Bivouac of the Dead, New Bern National Cemetery, New Bern
This simple unadorned plaque contains the first stanza of Theodore O’Hara’s poem “The Bivouac of the Dead". It is made of cast aluminum, painted black with silver lettering and is attached to a lectern shaped granite block about several feet tall. Similar plaques have been placed at most if not all National Cemeteries administered by the Veterans Administration. Versions of this plaque were first produced in the late 1800’s and placed at some of the National Cemeteries to include Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. None of the early versions named the author, likely because O’Hara had served as a Colonel in the Confederate Army.
FROM THE BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD / BY THEODORE O’HARA
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.
New Bern National Cemetery, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
35.123780 , -77.051750 View in Geobrowse
Butler, Douglas J. North Carolina Civil War Monuments, An Illustrated History (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013), 9, 32, 157, 159-160
Powell, William S. and Beverly Tetterton. 2006. "Cemeteries, National and State," NCpedia.org, (accessed August 19, 2013) Link
West, Mike. “Civil War: Famous Elegy Written By Confederate Officer,” Murfreesboro Post (Murfreesboro, TN), (accessed July 31, 2016) Link
“Bivouac Of The Dead,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, http://www.cem.va.gov, (accessed July 31, 2016) Link
“Theodore O’Hara’s 'Bivouac of the Dead,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, www.cem.va.gov, (accessed July 31, 2016) Link
National Cemetery Administration
“The Bivouac of the Dead" is an elegiac poem that expresses feelings of melancholy, sorrow or
lamentation—especially for a person or persons who are dead. Although O’Hara wrote
“Bivouac” as a remembrance of the many casualties suffered in the Mexican War by the Second
Kentucky Regiment of Foot Volunteers it seemed to capture the attention of a patriotic nation
after the Civil War. It began to appear in various forms at Civil War battlefields and cemeteries
across the county. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs (1816-92) recognized its solemn
appeal and directed that lines from the poem grace the entrance to Arlington National
Cemetery. In 1881 he had the War Department’s Rock Island Arsenal fabricate cast-iron tablets
for use at national cemeteries to replace versions painted on signboards.
The iron plaques ordered by Meigs did not credit the author. The most likely explanation is that O’Hara fought on the Confederate side and it was seen as inappropriate to credit him at cemeteries for Union dead. The cast-iron plaques became costly to maintain and most were removed in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. It is not known if any of these removed plaques had been at North Carolina cemeteries and only 14 of the originals remain at national cemeteries.
Parts of “Bivouac” were also popular on Confederate memorials placed in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s including the first monument placed in North Carolina at Cross Creek Cemetery in Fayetteville, in Lenoir, Goldsboro, and Lumberton.
O’Hara was born in Danville, Kentucky, on February 11, 1820. Educated as a lawyer he worked for the U.S Treasury before serving as a captain in the Mexican War (1846-48) and again in the conflict with Cuba (1850-51) until suffering an injury at the Battle of Cardenas. Volunteering for active duty again in the Civil War, this time with the Confederate Army, O’Hara served as a colonel in command of the 12th Alabama. He died on June 6, 1867.
The New Bern National Cemetery was established Feb. 1, 1867, north of downtown New Bern, a short distance from the western bank of the Neuse River. The cemetery is the final resting place for the Union soldiers, including 300 U.S. Colored Troops. Today, more than 6,500 people are interred in the cemetery’s 7.7 acres. The cemetery closed to new interments in 1996.
New Bern National Cemetery is located at 1711 National Avenue, New Bern, NC. A Gettysburg Address Plaque is nearby, attached to the front wall of the superintendent lodge between two doors. The Rhode Island Monument, the Massachusetts Monument, the New Jersey Monument, and the Connecticut Monument are also located at this cemetery.