"The Bivouac Of The Dead"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Theodore O'Hara was primarily a soldier, exemplifying in his career the colorful reputation of the Irish. He was a Kentuckian by birth and during his checkered lifetime held numerous responsible posts in civilian life. But the world of the military evidently had first call upon him. After receiving his college education he was for a time Professor of Greek; he then practiced law and was later employed by the U.S. Treasury Department. When the Mexican War broke out, he served throughout the campaign and was brevetted for gallantry. After the war he practiced law again in Washington, D.C., but apparently could not settle down to the humdrum routines of peacetime. Becoming interested in the struggles for independence of patriots in other nations, he abandoned his law practice and led a regiment at Cardenas in support of Lopez for the liberation of Cuba. He returned severely wounded from this adventure, and as soon as he had recovered he joined Walker's filibustering expedition. Following this adventure, he resumed a peacetime existence and was connected editorially with several newspapers until the outbreak of the Civil War. During this conflict he served in the Confederate Army, first as Commander of the fort at Mobile Bay and later as Chief of Staff for General Breckenridge. O'Hara's devotion to military life and his understanding of the soldier give his poem "The Bivouac of the Dead" a certain personal quality that lifts it above many sentimental tributes of its time to those killed in the nation's wars. These are men he knew, men who fought beside him and shared the rigors of the campaign. The poem is one which O'Hara read at the dedication of a monument to the soldiers of Kentucky who were killed in the Mexican War; it enjoyed considerable popularity, and lines from it appeared frequently on monuments and gates in the various national cemeteries during the last half of the nineteenth century. The first two stanzas are given below:

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame's eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.
No rumor of the foe's advance
Now swells upon the wind–
No troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow's strife
The warrior's dream alarms;
No braying horn or screaming fife
At dawn shall call to arms.