May 6, 1864
I write you a few lines, as I know you feel anxious these times—I suppose the New York papers must have it in this morning that the Army of the Potomac has made a move, & has crossed the Rapidan river1—at any rate that is the case—as near as I can learn about Burnside's army, that lies in the rear of the Army of the Potomac, (from Warrenton, Virginia, & so to Rappahannock river & up toward Manassas)—it still appears to be kept as a reserve, & for emergencies &c. I have not heard any thing from the 51st.
Mother, of course you got my letter of Tuesday, 3d, with the letter from George dated Bristoe station—I have writ to George since, and addressed the letter Warrenton, Va., or elsewhere, thinking he might get it—
Mother, the idea is entertained quite largely here that the rebel army will retreat to Richmond, as it is well known that Grant is very strong, (most folks say too strong for Lee)—I suppose you know we menace them almost as much from up Fortress Monroe as we do from the Rapidan—Butler & W F Smith2 are down there with at least fifty or sixty thousand men, & will move up simultaneously with Grant—the occasion is serious, & anxious, but somehow I am full of hope—& feel that we shall take Richmond—(I hope to go there yet before the hot weather is past)—dear mother, I hope you are well & little California—love to Jeff & Mat & all—
Mother, you ought to get this letter Saturday forenoon, as it will be in N Y by sunrise Saturday 7th—
Mother,3 the poor soldier with diarrhea is still living, but O what a looking object, death would be a boon to him, he cannot last many hours—Cunningham, the Ohio boy with leg amputated at thigh, has picked up beyond expectation, now looks altogether like getting well—the hospitals are very full—I am very well indeed—pretty warm here to–day—
2 o'clock p m Friday 6th
Mother, just as I put this letter in the mail there is an extra out here that Grant has advanced his army or a portion of it to the region of the Chancellorsville battle of just a year ago, & has either flanked Lee, as they call it, (got in on his army between him & Richmond)—or else that Lee has hurried back, or is hurrying back to Richmond—
Whether there is any thing in this story or not, I cannot tell—the city is full of rumors & this may be one of them—the government is not in receipt of any information to-day—Grant has taken the reins entirely in his own hands—he is really dictator at present—we shall hear something important within two or three days—Grant is very secretive indeed—he bothers himself very little about sending news even to the President or Stanton—time only can develope his plans—I still think he is going to take Richmond & soon, (but I may be mistaken as I have been in past)—Well, dearest mother, keep up good courage, good bye for present—I wish you would write soon—
The text presented here is derived from Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., Walt Whitman: The Correspondence, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–77). For a detailed description of discrepancies between this electronic edition and the print source, see our statement of editorial policy.
According to Miller, the manuscript of this letter, dated May 6, 1864, is held in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection and Estelle Doheny Collection of the Edward Laurence Doheny Memorial Library, St. John's Seminary.
1. Grant was engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness and was about to achieve a major victory. On May 9, the New York Times reported: "GLORIOUS NEWS | Defeat and Retreat | of Lee Army. | Two Days Battle in Virginia." (Back)
2. Benjamin Franklin Butler (1818–1893), controversial Massachusetts politician and controversial administrator of New Orleans until his removal on December 16, 1862, was in command of the Army of the James in 1863 and 1864. William Farrar Smith (1824–1903) was one of Butler's general officers. He attacked Petersburg in the following month, but his delays led to his loss of command on July 19, 1864. (Back)
3. This paragraph was printed in November Boughs (The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman (1902), 10 vols., 6:230), with minor changes; "pretty warm" in the last line, for example, became "Hot here to–day." (Back)