Brothers, Mothers and War

I was intrigued to find poet Walt Whitman had been at the Battle of Fredericksburg during the Civil War… bought a thin booklet about his life and some selected writings at the bookstore in Arlington.  He was 42 when the war started.  His younger brother George joined the 51st New York Volunteers.  Hearing his brother had been hurt, he left home to find him…and eventually did, recovering well from slight wounds.  George continued on with the 51st, but Walt, so impacted by what he found as he traveled near front lines of battle, spent most of the rest of the war volunteering in Washington D.C. hospitals, make-shift hospital camps, assisting troops in any way he could.

Walt read to, wrote letters for, fed, and dressed wounds of soldiers…both union and confederate.  Sometimes he just sat by their bedside.  And he kept a watchful eye out for George, for any news of him.

Snippets of this letter to his mother, written while he was ill, connected with me in a couple ways:

Mrs. Louisa Whitman, Brooklyn                                                         

Washington, June 17, 1864

Dearest Mother. I got your letter this morning. This place and the hospitals seem to have got the better of me…..The doctors have told me……. I need an entire change of air…….if I find my illness goes over I will stay here yet awhile.  All I think about is to be here if any thing should happen to George.                     Walt

As I read his words, it struck me how unrealistic it was to “stay there…if “…..  knowing there really was nothing he could do for George….just like there was nothing I could do for Andrew or David while they served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet how many times did I balk at leaving the house “in case he calls” ? 

Doug – “Then he’ll call back..or call your cell”.

Me –  “But he’ll call the house phone…I should be here to answer”.

Doug – “Don’t be silly.  He’s doing his job.  You do yours”.

Me – “What’s mine?’

Doug – “To live your life”.

I’m glad one of us could be sensible about it all.

And then the other part of Whitman’s letter…is it’s a brother story.  I love brother stories…probably because I raised four of them.  They argue, fight and call each other “butt-head”, but when it counts they are for each other.  Always for each other.

Brothers, Moms, wars….alot of subject matter there.  Far too much for one little post.  So for now it’s time to head outside.  It’s overcast today, but I’m going to take pictures anyway.  Cherry blossoms are starting to pop out…plus, Starbucks is calling.

4 thoughts on “Brothers, Mothers and War

  1. We also have had boys – young men!- in Iraq and Kuwait. Dreading the phone calls, yet eagerly anticipating them. I know exactly what you mean. Are yours home now? Ours are all stateside, with only one still active duty (had 4 and a spouse in at one point).


    1. Wow, you’ve really been thru it, Maureen. Yes, mine are stateside too. One is still active duty, but recently changed jobs so doubtful he’ll deploy again…I hope. And it always seemed those long awaited calls came in the middle of the night or early morning 🙂 But that’s ok. Life changing experience for all isn’t it? Many thanks to you and the service of your young men.


  2. I am here from Ann’s. I know it’s Sunday, but I read the Grateful lists until Saturday with the weekends left for Walk with Him Wednesday. And so, here I am

    Oh my goodness – nobody could get the Whitman thing like you. God bless you for rasing such good boys. There is this part of Judges when the mom of the invading army’s general looks out waiting for her son to return – which he will not – because he’s the bad guy. The Judge at the time was Deborah – and that part of the story has the marks of a mom all over it – only a mom would look at war this way. Thank you.

    God Bless and keep you
    May His face shine upon you…
    and all of yours.


    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Craig. My husband and I are Civil War history buffs and just spent an incredible week on the east coast soaking it all up. As I study scripture it is amazing to see how it all threads together. Appreciated the reference to the story in Judges.


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