Famous American poet Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892), author of "Leaves of Grass," volunteered as a nurse in the Civil War. He is reported to have been profoundly affected by what he saw, and wrote about it in an essay called "The Great Army of the Sick," published in a New York newspaper at the time, and also in a later book called "Memoranda During the War." He claims to have visited almost 100,000 wounded troops, though that claim is likely to be an exaggeration, and is thought to have sat at many wounded soldiers' bedsides, drafting letters home for them to their loved ones, among many other kindnesses he performed.
In the tone of Vietnam combat veteran Tim O'Brien who wrote "The Things We Carried," who famously said, "A true war story is never moral," Whitman wrote, "The real war will never get in the books."
Whitman had originally journeyed to find his injured brother, George, who had enlisted with the Union Army, traveling to battlegrounds and eventually to hospitals in Washington, D.C. Along the way he wrote his mother, tellingly:
"Now that I have lived for eight or nine days amid such scenes as the camps furnish … really nothing we call trouble seems worth talking about.”
Editor's note: This photo of Walt Whitman during his Civil War years is by the famous photographer Matthew Brady, and is in the archives of the Library of Congress. A collection of his work in the National Archives, online, is linked here.