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[142]

The picket-guard

The authorship of this production has occasioned more dispute than any other poem of the conflict. Very plausible details of its composition on August 2, 1861, were given by Lamar Fontaine. Joel Chandler Harris, who declared he would be glad to claim the poem as a specimen of Southern literature, concluded for five separate reasons that it was the production of Mrs. Ethelinda Beers. Mrs. Beers in a private letter to Mrs. Helen Kendrick Johnson said: ‘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 “all quiet, etc.” , to which was added in small type “a picket shot.” ’ the lines first appeared in Harper's Weekly for November 30, 1861.


‘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.
'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;
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 the 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!

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