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The Picket

or, All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight

written in 1861 by Ethel Lynn Beers
<Index to Etexts on Women's History>

"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.
'T is 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,
    Or the light of the watch-fire, are gleaming.
A tremulous sigh of 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; 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 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 shade 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-bye!"
    The red 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!

On this site:

All Quiet... on the Net:

All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight / The Picket
A copy of the words to Beers' best-known poem, written during the American Civil War. The page includes a clickable link for a melody that's often used to sing this.

Debow's Review, July 1866.
From a New Orleans journal, an example of the misattribution. See pages 68-69 (page image format).

Four Years Campaigning
A Michigan officer's memoirs include this beloved poem, here attributed to "Mrs. Ethel Lyon Beers." (Pretty close -- and at least it attributes it to a woman!)

Southern Literary Messenger October 1862
An early misattribution: "found, it is said, in the pocket of a volunteer who died in camp on the Potomac." Page 589 (page image).

Print Bibliography:

  • Victorian Parlour Poetry : An Annotated Anthology
    Michael Turner, editor. 1992.
    Includes "The Picket" and poems by other writers of the time.
    (compare prices)

Part of a collection of etexts on women's history produced by Jone Johnson Lewis. Editing and formatting © 1999-2008 Jone Johnson Lewis.

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