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Found: Rare Walt Whitman Letter Written on Behalf of Civil War Soldier

By Harriet Staff


The Washington Post reports that a rare Walt Whitman letter, one of only three known to exist, has been discovered at the National Archives. “ ‘My dear wife,’ it began, ‘you must excuse me for not having written. . . . have not been very well.’ The letter explained that it was penned by ‘a friend who is now sitting by my side.’ ” Michael E. Ruane tells us more:

“I do a good deal of this, of course, writing all kinds, including love letters,” Whitman wrote in a dispatch for the New York Times in 1864.

“Many sick and wounded soldiers have not written home to parents, brothers, sisters, and even wives . . . for a long, long time,” he wrote. “Some are poor writers, some cannot get paper . . . many . . . dread to worry the folks at home — the facts about them are so sad to tell.”

“I always encourage the men to write, and promptly write for them,” he wrote.

A century and a half later, few of those letters have surfaced.

But late on the afternoon of Feb. 3, volunteer Catherine Cusack Wilson found one.

Wilson, a librarian in Falls Church, was sorting through pension files in the preparation room at the archives building in downtown Washington when she pulled the Jabo file from its large brown envelope.

Her task was to look through the papers to make sure nothing had been wrongly filed and check to see whether any document was damaged and needed conservation.

The files often contain letters from soldiers to their families, which Wilson said she loves to read.

Frequently, soldiers wrote to say that they were sending home money or to describe camp life. “It’s fascinating to me,” she said in a telephone interview last week.

Last month, she said, “I’m looking through the file, and I see this letter, and I start reading it,” she said. “You don’t expect anything, but you look forward to finding something.”

The letter was written on both sides of a plain sheet of lined paper, which was probably Whitman’s. It was written with a pen in neat, legible script, probably on Jan. 21, 1866.

Read the whole story at the Washington Post.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, March 11th, 2016 by Harriet Staff.