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DC Field Trip

Since I just realized I never put up the DC field trip post…

The field trip to DC, as I’m sure everyone would agree, was a fantastic experience for all of us. One of the things that I found the most interesting was going to places I’d already been, but wearing my Whitman goggles. A week or two before the field trip I had been in the National Equality March (something I think Whitman would have supported) which started in almost the same place as the tour and took a similar path. It was very interesting to wander those same streets and imagine Whitman wandering the streets while pigs wandered through the mud.

During this class I’ve found myself more and more able to imagine the people of the past as I stand in places with a lot of history. The field trip definitely was one of the reasons that this happened for me. Listening to Kim list to us in detail various differences between Whitman’s time and ours, like the view he had from his office of the Washington monument, transported me back to that time, I felt as if I could see the mud streets and wandering soldiers.

I had  similar reaction to Ford’s Theater. Listening to the presenter speak about the details of Lincoln’s death made me feel as if I had been there. If Peter Doyle was able to describe that night in as much detail as the presenter I can see why Whitman felt like he had been there that night.

I’m trying to upload the video of the Ford’s Theater presentation since some of you mysteriously don’t remember it even though we were all paying attention, but for some reason youtube hates me and won’t upload it. I’ll keep trying and see if I can get it up there.

Whitman and the War

Whitman and the War:

A collection of annotated poems from Walt Whitman’s Drum-Taps.

With an introduction by Brendon Bottle.

Table of Contents

Introduction by Brendon Bottle


Long, Too Long, O Land

I Saw Old General At Bay

As Toilsome I Wander’d Virginia’s Woods

Come Up From the Fields Father

A Sight in Camp in the Day-Break Grey and Dim

The Dresser

Hymn of Dead Soldiers

Over the Carnage Rose Prophetic a Voice

Pensive on Her Dead Gazing, I Heard the Mother of All

Works Cited

Exploration of Chatham

So I finally went to Chatham Manor, and it was quite amazing. Before I start my post though I wanted to make two observations.

1) Did anyone else notice that “Fat Kids” was on the Bill of Fare for the dinner party in the movie? A quick google search failed to enlighten me as to what this could be other than actual chubby children. which leads me to my second observation.

2) The description of Chatham “looming over Fredericksburg for years” has me convinced that Chatham Manor is in fact the Shrieking Shack. Discuss.

Now, onto the actual post. As far as actual Whitman stuff is concerned, I was rather disappointed that this was the only (non publicity video) reference I could find  to my favorite Wound Dresser (besides Megan of course). Regardless though, I was determined to find the connection on my own. My Whitmania led me around the grounds looking for someway to feel as if I was walking the same ground as Whitman. I certainly didn’t find it here, although realizing that what looked like metal swizzle straws were actually catheters made me cringe. And I didn’t find it here, but seeing the ammunition up close made me realize how terrifying it must have been to be on the battle field. I can’t imagine how it would feel to see one of those immense shells flying towards me. I didn’t even find it here (and here), although maybe if I had been able to stay longer without getting the heebie jeebies thinking about the pile of amputated limbs I would have.

It wasn’t until after all of this that I realized where Whitman was. He was infused with the entire building. He had been there, he had talked to, loved, and comforted wounded soldiers there. Then I saw where he was, he was right in front of me. He had stood on this lawn and seen the same sights I was seeing. At that moment I found my connection to Whitman. As I drove down the rode on which Presidents, generals, soldiers and Whitman himself had walked I had to stop. I could feel the presence of all the people that had walked that road, I could feel their pain, their determination, their joy, and their loss. I left with an inkling of how Whitman must have felt as he watched hundreds of soldiers pass through the doors of the hospitals he worked in. I left understanding that Whitman truly was The Better Angel

I Can’t Stop Finding Whitman!

Also known as “On this episode of Masterpiece Theater…”

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Location: Dupont Metro – North Exit

Poem: Whoever You Are Now Holding Me in Hand

Finding Whitman

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Location : 406 Princess Elizabeth St.

