Hold the Fort
DESCRIPTION: "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...." The "great Commander" will defeat Satan's "mighty host."
AUTHOR: Philip P. Bliss (1838-1876)
EARLIEST DATE: 1870 (sheet music published by S. Brainard's Sons, according to Silber-CivWarFull; it appeared in Bliss's collection _The Charm_ in 1871, according to Julian)
KEYWORDS: religious battle nonballad
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Silber-CivWarFull, pp. 358-359, "Hold the Fort" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-CivWarAbbr, pp. 82-83, "Hold the Fort" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 363, "Hold the Fort" (1 text)
Chautauqua Preachers' Quartette, "Hold The Fort" (Columbia A1585, 1914)
cf. "Hold the Fort (Union Version)"
Hold the Fort (Union Version) (File: PSAFB020)
Storm the Fort, Ye Knights (Darling-NAS, pp. 371-372)
Columbia's Daughters (by Harriet H. Robinson; Darling-NAS, p. 358)
The Bromsgrove Nailers (Jon Raven, _VIctoria's Inferno: Songs of the Old Mills, Mines, Manufacturies, Canals, and Railways_, Roadside Press, 1978, pp. 164-165)
NOTES: Inspired by, though hardly based on, a Civil War event (with a text perhaps suggested in part by Isaiah 13:2). After Atlanta had fallen to the Union, General Sherman set up a supply dump at Allatoona. General John Bell Hood, the Confederate commander who had lost Atlanta, decided to attack Sherman's communications. A Confederate force under General French attacked the base at Allatoona on October 5, 1864, and called upon Union General Corse to surrender. Soon after, General Sherman was said to have sent a simple message to Corse: "Hold the fort; I am coming." Corse held out, and Sherman's troops arrived in time to drive off French.
The battle itself was minor; Woodworth, p. 585, devotes only a paragraph to it, saying, "On October 5, major elements of Hood's army struck a Union garrison of slightly fewer than 2,000 men under the command of John Corse at Allatoona Pass. Corse's little band of Army of Tennessee troops.... succeeded in beating off a daylong series of assaults by several times their numbers of Confederates, inflicting ruinous casualties on the attackers. The approach of Sherman's main force finally compelled the Rebels to break off their efforts and withdraw." In total, there were just eight Union regiments of infantry and a battery of artillery involved (Phisterer, p. 194), from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois.
But, as Boatner says on p. 8, the action was "best known for a number of dramatic incidents associated with it."
The garrison was originally smaller, according to Boatner, p. 8 -- 860 men under Lt. Colonel John F. Tourtellote of the Fourth Minnesota regiment. (Harpers, p. 671, gives the slightly higher total of 890 and says that they were "well protected by redoubts"). Brigadier General Corse was ordered to bring up about a thousand reinforcements when it appeared Hood's forces were on the prowl. French, upon arriving before the garrison and their fort, sent in a request for the Federals to surrender "to avoid a needless effusion of blood," to which Corse answered, "we are prepared for the 'needless effusion of blood' whenever it is agreeable to you."
The initial fighting took place outside the entrenchments, but Corse's men were forced back to their defenses early in the conflict. They had inflicted enough casualties, however, that French paused, allowing Corse to put his men in strong positions (Harpers, p. 682)
The Federals had a system of signal flags, and General Sherman sent multiple messages. One of them read "Sherman is coming. Hold out." A sloppy journalist reported this as "Hold the fort; I am coming," and composer Bliss took it from there.
Many of General Corse's men suffered; 707 out of 1944 were casualties. The Rebels reportedly lost 799 (Boatner, p. 9). Corse himself was wounded in the face, and was unconscious for a time as a result (Boatner, p. 9), but he managed a day later to get off another of his dramatic messages: "I am short a cheek-bone and an ear, but am able to whip all hell yet" (Harpers, p. 672 n. 1).
Sherman supposedly said that the signal corps, which had passed the messages between Corse and the main army, had done such good work in the campaign that it more than paid its entire expence from the time of its origination (Harpers, p. 672)
Corse's skill with words had its rewards. Corse, a brigadier general with limited experience, was breveted major general to date from the day of the conflict (Phisterer, p. 257), while Lt. Colonel Tourtellotte (whose troops had broken up one of the Confederate assaults, according to Harpers, p. 671) was made Colonel to date from that day (Carley, p. 148).
The event did have some deeper significance: It caused Sherman to realize that he was going to have problems with supplies as long as he was based in Atlanta and Hood was prowling around the railroad from Tennessee. It was this problem, according to Grant, p. 356, which inspired Sherman to plan and implement his famous "March to the Sea."
Philip P. Bliss, when he published this song in his 1871 collection The Charm, apparently used the tune name "Faithfulness" (Julian, p. 150). For more on Bliss, see the notes to "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning." Julian, p. 1613, also suggests seeing p. 105 of Ira D. Sankey's My Life for information on this song. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.0
- Boatner: Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 1959 (there are many editions of this very popular work; mine is a Knopf hardcover)
- Carley: Kenneth Carley, Minnestoa in the Civil War: An Illustrated History, Ross & Haines, 1961; reissued 2000 by the Minnesota Historical Society with a new introduction by Richard Moe and many more illustrations, but the reference here is to the first edition
- Grant: (Ulysses S. Grant), Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Volume II, Charles L. Webster & Company, 1886
- Harpers: Alfred H. Guernsey and Henry M. Alden, Harper's Pictorial History of the Great Rebellion in the United States, 1866 (I use the facsimile published by The Fairfax Press as Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War; this is undated but was printed in the late Twentieth Century)
- Julian: John Julian, editor, A Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892; second edition 1907 (I use the 1957 Dover edition in two volumes)
- Phisterer: Frederick Phisterer, Campaigns of the Civil War: Statistical Record of the Armies of the United States, 1883 (I use the 2002 Castle Books reprint)
- Woodworth: Steven E. Woodworth, Nothing But Victory: The Army of the Tennessee 1861-1865, Vintage Civil War Library, 2005
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.