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All Quiet along the Potomac

by Lamar Fontaine [nb: this poem was composed to commemorate the death of John Moore, Second Virginia Cavalry, who was killed while standing night guard (August 1861); this poem inspired a prohibition by generals of both Union (Army of the Potomac) and Confederate (Army of Northern Virginia) forces against sharpshooting pickets, and it is also responsible for the title of a World War One novel, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1929)] [nb: this poem was set to music by John Hill Hewitt, a Southern composer serving in the Confederacy (1863); it was also published as "The Picket Guard" by Ethel Lynn Eliot Beers in Harper's Weekly (30 November 1861)]

    All quiet along the Potomac, they say,
    Except now and then a stray picket
    Is shot as he walks on his beat to and fro,
    By a rifleman hid in the thicket.

    'Tis nothing -- a private or two now and then
    Will not count in the news of the battle;
    Not an officer lost, only one of the men,
    Moaning out, all alone, the death rattle.

    All quiet along the Potomac to-night,
    Where the soldiers lie peacefully dreaming,
    Their tents in the rays of the clear autumn moon,
    O'er the light of the watch fires, are gleaming;

    A tremulous sigh, as the gentle night wind,
    Through the forest leaves softly is creeping,
    While stars up above, with their glittering eyes,
    Keep guard for the army is sleeping.

    There's only the sound of the lone sentry's tread,
    As he tramps from the rock to the fountain,
    And thinks of the two in the low trundle bed,
    Far away in the cot on the mountain.

    His musket falls slack, and his face, dark and grim,
    Grows gentle with memories tender,
    As he mutters a prayer for the children asleep,
    For their mother, may Heaven defend her.

    The moon seems to shine just as brightly as then,
    That night when the love yet unspoken
    Leaped up to his lips when low-murmured vows,
    Were pledged to be ever unbroken.

    Then drawing his sleeve roughly over his eye
    He dashes off tears that are welling,
    And gathers his gun closer up to its place
    As if to keep down the heart-swelling.

    He passes the fountain, the blasted pine tree,
    The footstep is lagging and weary;
    Yet onward he goes, through the broad belt of light,
    Toward the shades of the forest so dreary.

    Hark! Was it the night wind that rustled the leaves?
    Was it moonlight so wondrously flashing?
    It looks like a rifle -- "Ah! Mary, good-bye!"
    And the lifeblood is ebbing and splashing.

    All quiet along the Potomac to-night,
    No sound save the rush of the river;
    While soft falls the dew on the face of the dead --
    The picket's off duty forever.