Rare Walt Whitman Letter Written For A Dying Soldier Uncovered

The celebrated gay poet was a volunteer nurse during the Civil War.

A rare letter from iconic poet Walt Whitman has been discovered in the National Archives in D.C.

The celebrated gay poet was a volunteer nurse during the Civil War and penned a letter home for a soldier dying of tuberculosis.

“My dear wife,” begins the note, written on behalf of Pvt. Robert N. Jabo, who was illiterate. “You must excuse me for not having written… have not been very well.” Jabo explained it was being written by “a friend who is now sitting by my side,” and Whitman signed his name at the bottom.

Flamboyant Whitman

The letter, written in 1965, was discovered last month by an archivist gathering files of Civil War widows’ pensions.

“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. 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.”

Though it’s unknown how many letters Whitman wrote in this vein, only three exist today.

“It doesn’t get much bigger, in my eyes. It’s just simply stunning,” archivist Jackie Budell told the Washington Post.

The letter will now be housed in a vault at the National Archives.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery