hold the Fort by Philip P. Bliss

Ho, my comrades, see the signal, waving in the sky!
Reinforcements now appearing, victory is nigh.

Refrain:
“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!

See the glorious banner waving! Hear the trumpet blow!
In our Leader’s Name we triumph over every foe.

Fierce and long the battle rages, but our help is near;
Onward comes our great Commander, cheer, my comrades, cheer!

Video Link

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3 Comments

  1. ObstacleChick

    Bruce, do you know if this song was sung in southern churches? (I am guessing no). I ask because I thought I knew the majority of hymns but don’t know that one. It wasn’t sung in my Southeen Baptist church and wasn’t sung at the Christian school I attended which was founded by IFB administrators and teachers.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I suspect some Southern churches might sing it, not understanding the historical connection. I remember singing the song at a camp meeting in Oglethorpe, Georgia. Most Christians are totally disconnected from the history behind the songs they sing.

      Reply
  2. mary g

    why are hymns always about war/battle/blood? I remember thinking this was weird,even as a kid. my non churched friends who visited our church got me thinking even more as they all said this is weird.

    Reply

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