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Mara L. Pratt

The Picket Guard

"All quiet along the Potomac," they say,

"Except now and then a stray picket

Is shot, as he walks on his beat to and fro,

By a rifleman hid in the thicket.

'Tis nothing; a private or two now and then

Will not count in the news of the battle;

Not an officer lost—only one of the men,

Moaning; out all alone the death-rattle."

All quiet along the Potomac to-night,

Where the soldiers lie peacefully dreaming;

Their tents in the rays of the clear autumn moon

Or the light of the watch-fires are gleaming.

A tremulous sigh, as the gentle night-wind,

Thro' the forest leaves softly is creeping;

While stars up above, with their glittering eyes,

Keep guard—for the army is sleeping.

There's only the sound of the lone sentry's tread

As he tramps from the rock to the fountain,

And he thinks of the two in the lone trundle bed,

Far away in the cot in the mountain.

His musket falls slack; his face dark and grim,

Grows gentle with memories tender,

As he mutters a prayer for the children asleep,

For their mother—may heaven defend her!

He passes the fountain, the blasted pine-tree—

The footstep is lagging and weary;

Yet onward he goes through the broad belt of light

Toward the shades of the forest so dreary.

Hark! was it the night wind that rustled the leaves?

Was it moonlight so wondrously flashing?

It looks like a rifle! "Ha, Mary, good-by!"

And the life-blood is ebbing and plashing.

All quiet along the Potomac to-night—

No sound save the rush of the river;

While soft falls the dew on the face of the dead,

The picket's off duty forever.

—E. E. Beers