“[The poet Walt Whitman’s younger brother] George Whitman’s reports of his own combat experiences hint at strong pleasures taken repeatedly and not regretted. Not a homicidal monster by any stretch of the imagination — by most accounts, a thoughtful and companionable man beloved by his troops — George found many aspects of war congenial. After the Battle of New Bern, North Carolina, in early 1862, he wrote to his mother:
” ‘We have given the Secesshers another thundering thrashing, and have gained a splendid victory. I went through the fight and did not get a scratch although the balls fairly rained around me. . . .
” ‘We had skirmishers extending about a quarter of a mile on each side of the railroad and we had not gone more than 3 or 4 miles before they came upon the rebels in strong force. . . . We marched right up under a terrible fire, formed in line of battle and . . . fought them in splendid Style for about 3 hours, when our boys drove them from their entrenchments.’
“When Walt read this letter, he highlighted the last sentence with penciled-in parentheses. He often marked passages in letters that George sent home; a number of these passages unequivocally express soldierly pride and feelings of fulfillment in combat. George’s entire correspondence, at the same time, is dedicated to lessening his mother’s anxiety on his account; he spared her many details, but he did not feel constrained to hide his feelings of satisfaction.”
– From “Collateral Damage” by Robert Roper in the American Scholar (Winter 2009)