“One turns to me his appealing eyes- poor boy! I never knew you, Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.” Walt Whitman

Civil War graves, near City Point, Virginia courtesy fold3.com
Civil War graves, near City Point, Virginia
courtesy fold3.com



Beat! beat! drums!-blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley-stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid-mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the
So strong you thump O terrible drums-so loud you bugles blow.

**words by Walt Whitman

THE WOUND-DRESSER. walt whitman



  An old man bending I come among new faces,
  Years looking backward resuming in answer to children,
  Come tell us old man, as from young men and maidens that love me,
  (Arous'd and angry, I'd thought to beat the alarum, and urge
            relentless war,
  But soon my fingers fail'd me, my face droop'd and I resign'd myself,
  To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead;)
  Years hence of these scenes, of these furious passions, these
  Of unsurpass'd heroes, (was one side so brave? the other was equally
  Now be witness again, paint the mightiest armies of earth,
  Of those armies so rapid so wondrous what saw you to tell us?
  What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics,
  Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest remains?


  O maidens and young men I love and that love me,
  What you ask of my days those the strangest and sudden your talking
  Soldier alert I arrive after a long march cover'd with sweat and
  In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly shout in the
            rush of successful charge,
  Enter the captur'd works—yet lo, like a swift-running river they
  Pass and are gone they fade—I dwell not on soldiers' perils or
            soldiers' joys,
  (Both I remember well-many the hardships, few the joys, yet I was

  But in silence, in dreams' projections,
  While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,
  So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the
  With hinged knees returning I enter the doors, (while for you up
  Whoever you are, follow without noise and be of strong heart.)

  Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
  Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
  Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,
  Where their priceless blood reddens the grass the ground,
  Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof'd hospital,
  To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,
  To each and all one after another I drawn near, not one do I miss,
  An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,
  Soon to be fill'd with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill'd

  I onward go, I stop,
  With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
  I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,
  One turns to me his appealing eyes-poor boy! I never knew you,
  Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that
            would save you.


  On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)
  The crush'd head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage
  The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through I
  Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life
            struggles hard,
  (Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!
  In mercy come quickly.)

  From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,
  I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and
  Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv'd neck and
            side-falling head,
  His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the
            bloody stump,
  And has not yet look'd on it.

  I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,
  But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking,
  And the yellow-blue countenance see.

  I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,
  Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so
  While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and pail.

  I am faithful, I do not give out,
  The fractur'd thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,
  These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in my breast a
            fire, a burning flame.)


  Thus in silence in dreams' projections,
  Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,
  The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
  I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,
  Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,
  (Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have cross'd and
  Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)

Books I’ve Known And Loved

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Have I mentioned my brief foray into the world of living history nursing? As a book nerd I’m fascinated by gross descriptions of missing body parts and how people do without. I used to keep old prosthetics on the wall. But touching and interacting with real, live, sweaty people who are play-acting injury–well–that was a bit out of my comfort zone.

How could I wipe the sweat from the brow of a Wall Streeter-turned-Civil War re-enactor covered in fake blood without laughing when he pulled me close and called me darlin’? But then nurses have to laugh, don’t they? Men with their guts hanging out need reassurance just as much as a good bandage technique and don’t forget the enemata!


My kids got angry when a certain sad-eyed Zouave told me I was glowing (sweating) at Gettysburg. You’d be surprised at the many romantic moments that occurred at tent hospitals. Hey, if I was being eaten by maggots I’d go for it with the pretty nurses–what would I have to lose?

Louisa May Alcott wasn’t pretty but she was kind and sick and dying men can appreciate that as well (we all can). Let’s face it, pretty people can be a little uppity at times.   Louisa in her Hospital Sketches relates the sad state of soldiers far from home and fighting bravely for their lives and country. Oh, don’t be so cynical. The men did actually believe they were fighting the good fight. And Louisa wasn’t just some stupid romantic about it–she volunteered as a nurse and the sketches come from her real-life experiences.




“Irish Tough Guy” American Photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan

We are but tiny specks of dust . . .
We are but tiny specks of dust . . .

Take a look at how small we  are in the grand scheme of things. At a time when people fantasized about transcontinental railroads and nation building, Timothy H. O’Sullivan captured the enormity of the physical world and the tiny little men living upon it without the slightest hint of sentimentality.

