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Walt Whitman: Civil War Missionary

In late December 1862, national poet Walt Whitman arrived in Washington D.C., intending to stay for just a few days. He ended up staying for the next ten years; for the first three, he was a regular visitor at the various military hospitals in and around the nation’s capital.

In “The Soldiers’ Missionary,” Roy Morris Jr.’s in-depth feature in the Spring 2014 issue of Civil War Quarterly Magazine, you’ll get to read all about Whitman’s interactions with the wounded soldiers.

Whitman’s time in Washington actually began with the wounding of his brother George at the Battle of Fredericksburg in late December 1862. At home in Brooklyn with his mother, they received unexpected news that his brother was on a list of regimental casualties published by the New York Tribune. Fearing the worst, Whitman and his mother threw together some belongings and hurried south to Washington.

While visiting his brother, Whitman was immediately struck by how many soldiers were hospitalized. “The mass of our men in our army are young,” he wrote in an article published in the New York Times. “It is an impressive sight to me to see the countless numbers of youths and boys, many of them already with the experiences of the oldest veterans.”

You can read all about Whitman’s experiences with the wounded men in Washington, as well as other gripping articles in this special spring issue. Other features include:

Hold Allatoona!”
General John Bell Hood aimed a dagger at Sherman’s supply line in the tiny Georgia railroad town of Allatoona Station.

The Civil War in Black and White
Battlefield photographers managed to make a lasting record of the war’s conflicts, even though the craft of photography was still in its infancy.

Ace in the Hole
Created by Major General George McClellan, the Union Army of the Potomac’s artillery reserve used massed cannons to provide concentrated and sustained firepower.

Last Stand at Bentonville
With William T. Sherman’s notorious “bummers” closing fast after their March to the Sea, a ragtag Confederate army prepared to make its last stand in the bottomlands around Bentonville, North Carolina.

Upton’s Assault on the Mule Shoe
With a bloody stalemate looming in the Virginia woods, a young Union colonel suggested a risky new maneuver to break the Confederate line.

From Manassas to Fort Fisher: A Marine Corps’ War
From an inauspicious start to the First Battle of Bull Run, the United States Marine Corps took part in several significant battles, on land and at sea, during the Civil War.

Whirling through Winchester
Ulysses S. Grant sent feisty General Philip Sheridan to wrest control of the Shenandoah Valley from the Confederates. At Winchester, “Little Phil” began in earnest, initiating a series of battles that would go far in determine the outcome of the war.

Brice’s Cross Roads
While he moved into Georgia, Union General William Sherman wanted a covering force in Mississippi to attack fearsome Confederate raider Nathan Bedford Forrest. At Brice’s Cross Roads, he would get his wish.

Were you aware of Walt Whitman’s volunteer work with wounded soldiers during the Civil War? Do you think his experiences influenced his work after the battles ended? Let us know what you think about this and other stories from the early spring issue [1] in the comments below.