Skip to main content

Albert G. Knapp to Walt Whitman, 2 April 1876

D[ear] Sir

Early in the year 1863—I think in the final month—I lay on a cot in Mother Whippy's Ward at Judiciary SqreHospt.​ in Washington D.C. sick "Nigh unto death" when there came in one day, with charitable intent, a stalwart man of genial appearance & seemingly past the middle age since his hair & face beard were plentifully sprinkled with white. This man (whose frame, as I afterward found, was no mean type of the generous heart within) came to my bed, sat down, & after some talk with me wrote a letter to my parents in Michigan. This act secured my gratitude & we became intimately acquainted & close friends—Being furloughed in July '63 & discharged while in Mich.​ I lost sight of my friend & I am not sure that I even heard of him until I returned in '64 with an ugly bullet hole through my left lung that time finding a lodgment at Armory Sqr.Hospt​ .1

My friend was still in Washington, we met, & our intimacy was renewed and again abruptly broken off in the summer of '65 when I was transferred to New Haven & soon afterward discharged from the service. Although I have never since heard a word from my quondam friend, still the name Walt Whitman is a household one in our family & the picture (by Schaff)2 with the autograph, Walt Whitman 1863 written in pencil in the margin to the right is lying here on the table having been brought down stairs a little while ago to be compared with one which appears in Leslie's3 for April 8th4 & which I brought up Friday with the Sunday N.Y. papers.

The question that naturally comes to us now is this, Is this Walt Whitman,—"the Poet of health & strength," our Walt Whitman of old? Everybody who has seen the two pictures says they are of the same man—If it indeed be true, I am very glad for I shall, I know, hear from my old friend—I am married, live here, (my mother living with us) & have charge of one of the public schools (No. 13) of the city.

I shall take a lively interest in the arrival of the postman for some time hereafter in the hope that I am what the rest so confidently assert:

Your old friend,

Albert G. Knapp (1893–1905) was a Union soldier in the American Civil War. He met Whitman in the winter of 1862 when he was a patient at Judiciary Square Hospital, where he remained until sometime in 1863. Knapp reconnected with Whitman in 1864 when he was being treated at Armory Square Hospital for a bullet wound through his lungs. In 1883, Knapp was principal of Public School No. 13 in Rochester, New York. He would later work as a government employee in Washington, D. C. The wounds he sustained during the Civil War eventually caused his death ("Albert G. Knapp," Democrat and Chronicle [Feburary 23, 1905], 13).


  • 1. Armory Square Hospital was the hospital Walt Whitman most frequently visited in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. Because of Armory Square's location near a steamboat landing and railroad, it received the bulk of serious casualties from Virginia battlefields. At the end of the war, it recorded the highest number of deaths among Washington hospitals. See Martin G. Murray, "Traveling with the Wounded: Walt Whitman and Washington's Civil War Hospitals." [back]
  • 2. Charles Hine's portrait of Whitman served as the basis for Stephen Alonzo Schoff's engraving of the poet for Leaves of Grass (1860). For a discussion of Hine's portrait and its relation to Schoff's engraving see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2006), 38–42; for Schoff's frontispiece see Stephen Alonzo Schoff after an oil portrait by Charles W. Hine. [back]
  • 3. Frank Leslie's Weekly, published from 1852 to 1922, was an American literary and news magazine published by engraver Frank Leslie (1821–1880). The magazine was notably patriotic in its reporting, particularly on military conflicts like the Civil War and the First World War. [back]
  • 4. The April 8, 1876, issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper contained a biographical sketch of Whitman along with an engraving of one of William Kurtz's photographs of the poet. [back]
Back to top