Ohio History Journal

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The war with Mexico, like all others, had its side-

lights, its personal triumphs, privations and tragedies

among the men in the ranks. Of course, for the most

part these are lost to history. Occasionally, however,

through some accidental circumstance these are lifted to

the public view and endued with a degree of enduring

fame not usually accorded to the central figure of the


The War of 1812 had its James Bird1; the war with

Mexico had its Victor Gilbreath. The former was made

famous through a ballad that became a folk-song a cen-

tury ago; the latter has found an enduring place in lit-

erature through a lyric by one of the greatest of Amer-

ican poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Just why Longfellow chose "Victor Galbraith" as a

subject worthy of his pen does not seem to be a matter

of record.  The poem appeared in Putnam's Monthly

Magazine in 1855, without comment or explanatory

statement. The latest Cambridge edition of Longfel-

low's poems contains only this editorial note:

Victor Galbraith was a bugler in a company of volunteer

cavalry and was shot in Mexico for some breach of discipline. It

is a common superstition among soldiers that no balls will kill

them unless their names are written on them. The old proverb

says: "Every bullet has its billet".

* From The History of Ohio, by C. B. Galbreath, Vol. I, pp. 590-594.

1 See Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications, Vol. XX, pp.