Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Document

Title: Introduction

Author(s): Jerome M. Loving

Publication information: Jerome M. Loving, ed., The Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham: Duke University Press, 1975). Reproduced with permission.

Whitman Archive ID: anc.02057


Walt Whitman, the war, and his soldier-brother

It is well known to literary historians that Walt Whitman was profoundly affected by the American Civil War (1861-1865). Perhaps for the poet who considered the United States "essentially the greatest poem" the war dramatized the dignity and strength of the common man in democratic America—a theme that had dominated his antebellum poetry. Indeed, Whitman was careful to announce the importance of the Conflict in regard to his poetry, which evolved as the nation evolved. In a poem written in 1871 and placed in the first "cluster" of pieces in the definitive Osgood edition of Leaves of Grass (1881) he declared: "my book and the war are one."1 Unlike the other major writers of his day, Whitman had identified himself closely and intensely with the war effort. Too old to fight (and perhaps lacking the inclination to bear arms), he began his service as a psychological nurse to wounded and sick soldiers in the Broadway Hospital in New York. In January 1863 he moved to Washington, D.C., a city then continuously under the threat of Confederate invasion and the receiving center for Union war casualties. Here Whitman spent several years visiting more than fifty military hospitals where he encountered the former omnibus and wagon drivers, salesmen, farmers, mechanics, porters, and bookkeepers—in general, those who made up what the poet termed the "divine average." During the war Whitman saw many of these men die and many more suffer the loss of limbs. He made many friendships with soldiers, writing letters home for them and corresponding with many of the soldiers themselves after they had recovered and returned to the battlefront. From Drum-Taps (1865) and Specimen Days (1882) we can see that Whitman—easily assuming his role as one of the "roughs"—was always at the scene, in the hopsitals and streets of wartime Washington, and occasionally at such battle sites as Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

While Walt Whitman's relations with a multitude of soldiers brought him close to the reality of the war, his impressions were undoubtedly deepened by the military participation of one of his younger brothers, George Washington Whitman (1829-1901). Surviving one battle after another during almost four years of combat, George Whitman wrote home to his mother frequently and to Walt and another brother occasionally. Most of the letters to his mother that are collected in this edition were forwarded by Mrs. Whitman to the poet—often with frantic notes about George's safety. There can be no doubt that Whitman read the letters, perhaps some more than once, for particular phrases that must have caught his eye are set off in parentheses in a hand other than the soldier's. In a letter from George to his mother written after the battle of New Bern (Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 16 March 1862), the following sentence is marked off: "We marched right up under a terible fire, formed in line of battle and went at them in splendid style for about three hours, when our boys drove them from their entrenchments and the day was ours." Such a spirited description of Union endeavor is echoed in the "Prelude" to Drum-Taps, where the poet strikes a note of pride in Manhattan's enthusiastic and prompt reponse to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter: "How she led the rest to arms, how she gave the cue, / How at once with lithe limbs unwaiting a moment she sprang."2 It is likely that George Whitman's early enlistment in the Union Army had a special impact on the poet. When Whitman wrote in the same poem the lines, "The tearful parting, the mother kisses her son, the son kisses his mother, / (Loth is the mother to part, yet not a word does she speak to detain him)," he was probably recalling for his particular example his own brother's departure in April 1861.

The Civil War letters of George Whitman were initially preserved in the collection of letters, documents, and manuscripts that Whitman kept piled high in his Mickle Street home in Camden, New Jersey. This material was ultimately divided among the poet's three literary executors—with Dr. Maurice Bucke, a Canadian physician and mystic, receiving as part of his share the Civil War letters. While such epistles convey in their manner the drama and detail of George Whitman's war experiences, they also give students of American literature additional information about the kind of family from which the "Poet of Democracy" sprang. For example, it is evident from the letters (which show no indication of military censorship) that George, like other soldiers, fought to preserve the Union and not necessarily to free the black man from the bonds of slavery. In a letter to his mother written after the Battle of Antietam (Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 30 September 1862), George Whitman made the following observation—which was set off by another hand in pencil, possibly Whitman's: "I see by the papers that Uncle Abe has issued a proclamation declaring the slaves free in all the States that are in rebellion on the first of next Jan. [1863.] I don't know what effect it is going to have on the war, but one thing is certain, he has got to lick the south before he can free the niggers...." He goes on to say that it would be better for the South to behave itself and keep its slaves "than to get licked and lose them...." While Walt Whitman also considered the preservation of the Union to be the primary objective of the war, he never approved of the institution of slavery. His vicarious participation in the Underground Railroad activities, for example, is clearly indicated in Section 10 of "Song of Myself," where a runaway slave is taken in, cared for, and "pass'd north." What effect George Whitman's attitude toward slavery had on the poet is difficult to determine. Indeed, one wonders how he reconciled such undemocratic feelings in men like his brother and his persistent belief that the greatest good lay in the common man.

