Walt Whitman was not only a famous American poet, teacher, and journalist, but he was also a volunteer nurse for three years during the Civil War. In 1862, Whitman traveled to Washington, D.C., to tend to his brother, who had been wounded during the war. After witnessing the hurt soldiers in the battlefield hospital where his brother was receiving care, Whitman signed up to be a nurse at the battle zone in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
He spent his time visiting various Civil War hospitals tending to the sick, listening to soldiers’ stories, and writing letters home for them. By the end of his service, he estimated he visited “more than 100,000 wounded soldiers (both Union and Confederate) during 600 hospital visits.”
Some of Whitman’s most famous poems are written about his time as a nurse, including “The Wound Dresser,” which describes the act of nursing to the ill and dying:
I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,
One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never knew you,
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you (35-39)
Following his death in 1892, Whitman was buried in a tomb he designed in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey.