Written on January 22, 1813.
By William Orlando Butler
The battle’s o’er, the din is past!
Night’s mantle on the field is cast;
The moon with sad and pensive beam
Hangs sorrowing o’er the bloody Stream,
The Indian yell is heard no more
And silence broods on Erie’s shore;
O! What an hour is this to tread,
The field on which our warriors bled,
To raise the wounded chieftain’s crest
Or warm with Tears his icy breast,
To treasure up his last command
And bear it to his native land;
It may one ray of Joy impart,
To the fond mother’s bleeding heart,
Or for a moment it may dry
The tear drop in the widow’s eye!
Vain hope away! the widow ne’er
Her warrior’s dying wish shall hear;
The zephyr bears no feeble sigh,
No straggling chieftain meets the eye
Sound is his Sleep on Erie’s wave
Or Raisin’s waters are his grave.
Then muffle the cold funeral string
And give the Harp to sorrow’s hand
For sad’s the Dirge the Muse must sing
Fallen are the Flowers of the land.
How many hopes lie buried here?
The Father’s joy, the Mother’s pride.
The Country’s boast, the Foeman’s fear
In wildered havoc side by side.
Of all the young and blooming train
Who to the combat rushed amain
How few shall meet and fight again?
How many strew the fatal plain?
O! gentle moon, one ray of light
Throw on the dusky face of Night!
And give to view each gallant form
That sunk beneath the morning storm;
The murky cloud has passed away!
The moon beams on the waters play;
Upon the brink a soldier lay,
His eye was dim, his visage pale,
And like a stranded vessel’s sail
His red locks wanton’d in the gale.
It was the gay, the gallant Mead[e]!
In peace, mild as the setting beam
That guides at Eve the wilder’d stream;
In war the fiery battle Steed.
The foe, no more shall shun his arm,
His mirth no more the ear shall charm,
Yet o’er his low and silent grave
The laurel fresh and green shall wave.
And who is that so pale and low
Stretched on his bier of Bloody snow,
Beside the water’s silent flow?
The fire of his eye is gone;
The ruddy glow his cheek has flown,
Yet sweet in death his corpse appears;
Smooth is his brow and few his years.
For the sweet Youth the sigh shall start,
From a fond mother’s anxious heart
For thee some Virgin’s cheek shall feel
At mid-night hour the tear drop steal
And playmates of your childhood’s hour
Pour o’er your grave youth’s generous shower.
O! could modest merit save
Its dear possessor from the grave,
Thy corpse Montgomery ne’er had lain
Upon the wild unhallowed plain,
But what were modest merit here
Or what were Friendship’s pleading tear,
The fiend that laid that flower low
Smiled as he hurl’d the fatal dart
And saw with pride the lifeblood flow
That warmed a young and generous heart.
Here sleep, sweet youth! tho’ far away
From home, and friends, thy relics lay,
Yet oft on Fancy’s pinions borne
Friendship shall seek thy lowly urn;
Spring shall thy icy Sheet untwine
And shroud thee with the roseate vine;
Here shall the streamlet gently flow;
Here shall the zephyrs softly blow;
Here shall the wild Flower love to bloom
And shed its fragrance round thy tomb;
Here shall the wearied wild bird rest
Here shall the ring-Dove build her nest;
And win from every passerby,
With notes of saddest melody,
A Tear for young Montgomery.
Close by his side young McIlvain
Lay stretched along the bloody plain;
Upon his visage smooth and mild
Death calmly sat and sweetly smiled.
‘Tis thus an infant sinks to rest
In quiet on its mother’s breast.
When no rude thoughts its mind employs
To damp its present or future Joy;
Yet seem’d his eye of tender blue
Still wet with pity’s pearly dew!
Yes, Pity was his better part,
Pity and Friendship form’d his heart,
And ne’er was heart so good and kind
Accompanied by such noble mind;
No more the sentry from his post,
While all the camp in sleep is lost,
Shall see him by the sick man’s side
Nursing life’s feebly ebbing tide;
No more the soldier’s latest breath
Shall bless him on his bed of death,
Yet shall his cold and timeless Bier
Be mourned by many a silent tear.
Oh! Pitying Moon! Withdraw thy light
And leave the World in murkiest night!
For I have seen too much of Death,
Too much of this dark and fatal heath;
Here Graves and Allen meet the eye
And Simpson’s giant form is nigh,
And Edmiston, a warrior old,
And Hart, the boldest of the bold—
These and their brave compatriot band
Ask the sedate Historian’s hand.
Mine only strews the fading Flower
That Mem’ry culls from Friendship’s bower,
But His, shall twine the Deathless Bays
That fairer Grows through Future Days.
Manuscript of a poem entitled "A Night View of the Battle of Raisin," dated January 22, 1813, and written by then Ensign William Orlando Butler after the battle in the War of 1812. The poem was published in the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society in September, 1912.
About William Orlando Butler
(1791 - 1880)
William Orlando Butler, the author of the poem, A Night View of the Battle of the River Raisin, was born near Nicholasville, Jessamine County, Kentucky, 19 April 1791. He was the son of Percival Pierce Butler, youngest of the Butler brothers that served in the Revolutionary War, and who later became Kentucky’s first Adjutant General.
William O. Butler graduated from Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky, in 1812. Butler studied law for a short time in Fayette County, but the War of 1812 called him and he volunteered as a Private in Captain Nathaniel Grey Smith Hart's Company at Lexington. He was elected corporal, and marched to the relief of Fort Wayne, Indiana Territory. On 23 November 1812, he was promoted to Ensign in Captain Richard Hightower’s Company of Colonel Wells' 17th United States Infantry Regiment. During the battles of Frenchtown, 18 January and the River Raisin, 22 January 1813, he was recognized for his daring and heroism. During the battle of River Raisin he was wounded and taken prisoner, initially taken with other prisoners to Fort Malden, he was later moved to Fort Niagara where he was exchanged. Following his release from captivity he was promoted to Captain in the 44th United States Infantry Regiment, on 3 August 1813. Participated in the attack at Pensacola, Florida Territory; in the battles at New Orleans, Louisiana, 23 December 1814 and 8 January 1815, General Andrew Jackson said he "displayed the heroic chivalry and calmness of judgment in the midst of danger, which distinguished the valuable officer in the hour of battle.” For his gallant conduct at New Orleans he received the brevet rank of Major.
Major Butler was retained in the Army following the war and was transferred to the 1st United States Infantry. He served as aide to General Jackson, 1816-17, and resigned from the service on 31 May 1817.
In 1817, Butler returned to the law, married, and settled in the river town of Carrollton, Kentucky. He served as a member of the State house of representatives in 1817 and 1818.
In July, 1821, the first draft of his famous poem, The Boatman's Horn (then called The Boat Horn), was published in The Western Review, a monthly magazine published in Lexington, Kentucky. The poem was subsequently published as the title-poem in a small collection of his verse, entitled The Boatman's Horn and Other Poems.
From 1839 to 1843, Butler was a Kentucky Congressman; and in 1844 the unsuccessful candidate for governor of Kentucky.
During the war with Mexico he was commissioned major general of Volunteers on 29 June 1846. He was second in command to Zachary Taylor at the battle of Monterrey, where Butler was wounded. He received by resolution of Congress of 2 May 1847 the presentation of a sword in testimony of the high sense entertained by Congress of his gallantry and good conduct in the storming of Monterey, Mexico, 21 September 1846.
Butler succeeded Major General Winfield Scott in command of the Army of the valley of Mexico, February 1848, and superintended the evacuation of the U.S. soldiers from Mexico. He was honorably discharged from the service 15 August 1848.
Upon his Mexican War record, General Butler was nominated, in 1848, by the Democratic Party for vice-president of the United States with General Lewis Cass, of Michigan, as the head of the ticket, but they were defeated by Martin Van Buren and Charles Francis Adams. In 1855, General Butler declined the governorship of the territory of Nebraska.
In 1861, he went to Washington D.C. as a member of the famous 'Peace Congress' an effort to devise means to prevent the impending Civil War. Although a slaveholder, he was opposed to the extension of slavery and favored gradual legal emancipation. He stood firmly for the preservation of the Union and was a Union Democrat during the Civil War.
General Butler died at his home, Carrollton, Kentucky, August 6, 1880, at the age of 90. He was interred in the family burying ground at the foot of Butler’s Hill. General Butler State Resort Park which lies at the confluence of the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers in Carrollton, Kentucky, is named in his honor. His home, the Butler-Turpin Historic House, built in 1859, is located on the park grounds. Butler Counties, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska were named in his honor, as well as the City of Butler, Georgia and Butler Township, County of Schuylkill, Pennsylvania.