Poem: Whoever You Are Now Holding Me in Hand

My Eulogy for Whitman

I, too, sing America.

These words struck a chord in me that I had been waiting to hear since we started this class. I have become enamored, some might say obsessed, with Whitman over the course of this semester. He has become to me, a man beyond others, he is the voice of America, the voice of the city, the voice of the people, the voice of war, and pain, and suffering, and love. The voice of Life and the voice of Death. As I’ve studied his works I’ve come to believe that I knew him, that he spoke to me, but this whole time I knew, Whitman did not know me, we had never met, and we never will. Once we began the deathbed edition I had to face this realization in a way which I had been avoiding. Whitman is dead, his body, that rugged, tan-faced, bearded body, is gone.

This realization came with a sense of loss. How can the world survive without this Great American Poet. How will we persevere in the face of destruction without this man sitting by our bedside, writing letters and serving us ice cream? All I could think was that Whitman was gone and all we had left was his voice, that powerful, gentle voice, echoing through the corridors of time, entreating us to listen.

Then I read Langston Hughes poem, and I realized, the man was more than the man, he was an idea, he was a belief, his voice was more than just the interplay of vocal chords and air, it was a way of speaking, a type of oration which had been unspoken until Whitman appeared. And this idea, this style, has not been lost. Poems, paintings, dances, novels; Whitman can be found in all of these.

Hughes writes that he can sing America, because the song continues, it only needs a conduit through which to be voiced. Whitman was the first to hear this song and he sang it all his life. From his 1855 “Song of Myself” to “So Long!” Whitman sang the song of America in a way which it had not been sung before. All of the poets we read for this week heard that same song. It could be argued that they would have heard this song without Whitman. Perhaps another poet would have taken up the call, but none of them would have done this the way in which Whitman did. I won’t argue that Whitman’s way was the only and best, there’s no way to know how another would have sung that first song, the song of someone else’s self, but I will argue that Whitman sang the song powerfully, that he sang it eloquently, and that his voice can still be heard.

The prompt for this week asks whether Whitman would have been happy with being seen as a canonical poet, or if he would be disappointed by how he was viewed. I don’t think it matters very much, and I don’t know that he would have cared. Higgins talks about how every person discussing Whitman talks about a different Whitman. You can talk about the “O Captain! My Captain!” Whitman or the “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” Whitman. No matter what Whitman one talks about though, it is still Whitman, calling from the past towards a brighter future. Whitman will speak to everyone differently, but the important part is that he speaks at all, that his message is not lost.

Those influenced by Whitman will take what they need and use it to sing their own song. Hughes uses the voice of Whitman to address race in a way that Whitman never did. Hughes uses the melody of Whitman’s song to create an previously unheard harmony. And that is, after all, what Whitman was searching for. The perfect harmony for the nation, the song, he loved. The voices to sing in unity, to sing the song of his ideal America.

I will never meet Whitman, the closest I can get is to hold onto small remnants of his life: a lock of hair, a mystery hand print, a diary which he held to his chest. It breaks my heart to know that this great man is beyond my reach forever, but I can take solace in the fact that his song echoes. The song of his self, the song of America, the song of life, death, and everything in between. And as I listen, I can create my own harmony, and in this way I will find my way to the Good Gray Poet, to the Wound Dresser. To Walt Whitman.

I, too, sing America.

Philosopher Whitman, Hello Again.

In doing the readings for Tuesday I was looking at the table of contents for poems first published after the 1867 version. One of the poems I found was “Roaming in Thought” published in 1881. I flipped to the page to read the poem and I was surprised to find a subtitle to the poem (something I hadn’t found Whitman doing much of). I was even more surprised to find that the subheading was “(After Reading Hegel).” I was immediately interested since I started this semester trying to combine philosophy with Whitmania and here Whitman was doing it for me. The poem is only two lines long so I’ll go ahead and put here so you don’t have to pick up your book if it’s on the other side of the room.

