The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Parents’ Roles

What was her experience in the field hospital like?

It was overwhelming. Even so articulate a person as Louisa May could not fully express it to her diary; she saved it for later, when her book Hospital Sketches was published. Even in that book, however, she never fully got out of her system the horrors of the war. It was one thing to observe the people of Concord at work and play, another to see men’s arms and legs come off with the agonizing strokes of the surgeon’s saw. The experience was so daunting that Louisa May contracted typhoid fever and had to be sent home as an invalid herself.

It is one of the great coincidences of the war that Louisa May Alcott and Walt Whitman (about whom more is related in another question) were in Washington, D.C., at the same time. She went, perhaps, in response to an inner call to do something with her life; he went to answer a specific outer call, to tend to the wounds of his younger brother. For both of these great literary geniuses, the end of 1862—they arrived in December—was a turning point in their lives.


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