Thursday, July 16, 2015

Walt Whitman's Soldiers: "A New York Soldier"


Private Oscar F. Wilber, 154th New York was one among the many soldiers Whitman cared for at Armory Square Hospital. Wilber arrived at Armory after being wounded at the battle of Chancellorsville on May 3rd, 1863 and after receiving initial treatment at Aquia Creek Hospital. Wilber suffered from constant nausea, and his condition failed to improve. He died on July 31, 1863. Wilber was Whitman’s “New York Soldier” in Specimen Days :

"This afternoon, July 22d, I have spent a long time with Oscar F. Wilber, company G, 154th New York, low with chronic diarrhœa, and a bad wound also. He asked me to read him a chapter in the New Testament. I complied, and ask’d him what I should read. He said, “Make your own choice.” I open’d at the close of one of the first books of the evangelists, and read the chapters describing the latter hours of Christ, and the scenes at the crucifixion. The poor, wasted young man ask’d me to read the following chapter also, how Christ rose again. I read very slowly, for Oscar was feeble. It pleased him very much, yet the tears were in his eyes. He ask’d me if I enjoy’d religion. I said, “Perhaps not, my dear, in the way you mean, and yet, may-be, it is the same thing.” He said, “It is my chief reliance.” He talk’d of death, and said he did not fear it. I said, “Why, Oscar, don’t you think you will get well?” He said, “I may, but it is not probable.” He spoke calmly of his condition. The wound was very bad, it discharg’d much. Then the diarrhœa had prostrated him, and I felt that he was even then the same as dying. He behaved very manly and affectionate. The kiss I gave him as I was about leaving he return’d fourfold. He gave me his mother’s address, Mrs. Sally D. Wilber, Alleghany post-office, Cattaraugus county, N. Y. I had several such interviews with him. He died a few days after the one just described."

Image:  The upper thigh bone of Private Oscar Wilber. National Museum of Health and Medicine 1000513


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