Roaming in Thought (After reading HEGEL)

Roaming in thought over the Universe, I saw the little that is Good steadily hastening towards immortality
And the vast all that is call’d Evil I saw hastening to merge itself and become lost and dead.

When I first read this poem I was very confused. I couldn’t figure out what the point of it was or why he had added it. My solution to this was to go back and read the entire section. “Roaming” was placed almost directly in the middle of the section entitled By the Roadside in the 1891 version.

This section begins rather morbidly with a poem about the dead from the Civil War rising from their graves and wandering through town (which would be an excellent opening scene for our Whitman Zombie movie). As the section goes on the poems are filled with scenes of death, depression, and longing for something else. Then we arrive at “The Dalliance of the Eagles,” which is a poem about some mid-air eagle loving, to be scholarly about it. The next poem is “Roaming,” and from then on the poems begin to become more uplifting and hopeful. There also becomes a theme of moving on, moving forward, continuing on to other things.This made me think of “Roaming” as the pivot point of the Roadside section. in order to put in context I’ll talk a little bit about Hegel’s philosophy.

Hegel was, like most Philosophers, kind of crazy and full of himself, but I can see how his ideas would be enticing to Whitman. Hegel was a strong believer in predestination but not in the religious sense we usually think of. He did believe that there was a higher power guiding things, but it was not individuals that were guided but society. Hegel claimed that society was in constant state of growth. He argued that every time a great empire rose, Greece, Rome, etc. it was the pinnacle of society and culture for its time. However, each of these great empires were flawed in some way. They failed to meet the criteria to be The Society. This lead to their downfall, guided by the Spirit which lead societal growth. Hegel also argued that each time a new society rose to the top it fixed one of the flaws from the previous great society. Therefore, Hegel argued, eventually we would reach the perfect society which would stand until the end of time. It would fix all the flaws of the previous great societies and all would be peace, love, and prosperity. Now, according to Hegel this society was the German monarchy of the 1800’s. Woops. However, modern scholars of Hegel have claimed that his ideas are not wrong he just got too excited about his own society. Now we get to why Whitman would love him. Many scholars claim that the perfect society will still come, but it will be in America.

Now, during Whitman’s time no one had made this philosophical claim yet, but we can see how Whitman would read Hegel and make this leap himself. So rereading “Roaming” with this in mind gives it a new meaning. Whitman is seeing America as the place where Evil will be eradicated in place of The Great Society which Hegel predicted. Now looking at the larger context of Roadside one can see how “Roaming” could be a pivot point. The entire section seems to be a discussion of how to get over the horrors of the Civil War (which is a little odd since the section was placed before Drum Taps). The beginning of the poem dwells on the pain, death, and sense of desperation that America must have felt after the war. Whitman seems to be recommending that America moves on by saying things like “To your graves – back – back to the hills old limpers!/I do not think you belong here anyhow.” However, Whitman seems to be dwelling on the war as well, particularly in “A Hand-Mirror” in which he sees himself (or possibly the country) speeding towards a rather gruesome end (seriously, it’s gross, and we thought “Compost” was bad).

Then we get to the poems I mentioned, “Dalliance” and “Roaming.” “Dalliance” seems rather out of place in the section. He’s been talking about people, the country, himself, his thoughts, etc. and has not mentioned nature in the way he once did. Then all of the sudden we get a rather flowery description of two copulating eagles, I’m guessing this is not meant to be literal. “Dalliance” is a poem about renewal, specifically the renewal of America. I mean, they’re eagles, the national bird of America, not exactly subtle Walt. Then we get “Roaming” which is a poem written after reading about the movement towards a great society. Here is where Whitman seems to be letting go.

