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Collection Walt Whitman Papers in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection

Civil War and Washington, D.C., 1861-1874

A timeline from Walt Whitman’s publication of articles on the history of Brooklyn and New York to his December 1862 move to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the federal government and volunteered at Civil War hospitals, through his postwar publications, employment, and health crisis culminating in official termination from his job in the Justice Department in July 1874.


  1. 1861 Apr. 19

    Brother George Whitman enlisted in the Brooklyn 13th Regiment for 100 days. He was posted as a guard in Washington, D.C.

    Walt Whitman, 1862. Mathew Brady studio. Feinberg-Whitman collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-ppmsca-08541
  2. 1861 June

    U.S. Sanitary Commission founded as a branch of the Army Medical Department.

  3. 1861 June 2

    Began publishing a series of 25 articles on the history of Brooklyn and New York titled “Brooklynania” for the Brooklyn Daily Standard (through Nov. 1).

    Walt Whitman, “Brooklynania” Brooklyn Daily Standard, June 3, 1861. Feinberg-Whitman Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  4. 1861 July 21

    Battle of First Bull Run.

    Battle of 1st Bull Run, July 1861. Kurz & Allison, lithograph, c. 1889. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-pga-01843
  5. 1861 Sept. 28

    Published “Beat! Beat! Drums!” in Harper’s Weekly and the New York Leader. The poem focused on the impact on the home front of the call to serve in the Union Army.

  6. 1861 Oct. 30

    George Whitman enlisted in the New York 51st Volunteers for three years and departed for camp.

  7. 1861 Nov.

    Continued freelance writing for newspapers and magazines, including articles about going to Broadway Hospital to visit New York stage drivers injured on the job, and later, wounded and ill Union soldiers transferred north for treatment.

  8. 1862 May 28

    Brother Andrew Whitman enlisted in the Union Army for 3 months (served until Sept. 12).

  9. 1862 Dec. 16

    Following the battle of Fredericksburg, saw the name of “G. W. Whitmore” (a typographic error, intended to be “G. W. Whitman”) among the Union wounded listed in the New York Herald.

    George Washington Whitman., c. 1861-65. Feinberg-Whitman collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-ppmsca-07385
  10. 1862 Dec.

    Traveled to Washington, D.C., area to search for brother George Whitman among the wounded. Wallet stolen in Philadelphia on the way, and George was not found in military hospitals in the city. Helped by William D. O’Connor and Charles Eldridge (friends made while producing the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass in Boston), who were working as civil servants in wartime Washington. Located George in Falmouth, Virginia, where he was recovering from a facial wound with troops near the battlefield, and stayed on to help with care of the wounded.

  11. 1862 Dec. 29

    Wrote to mother Louisa of the amputated limbs seen piled outside the military surgery operating in temporary quarters in Falmouth, and told her he planned to stay on and find work in Washington.

    Walt Whitman to Louisa Whitman, Dec. 29, 1862. Feinberg-Whitman Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  12. 1863 Jan.

    Began work as a copyist in the Army Paymaster office. Stayed as a temporary boarder at the home of Ellen and William D. O’Connor, and began visits to Washington military hospital wards. Continued to write freelance pieces for newspapers.

  13. 1863 Feb.

    Visited the Senate gallery with Ellen O’Connor. Published “The Great Army of the Sick” about military hospitals in Washington, D.C., in the New York Times.

  14. 1863 June 30

    Wrote to Louisa Whitman about seeing President Abraham Lincoln passing by on Fourteenth Street, near the Army Paymaster office.

  15. 1863 July 11

    Distributed pay with Army Paymaster staff to African American troops on Analostan Island, near Georgetown.

    Two unidentified African American soldiers [c. 1863-1865]. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-ppmsca-41852
  16. 1863

    Formed close friendships with individual wounded in the Army hospitals and wrote letters home for hospitalized soldiers. Boston publisher James Redpath, writer and lecturer Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others contributed funds to help provide needed items for the wounded in the hospitals. Worked on a book of memoranda, or vignettes, based on his work in the hospitals and the scenes witnessed, but publication was refused by Redpath (later published in expanded form as Memoranda During the War, 1875). Brothers Jesse and Andrew were in ill health in New York.

