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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Bivouac of the Dead

By Theodore O’Hara (1820–1867)

[Born in Danville, Ky., 1820. Died near Guerryton, Ala., 1867. Originally Written, August, 1847, in Memory of the Kentuckians who fell at Buena Vista.]

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 nor screaming fife

At dawn shall call to arms.

Their shivered swords are red with rust,

Their plumèd heads are bowed;

Their haughty banner, trailed in dust,

Is now their martial shroud.

And plenteous funeral tears have washed

The red stains from each brow.

And the proud forms, by battle gashed,

Are free from anguish now.

The neighing troop, the flashing blade,

The bugle’s stirring blast,

The charge, the dreadful cannonade,

The din and shout, are past;

Nor war’s wild note nor glory’s peal

Shall thrill with fierce delight

Those breasts that nevermore may feel

The rapture of the fight.

Like the fierce northern hurricane

That sweeps his great plateau,

Flushed with the triumph yet to gain,

Came down the serried foe.

Who heard the thunder of the fray

Break o’er the field beneath,

Knew well the watchword of that day

Was “Victory or death.”

Long had the doubtful conflict raged

O’er all that stricken plain,

For never fiercer fight had waged

The vengeful blood of Spain;

And still the storm of battle blew,

Still swelled the gory tide;

Not long, our stout old chieftain knew,

Such odds his strength could bide.

’Twas in that hour his stern command

Called to a martyr’s grave

The flower of his beloved land,

The nation’s flag to save.

By rivers of their fathers’ gore

His first-born laurels grew,

And well he deemed the sons would pour

Their lives for glory too.

Full many a norther’s breath has swept

O’er Angostura’s plain—

And long the pitying sky has wept

Above its mouldered slain.

The raven’s scream, or eagle’s flight,

Or shepherd’s pensive lay,

Alone awakes each sullen height

That frowned o’er that dread fray.

Sons of the Dark and Bloody Ground,

Ye must not slumber there,

Where stranger steps and tongues resound

Along the heedless air.

Your own proud land’s heroic soil

Shall be your fitter grave;

She claims from war his richest spoil—

The ashes of her brave.

Thus ’neath their parent turf they rest,

Far from the gory field,

Borne to a Spartan mother’s breast

On many a bloody shield;

The sunshine of their native sky

Smiles sadly on them here,

And kindred eyes and hearts watch by

The heroes’ sepulchre.

Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead!

Dear as the blood ye gave;

No impious footstep here shall tread

The herbage of your grave;

Nor shall your glory be forgot

While Fame her record keeps,

Or Honor points the hallowed spot

Where Valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel’s voiceless stone

In deathless song shall tell,

When many a vanished age hath flown,

The story how ye fell;

Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter’s blight,

Nor Time’s remorseless doom,

Shall dim one ray of glory’s light

That gilds your deathless tomb.