Between the first week of 1860 and the final days of 1866, Walt Whitman wrote and received more than 600 letters. Taken collectively, they span one of the most important periods of Whitman's life. In terms of his artistic output, these letters chronicle the publication of the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, his preparation of two lost books The Banner At Day-Break (1861) and Memoranda of a Year (1863), the long road to the release of Drum-Taps (1865) and Sequel to Drum-Taps (1865), and the printing of the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass. More importantly, Whitman's correspondence during this period documents what he called "the volcanic upheaval of the nation"—the election of Abraham Lincoln, the dawning of Civil War, the enlistment and wounding and subsequent imprisonment of Whitman's brother George, Whitman's move to the nation's capital to tend to the sick and wounded in Washington's hospitals, his own faltering health, the end of war, the assassination of the president, Whitman's firing from his government post, and the aftermath of war. No other time in Walt Whitman's life was so emotionally trying or so physically draining, but in his twilight years, he told Horace Traubel, "The war saved me: what I saw in the war set me up for all time—the days in the hospitals." And it is his letters that reveal that daily process of trial and redemption. From his heart-heavy missives to his mother to the battlefront dispatches from his brother, from the cheering and playful correspondence with friends and former patients to the bereft and soul-baring letters to the families of dead soldiers, no other set of manuscripts better chronicles, day by day, this turning point in American history and in the life of America's national poet.
This collection, made possible by a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, brings together previously edited print material and freshly edited material that has never appeared in print. We thank all those holding relevant manuscripts—a great number of repositories and private collectors—for their cooperation with our project. The location of the original manuscript is indicated for each letter in the "About the Text" section. For the first time, all of Whitman's letters from this period are gathered, both sides of Whitman's correspondence (outgoing and incoming) are presented together, and the letters are annotated, linked, and searchable. Previously unpublished letters are presented with scans of the original documents—and scans of all manuscripts will be added over time. In short, this is the first complete edition of Whitman's correspondence for the Civil War period. For more information on the transcription and encoding of these diverse materials, please see our statement of editorial policy.
By default, the letters are listed in chronological order. Users have the option to sort the letters by both sender and recipient, or search the text and XML-encoding of the documents to return relevant results.