    Carte de visite of Bethuel Smith, a Civil War soldier from Glen Falls, N.Y., befriended by Walt Whitman in Washington [c. 1863]. Feinberg-Whitman collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-ppmsca-07370
    Walt Whitman to Bethuel Smith, Sept. 1863. Feinberg-Whitman Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  17. 1863 July

    Conscription Act draft riots in New York included violent racist attacks on African Americans.

  18. 1863 Oct.

    Visited the White House to obtain work-release leave from presidential secretary John Hay to visit and vote in New York. While there he glimpsed the president, who he had come to admire. In the same month, met John Burroughs, the New York naturalist and author who was working in Washington. The two began what would be a long friendship.

  19. 1863 Nov. 3

    Voted for the Republican ticket in New York. While home, attended the opera, theater, and dinner parties with friends.

  20. 1863 Nov. 9

    Wrote to friends at the Armory Square hospital about the entertainments attended in New York.

    Walt Whitman to Lewis K. Brown, Nov. 8-9, 1863. Feinberg-Whitman Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  21. 1863 Dec. 2

    Left New York.

    Walt Whitman, 1863. Studio portrait by Alexander Gardner (copy photograph). Feinberg-Whitman collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-ppmsca-07545
  22. 1863 Dec. 3

    Received telegram informing him of the death of brother Andrew from illness.

  23. 1863 Dec.

    Brother Jesse committed sporadic acts of violence and grew increasingly mentally unstable, leading the Whitman family to plan private hospitalization.

  24. 1864 Jan. 5

    Wounded soldier Lewis K. Brown’s left leg amputated at Armory Square Hospital. Whitman witnessed the surgery, at Brown’s request.

  25. 1864 Jan. 29

    Befriended Congressman James A. Garfield of Ohio, later president of the United States.

  26. 1864 June

    Fell ill. Physicians advised temporary suspension of visits to the Army hospitals until he recovered. Went on medical leave to New York.

  27. 1864 Sept. 30

    Without the knowledge of his family, George Whitman was captured by Confederates at Poplar Grove, Virginia, and held prisoner along with other Union officers at Danville.

  28. 1864 Oct.

    Published “Fifty-First New York City Veterans” in the New York Times.

  29. 1864 Dec. 5

    Committed brother Jesse to King’s County lunatic asylum. Held positive views of the hospital based on experience visiting many institutions.

  30. 1864 Dec. 11

    Published “Our Wounded and Sick Soldiers” in the New York Times.

    Campbell Hospital, Washington, D.C., 1864. Chas. Magnus, lithograph. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-pga-07423
  31. 1864 Dec. 26

    George Whitman’s military trunk arrived at the Whitman home , containing his uniform, weapon, and other personal items, including his wartime diary. The family correctly gathered that George had become a prisoner of war.

  32. 1864 Dec. 27

    Opposed the position of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and called for a prisoner exchange between Union and Confederate forces.

    Edwin Stanton, [c. 1864]. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-USZ62-40603
  33. 1865 Jan.

    Planned for publication of his book of war poems, Drum Taps. Returned to Washington from New York. With the help of William O’Connor, began work in the Patent Office building as a copyist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Worked for the release of his brother.

  34. 1865, c.Feb.

    Met 21-year-old Peter Doyle, a Washington streetcar conductor and Confederate veteran, who became his intimate companion.

    Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle, c. 1865. Feinberg-Whitman collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-ppmsca-07387
  35. 1865 Feb. 19

    George released from prison camp, suffering from illness.

  36. 1865 Mar. 4

    Attended the second inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. With George seriously ill in Brooklyn, applied for leave from work to go be with him and work on the production of Drum Taps in New York.

    Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address, U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1865. Alexander Gardner, photographer. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-ppmsca-23718
  37. 1865 Apr. 1

    Made arrangement for the printing of 500 copies of Drum Taps.

  38. 1865 Apr. 9

    Robert E. Lee surrendered on behalf of Confederate forces, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, ending the American Civil War.

    Surrender of Gen’l [Robert E.] Lee at Appomattox C[ourt] H[ouse], April 9, 1865. Lithograph, New York: Currier & Ives, c. 1865. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-pga-05039
  39. 1865 Apr. 14

    Peter Doyle attended a performance at Ford’s Theater, during which John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln as the U.S. leader watched the play from a box seat.

