Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman in Washington, D.C.

In December 1862, Walt Whitman was at his family's home in Brooklyn, New York when he read newspaper reports that "George Whitmore" of the 51st New York Infantry Regiment had been wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Walt and his family became concerned immediately. There was no one by the name of "George Whitmore" in the 51st New York. There was, however, a "George Whitman" — Walt's younger brother.

Photograph of Walt Whitman

'The real war will never get in the books'

When Walt Whitman first rushed to Washington in the winter of 1862, the trip had nothing to do with poetry.

It was Dec. 16 — nearly two years into the Civil War and seven years into Whitman’s poetry career — when the New York Herald listed a “First Lieutenant G.W. Whitmore” among the troops killed or wounded in Fredericksburg, Va. The misspelled listing was referring to George Whitman, Walt’s brother, who had enlisted in the Union Army in 1861.

Walt left immediately to search Washington’s hospitals. The poet would stay in the city for the next 11 years.