Theodore O'Hara

Historical Marker #24 commemorates Danville native Theodore O'Hara, a Civil War veteran and poet who wrote the famous poem "The Bivouac of the Dead." Today, O'Hara's poem is inscribed on monuments across the nation, including the gates of Arlington National Cemetery.

Born in Danville on February 11, 1820, O'Hara was an attorney, journalist, and Mexican War veteran. He rose to fame when some Kentuckians who were slain at the Battle of Buena Vista (Mexican War) were reinterred in the Frankfort cemetery. John C. Breckinridge gave the primary address and O'Hara read "The Bivouac of the Dead," a poem that historian Thomas D. Clark called "a worthy contribution to American literature."

In 1849, O'Hara recruited troops for the annexation of Cuba. On May 18, 1850, he led several unsuccessful attacks against a Spanish garrison at Cardenas, Cuba. There, he was severely wounded in the leg, and he and the other American attackers escaped to Key West. Following his Cuban adventures, O'Hara became a journalist in Frankfort and in Louisville.

During the Civil War, O'Hara joined the Confederate army. After briefly commanding a fort in Florida, he recruited soldiers and then joined the staff of Kentucky-born general Albert Sidney Johnston. O'Hara was present when Johnston was killed at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, in April 1862. Eventually, O'Hara joined General John C. Breckinridge's staff, and, at the Battle of Stones River (Murfreesboro), he delivered orders and helped place artillery and infantry regiments.

After the Civil War, O'Hara became a newspaper editor in Alabama. He died there on June 6, 1867. First buried in Alabama, his remains were reinterred in Frankfort in 1873.

Selected stanzas from "The Bivouac of the Dead" by Theodore O'Hara:

(Stanza 1)
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 to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

(Stanza 9)
Sons of the Dark and Bloody Ground
Ye must not slumber there,
Where stranger steps and tongues resound
Along the heedless air.
Your own proud land's heroic soil
Shall be your fitter grave;
She claims from war his richest spoil --
The ashes of her brave.

(Stanza 11)
Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While Fame her record keeps,
For honor points the hallowed spot
Where valor proudly sleeps.