Apache couple recently wedded.
Apache couple recently wedded.

Maybe his experience capturing the bloated dead of a generation of young men seared the notion into his brain that we are here for just moments and our big dreams are dwarfed by creation–or maybe he was just a tough Irish guy.


Here is the man who brought us some of the best, most unromantic photographs of the Civil War and The American West. Tim was great to have around from an early age. Brimming with confidence and machismo he apprenticed with Matthew Brady who happened to live nearby in Staten Island before the Civil War. At the age of 21 the young lad went off to war as an “operator” or hired hand photographer who also happened to be amazingly talented.


After the war he went west on geological expeditions–sometimes with a Yale dandy and sometimes with a military man–impressing both. Rugged, brave and fun he kept the romance in his courtship and marriage to Laura Virginia Pywell and kept the bleak, huge west and its inhabitants as they really were–formidable, inhospitable and sadly defeated in the case of the Indians.


I want a happy ending here yet once again death is always sad no matter how it’s done. Dear Tim and his wife Laura after losing their only child as a stillborn contracted tuberculosis. After the geological surveys Tim had trouble finding work. He applied for a job and all of his many friends sent recommendations that give us a glimpse into his special appeal. He got the job but had to quit five months later. He died soon after his wife at the age of 42. The tough guy couldn’t escape death, but his pictures do.





Pictures Library of Congress

Art and Death

promised childThe nature of art’s ability to heal as told by the artist:

“In the course of my peregrinations, I saw a man walking up and down before an adobe shanty, apparently much distressed; I approached him, and inquired the cause of his dejection; he told me that his only daughter, aged six years *, had died suddenly in the night; he pointed to the door and I entered the dwelling.

Laid out upon a straw mattress, scrupulously clean, was one of the most angelic children I ever saw. On its face was a placid smile, and it looked more like the gently repose of healthful sleep than the everlasting slumber of death.

Beautiful curls clustered around a brow of snowy whiteness. . . . I entered very softly, and did not disturb the afflicted mother, who reclined on the bed, her face buried in the pillow, sobbing as if her heart would break.

Without a second’s reflection I commenced making a sketch of the inanimate being before me, and in the course of half-an-hour I had produced an excellent likeness.

A slight movement in the room caused the mother to look around her. She perceived me, and I apologized for my intrusion; and telling her that I was one of the Governor’s party. . . . I tore the leaf out of my book and presented it to her, and it is impossible to describe the delight and joy she expressed at its possession. She said I was an angel sent from heaven to comfort her.

She had no likeness of her child. I bid her place her trust in Him “who giveth and taketh away,” and left her indulging in the excitement of joy and sorrow. I went out unperceived by the bereaved father, contemplating the strange combination of events, which gave this poor woman a single ray of peace for her sorrowing heart.

When I was about starting the next day, I discovered in the wagon a basket filled with eggs, butter, and several loaves of bread, and a note to my address containing these words “From a grateful heart.” Solomon Nunes Carvalho 

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Adventurous young man
Adventurous young man

Solomon Nunes Carvalho was the first photographer taken on government explorations of the West. He’d never taken outdoor pictures, saddled a horse or built a campfire, but when Captain John C. Fremont asked him along on his next trip, Carvalho jumped at the chance–yet another adventurous young American. The small party of 22 men–a leader, a photographer, a topographer, 7 assistants, 10 Delaware Indians and 2 Mexicans set out with high hopes only to end up in the treacherous Rockies in winter. If they hadn’t stumbled into the remote Mormon village of Parowan they would have died.

Solomon Nunes Carvalho was born in 1815 in Charleston, South Carolina, into a Jewish family of Spanish-Portuguese descent. Carvalho worked as both a portrait and landscape painter and a photographer.  The daguerreotypes that Carvalho took on this expedition no longer exist.

Photographs Like Tombstones Scattered On My Desk


What if the most rational, natural thing is that there is a god who created everything? What if the notion that God is dead is the big lie? What if there is a purpose for our life and it’s bigger than our seemingly natural desires? What if every person that ever lived, for however long or short, captured by light and chemicals or not, mattered? What if putting all our eggs in the one basket that we’ve named science doesn’t even explain the half of what this whole thing is about?

Ask me tomorrow,  but not today.