Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Thaddeus Oliver


"Oliver, Thaddeus, lawyer and poet, was born in Jeffersonville, Twiggs County, Ga., December 25, 1826, and died in a hospital in Charleston, S.C., August 21, 1864, the result of a wound received in battle. During the administration of Herschel V. Johnson he held the office of solicitor-general of the Chattahoochee circuit. He was an eloquent advocate before the jury, a man of culture and a poet of singular power. There is abundant evidence for his claim to the authorship of the famous war lyric, 'All's Quiet Along the Potomac To-night,' despite the fact that two other claimants contest the honor, Lamar Fontaine and Ethel Lynn Beers. Several other fugitive poems from the pen of Mr. Oliver betray the same delicate and rhythmic touch. They include 'Rain in the Heart' and 'My Soul Is Dark as Starless Night.' He married, in 1849, Sarah Penelope, daughter of Hugh Lawson."

[Source: Edwin Anderson Alderman & Joel Chandler Harris (eds.), Library of Southern Literature 326(New Orleans: Martin & Hoyt Co., 1910)(1907)(Vol. 15, Biographical Dictionary of Authors, Lucian Lamar Knight ed.)][online text]

All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight

"All quiet along the Potomac," they say,
"Except now and then 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,
Where the soldiers lie peacefully dreaming;
Their tents in the rays of the clear autumn moon,
Or the light of the watch-fires, are gleaming.
A tremulous sigh, as the gentle night-wind
Through the forest-leaves softly is creeping;
While stars up above, with their glittering eyes,
Keep guard — for the army is sleeping.

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 prayer for the children asleep,
For their mother — may Heaven defend her!

The moon seems to shine just as brightly as then,
That night, when the love yet unspoken
Leaped up to his lips — when low-murmured vows
Were pledged to be ever unbroken.
Then drawing his sleeve roughly over his eyes
He dashes off tears that are welling,
And gathers his gun closer up to its place
As if to keep down the heart-swelling.

He passes the fountain, the blasted pine tree -
The footstep is lagging and weary;
Yet onward he goes, through the broad belt of light,
Toward the shades of the forest so dreary.
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 the life-blood 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.

On the disputed authorship of "All Quiet Along The Potomac Tonight," see: