Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Digital ID # ppmsca 08541

On December 16, 1862, poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892) saw the name of his brother George, a member of the New York 51st Volunteers, listed among the wounded at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the New York Herald. Whitman rushed from his home in Brooklyn, New York, to the Washington, D.C., area to search the hospitals and encampments. This was Whitman’s indoctrination to the ghastly consequences of warfare. The poet was forty-three years old when he began volunteering in Washington's war hospitals in early 1863. He became an unpaid “delegate” of the Christian Commission and was authorized to visit the sick and wounded in hospitals and camps to comfort and provide for their needs. Profoundly affected by his war work, Whitman published Drum-Taps (1865), one of the most important books of poetry to emerge from the war period, which included calls to arms and accounts of the personal heroism and comradeship of battlefields and encampments. The trauma of the Civil War would shape subsequent editions of Whitman's masterwork of poetry, Leaves of Grass (1855–1892), as well as his prose writings.

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