Walt Whitman was able, by his very presence in Union hospitals and army camps, to write about parts of the war that were little reported. Below is a description of a young Union soldier who deserted, and whom Lincoln failed to pardon. It is jottings in Whitman’s Memoranda that make me question whether or not “the real war” got into the books. I think it did.
While all the gaud and tinsel shines in people’s eyes amid the countless officers’ straps, amid all this show of generals’ stars and the bars of the captains and lieutenants—amid all the wind and puffing and infidelity—amid the swarms of contractors and their endless contracts and the paper money—and out from all this stalks like a phantom that boy, not yet nineteen years of age, boy who had fought without flinching in twelve battles (no veteran of old wars was better or steadier)—stalks forth, I say, that single, simple boy, out of all this huge composite pageant, silently, with a bandage over his eyes—the volley—the smoke—the limpsey falling body and blood streaming in strains and splashes down the breast.