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Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Prose Works. 1892.

I. Specimen Days

89. The Armies Returning

May 7.—Sunday.—TO-DAY as I was walking a mile or two south of Alexandria, I fell in with several large squads of the returning Western army, (Sherman’s men as they call’d themselves) about a thousand in all, the largest portion of them half sick, some convalescents, on their way to a hospital camp. These fragmentary excerpts, with the unmistakable Western physiognomy and idioms, crawling along slowly—after a great campaign, blown this way, as it were, out of their latitude—I mark’d with curiosity, and talk’d with off and on for over an hour. Here and there was one very sick; but all were able to walk, except some of the last, who had given out, and were seated on the ground, faint and despondent. These I tried to cheer, told them the camp they were to reach was only a little way further over the hill, and so got them up and started, accompanying some of the worst a little way, and helping them, or putting them under the support of stronger comrades.

May 21.—Saw General Sheridan and his cavalry to-day; a strong, attractive sight; the men were mostly young, (a few middle-aged,) superb-looking fellows, brown, spare, keen, with well-worn clothing, many with pieces of water-proof cloth around their shoulders, hanging down. They dash’d along pretty fast, in wide close ranks, all spatter’d with mud; no holiday soldiers; brigade after brigade. I could have watch’d for a week. Sheridan stood on a balcony, under a big tree, coolly smoking a cigar. His looks and manner impress’d me favorably.

May 22.—Have been taking a walk along Pennsylvania avenue and Seventh street north. The city is full of soldiers, running around loose. Officers everywhere, of all grades. All have the weather-beaten look of practical service. It is a sight I never tire of. All the armies are now here (or portions of them,) for to-morrow’s review. You see them swarming like bees everywhere.