  40. 1865 Apr. 15

    Lincoln assassination announced in newspapers. Andrew Johnson became president of the United States. Read the news with his mother in Brooklyn.

    Drawing of the death-bed of Abraham Lincoln, Apr. 1865. Photograph of a drawing by Hermann Faber. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-ppmsca-23857
  41. 1865 Apr. 17

    Returned to Washington.

    Funeral car of Abraham Lincoln, New York, April 26, 1865. P. Relyea. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-ppmsca-13487
  42. 1865 May

    Promoted to clerk in the Department of the Interior. George Whitman, regained in strength, returned to his regiment and was promoted to major.

  43. 1865 May 23-24

    Witnessed the Grand Review of Union soldiers parading in Washington, including brother George with the 51st Regiment of New York.

    Grand Review of the Union Army, May 23-24, 1865, Washington, D.C. Mathew Brady studio, stereograph. War Views series, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-stereo-1s02873
  44. 1865 May

    First edition of Drum Taps printed.

  45. 1865 June 30

    Dismissed from his job at the Department of Interior by the new Secretary of Interior James Harlan, for alleged moral transgression due to the sexual content in his writings.

  46. 1865 July 1

    With the help of William O’Connor, secured new work with the Office of the Attorney General.

  47. 1865 Fall

    Traveled to Brooklyn to work on production and publication of the sequel to Drum Taps, which included the poetic tributes to Abraham Lincoln, “O Captain! My Captain!” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Brother George Whitman returned to civilian life and found work as a carpenter.

  48. 1866 Jan.

    William O’Connor published The Good Gray Poet, intended to improve public opinion of Whitman and counteract censorship of his work. The essay emphasized Whitman’s patriotism in caring for the Civil War wounded and the uplifting nature of his poetry. Drum Taps received mixed reviews.

    William Douglas O’Connor, 1885. Merritt & Wood, Washington, D.C. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-ppmsca-07377
  49. 1866 Aug.

    Took leave from job in the Attorney General’s Office in Washington to go to New York. Stayed with Abby Price and enjoyed the city. Supervised corrections in the printing of the fourth, 1867, edition of Leaves of Grass, printed by William Chapin. The new edition suffered from production errors and financial difficulties. Used it to revise the 1860 version of the book. Reworked lines of poems , reorganized poem presentations, and removed selected poems. The fourth edition also introduced “Inscriptions” (“One’s Self I Sing”) as the beginning poem for Leaves of Grass.

    Bird’s Eye View of the City of New York, 1880s. Lithograph, L. W. Schmidt, New York. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-pga-04130
  50. 1866 Sept.

    Returned to Washington. Continued to visit soldiers in military hospitals.

  51. 1866 Nov.

    Promoted and granted a permanent appointment as copyist in Attorney General’s Office.

  52. 1867 Apr.

    Brother Jefferson Whitman accepted a job offer with a water-works in St. Louis, Missouri. The offer resulted in a permanent move from New York for his family.

  53. 1867 May

    William Rossetti published an essay in the Chronicle in England praising Whitman’s poetry.

  54. 1867

    John Burroughs published Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person. Whitman and William O’Connor collaborated in the work.

    John Burroughs, c. 1900. Edward P. Green. Feinberg-Whitman collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-USZ62-118609
  55. 1868, Feb.

    William Rossetti published Poems of Walt Whitman, an edited selection of poems from Leaves of Grass, printed in London by John Camden Hotten. Rossetti removed or reworded some poems in an effort to avoid violation of English obscenity laws.

  56. 1868

    Poet Laureate of Great Britain, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and London-based American editor, writer, and activist Moncure Conway promoted Whitman’s work within literary circles in England. In his biography of William Blake, Algernon Charles Swinburne compared Whitman’s work to that of Blake. In addition to rising popularity in England, received increased positive notice from literary critics in western European countries.

    Moncure Daniel Conway, c. 1860s. Wood engraving. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-USZ62-43555'
  57. 1868 Sept-Oct.

    Vacationed in New York, staying with Abby Price and visiting his mother in Brooklyn, enjoying the travel by ferry. Carried on correspondence with Peter Doyle during this, and other vacation periods in New York. Visited Providence, Rhode Island, staying in the home of Dr. William Channing.

  58. 1868 Nov.

    Returned to Washington. Sent Ralph Waldo Emerson a draft of “Proud Music of the Sea-Storm”, which Emerson helped place for publication in the Atlantic Monthly (published Feb. 1869).

