All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight
|"All Quiet on the Potomac To-night"|
Cover, sheet music, 1863
Composer: J.H. Hewitt |
Lyricist: Ethel Lynn Beers
The poem was first published as "The Picket Guard" in the Harper's Weekly issue dated November 30, 1861. It attributed only to "E.B." It was reprinted broadly both with that attribution and without, leading to many spurious claims of authorship. 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.
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. Beers noticed that the report was followed by a small item telling of a picket being killed. She wrote the poem that same morning, and she read it in September 1861.
In 1863, the poem was set to music by John Hill Hewitt, himself a poet, newspaperman, and musician, who was serving in the Confederate army. 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.
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"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!
- Davidson, The Living Writers of the South, p. 200: "After a careful and impartial investigation of all the facts in my reach, I have come to the conclusion that Mrs. Beers and not Mr. Fontaine, wrote the poem in question." [quoting Chandler Harris].
- Garrison, Webb. Curiosities of the Civil War: Strange Stories, Infamous Characters, and Bizarre Events. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011: 367. ISBN 978-1-59555-359-1
- 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."
- 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!' '"
- Matthews, Poems of American Patriotism, p. 90.
- LaBree, Camp Fires of the Confederacy, p. 524.
- Graham, Under Both Flags, p. 457.
- 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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- All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight, and Other Poems (1879) at archive.org