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Bivouac of the Dead

Cast-iron tables inscribed with stanzas of Theodore O'Hara's "Bivouac of the Dead' were fabricated at the War Department’s Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, in 1881-82. At the Northwestern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteers, Milwaukee, the tablets were originally installed on wooden posts. In 1941 these tablets were refurbished and set in stone by Works Progress Administration workers under the direction of Home manager Col. Charles Pearsall.

Here is one version of the complete poem.

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
    The Soldier’s last tattoo!
No more on life’s parade shall meet
    The 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,
Nor troubled thought of midnight haunts,
    O loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow’s strife
    The warrior’s dreams alarms,
No braying horn or screaming fife
    At dawn to call to arms

Their shivered swords are red with rust,
    Their plumed heads are bowed,
Their haughty banner, tailed 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 passed;
Nor war’s wild notes, nor glory’s peal
    Shall thrill with fierce delight
Those breasts that nevermore shall feel
    The rapture of the fight.

Like the fierce Northern hurricane
    That sweeps the great plateau,
Flushed with the 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!”

Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead,
    Dear is the blood you 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 vanquished year hath flown,
    The story how you fell.
Nor wreck nor change, nor winter’s blight,
    Nor time’s remorseless doom,
Can dim one ray of holy light
    That gilds your glorious tomb.
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