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Walt Whitman's Reconstruction

Poetry and Publishing between Memory and History

Martin T. Buinicki

Publication Year: 2011

 For Walt Whitman, living and working in Washington, D.C., after the Civil War, Reconstruction meant not only navigating these tumultuous years alongside his fellow citizens but also coming to terms with his own memories of the war. Just as the work of national reconstruction would continue long past its official end in 1877, Whitman’s own reconstruction would continue throughout the remainder of his life as he worked to revise his poetic project—and his public image—to incorporate the disasters that had befallen the Union. In this innovative and insightful analysis of the considerable poetic and personal reimagining that is the hallmark of these postwar years, Martin Buinicki reveals the ways that Whitman reconstructed and read the war.

The Reconstruction years would see Whitman transformed from newspaper editor and staff journalist to celebrity contributor and nationally recognized public lecturer, a transformation driven as much by material developments in the nation as by his own professional and poetic ambitions while he expanded and cemented his place in the American literary landscape. Buinicki places Whitman’s postwar periodical publications and business interests in context, closely examining his “By the Roadside” cluster as well as Memoranda During the War and Specimen Days as part of his larger project of personal and artistic reintegration. He traces Whitman’s shifting views of Ulysses S. Grant as yet another way to understand the poet’s postwar life and profession and reveals the emergence of Whitman the public historian at the end of Reconstruction.
Whitman’s personal reconstruction was political, poetic, and public, and his prose writings, like his poetry, formed a major part of the postwar figure that he presented to the nation. Looking at the poet’s efforts to absorb the war into his own reconstruction narrative, Martin Buinicki provides striking new insights into the evolution of Whitman’s views and writings.


Published by: University of Iowa Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

This book would not have been possible without the generosity and support of a number of people who may not fully realize the debt of gratitude that I owe them, and I am happy to have a moment here to offer some slight recompense...


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p. xi

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1. Walt Whitman’s Reconstruction

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pp. 1-14

On May 23rd, 1865, the combined might of nearly the entire Union army gathered for one last march. Two hundred thousand strong they came, wending their way through the streets of Washington, D.C., for a magnificent...

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2. Periodicals, Politics, and the New Paper World

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pp. 15-48

Walt Whitman’s Civil War writings, while voluminous and complex, were only one small eddy in a river of texts that emerged from the confluence of the wrenching national conflict and the dramatic transformation of the publishing...

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3. Whitman and the Elusive Site of Memory

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pp. 49-76

The rise of American periodicals and the continued expansion of the publishing business that followed the Civil War coincided with a rush to commemorate and then, as years passed, to document definitively the events that took place. National monuments...

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4. “By the Roadside” and Whitman’s Narrative of Poetic (Re)Awakening

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pp. 77-108

As formal Reconstruction came to a close and commemorating the war took precedence over the contentious political debates in the public imagination, Whitman returned once more to the task of the next edition of...

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5. Whitman’s General

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pp. 109-133

The dramatic changes in the partisan press after the war matched the considerable upheaval in the post–Civil War political landscape in the United States. While the Democratic Party was clearly in disarray following the war...

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6. Reconstructing His Story

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pp. 134-150

Whitman saw his Memoranda as an effort to preserve the truth of the Civil War by honoring the blank spaces, the undocumented struggles, and the unknown dead, at the same time the country was preoccupied...


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pp. 151-168


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pp. 169-176


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pp. 177-187

E-ISBN-13: 9781609380700
E-ISBN-10: 1609380703
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609380694
Print-ISBN-10: 160938069X

Page Count: 187
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: first

OCLC Number: 772499841
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Walt Whitman's Reconstruction

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Subject Headings

  • Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 -- Political and social views.
  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877) in literature.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Literature and the war.
  • Authors and publishers -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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