"All quiet along the Potomac"

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donna

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"All quiet along the Potomac": A phrase used by Northern newspapers in the weeks after the Union defeat at Bull Run, making fun of General McClellan's interminable delay in attacking the Rebel forces. This phrase also became the name of a popular Union song.
 

James B White

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"All quiet along the Potomac": A phrase used by Northern newspapers in the weeks after the Union defeat at Bull Run, making fun of General McClellan's interminable delay in attacking the Rebel forces. This phrase also became the name of a popular Union song.
I'm curious about your statement that newspapers were using the phrase to make fun of McClellan. In fact, I'm not sure if it was known or used much at all in newspapers, until after the famous poem/song, and there it wasn't making fun of McClellan so much as pointing out the tragedy of individual deaths.

Do you have some examples of it from period newspapers, making fun of McClellan, to support that? Or, for that matter, has anyone identified the newspaper that Ethel Beers claimed had the famous headline? http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:All_quiet_along_the_Potomac_and_other_poems.djvu/356 I tried looking at fultonhistory.com which has a lot of New York state newspapers, but couldn't find anything that seemed to fit, but of course they don't have everything, by far.

Also, I don't think the song was really considered to be a Union-only song. It seems to have been adopted both north and south. For example, the Southern Literary Messenger claimed it had been "published in all our papers" and attributed authorship--wrongly, as they later admitted--to Lamar Fontaine of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry. Here's sheet music published in South Carolina. And here's an 1864 diary entry, p. 152, from Louisiana: "she sang some for us, 'Lorena,' ... and 'All quiet along the Potomac tonight,' were the songs she sang, all beautiful." The lyrics also show up here, in a booklet of "Lays of the South," published in England to raise money to help Confederate prisoners. In other words, with numerous southern examples, I don't think it was a popular Union song, so much as a popular song in general.
 

donna

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I got this definition from book, "Everyday Life During The Civil War" by Michael J. Varhola. From now on, any definition I give, will have a reference. I think we all should do that as there can be controversy on a definition.

I do know the story of the song. "All Quiet Along the Potomac, Tonight" was a poem at first. It was published by Harper's Weekly , Nov. 30, 1861 and was titled "The Picket Guard". It is by Ethel Lynn Beers but at first it was only signed as "E.B". Many have laid claim to the poem. A good article is "Picket Line" by Thomas J. Brown at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/picket-lines/#more-115539

It was liked by the North and South. The poem was set to music in 1863 by John Hill Hewitt, who was a poet, newspaperman and musician who was serving in the Confederate army.

I am very much interested in the poems and songs of the Civil War and collect them and books on them. I have several threads on songs, poems and the authors of them.

As I say from now on, I will not put a definition without reference to where from and add any references the author uses for his or her definition.
 
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James B White

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I am very much interested in the poems and songs of the Civil War and collect them and books on them. I have several threads on songs, poems and the authors of them.
Same here. For example, when I saw the song mentioned in this thread, it reminded me of it again, and I did a quick check of Harper's Weekly online to see the original poem in its original context. Why? I don't know. Maybe just to try to connect with those people who first read it and responded strongly to it all those years ago. Trivia: the page with the poem is missing from the Nov. 30, 1861 issue online. I had to go to my hard-copy reproduction set to actually find it, where it's on the top left of page 766.

One interesting thing: the original poem was printed with asterisks between the first and second verse, either to separate it or to imply that a verse had been omitted. Most subsequent period reprints leave out the asterisks, though it does appear that way here: http://books.google.com/books?id=R2QFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA204&output=html

I first wondered if the newspaper had omitted a verse from the handwritten copy that Ethel Beers sent in, and was excited to think there might be more to the poem in a manuscript in some dusty New York State archive, but I wonder if it's just to separate the first verse, which is supposed to represent a report of what "they say," from the rest, which is the narrator's musing on what "they say." Still it adds a subtle difference, with more emphasis on the report, as separate from the reaction to the report.
 

donna

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james You may be interested in this PDF I found, "Abraham Lincoln and the Northern Anti-War Press ." It does discuss several papers who made anti-war statements after the Battle of Bull Run and what happened with them. There are no quotes from the papers but the papers are named. There is also references to the book "Freedom Under Lincoln" by Dean Sprague.

I don't know this book but from one review I read, it appears to be critical of Lincoln and a free press. I wonder if any on forum have read it.

In book' "Everyday Life During The Civil War", from which I got the definition, he lists several newspapers. I could provide names of the papers and maybe a check of them could lead to what author states in his definition of" all quiet along the Potomac" and McClellan.
 
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donna

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I found another definition of this phrase. It from "The Language of the Civil War" by John D. Wright. He writes " A sad, melancholy song sung by lonely soldiers in both armies. It was originally a poem written by the poet Ethelind Beers in 1861 at her home in Goshen, New York. It was based on a telegram dispatch from Major General George B. McClellan to the Secretary of War that declared "all is quiet tonight". Her poem was first published on November 30, 1861 in Harper's Weekly, then became a poem and song in the South after a copy was supposedly discovered on the body of a dead Union soldier.
The phrase was eventually used to mock McClellan, who developed the reputation for avoiding action."
 
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