Walt Whitman, Half-Length Portrait, Seated in Chair, Facing Left


This portrait of the American poet Walt Whitman was taken circa 1862 by the noted Civil War photographer Matthew Brady. In December 1862, Whitman saw the name of his brother George, a member of the 51st New York Infantry, listed among the wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Whitman rushed from Brooklyn to the Washington area to search the hospitals and encampments for George. Whitman was pickpocketed on his journey and arrived "without a dime." With the help of friends, he secured a pass behind military lines. On December 29, 1862, a relieved Whitman wrote to his mother that he had "found George alive and well" in a camp at Falmouth, across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, Virginia. He also reported that he had decided to stay in the area and find work. He soon accompanied wounded soldiers back to Washington. The search for George was Whitman’s introduction to the ghastly consequences of warfare. He began to make acquaintance of the soldiers and note accounts of those who had served in battle. Whitman was 43 years old in 1862–63, when he began volunteering in Washington, D.C. war hospitals. While working in the city, he had several portraits taken at the studios of Brady and Alexander Gardner.

Last updated: October 16, 2012