Walt Whitman-Poet and Civil War Nurse- Photographed in 1851
He first became aware of the plight of the wounded soldier when his younger brother George Whitman was wounded in at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He hastened to the battlefield to find him. Then for three years Walt spent much of his time as a nurse.
According to most Civil War accounts the male nurse ratio to that of women nurses was five to one.
“From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,
I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter
Back on his pillow the soldier blends with curv’d neck and side-
His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the
And has not yet look’d on it.”
—- Walt Whitman: in “Leaves of Grass,” 1897.
Whitman wrote a letter to friends in New York, saying:
“These thousands, and tens and twenties of thousands of American young men, badly wounded, all sorts of wounds, operated on, pallid with diarrhea, languishing, dying with fever, pneumonia, &c. open a new world somehow to me, giving closer insights, new things, exploring deeper mines than any yet, showing our humanity…For here I see, not at intervals, but quite always, how certain, man, our American man—how he holds himself cool and unquestioned master above all pains and bloody mutilations. It is immense, the best thing of all, nourishes me of all men.”