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About this Item

Title: From Washington

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as Whitman]

Date: September 22, 1863

Whitman Archive ID: per.00221

Source: Brooklyn Daily Union 22 September 1863: [unknown]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of an original issue. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: Although this piece is only signed "Whitman," Walt Whitman was undoubtedly the author. Emory Holloway first identified Whitman as the author in The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1921), 2:26–29, and scholars have continued to support Holloway's claim. The Whitman Archive editors agree that the style and content of the piece are consistent with other known Whitman writings of this period. A manuscript leaf in Whitman's hand (upa.00153) contains notes about a young soldier, Benjamin G. Howell, who is described at length in this piece.

Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Janel Cayer, Ashley Lawson, Liz McClurg, Sarah Walker, and Kevin McMullen

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Military Anxieties—The Army of the Potomac—The Coming Secesion—The Wounded and the Hospitals—Our Armies Young—A Brooklyn Soldier’s Death—A Sad Specimen Case—The Fifty-first New York.

WASHINGTON, Monday Evening, Sept. 21, 1863.


The result of the late perhaps still pending battle between Rosecrans and Bragg for the possession of Chattanooga, keeps us on the anxious seat here just at present.1 Then, besides, the great and rapid culminating drama around sea-beleaguered Charleston.2 And again besides, the movements of Meade at and below Culpepper and what his design may be,3 and what the Army of the Potomac may have for its fortune next.

The Army of the Potomac! to me nobler and more heroic from its never-vanquished, unquenchable spirit, from its (I say) unequalled military vitality, though never once fed with a genuine victory to counter balance its many sad losses—prouder army to-day, and somehow dearer to me, as, with gay heart and courage twenty times tried to the utmost, it pursues its course without the first palpitation of disheartenment, and through all its changes of commanders, (yet the same brave army still,) than armies of greatest eclat, and—better luck.


We are having magnificent weather here, now. To-day is brilliant, dry, cool, transparent, and the sky and clouds passing fine. The Potomac has a yellow cast, flowing down, from the late heavy rains. Rich green, and plenty of it, here in Washington, with the full verdure of our many trees, through all the streets and in the well-kept public grounds, and through this green, the milky white of the national architecture.

As usual, I saw the President this morning where he dashed along in his open barouche, coming in from his lodgings out of town. He rode in haste, and as the cavalry flew swiftly after him with their bare sabres upright, and the clank of accoutrements and noise of horses’ hoofs, it made quite a show.


The coming session of Congress is already beginning to be indicated. Quite a good deal of house-building is in progress in one part of Washington and another. (And well they may build houses considering the rents here now, the prices of board, &c.)

Pennsylvania avenue looks unusually fine to-day. Of course it has not the character of Broadway, nor even your Fulton street, but it has a style of its own. Shoulder-straps, the crowds at hotels, strings of army wagons, the frequent patrols, &c., contribute their elements.


Again, and most copiously, the wounded and sick are arriving here—long trains of them, many from Pleasanton’s cavalry fight of last Sunday week; more from the general breaking up of the brigade and regimental hospitals down in front. Meade is indeed moving southward, somewhere, and moving light, leaving nothing behind him to need guard or detail. So, we get these sad consignments. One came in just after midnight, middle of last week, when I was present; some of the men with frightful wounds. Another came in yesterday; another last night. The hospitals here are crowding fast. Every day and every night I go among them; but the job is appaling! The routine demanded at these huge hospitals from the duties of surgeon, nurse, &c., is generally fulfilled up to the measure that might fairly be expected; then there remains ever a yawning and vacant chasm for these crowds of sick and dying young soldiers (for they are almost always young and far more American than is thought) of something still helplessly unsupplied. Sympathy, love, cheerfulness, friendship, &c., are the printable words that must be used; yet, O! how much deeper than words, even such words, lies the mysterious, the convulsive want I see every day or night in the expressions, the silent yet eloquent faces, even the attitudes of the maimed forms of these thousands of brave and loving youngsters who lie on hospital cots, or hobble on crutches here around Washington!


I must give one short paragraph to that heading. Everywhere, as you visit camp, fort, hospital, wherever our military are collected, you see the truth o that sentence. Boys of 15, 16, 17, 18, are very commonf middle-aged men rare. I had an idea before I left Brooklyn that our army had at least a large proportion of foreign born soldiers. What it has of that kind seems to me to amount to little or nothing.


This is the name of one of Brooklyn’s lost and dead. Like many others, his young life given for his country, his death unknown at the time, and his corpse never recovered. Folks in Brooklyn will recollect Colonel Abel Smith’s raising the Eighty-seventh Volunteers in the fall of ’61; and how he himself was prematurely killed by accident on a Western railroad.4 But the Eighty-seventh went out, and among the rest was the youth above-named, a son of Henry D. Howell, of the Navy Yard. Ben was a mere lad; was in Company D; was all through the McClellan campaign on the Peninsula, (was in Kearney’s Division); liked soldiering very well; wrote frequently home to his father and mother, till on the retreat his letters suddenly ceased and they have never had a word from him since.

As is now known he was taken sick, and from one place to another, finally to hospital at Yorktown, where the poor boy died in June, ’62. But his parents home continued to hear all sorts of stories, and had all sorts of hopes and fears; thought he might be living, a prisoner in Richmond, &c.

Before long the Eighty-seventh was disbanded; part of it, men and officers, went into the Sixteenth Virginia, and are now in that regiment. Six months of uncertainty passed away, and Mr. Howell, the father, came on to Washington last spring, to see if he could get any certainty about the boy. He found that certainty; he found a soldier who saw the young man die at Yorktown.

I give this as a specimen of hundreds, nay, thousands of cases, all over the land. How many there are, even in Brooklyn; cases of our young men who have died a soldier’s death on the field, or elsewhere, and their corpses left forever undistinguished and unrecovered.


I see that a couple of Brooklyn men, officers of this regiment, are now in your city, after conscripts to fill up the old war-worn 51st. I want to say a word about Capt. Sims and Lieut. McReady. I was down at camp at Fredericksburg last Winter, in Burnside’s time, and was with these men. To Capt. Sims I am under obligations for true soldierly courtesies. Fred. McReady I know to be as good a man as the war has received out of Brooklyn city. I will say more about the old 51st and its varied history, and its Brooklyn elements, another time.



1. Chattanooga, Tennessee, the "Gateway to the South," was a strategic rail and industrial center for the Confederacy. From late June through the middle of October 1863, forces under Union General William S. Rosecrans and Confederate General Braxton Bragg engaged in a drawn-out struggle to control the area. Following a series of tactical maneuvers that resulted in little bloodshed and major Union advances, the two armies met in the Battle of Chickamauga (September 18–20), one of the war's bloodiest conflicts. After three days of fighting, Union forces retreated to Chattanooga, where they were beseiged for several weeks. [back]

2. There were several skirmishes around Charleston throughout 1863, including two major battles in April and September of that year. Both of these battles were Confederate victories. [back]

3. George Gordon Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, had moved toward Culpeper Court House (outside of Culpeper, Virginia) in early September. The actual Battle of Culpeper Court House, a Union victory, took place on September 13, 1863. [back]

4. Colonel Abel Smith was injured on May 27, 1863, in the storming of Port Hudson (Louisiana, May 21–July 9, 1863), and died in June. [back]


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