Walt Whitman, Death of a Pennsylvania
Death of Frank
Death of a Soldier
Death of Frank H. Irwin:
Letter to the Mother of Frank H. Irwin, Company E,
93d Pennsylvania —
Died May 1, ‘65
Dear Madam: No doubt you and Frank’s friends have
heard the sad fact of his death in hospital here, through his uncle,
or the lady from Baltimore, who took his things. (I have not seen
them, only heard of them visiting Frank.) I will write you a few
lines — as a casual friend that sat by his death-bed. Your son,
Corporal Frank H. Irwin, was wounded near Fort Fisher, Virginia,
1865 — the wound was in the left knee, pretty bad. He was sent up to
Washington, was reciev’d in ward C, Armory-square hospital, March 28th
wound became worse, and on the 4th
April the leg was amputated a little above the knee, the operation
was perform’d by Dr. Bliss, one of the best surgeons in the army —
he did the whole operation himself— there was a good deal of bad
matter gather’d— the bullet was found in the knee, For a couple of
weeks afterwards he was doing pretty well. I visited and sat with
him frequently, as he was fond of having me. The last ten or twelve
days of April I saw that his case was critical. He previously had
some fever, with cold spells. The last week in April he was much of
the time flighty— but always mild and gentle. He died first of May.
The actual cause of death was pyaemia (the absorption of matter in
the system instead of its discharge.)
Frank, as far as I saw, had everything requisite in
surgical treatment, nursing, & c, He had watches much of the time.
He was so good and well-behaved and affectionate, I myself liked him
very much. I was in the habit of coming in afternoons and sitting by
him, and soothing him, and he liked to have me— liked to put his arm
out and lay his hand on my knee — would keep it so a long while.
Toward the last he was more restless and flighty at night — often
fancied himself with his regiment — by his talk sometimes seem’d as
if his feeling were hurt by being blamed by his officers for
something he was entirely innocent of — said, "I never in my life
was thought capable of such a thing, and never was." At other times
he would fancy himself talking as it seemed to children or such
like, his relatives I suppose, and giving them good advise; would
talk to them a long while.
All the time he was out of his head not one single
bad word or idea escaped him. It was remark’d that many a man’s
conversations in his senses was not half as good as Frank’s
delirium. He seem’d quite willing to die — he had become very weak
and had suffer’d a good deal, and was perfectly resign’d, poor boy.
I do not know his past life, but I feel as if it must have been
good. At any rate what I saw of him here, under the most trying
circumstances, with a painful wound, and among strangers, I can say
that he behaved so brave, so composed, and so sweet and
affectionate, it could not be surpass’d. And now like many other
noble and good men, after serving his country as a soldier, he has
yielded up his young life at the very onset in her service. Such
things are gloomy — yet there is a text, "God doeth all things well"
— the meaning of which, after due time, appears to the soul.
I thought perhaps a few words, though from a
stranger, about you son, from one who was with him at the last,
might be worthwhile — for I loved the young man, though I but saw
him immediately to lose him, I am merely a friend visiting hospitals
occasionally to cheer the wounded and sick.