“All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight”


"All quiet along the Potomac tonight Except here and there a stray picket...." The picket dreams of his family as he stands guard. Suddenly a shot rings out; the guard falls wounded and bids farewell to his family; "The picket's off duty forever."

Supplemental text

All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight
  Complete text(s)

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All Quiet Along the Potomac To-Night

From sheet music published 1863 by Miller & Beacham
Title page inscribed

"All quiet along the Potomac to-night,"
  Except here and there a stray picket
Is shot as he walks on his beat to and fro,
  By a rifleman his 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!"

"All quiet along the Potomac to-night,"
  Where the soldiers lie peacefully dreaming,
And their tents in the rays of the clear autumn moon,
  And the light of the camp fires are gleaming;
There's only the sound of the lone sentry's tread,
  As he tramps from the rock to the fountain,
And thinks of the two in the low trundle bed
  Far away in the cot on the mountain.

His musket falls slack -- his face, dark and grim,
  Grows gentle with memories tender,
As he mutters a pray'r for the children asleep,
  And their mother -- "May heaven defend her!"
The moon seems to shine as brightly as then --
  That night, when the love yet unspoken
Leap'd up to his lips, and when low murmur'd vows
  Were pledg'd, to be ever unbroken.

Then drawing his sleeve roughly o'er his eyes,
  He dashes off he tears that are welling,
And gathers his gun close up to his breast,
  As if to keep down the heart's swelling;
He passes the fountain, the blasted pine tree,
  And his footstep is lagging and weary,
Yet onward he goes, thro' the broad belt of light,
  Toward the shades of the forest so dreary.

Hark! was it the night-wind that rustles the leaves!
  Was it the moonlight so wond'rously flashing?
It look'd like a rifle! "Ha, Mary good bye!"
  And his 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.


In the early stages of the Civil War, when the southerners still held the south bank of the Potomac, the War Department issued regular bulletins on the status of the armies. The papers regularly printed these reports of "All quiet along the Potomac." One day, the report ran "All quiet along the Potomac. A picket shot." Hence this song.

Although several have claimed the authorship (the claim made by Lamar Fontaine was particularly well-known, and is quoted by H. M. Wharton in _War Songs and Poems of the Southern Confederacy_, p. 27), the poem is known to have been written by Mrs. Ethel Lynn Beers of New York in 1861. Several tunes have been offered, e.g. by John Hill Hewitt and W.H. Goodwin; Ben Schwartz points out that broadside LOCSinging as110970 lists "Music Composed and Sung by D. A. Warren." Hewitt supplied the version for the 1863 sheet music (published with attribution of authorship), but Goodwin's tune appears to have survived best. - RBW


  • LOCSinging, cw104620, "The Picket Guard", Johnson (Philadelphia), n.d.; also cw104610, cw104630, as110970, "[The] Picket Guard"; hc00006a, "Picket's Last Watch"


  1. RJackson-19CPop, pp. 2-5, "All Quiet Along the Potomac" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Silber-CivWar, pp. 66-67, "All Quiet Along the Potomac" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Hill-CivWar, pp. 64-65, "The Picket-Guard" (1 text)
  5. ST RJ19002 (Full)
  6. Roud #6559
  7. BI, RJ19002


Author: Words: Ethel Lynn Beers/Music: Various
Earliest date: 1863 (sheet music)
Found in: US