BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD

Colonel Theodore O’Hara, CSA

Theodore O’Hara was born in Danville, Kentucky and served with the Kentucky volunteers in the Mexican War. He was awarded a brevet promotion to Major for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. The poem The Bivouac of the Dead was written in response to the many causalities existing after the Battle of Monterrey. Following the Mexican War, he obtained a commission in the 2 U. S. Dragoons, campaigning against the Comanche’s under Robert E. Lee. He was involved in a filibustering expedition in Cuba just prior to the commencement of the War Between the States. He entered Confederate service as Lieutenant Colonel of the 12 Alabama Infantry and later served as assistant inspector general on the staff of General Albert Sidney Johnston. Colonel O’Hara died in 1867, and is buried in Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort Kentucky.

 

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.

 

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 shriveled swards are red with rust,                                                                            

 Their plumed heads are bowed;                                                                                           

Their haughty banner, trailed in dust,                                                                                            

Is now their marital shroud.                                                                                                

And plenteous funeral tears have washed                                                                                

The red stains from each brow,                                                                                            

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 of 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 stem command                                                                                 

Called to a martyr’s grave                                                                                                        

The flower of his beloved land,                                                                                              

 The nation’s flag to save.                                                                                                      

By rivers of their fathers’ fore                                                                                                   

His first-born laurels grew,                                                                                                 

And well he deemed the sons would pour                                                                                 

Their lives for glory too.

 

Full many a mother’s breath has swept                                                                                     

O’er Angostura’s plain —                                                                                                          

And long the pitying shy 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 claim’s from war his richest spoil —                                                                                    

The ashes of her brave.

 

Thus ‘neath their parent turf they rest,                                                                                     

Far from the glory field,                                                                                                                    

Borne to a Spartan mother’s breast                                                                                                                             

On many a bloody shield;                                                                                                   

The sunshine of their native shy                                                                                                      

Smiles sadly on them here,                                                                                                  

And kindred eyes and hearts watch by                                                                                        

The heros sepulcher.

 

Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead!                                                                                       

 Dear as the blood ye gave;                                                                                                                

No impious footstep shall here tread                                                                                        

The herbage of your grave;                                                                                                    

Nor shall your glory be forgot                                                                                                   

While fame her records 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 charge, nor winter’s blight,                                                                                 

Nor Time’s remorseless doom.                                                                                              

Shall dim one ray of glory’s light                                                                                                

That gilds your deathless tomb.