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Walt Whitman: the Civil War Through the Eyes of the Wound Dresser

  • Date Submitted: 11/29/2012 12:16 PM
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Walt Whitman:
The Civil War through the eyes of The Wound Dresser
Walt Whitman is widely regarded as being one of the greatest poets America has produced.   Revolutionary in both style and subject matter, his poetry has impacted generations of poets and thinkers since, and continues to permeate our culture in modern times.   Aside from being an artistic and literary figure, though, Whitman was a first-hand witness to one of our nation’s most critical periods of history: The American Civil War.   His experiences with this monumental moment in history provided desperately needed relief for wounded soldiers, shaped his poetry for the remainder of his life, and provide modern readers with a unique perspective into the way an artist experienced war.
Walt Whitman was, at his core, devoted to the Union.   In his poem, “America”, Whitman describes a nation of equal members, all vital to the whole, and “Song of Myself” is full of language of equality and oneness.   So, when it became clear that the nation was on the verge of tearing in two, Whitman was adamantly in favor of the Northern goal of preserving the Union rather than letting it be split in two.   While his political and philosophical views tied him to the North, though, his main concern was not battles, legislation, or proclamations, but rather the men who fought for those causes.   While Whitman’s poems about America told of freedom, equality, and unity, his verses on the war that divided it concerned humanity and the aftermath that war wrought on its participants.   His experiences near the battlefield and in the hospitals, caring for the wounded profoundly impacted him personally, and this strong identification carried over into his writing.
Prior to the outbreak of the war, with saber-rattling beginning on both sides of the Mason-Dixon, Whitman was living in New York City and his poetry concerning war at this time was not negative, proclaiming, “War! an arm’d race is advancing! The welcome for battle, no...

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