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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

"The Million Dead, Too, Summ'd Up-Unknown" by Walt Whitman

[related by Gordon Thorsby]



After the war, on any Sunday after church, families and friends could travel out from Washington or Richmond could get in carriages and ride out into the countryside for a picnic. The sights that they would see shocked the senses and the people to action as they could see on the ground bleached bones, bits of clothing and the discarded items of the armies that had arrived at peace.


Caution: Whitman's observations and experiences from the war may be difficult to take.


"The Dead in this War-there they lie, strewing the fields and woods and valleys and battle-fields of the South. The dead, the dead, the dead- our dead, or South or North, ours all and finally dear to me. Some where they crawl’d to die, alone, in bushes, low gulleys, or on sides of hills- (there, in secluded spots, their skeletons, bleached bones tufts of hair, buttons, fragments of clothing, are occasionally found, yet)- our young men once so handsome and so joyous, taken from us- the son from the mother, the husband from the wife, the dear friend from the dear friend-the clusters of camp graves, in Georgia, the Carolinas, and in

Tennessee-the single graves in the woods, or by the roadside, (hundreds, thousands obliterated)- the corpses floated down the rivers and caught and lodged, dozens, scores, floated down the Upper Potomac, after the cavalry engagements, in the pursuit of Lee, following Gettysburgh [sic]—the general Million, and the special Cemeteries in almost all the States-the Infinite Dead-(the land entire is saturated, perfumed with their impalpable ashes exhalation in Nature’s chemistry distill’d, and shall be so forever, and every grain of wheat and ear of corn, and every flower that grows, and every breath we draw,)- not only Northern dead leavening Southern soil-thousands, aye many tens of thousands, Southerners, crumble to-day in Northern earth.

And everywhere these countless graves—everywhere in many Soldiers Cemetery of the Nation, (there are over seventy of them)— as at the time in the vast trenches, the depositories, of slain Northern and Southern, after great battles—not only where the scathing trail pass’d those years, but radiating since in all the peaceful of the land— we see, and see, and ages yet may see, on monuments and gravestones, or singly, or in masses, to thousands or tens of thousands, the significant word,

"UNKNOWN"

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