All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight
DESCRIPTION: "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."
AUTHOR: Words: Ethel Lynn Beers/Music: Various
EARLIEST DATE: 1863 (sheet music)
KEYWORDS: Civilwar death family separation
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (7 citations):
RJackson-19CPop, pp. 2-5, "All Quiet Along the Potomac" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lawrence, p. 400, "All Quiet Along the Potomac To-Night" (1 text plus a copy of an early sheet music cover)
Silber-CivWarFull, pp. 128-130, "All Quiet Along the Potomac (The Picket Guard)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-CivWarAbbr, pp. 66-67, "All Quiet Along the Potomac" (1 text, 1 tune)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #1880, pp. 126-127, "Picket's Last Watch" (10 references)
Hill-CivWar, pp. 64-65, "The Picket-Guard" (1 text)
ST RJ19002 (Full)
LOCSinging, cw104620, "The Picket Guard", Johnson (Philadelphia), n.d.; also cw104610, cw104630, as110970, "[The] Picket Guard"; hc00006a, "Picket's Last Watch"
Picket's Last Watch
NOTES: 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 (e.g. his name is on the cover printed by Lawrence), 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.
Interestingly, although the poem is Northern, the title is Southern. Harry Dichter and Elliott Shapiro, Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and Its Lore, 1768-1889, R. R. Bowker, 1941, p. 119, lists a printing by Julian A. Selby of Columbia, SC as the first under this title, adding "The words of this song were published by a number of Northern music publishers under the title of The Picket Guard, each with a different musical setting." - RBW
Last updated in version 3.5
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.