After this Whitman seems to take us through a sort of rebirth. We begin looking out a barn door onto the peaceful countryside (Womb? Christ imagery? You decide). Then we move on to a poem about a child. Then we hear about runner running towards some unknown destination. However, even with the hopeful tone of the second half of Roadside Whitman acknowledges that there is still work to be done. He ends the whole section with a poem “To the States” in which his last lines read:

Then I will sleep for a while yet, for I see that these States sleep, for reasons;
(With gathering murk, with muttering thunder and lambent shoots we all duly awake,
South, North, East, West, inland and seaboard, we will surely awake.)

Rainbow Whitman!

So this week I’m abandoning the prompt altogether, I’m rebellious like that. Instead I’m going to write about something that has been bothering me for a while now and that has been particularly present due to another paper I’m writing. Specifically I’m hoping to address the question “is Whitman a gay icon?’

I’m currently writing a paper for another class on “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather. If you haven’t read it (look at me explaining things to English majors) the very brief summary is that it’s about a gay kid, like I said, brief. So in my research obviously a lot of the articles are discussing things about gay culture in the 1800’s and whether Cather was attempting to gloss over her own sexuality by writing about men.

One of the articles, in discussing the ways in which homosexuality was broached in writing, mentioned Whitman as being “sufficiently frank” about his sexuality. It then went on to say that “homosexuals saw exciting possibilities in Whitman’s pioneering effort.” The article accredited Whitman with being the father of  catamite poetry, the poetry of man on man love. The mention of it was short, and merely used to contrast Cather’s secretiveness about her own sexuality but it struck a chord with me.

Several times Whitman has been mentioned as a gay icon, a champion of the homosexual community, for example in the article I posted earlier about the statue in Russia, there was mention of Whitman representing the homosexual community. I wonder, if Whitman was alive today if he would appreciate being used as a representative for the community.

I spend a fair amount of time talking to my friends about how Whitman was gay and then reading them bits of Calamus or Children of Adam while giggling profusely, but I tend to garner amusement from it on a personal level, like Walt and I are sharing a private in-joke. I’ve never used him as an example to cite famous gay artists or to name well known gay people, it just hasn’t occurred to me to think of him in that way.

However, I had to start wondering why. There are plenty of other actors, artists, etc. who I consider gay icons even though they don’t necessarily consider themselves that way, so why is Whitman, the man who wrote some of the most homoerotic poetry of the 1800’s, not a gay icon in my mind.

Part of the reason, I think, is because Whitman never really thought of male/male love as different from male/female love. In all his thoughts about love it was always as a bonding force, it was never something which seperated people out as couples, or singled them out as those with love and those without, it was always a matter of the glue which held the nation together. He loved the nation just as much as he loved Peter Doyle. He loved the soldiers, not only because they were in need of his care, but because they were members of the brotherhood of his country.

Whitman obviously had personal feelings for men, just reading his letter to Peter Doyle and looking at their “wedding photo” was enough to cement that in my mind (not that I doubted), but his poetry seems to make it clear that love, for him, transcended anything as mundane as gender and became a concept, the concept that would unite a nation.

In this way I think Whitman could never be a gay icon, because he didn’t ever consider his relations as a matter of two men, but as a union between body and spirit. This past may be a little bit speculative fiction but that’s never stopped me talking about Walt before.

Lincoln: The Real American Poet?

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about why Whitman was so in love with Lincoln (only a little bit of that is due to my jealousy). Between the trip to Ford’s Theater and the reading for this week I feel like I’m beginning to see what Whitman saw in him.

To begin with I feel that it’s important to review what Whitman was attempting to do for the world. In Leaves of Grass, 1855 and beyond, Whitman is always trying to speak to America, and beyond that, speak for America. He spends the majority of his writing trying to document the lives and experiences of all those who can claim to be part of America. From the farmer, to the baker, to the candlestick maker (rub-a-dub-dub), Whitman attempts to speak to and for everyone in the country. Even in Drum Taps Whitman is attempting to speak for the silent soldiers, for the destruction, for the hope, for the war itself.

