Title: A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: January 19, 1865
Publication information: Brooklyn Daily Eagle 19 January 1865: .
Source: Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of an original issue.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00212
Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Ashley Lawson, Janel Cayer, and Sarah Walker
cropped image 1
A BROOKLYN SOLDIER, AND A NOBLE ONE.—
The friends of Capt. George W. Whitman,1 of this city, captured last September in battle near Petersburgh, Va., will be glad to learn that he has just been heard from, though for the first time since his capture.
George Whitman, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, and after a service of three months in the summer of 1861, in the 13th Regiment of this city, on returning here again, joined the 51st New York, (Ninth Army Corps,) was mustered in as a private, left with the regiment in October, 1861, being immediately promoted to Sergeant Major.
At the battle of Roanoke2 he was promoted to a Second Lieutenancy; at Antietam3 was made First Lieutenant, and at Fredericksburgh,4 December, 1862, was commissioned as Captain; all these steps for conduct in the field. He has been in genuine fighting service in all parts of the war, including the Carolina coast, the battles above named, most parts of Northern and Eastern Virginia and Western Maryland, also Vicksburgh, Jackson, Knoxville, Chattanooga, &c., down to the campaign inaugurated last May by Gen. Grant in the Wilderness. He took part in the hottest service there, and so on through Spottsylvania,5 Cold Harbor,6 &c., to the Petersburgh investment;7 and was in the battle of the mine explosion last July.8
On September 30th, at the battle of Poplar Grove Church,9 Capt. Whitman was among those cut off on the extreme left at nightfall and captured;10 he was acting Lieut.-Colonel of his regiment at the time. Since then his relatives here have had no word or knowledge of him until yesterday they received by the hands of an exchanged prisoner a small slip of paper written in pencil by Capt. Whitman's hand stating that he was at Danville, Va., and doing well.11 The slip is dated November 23, 1864.12
We have to add that from other information received here it is feared that Lieut. Frank Butler, of this city, also an officer of the 51st, who was badly wounded in the action of September 30th, and fell into the rebels' hands, is dead.
It is presumed that some fourteen other officers of the 51st are confined at Danville.
1. Captain George Washington Whitman, Walt Whitman's younger brother by ten years, served in the New York Fifty-first during the Civil War and was wounded at the First Battle of Fredericksburg. For some of Whitman's other writing about his brother's participation in the war, see "Our Brooklyn Boys in the War" (January 5, 1863); "Return of a Brooklyn Veteran" (March 12, 1865); and Our Veterans Mustering Out" (August 5, 1865) [back]
2. The Battle of Roanoke Island (North Carolina, February 7–8, 1862) was the first battle of Union General Ambrose Burnside's North Carolina Expedition. Burnside defeated Confederate General Henry Wise in this amphibious operation. [back]
3. The Battle of Antietam (Maryland, September 17, 1862) was the bloodiest single-day battle in U.S. history, with casualties totaling between 23,000 and 26,000. Though a tactical stalemate, Union General George McClellan gained the strategic advantage over Confederate General Robert E. Lee by depleting Lee's recently replenished troops. [back]
4. In the First Battle of Fredericksburg (Virginia, December 13, 1862), Lee defeated Burnside. George Whitman was wounded in this battle. [back]
5. In the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse (Virginia, May 8–21, 1864), part of Grant's Overland Campaign, Grant joined with Major General George Meade to fight Lee; the results were inconclusive. [back]
6. In the Battle of Cold Harbor (Virginia, May 31–June 12, 1864), Grant and Meade defeated Lee. [back]
7. The second major battle in the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia, occurred June 15–18, 1864. Lee and General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard defeated Grant and Meade. [back]
8. On July 30, 1864 in Petersburg, Union troops exploded a mine under the Confederate line, which proved a tactical mistake for the Union. The crater created by the explosion became a trap for soldiers, and the resulting Battle of the Crater saw many Union casualties. Ultimately Confederates under Lee defeated Burnside's Union troops, and Burnside was fired for his role in this event's tactical errors. [back]
9. In the Battle of Poplar Grove (Virginia, September 30–October 2, 1864), alternately known as the Battle of Poplar Spring Church or the Battle of Peebles' Farm, Union General George Meade defeated Confederate General A.P. Hill. [back]
10. George Whitman was taken prisoner on September 30, 1864, at Poplar Grove. Almost his entire regiment was killed, captured, or unaccounted for after this battle. For some of Whitman's prison correspondence, see his letters of October 2, 1864 and October 23, 1864, written to his mother. Early in his imprisonment, Whitman described his "tip top spirits," calling himself "tough as a mule, and about as ugly." [back]
11. George Whitman was transferred from Libby Prison to Danville sometime before October 23, 1864. [back]
12. George Whitman's early letters to his mother from prison had not been received before this slip dated November 23, 1864, was delivered. [back]