All Quiet Along The Potomac Tonight

Ethel Lynn Beers

"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 a 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 their camp-fires are gleaming.
A tremulous sigh, as a gentle night-wind
  Through the forest leaves slowly is creeping;
While the stars up above, with their glittering eyes,
  Keep guard o'er the army 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 on 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,
  And their mother--"may heaven defend her!"
The moon seems to shine forth as brightly as then--
  That night, when the love, yet unspoken,
Leaped up to his lips, and 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 the gun closer up to his breast
  As if to keep down his 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,
  Towards the shades of the forest so dreary.

Hark! was it the night-wind that rustled the leaves?
  Was it the moonlight so wondrously flashing?
It looked like a rifle: "Ha! Mary, good-by!"
  And his 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,
  And the picket's off duty forever.

The Potomac river, which flows through the US capital of Washingto DC was at the heart of much of the fighting in the American Civil War. It's said the poem was inspired by a newspaper report headlined "All Quiet on the Potomac" which went on to say that a picket had been shot.

The poem was set to music and became one of the most famous songs of the Civil War.

 The poem is attributed to Ethel Lynn Beers.