In January of that year, Mr. Bliss was at Racine and Madison, Wisconsin, and was much blessed and very happy in Gospel work. Christians were much revived, and many unsaved in both places were led to Christ. In the latter place he became much attached to Rev. Mr. Bright, pastor of the Baptist Church, who, a few months later, fell dead in his pulpit from disease of the heart. Mr. Bliss was much impressed by the news of his sudden death, and expressed himself as wishing just such a departure.
In the latter part of January, Mr. Bliss went to St. Louis, where he remained until March, singing in the Gospel meetings held in the Rink, and holding a service of his own for the young people in Dr. Ganse's (Presbyterian) Church, which was largely attended, and will be long remembered by scores of the young people in St. Louis.
He sang the Gospel Hymns in the Jail and Reform Schools and in nearly all the reformatory institutions, while there. In March, he went to Mobile, Alabama, to fill and appointment for a Gospel meeting. The route chosen was by rail to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and from there by steamer to New Orleans, and by rail from there to Mobile. Mrs. Bliss accompanied him, and the trip was a great source of pleasure to them both. The new section of country, the scenes of interest connected with the war, the rapid entering into spring, as they traveled south, all conspired to make the journey a delightful one. In the evening upon the steamboat, Mr. Bliss entertained the passengers for half and hour or more in singing at the piano; and at the close, when Captain and all who could come into the cabin were collected, he would sing a familiar hymn, and then very pleasantly propose and lead in worship. The visit to Mobile was a delightful one. The pastors, the Mayor (an excellent Christian man), and Christian people generally, manifested the utmost cordiality and kindness, and did all in their power to make the visit a happy one and the meetings a success. God was pleased to add His blessing upon the efforts put forth, and many were impressed by Gospel truth, and many were led to confess Christ. The meetings of Mr. Bliss for young people, held in the Baptist church, were much blessed. The church was crowded each afternoon, and very many were led to the Savior by his preaching of Christ in song, in Bible instructions, and personal appeal.
Never did his singing seem more effective than in one of the meetings held in this city, on Sunday evening, in the Opera House. The audience was composed entirely of men, and crowded every part of the house. He sang as solos, "Pull for the Shore," "Nothing But Leaves," "What Shall the Harvest Be?" and "Memories of Childhood" with great power. A solemnity came over all who listened as his deep, sweet voice took up the mournful cadence, "Nothing but Leaves," and when he sang the "Trundle Bed," there was hardly a dry eye in the audience. Nearly two hundred men sought an interest in the prayers of Christians, that they might be saved. Mr. and Mrs. Bliss were very happy in the work in Mobile, and cherished pleasant memories of the friends there.
After ten days in Mobile, Mr. Bliss went to Montgomery, and sang in the meetings held in the City Hall. Great interest was at once manifested, and the meetings were largely attended. The pastors and people here, as at Mobile, were most hospitable and cordial in the welcome extended to their Northern brethren. here, as in Mobile, special pains were taken to hold services for the colored people, and arrangements made for their attending the general meetings. When he had been singing the song of his composing, "Father, I'm Tired," they would be broken down in uncontrollable emotion. His labors at Montgomery were owned of God, and closed in a meeting participated in by all the pastors, and where scores of souls confessed to a hope in Christ.
Selma has become well know in Christian circles throughout the country, for the consecrated activity of a band of Christian laymen, who, under the inspiration of Hall and Cree, some five years ago, organized there the first Young Men's Christian Association of Alabama. These dear brethren made Christian work in the city a delight to their visitors. Their hearts and homes were wide open - their enthusiasm and zeal in the work unbounded. An immense cotton warehouse was cleaned up and seated for the meetings: ladies and gentlemen from the church choirs came in to supply a fine chorus; the sainted Rev. Alfred Morrison - taken to heaven just a little before Mr. Bliss - and all the pastors, gave a hearty support to the effort, and a blessed work was enjoyed. here, as in Montgomery and Mobile, Mr. Bliss conducted young people's meetings, with precious fruit for Christ.
Mrs. Bliss returned to Chicago from Selma, to arrange for closing up their house for a summer's removal to Rome, leaving Mr. Bliss to fill and appointment at Augusta, Georgia. The trip to Augusta was made via the Selma and Dalton Railroad through Rome, Georgia, and from thence to Atlanta, to give Mr. Bliss an opportunity to visit Kenesaw Mountain, where occurred the incident that gave rise to the song, "Hold the Fort." He stopped at Marietta on a beautiful April morning, and, after dinner with the writer, rode out two miles to the mountain. The carriage left us about three-fourths of a mile from the summit, and we pursued our journey on foot. The violets were just in blossom, and we paused frequently to stoop and gather them, or to cut canes form the young hickory trees, by the side of the path. Upon the summit, the ruins of the earthwork near which General Polk was killed, and part of the framework of the signal station from which Sherman had the message signaled to "hold the fort," were found.
It was a bright, clear, sunny day, and the landscape for miles in every direction was before our view from this remarkable elevation. Altoona Mountain, where the fort was held, could be plainly seen twenty miles to the north; and the intervening valley across which Sherman hurried his troops was at our feet.
Bliss enjoyed the scene in full. He took in all of its beauty and all of its inspiration. We read the passage concerning the coming of our Lord from heaven - knelt in prayer and consecration - and then sang "Hold the Fort," looking out upon the distant mountain, looking up to the clear blue sky, and hoping and almost expecting that Jesus might then appear, so near He seemed to us that April day. I thank my Heavenly Father that I was led to so urge my friend and brother to make that mountain visit. He reckoned it, while he lived, as one of his blessed days, and the memory of it to me is, and will continue to be while life lasts, a transfiguration scene. How little did we think that day, that ere the year should close, for him the battle would be won, and he be taken to the mountains of glory, to signal for his Lord to the soldiers in the valley, "Cheer, my Comrades, Cheer." May the voice that rang out so grandly from the summit of Kenesaw that glorious afternoon still go ringing on around the earth in the same message there sung, "I Am Coming," hastening the appearance of the Lord and the glad day when we shall be caught up with the living and departed loved ones, "to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." "Amen. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus."
We conclude this chapter with Mr. Bliss' glorious hymn, "Hold the Fort," with the story which suggested it.
During October 1864, just before Sherman began his famous march to the sea, while his army lay camped in the neighborhood of Atlanta, the army of Hood in a carefully prepared movement passed the right flank of Sherman's army, and gained his rear, 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, 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. General Corse, of Illinois, was stationed here here with a brigade of troops, composed of Minnesota and Illinois regiments, in all about 1,500 men, Colonel 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 General French, were detailed by Hood to take the position. 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, 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 the 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, Colonel Tourtelotte taking command, though himself badly wounded - they held the fort for three hours, until the advance guard of Sherman's army came up. 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."
In May, 1870, Mr. Bliss accompanied me to Rockford, Illinois, to sing at a Sunday School Convention. he there heard me related the above incident as an illustration of the inspiration derived by the Christian from the thought of Christ as our Commander and of His coming to our relief. The song was born at once in his mind, and on his return to Chicago, while at my house, he wrote it out and published it in sheet music form.
At this point, the
Memoir contains the lyrics to the song:
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