Theodore O’Hara, one of the few poets whose title to immortality rests on a single poem, but on that account is none the less secure, was born in Danville, Ky., February 11, 1820. The family subsequently lived in Frankfort. Theodore was a very precocious child, and with him study was a passion. He studied at Bardstown, in Kentucky, and there became noted as an accomplished scholar. He afterwards studied law with John C. Breckinridge as a fellow-student.
In 1845 he held a position in the Treasury Department at Washington, but soon afterwards joined the United States army, with the rank of captain. He served with distinction through the Mexican war, and rose to the rank of major. He afterwards practiced law in Washington until 1851, when he joined other Kentuckians in assisting Lopez, who was trying to liberate Cuba. He was at one time editor in chief of the Mobile Register, and at another editor of the Louisville Times.
At the breaking out of the civil war he cast his fortunes with the South, and was placed in command of the Twelfth Alabama Regiment. Later he served on the staff of General Albert Sidney Johnston, and was with him at Shiloh and caught the great chief in his arms when the bullet had done its deadly work. He was afterwards chief of staff to his lifelong friend, General John C. Breckinridge. He died on a plantation in Alabama in 1867, and was buried at Columbus, Ga. In 1874 his remains, together with those of Generals Greenup and Madison, and several distinguished officers of the Mexican war were re-interred in the State cemetery at Frankfort, Ky.
THE BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD
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 rumor 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 plumèd 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 shout, 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 this great plateau,
Flushed with triumph yet to gain,
Came down the serried foe[•].
Who heard the thunder of the fray
Break o’er the field beneath,
Knew well the watchword of that 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 gory tide;
Not long, our stout old chieftain[•] knew,
Such odds his strength could bide.
‘T was 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 fathers’ gore
His firstborn laurels grew,
And well he deemed the sons would pour
Their lives for glory too.
Full many a norther’s breath has swept
O’er Angostura’s plain –
And long the pitying sky has wept
Above its moldering 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 sunlight 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,
Or Honor points the hallowed spot
Where Valor proudly sleeps.
Yon marble minstrel’s voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanished 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 glorious tomb.
Read by its author, Theodore O’Hara, when his comrades who had fallen in Mexico were buried in Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1847