Thursday, June 3, 2010


A dead Confederate at Gettysburg.
(Library of Congress)

Today, 3 June, is the official Confederate Memorial Day in Louisiana. It is important we continue to remember to courage and sacrifice of our gallant heroes in gray, who gave their all to defend their homes and familes. They were also fighting for the future of their homeland and us, their descendants. They gave all for us so that we might inherit a land where the principles of 1776 were still alive and well. In tribute to their memory, below is a most appropriate poem, "Bivouac of the Dead" by Theodore O'Hara. Although it was written to honor the dead of Kentucky in the Mexican War, it can apply to all soldiers in all wars. O'Hara served in the War For Southern Independence on the staff of Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge, former vice president of the United States during the administration of James Buchanan.

By Theodore O'Hara

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 rumour 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 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 shouts are past;

Nor war's wild note, nor glory's peal,

Shall thrill with fierce delight;

Those breasts that never more 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 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.

[Below is from the National Park Service]
Written in 1847, O'Hara's stirring poem The Bivouac of the Dead was composed to honor American dead at the Battle of Buena Vista, fought during the War with Mexico. Born in Danville, Kentucky in 1820, Theodore O'Hara served as captain and assistant quartermaster with the Kentucky volunteers during that war and later volunteered to lead a contingent of Kentucky soldiers during the 1850 expedition to free Cuba, where he was severely wounded. While he recuperated, he became involved in journalism and edited a newspaper in Louisville. Military life still beckoned and he joined the US Army in 1855, serving for a year with the 2nd US Cavalry.

In 1856, O'Hara moved to Mobile, Alabama, where he became editor of the Mobile Register until the outbreak of the Civil War. He raised the "Mobile Light Dragoons" in the city and was elected company captain, before joining the 12th Alabama Volunteer Infantry where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He later served on the staff of General Albert Sidney Johnston and General John Breckenridge. After the war, O'Hara became a merchant in the cotton business until wiped out by a devastating fire. He retired to a friend's plantation in Alabama where he died in 1873 from malaria. The following year, his remains were re-interred in the military cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Dead Confederate at Petersburg.
(Library of Congress)

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