All Quite Along the Potomac Tonight

Words by Ethel L. Beers, Music by John Hill Hewitt

“’Tis nothing, a private or two now and then will not count in the news of the battle….”

Noah Brooks

A true hybrid, the words are from a poem by a northerner, Ethel L. Beers, outraged at Union General George McClellan’s blandly repetitive nightly dispatches: “All quiet on the Potomac.” The beautiful melody, considered by many to be the finest of the great songs from the war, was composed by a southerner, John Hill Hewitt. Hewitt was a refugee from the North, and the song was popular on both sides. Other composers wrote less successful melodies for the same lyrics. The power of its simplicity makes it one of the most moving protest songs ever written anywhere.

Lyrics

“All quiet along the Potomac,” tonight,
Where the soldiers lie peacefully dreaming,
And their tents in the rays of the clear autumn moon,
And the light of the campfires are gleaming;

A tremulous sigh as the gentle night wind
Through the forest leaves slowly is creeping,
While the stars up above, with their glittering eyes
Keep guard o’er the army while sleeping.

“All quiet along the Potomac tonight.”

“All quiet along the Potomac,” tonight,
Except here and there 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 tonight.”

Hark! Was it the night wind that rustled the leaves?
Was it moonlight so wondrously flashing?
It looked like a rifle—”Ah! Mary, good-bye!”
And his lifeblood is ebbing and plashing.

“All quiet along the Potomac tonight,”
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.

“All quiet along the Potomac tonight.”

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