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All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight

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Wikipedia article

"'All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight'" is an 1861 poem by American writer Ethel Lynn Beers.


The poem was first published as "'The Picket Guard'" in the 'Harper's Weekly' issue dated November 30, 1861.Garrison, Webb. 'Curiosities of the Civil War: Strange Stories, Infamous Characters, and Bizarre Events'. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011: 367. It attributed only to "E.B." It was reprinted broadly both with that attribution and without, leading to many spurious claims of authorship. Among those claiming authorship was Lamar Fontaine, then a private in the CSA. On July 4, 1863, 'Harper's Weekly' told its readers that the poem had been written for the paper by a lady contributor whom it later identified as Beers.Davidson, 'The Living Writers of the South', p. 201: "Dr. A.H. Guernsey, editor of 'Harper's Magazine' wrote to Mr. Harris a letter, dated 'Franklin Square, New York, March' 22, 1868, in which he says:— 'The facts are just these: The poem bearing the title 'The :Picket-Guard', appeared in 'Harper's Weekly' for November 30, 1861. I send you a copy of the paper of that date, which will establish this fact. It was furnished by Mrs. Ethel Beers, a lady whom 'I think' incapable of palming off as her own any production of another."

The poem was based on newspaper reports of "all is quiet tonight", which was based on official telegrams sent to the Secretary of War by Major-General George B. McClellan following the First Battle of Bull Run. In September 1861, Beers noticed that one report was followed by a small item telling of a picket being killed. She wrote the poem that same morning.Beers, 'All Quiet Along the Potomac', p. 350.Sargent, 'Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry', p. 818: :In a private letter Mrs. Beers wrote: 'The poor 'Picket' has had so many 'authentic' claimants and willing sponsors, that I sometimes question myself whether I did really write it that cool September morning after reading the stereotyped announcement, 'All quiet,' etc., to which was added in small type, 'A picket shot!' '"

In 1863, the poem was set to music by John Hill Hewitt, himself a poet, newspaperman, and musician. Sung by Efram Zimbalist Jr. in the Season 2 Episode 8 of the TV show "Maverick" entitled, "The Jail at Junction Flats". This song may have inspired the title of the English translation of Erich Maria Remarque's World War I novel 'All Quiet on the Western Front'.

"The Picket-Guard"

"The Picket-Guard", 'Harper's Weekly', 1861:

:"ALL quiet along the Potomac to-night!"

::Except here and there 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;

:And their tents in the rays of the clear autumn moon,

::And the light of the camp-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 o'or the army sleeping.

:There's only the sound of the lone sentry's tread

::As he tramps from the rock to the fountain,

:And he thinks of the two in the low trundle-bed,

::Far away in the cot on the mountain.

:His musket falls slack; 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 eyes,

::He dashes off tears that are welling,

:And gathers his gun closer up to his breast

::As if to keep down the heart's swelling.

:He passes the fountain, the blasted pine-tree,

::And his 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 looked like a rifle: "Ha! Mary, good-by!"

::And the life-blood is ebbing and plashing.

:"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!


, illustration for poem.Matthews, 'Poems of American Patriotism', p. 90.

See also

* List of anti-war songs



*Beers, Ethel Lynn. 'All Quiet Along the Potomac, and Other Poems'. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates (1879).

*Davidson, James Wood. 'The Living Writers of the South '. New York: Carleton, Publisher (1869).

*Fontaine, Lamar; J.H. Hewitt (m.). "All Quiet Along the Potomac To-night" (Sheet Music). Columbia, S.C.: Julian A. Selby (1863).

*Graham, C.R. (ed.). 'Under Both Flags: A Panorama of the Great Civil War'. Veteran Publishing Company (1896).

*LaBree, Ben. 'Camp Fires of the Confederacy'. Louisville, KY: Courier-Journal Job Printing Company (1898).

*Matthews, Bander (ed.); N.C. Wyeth (illus.) 'Poems of American Patriotism'. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons (1922).

*Sargent, Epes (ed.). 'Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry'. New York: Harper & Brothers (1882).

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