During ROADSHOW's 2014 event in Chicago, a guest named Abbie brought in a letter that Walt Whitman had helped to compose for an injured Civil War. Abbie explained how the letter was addressed to her mother’s great-great-great grandfather, and sent by Albion Hubbard, a foster child in the family who had fallen ill with dysentery during the war.
According to Books & Manuscripts appraiser Ken Gloss, Hubbard’s letter was written from a field hospital near Washington, D.C., in 1863, when many soldiers, including Whitman’s brother George, were hospitalized for various injuries and illnesses. A timeline published in the Library of Congress’ digital collections explained how Whitman passed through the area around the federal capital in 1862 before tracking down his wounded brother in Falmouth, Virginia, and Gloss noted that during his journey, Whitman was deeply affected by the grim conditions he witnessed, and moved to do something to help incapacitated soldiers.
In a personal account of his experience in an 1864 New York Times article, Whitman detailed his volunteer work the previous year in Washington hospitals, where he encountered numerous cases of amputations, leg injuries, burns, and fever. Whitman recounted how he took the patients gifts of fruit, and reading materials, and urged them to contact their families by supplying them with “writing paper and a stamped envelope.” For those who were too weak to write, such as Hubbard, Whitman would act as their scribe in his own now-unmistakable hand.
With the hindsight of history, Albion Hubbard's letter home is a particularly poignant example. In it the young man clearly longs for reassuring contact from family while he suffers from his ailment as well as from lonliness while confined to his bed in an army field hospital. According to Gloss, Hubbard died just 10 days after Whitman's visit.
Read Albion Hubbard’s full letter below.
Letter home from Albion Hubbard, a Union soldier in hospital, written by Walt Whitman, June 1863
Friday evening June 12th 1863
As I have a favorable opportunity, by means of a visitor to the hospital, who is now sitting by the side of my bed, I write you again, making the second time this week, to let you know that I am tolerably comfortable, have good care & medical attendance, & hope to be up before long – have been up & moving around the ward both this forenoon & afternoon – though I move around pretty slow, as I am weak yet – a member of the Massachusetts Relief Society has called upon me & given me a few “trifles” – Dear friend, I wish you would say to Mrs. Rice I send her my best love and respects – I send my love to Horace, also to Charles and Mrs. Clare – I would like so much to see the face of a friend – I wish you would write me a good long letter, some of you, my dear friends, as a letter from home is very acceptable in hospital – My diarrhea is still somewhat troublesome, yet I feel in pretty good spirits – I send you an envelope with my address on – Keep a copy of it – and this one you please put a stamp on & write to me – Please give my love to the friends in the village & tell them I should like to hear from them, & give them my direction here in hospital – goodbye for the present.
Albion F. Hubbard
Written by Walt Whitman, a friend.