Abide with Me; ‘Tis Eventide: A Product of the American Civil War
The lyrics and music to the hymn “Abide with Me; ’Tis Eventide” were heavily influenced by the American Civil War. Both the writer of the lyrics, Martin Lowrie Hofford, and the composer of the music, Harrison Millard, held positions in the Union forces and felt the widespread loss and sorrow that the war brought.
In 1863, Millard, a first lieutenant in the 19th New York Regiment, was wounded so badly in the Battle of Chickamauga that he was no longer fit for duty. That same year, Hofford was given charge of a military institute in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The two watched from their respective vantage points as fear spread throughout the country, lives were threatened, and a nation became divided.
That gloomy backdrop may give new insight to the lyrics, “Abide with me, ’tis eventide, and lone will be the night if I cannot commune with Thee, nor find in Thee my light. The darkness of the world, I fear, would in my home abide; Oh, Savior, stay this night with me, Behold, ’tis eventide.”
Jessie Evans would frequently perform “Abide with Me; ’Tis Eventide” as a soloist in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Evans, who would later marry Joseph Fielding Smith, began singing with the Choir at age 15. She possessed a unique contralto voice, which earned her the attention of professional opera companies. After touring professionally for some time she focused her attention on serving in the Church.
For more information on the history behind this hymn, listen to episode 21 of the History of Hymns series on The Mormon Channel.