Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 18 September 1863
Date: September 18, 1863
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Ted Genoways (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, October 1888), 7:20-21. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: Location of original letter manuscript is unknown.
Whitman Archive ID: med.00318
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Tim Jackson, and Vanessa Steinroetter
Here, now, is a specimen army hospital case: Lorenzo Strong,1 Co. A, 9th United States Cavalry (his brother Horace L. Strong,2 Rochester, N. Y.), shot by a shell last Sunday; right leg amputated on the field. Sent up here Monday night, 14th. Seem'd to be doing pretty well till Wednesday noon, 16th, when he took a turn for the worse, and a strangely rapid and fatal termination ensued. Though I had much to do, I staid and saw all. It was a death-picture characteristic of these soldiers' hospitals: the perfect specimen of physique,—one of the most magnificent I ever saw—the convulsive spasms and working of muscles, mouth, and throat. There are two good women nurses, one on each side. The doctor comes in and give him a little chloroform. One of the nurses constantly fans him, for it is fearfully hot. He asks to be rais'd up, and they put him in a half-sitting posture. He call'd for "Mark"3 repeatedly, half-deliriously, all day. Life ebbs, runs now with the speed of a mill race; his splendid neck, as it lays all open, works still, slightly; his eyes turn back. A religious person coming in offers a prayer, in subdued tones; around the foot of the bed, and in the space of the aisle, a crowd, including two or three doctors, several students, and many soldiers, has silently gather'd. It is very still and warm, as the struggle goes on, and dwindles, a little more, and a little more—and then welcome oblivion, painlessness, death. A pause, the crowd drops away, a white bandage is bound around and under the jaw, the propping pillows are removed, the limpsy head falls down, the arms are softly placed by the side, all composed, all still,—and the broad white sheet is thrown over everything.4
1. According to service records, Lorenzo Strong was twenty years old when he enlisted as a Sergeant 1st Class on September 20, 1861. He was mustered into Company A of the 9th New York Cavalry Regiment on October 5, 1861, was wounded at Culpeper, Virginia, on September 13, 1863, and died of wounds in Washington, D.C., on September 16, 1863. [back]
2. Horace L. Strong is unidentified, and Whitman removed reference to him. [back]
3. Unidentified. [back]
4. Whitman included this entry among "verbatim extracts from letters home to my mother in Brooklyn, the second year of the war" ("Army Hospitals and Cases, Memoranda at the Time, 1863–66," Century 36 [October 1888], 825.) In the Century, Whitman gives the date of September 18, 1863, for this letter, but later revised the date to September 8. The second date is clearly in error, as Lorenzo Strong was not wounded until September 13. [back]