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.