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Walt Whitman's work as a nurse to the wounded soldiers of the Civil War had a profound effect on the way he saw the world. Much less well known is the extraordinary record of his younger brother, George, who led his men in twenty-one major battles, almost to die in a Confederate prison camp as the fighting ended. Drawing on the searing letters that Walt, George, their mother Louisa, and their other brothers, wrote to each other during the conflict, and on new evidence and new readings of the great poet, Now the Drum of War chronicles the experience of an archetypal American family-from rural Long Island to working-class Brooklyn-enduring its own long crisis alongside the anguish of the nation.

Robert Roper, author of "Now the Drum of War," on the Whitman Family and the Civil War

Robert Roper has constructed a powerful narrative about America's greatest crucible, and a compelling story of our most original poet and one of our bravest soldiers. In keeping with this larger-than-life figure, Roper Fatal Mountaineer skillfully weaves several books into one.

Framed as an insightful literary critique, especially of Whitman's coded writings, as well as a biographical chronicle of his remarkable and dysfunctional family, the book is also a historical examination of Civil War battlefield traumas and tragedies, principally as the poet experienced them. At the center of the book, Roper focuses on Whitman's emotional relations with the young wounded soldiers he nursed, showing in effect that these homoerotic bonds can be seen as the semipaternal manifestation of his relationships with his much younger brothers, George Washington Whitman—with whom he was closest, and who had a distinguished war record—and Thomas Jefferson Whitman.

Drawing on the searing letters that Walt, George, their mother Louisa, and their other brothers, wrote to each other during the conflict, and on new evidence and new readings of the great poet, Now the Drum of War chronicles the experience of an archetypal American family-from rural Long Island to working-class Brooklyn-enduring its own long crisis alongside the anguish of the nation.


  • Now the Drum of War: Walt Whitman and His Brothers in the Civil War | Long Island History Journal.
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Robert Roper has constructed a powerful narrative about America's greatest crucible, and a compelling story of our most original poet and one of our bravest soldiers. One is on the side of nurturing and empathy, a lover-figure who becomes a tender friend or father; the other more in line with classical definitions of masculine virtue, a man who protects his fellow-fighters while resolutely destroying the enemy The Whitmans did not arrive at their vocations independently, or out of nowhere; their family's stalwartness in terrible trials, especially their mother's, and their own continuing awareness of each other as the war darkened, year by year, for both of them, awoke in both a kind of greatness.