When Walt Whitman first rushed to Washington in the winter of 1862, the trip had nothing to do with poetry.
It was Dec. 16 — nearly two years into the Civil War and seven years into Whitman’s poetry career — when the New York Herald listed a “First Lieutenant G.W. Whitmore” among the troops killed or wounded in Fredericksburg, Va. The misspelled listing was referring to George Whitman, Walt’s brother, who had enlisted in the Union Army in 1861.
Walt left immediately to search Washington’s hospitals. The poet would stay in the city for the next 11 years.