Around Town: Civil War poem has ties to Danville

September 14, 2003|ANNABEL GIRARD

When David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association, was attending a recent a national meeting, he was presented with information about Kentucky that he found out had a tie to Danville.

A fellow member of the group had noticed a poem inscribed on The McClellan Gate in Arlington Cemetery. What caught his eye was that the poem was in memory of Kentucky troops. The poem was "Bivouac of the Dead," written by Danville native Theodore O'Hara.

So, mention of the poem was made to Thompson during the meeting.

Thompson made a visit to The Advocate last week and brought along the poem that is on the Arlington National Cemetery Web site. The Web site also had a long biography of O'Hara, who wrote the poem to honor Kentuckians killed during the Mexican War. The poem also became the one commonly used to remember veterans of the Civil War. O'Hara served with the Confederacy during the Civil War, but the stirring words of the poem are used for Federal and Confederate troops alike.


"The muffled drum's sad roll has beat/ The soldier's last tattoo," can be seen in Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

It was fitting that O'Hara's name come up at a meeting of newspaper people. He went on to work for newspapers in Frankfort and Louisville.

Although O'Hara was originally buried in Columbus, Ala., in 1873, his body was brought home with state funds to be buried in Frankfort Cemetery near the graves of the soldiers who had inspired his poem that continues to enthrall readers today.

To put another local touch on it, the account of O'Hara posted on the Arlington Cemetery site was written by Stuart W. Sanders, director of interpretations for the Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association.

Effort underway to restore High Bridge

With High Bridge no longer used to carry trains over the Kentucky River, efforts are being made to raise money to restore the historic bridge.

The existing bridge was opened in 1911 and even then was considered a "wonderful feat of engineering," and was the highest bridge spanning a navigable stream on the American continent. A model of the bridge is on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

The first regular train to use the 1911 bridge crossed at 10 a.m. on Sept. 11.

The first test of the bridge was done on June 5, 1911, by Clarence C. Horn of Burgin, a man who weighed 455 pounds. Horn had driven trains for 14 years without a wreck, considered a factor in his selection to drive the first engine across the bridge - a trip of 409 yards over a span never traveled before. "The mighty pioneer (was) creeping over the rails, drawing numberless joints taut, proving 172,694 steel rivets and vindicating builders of the million-dollar structure."

An earlier span, which opened in 1877, also kept the press occupied. The first bridge - a suspension one - near where the Dix River runs into the Kentucky was built in 1793.

The building and opening of the 1877 bridge occupied several issues of Danville newspapers when it was being built and when it opened to rail traffic in 1877.

On April 27, 1877, the paper reported "The Great Test of the Kentucky River Bridge." On April 20, about 1,000 people gathered to watch the event. Danville and Harrodsburg schools were dismissed. Brass bands turned out to play.

"The military pupils came to the front in uniform while the wealthy planters and their tenants were on hand in carriages, wagons and on horseback."

One test involved four locomotives and four flat cars loaded with iron rails being parked in the middle of the bridge.

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