Different people feel he accomplishes this with differing degrees of success but I can’t imagine there would be anyone who would argue he is not trying to accomplish this (if you don’t agree that’s what comments are for). However, I think if one were to critique his accomplishment (and I’m not saying I’m doing this, Walt) it would be best to critique his ability to talk for America. Not that his words are not moving, or that he does not speak with the voice of a prophet, but no matter how he writes, how he speaks, he is still missing the authority to speak for America.

I feel that he managed to build his authority in quite a strong way, but his words, in the mind of the reader, will always be representative of a man and his ideas, a great man with great ideas, but only a man none-the-less. This is Whitman’s love of Lincoln comes in.

I hadn’t realized that Whitman had (potentially) influenced Lincoln as much as he did, but after reading the excerpts from Epstein I felt an idea I’d been toying with become more concrete. I think that the reason that Whitman loved Lincoln with such an almost creepy passion is because he felt that Lincoln was accomplishing what he could not. Lincoln, although a statesman, was also a poet. Not only was he a poet, but he was a masterful speaker, maybe in part due to Whitman. The most important aspect of Lincoln’s however was his authority. He had been granted the authority to speak for America by America. Even those who did not vote for him or disagreed with him understood that he was the physical representation of the United States of America.

I don’t know if Whitman knew his supposed influence on Lincoln but I think that seeing a man stand up in front of the masses speaking in the style of a true Whitmaniac, praising unity and connection, demanding brotherhood, made Whitman weak in the knees. Lincoln was what Whitman wanted to be. A physical embodiment of America speaking out against the destruction of the bond of Americans to Americans.

I believe Whitman was in love with Lincoln not so much for Lincoln himself, but more for the fact that he saw Lincoln as the embodiment of the ideals he had been supporting for so long.

Material Culture Museum: Civil War Hospitals


The yellow and green hospital flag

During the Civil War there were many advances made in medical treatment. Often through trial and error surgeons discovered new methods to treat patients and more effective methods of care. Treatment was not the only area of medicine that advanced however, the use of military hospitals was drastically changed during the Civil War and set a precedent for military hospitals through World War II.


the original solid red hospital flag

There were several ways in which a hospital could be arranged during the civil war. They generally fell into two categories, field hospitals and fixed general hospitals. At the beginning of the war armies would find abandoned buildings near the edge of the battlefield and convert them into field hospitals. These, however, were often poorly ventilated and unsanitary. As the war progressed, and particularly after the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, the buildings were often left in favor of tents which could be easily arranged and moved at will. The standard hospital tent could comfortably fit eight beds and could be joined to other tents in order to make larger hospitals. These tents were well-ventilated which aided in dispersing the stench of pus and gangrene. Heating methods were also invented to keep the tents at a workable temperature. Separate tents were also set up in order to isolate patients with highly contagious diseases such as gangrene and smallpox. This helped to curb the spread of these deadly diseases and saved many lives. The tents were originally marked with solid red flags but these were abandoned in favor of yellow flags with a green H (Dammann 113).

Field hospitals changed drastically over the course of the war, not only from tents to buildings but also in size, staff, and many other respects. Originally field hospitals were broken down into regimental tents. These tents usually had one surgeon and one assistant surgeon who would only treat soldiers from their assigned regiment so that one tent was not overwhelmed with casualties. This meant that a soldier could be turned away from a tent and be forced to search for the proper tent while losing precious time (54).

In 1862, Jonathan Letterman was assigned the post of Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac and undertook to fix the flaws in the current medical system. By late 1862 he had completely abolished regimental hospitals and replaced them with divisional hospitals. These hospitals were larger and situated farther back on the battlefield in order to move them out of firing range. The staff generally consisted of a surgeon-in-chief, three operating surgeons, nine assistant surgeons, a medical officer, and a variety of soldiers to perform the various duties of nurses and stewards (54).