  59. 1869 Aug.

    Experienced another wave of debilitating illness, which a New York physician believed stemmed from his work in Army hospitals. Suffered severe heat stroke in his early days in Washington, and later experienced a series of mini-strokes that caused dizziness and headaches, escalating in the last part of his life into major strokes that caused lasting physical disability. Exposure to various infectious and environmental diseases--including typhus, malaria and tuberculosis—in the military hospitals and within family and friendship circles may also have factored into his ill health.

  60. 1870 May

    After being introduced to Whitman’s work by Rossetti, Anne Gilchrist published “A Woman’s Estimate of Walt Whitman” in the Boston Radical. The essay is subsequently credited as among the most cogent and insightful literary criticism of Whitman’s work. At the same time, Gilchrist developed a personal attraction to the author, who eventually became a close friend to her and her family, especially daughter Beatrice, a medical student, and son Herbert, an artist.

    Anne Gilchrist, c. 1870. Feinberg-Whitman collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-ppmsca-07393
  61. 1870 late July

    Took leave; went to Brooklyn to oversee printing of the fifth, 1871-72 edition of Leaves of Grass, produced in 1871 and in an expanded issue in 1872.

  62. 1871

    Published Democratic Vistas.

  63. 1871-72

    The new 1871-72 edition of Leaves of Grass, which included “Drum-Taps” and “Passage to India,” was published by J. S. Redfield in New York.

  64. 1871 Mar.

    George Whitman married Louisa Orr Haslam. They resided in Camden, New Jersey.

  65. 1871 July

    Visited ill artist friend Charles Hine in New Haven, Connecticut. Hine died of tuberculosis Aug. 4.

  66. 1872 Jan.

    Transferred to the Solicitor’s Office, Department of Justice, in the Treasury Building in Washington.

  67. 1873 Jan. 23

    Suffered a severe paralytic stroke while alone in his office at night; lost the use of his left arm and leg.

  68. 1873 Jan.

    Cared for by a group of close Washington friends, including Peter Doyle, Ellen O’Connor, Charles Eldridge, John Burroughs, Ursula Burroughs, and Hannah Ashton, the wife of Assistant Attorney General J. Hubley Ashton.

    View of the Treasury Building and the U.S. Capitol from the White House. Jack E. Boucher. Historic American Buildings Survey, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. HABS DC,WASH,612--69
  69. 1873 Feb.

    Sister-in-law Mattie Whitman, wife of Jefferson Whitman, died of cancer, in St. Louis.

  70. 1873 Apr.

    Though still physically disabled and ill with neurological symptoms, returned to work part time.

  71. 1873 May

    Included Peter Doyle along with his mother Louisa and mentally disabled brother Edward in a newly written will. The will was modified again after his mother’s death, with Doyle and Edward still named as heirs.

  72. 1873 May 20

    Mother Louisa Whitman very ill. Traveled to Camden, New Jersey, where she was living with son and daughter-in-law, George and Louisa Whitman.

  73. 1873 May 25

    Louisa Whitman died. Her last written words are “farewell my dear beloved Walter.” During the mourning period, Whitman sat watch seated beside his mother’s coffin.

  74. 1873 June

    Returned briefly to Washington and stayed with Hannah and J. Hubley Ashton. Granted a two-month leave of absence from his job, returned to Camden to stay with George and Louisa Whitman. Friends in Washington expressed concern over whether he could recover further from his stroke, or would live on with partial paralysis.

  75. 1874 Jan.

    Suffered continued grief, painful poor health, and depression. Presuming impending death, Whitman destroyed batches of manuscripts and correspondence.

    Walt Whitman, 1875. Mathew Brady Studio. Feinberg-Whitman collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. LC-USZ62-89959
  76. 1874 Mar.

    Invited by Tufts College in Massachusetts to read at commencement in June. Sent “Song of the Universal” to be read in his absence. The poem was published in several newspapers in June. Published “Prayer of Columbus” in Harper’s Magazine.

  77. 1874 Spring

    Complained of severe pain in the left side of his chest. Years later, his autopsy revealed that his left lung had completely collapsed, invaded by a longstanding abscess of the chest.

  78. 1874 July

    Officially terminated from his job in Washington.