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Bivouac of the Dead

8:22 AM, May 28, 2012 • By THEODORE O'HARA
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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 to spread, 
And glory guards, with solemn round 
The bivouac of the dead. 

McClellan Gate, Arlington Cemetary

Photo Credit: ArlingtonCemetery.mil

No rumor of the foe's advance 
Now swells upon the wind; 

Nor troubled thought at midnight haunts 

Of loved ones left behind; 

No vision of the morrow's strife 

The warrior's dreams alarms; 

No braying horn or screaming fife 

At dawn shall call to arms.

Their shriveled swords are red with rust, 
Their plumed 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 the great plateau, 

Flushed with triumph, yet to gain, 
Come down the serried foe, 

Who heard the thunder of the fray 
Break o'er the field beneath, 
Knew the watchword of the 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 glory 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 father's gore 
His first-born laurels grew, 

And well he deemed the sons would pour 

Their lives for glory too.

For many a mother's breath has swept 

O'er Angostura's plain -- 

And long the pitying sky has wept 
Above its moldered 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 sepulcher.

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, 

For honor points the hallowed spot 

Where valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel's voiceless stone 
In deathless song shall tell, 

When many a vanquished ago has flown, 

The story how ye fell; 

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

Nor time's remorseless doom, 

Can dim one ray of glory's light 

That gilds your deathless tomb.

Editor's note: This poem, written in 1847 by Theodore O'Hara, is "in memory of the Kentucky troops killed in the Mexican War," as a website devoted to Arlington National Cemetery notes. "Portions of this haunting poem are inscribed on placards throughout Arlington, as well as on the McClellan gate there."

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