By Michael E. Ruane
March 9, 2016
The rare Whitman “soldier letter,” one of only three known to exist, was discovered last month by a National Archives volunteer who is part of a team preparing Civil War widows’ pension files to be digitized and placed online.Pvt. Robert N. Jabo, of the 8th New Hampshire infantry, was dying of tuberculosis in Washington’s Harewood Hospital and needed to write to his family.
The Civil War had been over for months. Most soldiers had gone home. And Jabo’s wife and six children were no doubt wondering where he was.
But he was sick and illiterate. So a cheerful, bearded man who regularly visited hospitalized soldiers offered to write a letter for him.
“My dear wife,” it began, “you must excuse me for not having written. . . . have not been very well.” The letter explained that it was penned by “a friend who is now sitting by my side.”
And in a postscript, the friend identified himself: “Walt Whitman.”
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