Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sgt. Major Whitman Goes to War on Roanoke Island

From the Feb. 6th New York Civil War Examiner.

Sgt. Major George Washington Whitman, younger brother of noted journalist and poet Walt Whitman and his regiment, the 51st NY Infantry were crammed aboard a troopship watching the federal fleet bombard Confederate defenses on Roanoke Island.  One familiar-looking ship came into view, the USS Hunchback that the sergeant knew from his home in Brooklyn.  Very likely he had been on it when it was a Staten Island ferry, but now it had been converted into a warship, with cannons on its decks where once people and wagons had been.

The ship had been struck by shells several times and had anchored but continued firing.

At dusk, he and the 51st landed and waded through 200 yards of slat marsh before finding a sandy spot to rest.  A rainy, sleepless night ensued.  The next morning, after a breakfast of crackers, the 51st marched through more swamps and participated in the capture of the Confederate forts.

The poet's brother was later badly wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, prompting his brother, Walt Whitman to rush to his side, beginning three years of his service tending the wounded.

Sgt. Major Whitman later became an officer and at the end of the war was mustered out as a Brevet Lt. Colonel.

Brothers At War.  --Old B-R'er

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