A letter written by Walt Whitman for an illiterate, dying soldier has been found in the National Archives. From the Washington Post:
Pvt. Robert N. Jabo, of the 8th New Hampshire infantry, was dying of tuberculosis in Washington’s Harewood Hospital and needed to write to his family.
The Civil War had been over for months. Most soldiers had gone home. And Jabo’s wife and six children were no doubt wondering where he was.
But he was sick and illiterate. So a cheerful, bearded man who regularly visited hospitalized soldiers offered to write a letter for him.
The cheerful bearded man turned out to be Walt Whitman. Whitman wrote many letters for the wounded and ill of the Civil War. During the war Whitman helped in the hospitals in Washington D.C. where many of the Union wounded were brought.
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.
“I am mustered out of the service but am not at present well enough to come home,” it says on the front side. “My complaint is an affection of the lungs. . . . I hope you will try to write back as soon as you receive this and let me know how you all are.”
Wilson, of Arlington, turned the letter over.
“Well I send you all my love, and must now close,” it ends. “Your affectionate husband . . . ”
Two lines down, came the surprise: “Written by Walt Whitman, a friend.”
It’s an amazing find. I’m not sure if I’ve said this before on a Whitman post of mine, but I’ll say it again. Whitman was an incredibly compassionate man and a truly good soul.
Here’s an image of the actual letter, with Whitman’s signature prominent.