Annapolis National Cemetery

It was mid-November  -   the grass was deep and soft, strewn in spots with dried leaves. The sun settled atop the hill, soon to fall from sight, and a cold, stinging wind tossed my hair with no particular intent. As I walked along I noticed the shadows cast across the hillside by the tombstones - long, deep blue shadows.

I walked to the top of the hill and looked back toward where I had been.  The entire hillside was now in bathed in shadow; the sun's dying rays glanced off the tips of the grass near the crest - but the tombstones glowed white in the sunlight, from the crest of the hill to the foot. It was as though they had become detatched from their earthly restraints and were trying to attain Heaven.

A strong gust of wind stirred the leaves near where I stood and sent them skittering across the grass. I caught a leaf in my gaze and watched it until it came to rest against one of the stones. The marker glowed brightly in the hard light of the setting autumn sun; I stood between it and the sun so I could make out the inscription:


The Bivouac of the Dead
by Theodore O'Hara
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldiers' last tatoo
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 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 nor 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 plentious 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.

Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead,
Dear as 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 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.

Bivouac of the Dead was written in 1847 in memory of Kentuckians who died in the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War.   The full text of the poem may be found at the Arlington National Cemetery website.

Annapolis National Cemetery
Last updated Sunday, August 16, 1998

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