Each divisional hospital was paired with mobile field units which were set up on the battlefield to retrieve wounded soldiers. These mobile units were easily broken down and set up wherever they were needed making it much easier to administer emergency care. The mobile units made decisions from administering opiates to determining whether a soldier was beyond saving or should be transferred to the divisional hospital.

These field hospitals were not the only advances made though. Permanent hospitals were also put in place in the cities for longer term patients. Designed by Dr. John Shaw Billings, these hospitals were made of wood and built like pavilions and were generally 150 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 12 to 14 feet high. They fit about sixty beds and fitted with a large amount of windows in order to help with ventilation, a design suggestion by Florence Nightingale.  The units were arranged in rows or columns and surrounded the central facility in either an arc or a grid. Records indicate that 431 of these hospitals were built, although there were probably no more than 204 in operation at one time (114).


A group of wounded soldiers

Over two million soldiers, confederate and union, were treated in the hospitals during the civil war. Records show that of the one million union soldiers treated less than ten percent died. The confederate numbers are similar but their method of tracking makes them unreliable (112). This was due in part to the advances made in facilities and treatments, but it was also due to the men and women who served in the hospitals.

Women played a very important role in the war, although they were often overlooked. Having been barred from the medical profession due to a perceived lack of strength, both physical and mental, women took on the role of nurse in the hospitals. Nurses were generally attached to either a hospital, where they performed medical duties, or a regiment where they performed both medical and field duties. These could include taking care of livestock, cooking and serving, cleaning weaponry, and any other tasks needed (Schultz 371).

Women were often looked down upon in the hospitals, and the selection process required that nurses be “over thirty, plain looking, and devoid of curls, bows, and hoopskirts” (Schultz 366). Women were often considered to be a distraction and incapable of performing as well as men. One man however fought for women to b placed in hospitals. His name was Surgeon General William Hammond and he maintained that women were more docile and efficient than men and were able to better lift morale. However, given his, at the time, unorthodox practice of gentle healing he was considered to be not credible and therefore women’s strongest ally in the field was unable to aid them in a way that would have benefited them (372).

Although women were at the bottom of the hierarchy the male surgeons were also faced with a complicated hierarchy. Originally, surgeons were only able to rise to the rank of major surgeons were often outranked in their own hospitals, and therefore required to obey orders against the best interest of the patient. This hierarchy was the cause for many problems in the hospitals. Often the chain of command was unclear, leaving nurses unable to receive the aid, instruction, and supplies they needed. This hierarchy also manifested itself in a sense of corruption among those higher up in the chain, particularly the men. Schultz tells of how Phoebe Pember was forced to sit silently by as she watched surgeons and male nurses leave the hospital to get drunk and then doctor each other’s report to cover up the absences (374).

However, although there were many problems with both the staff set up and the hospital arrangement the numbers of people saved still stand. Although one of the bloodiest wars in history, the Civil War was a time of great advancement for the medical community; standards set in this war would stand for many years to come, influencing the ways in which military patients were cared for long into the future.

Works Cited

Schultz, Jane. 1992. “The Inhospitable Hospital: Gender and Professionalism in Civil War Medicine.” Journals of Women in Culture and Society. Vol. 17. No. 2. Pgs. 364-392.University of Chicago. Chicago, IL.

Dammann, Gordon and Alfred J. Bollet. 2008. Images of Civil War Medicine: A Photographic History. Demos Medical Publishing. New York, NY.

First photograph. visit-gettysburg.com. <http://www.visit-gettysburg.com/images/civil-war-hospital-flag.jpg>

Second photograph. Jen G’s Blog. <http://jlgarrott.blogs.wm.edu/files/2009/07/flag-4.JPG>

Third Photograph. historyforkids.org. <http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/northamerica/after1500/history/pictures/civilwarwounded.jpg>

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