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[143]

All quiet along the Potomac
: a civil-war sentry on his beat
This Union picket by the Potomac River bank, clasping his musket in the chilling blast as he tramps his beat, conjures up the original of Ethel Beers' historic poem. The sympathy of the poet was not misplaced. Picket duty was an experience in every soldier's life. Regiments were detailed at stated intervals to march from their camps to the outer lines and there disposition would be made of the men in the following order: about one half of the regiment would be placed in what was known as the ‘reserve,’ while the balance of the men would be taken, by the officer of the guard designated for that purpose, to the extreme outpost, either relieving another regiment or forming new outposts, according to the necessities or changes of position. The period of the poem is the fall of 1861. The battle of Bull Run had been fought in the summer, and thereafter there was very little military activity along the Potomac. McClellan was doing what was absolutely necessary to effective operations—he was drilling the raw recruits into professional soldiers. The public at large, whose impatience had brought on the disaster of Bull Run before either side was prepared for battle, was naturally exasperated. But the author—a woman—was more impressed by the fate of the lonely sentinel.

 

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