The Wound Dresser (1975) by Walt Whitman is a wonderful collection of articles and letters about Walt Whitman’s experiences volunteering as a nurse in the Civil War.
Whitman speaks of the brutal aftermath of the soldiers fighting in the war, which began in 1861, with honesty and compassion. He writes letters to his family but mostly his mother Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. It is interesting to see the everyday Walt Whitman. It shows the human side. He comes across very nice, very caring and compassionate and down-to-earth. There was some racist things he said in it though which I didn’t like. I don’t necessarily think he was racist but some of the things he said definitely were.
In the book, there is three articles. The articles speak about his time in the Civil War and many of his experiences with wounded soldiers he met. He speaks about how many of them are just looking for someone to talk to. He would also bring them items they needed such as sweets, fruit and tobacco. He also sometimes gave money to some of the soldiers to let them slightly get back on their feet. In his opinions he showed that he was quite ahead of his time. This book was written in the 1800s, well before the ADLs of the 1950s by Sidney Katz and his team at the Benjamin Rose Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio and the Roper-Logan-Tierney model of the 1980s. And a lot of the things Whitman says in this book are what is thought of as best practice in healthcare now. He treated the wounded soldiers with the dignity they deserved. He also speaks very honestly about the healthcare staff. He says how some were caring, others weren’t.
The letters also speak of the war but deal with a lot of other areas such as family life. There is a warmth that comes through in these letters which shows how much of a family man Whitman was. He had an interest in the things his family members were getting up to and that was lovely to read. From the letters they seemed like a very close family.
I very much liked reading the book. It was interesting and gave an excellent insight into the aftermath of soldiers in the Civil War and into the human side of the soldiers as individuals as opposed to as a collective. It was at times sad and heart-wrenching as you would expect but it also has warm and happier moments and Whitman covers the whole story excellently from his perspective.
Interesting and full of depth.
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