The amount of information available on George Whitman before the war is of course even less than what is known about Walt Whitman prior to the first publication of Leaves of Grass.3 By George Whitman's own account we know that he was one of Walt's students when the poet taught school on Long Island.4 And when Whitman founded the Long Islander, a weekly newspaper, in 1838, George lived with him and worked as his assistant on the newspaper. Later, George Whitman's trade was carpentry—the occupation of his father and three of his brothers. In the Brooklyn directory for 1861-62, he is listed as a cabinetmaker working at 59 Grand Avenue. His successful career after the war shows him to have been the most practical of the eight Whitman children; such an eye for profit as his, however, always prevented George—as well as other family members—from understanding Walt's preoccupation with matters not pecuniary. In 1893 George Whitman recalled the annoyance he experienced before the war from Walt's apathy toward making money—even from literary stints:

I could hardly describe his stubborn reserve, patience. He got offers of literary work—good offers: and we thought he had chances to make money. Yet he would refuse to do anything except at his own notion....Some of the proprietors of the [Brooklyn] Eagle talked in a way not to suit him, and he straightway started up and left them. He would never make concessions for money—always was so....On literary topics Walt was the one to go to....But in business the rest of us were nearer the mark. We mixed up in business affairs.5

The following testimony indicates that George Whitman had no more idea of what Walt Whitman was doing in 1854 than the rest of the family: "We were all at work—all except Walt. But we knew he was printing the book [Leaves of Grass]. I was about twenty-five then. I saw the book—didn't read it all—didn't think it worth reading—fingered it a little. Mother thought as I did—did not know what to make of it." When the work that prompted Ralph Waldo Emerson to rub his eyes "to see if this sunbeam were no illusion" first appeared in 1855, Mrs. Whitman compared Leaves of Grass to Longfellow's Hiawatha, published the same year. As George remarked, "the one seemed to us pretty much the same muddle as the other. Mother said that if Hiawatha was poetry, perhaps Walt's was."6 Walt Whitman later confided to Horace Traubel: "No one of my people—the people near to me—ever had any time for Leaves of Grass."7

If George Whitman had no insight into his brother's poetry and the spirit of human liberty behind it, he was nevertheless imbued with enough loyalty to the nation celebrated in that poetry to join a Brooklyn regiment soon after the Fort Sumter incident. As Walt Whitman later described him, "Like many other young men, he then knew almost nothing of military discipline or practical soldiering; but the great Union call sounded, and he quietly but promptly put away his tools, locked up his chest, put the key in charge of the boss, and betook himself to the field."8 George Whitman initially joined the Thirteenth New York State Militia for three months' duty and spent this brief enlistment helping to guard Washington, D.C. In August he returned to Brooklyn, but as it became apparent—especially after the battle of First Bull Run—that the "uprising" would not be over so quickly, he re-enlisted in the Fifty-First Regiment of New York Volunteers (in September 1861) for a period of three years.9 Until the regiment's mass capture in 1864, it was assigned—with the exception of detached duty under Sherman in the Vicksburg campaign—to Burnside's Ninth Army Corps. During the war George Whitman rose in rank from private to breveted lieutenant colonel. Because of his prior service he was assigned to the rank of sergeant major the day after he joined the Fifty-First Regiment. And because of his performance in the battles of Roanoke Island and New Bern (February and March 1862), he was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. His apparent bravery in the subsequent battles of Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Chantilly, South Mountain, and Antietam (August and September 1862)—combined with the high attrition rate of Union officers in these conflicts—earned him promotion to the rank of first lieutenant on September 10, 1862 and captain on November 1, 1862.

George's being wounded at the battle of First Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862) precipitated Walt Whitman's move to Washington, for the poet went only as far as that city on his return from finding his brother encamped near Fredericksburg.10 After coming so close to the war and making so many friends in George's regiment during his stay with them, Whitman was unable to return to Brooklyn. In a letter from Washington, dated December 29, 1862, where Whitman had already secured a position in the Army Paymaster's Office, he told his mother:

When I found dear brother George, and found that he was alive and well, O you may imagine how trifling all my little cares and difficulties seemed—they vanished into nothing. And now that I have lived for eight or nine days amid such scenes as the camps furnish, and had a practical part in it all, and realize the way that hundreds of thousands of good men are now living, and have had to live for a year or more, not only without any of the comforts, but with death and sickness and hard marching and hard fighting, (and no success at that,) for their continual experience—really nothing we call trouble seems worth talking about. One of the first things that met my eyes in camp, was a heap of feet, arms, legs, &c. under a tree in front of a hospital....11

Whitman remained in Washington throughout the war doing hospital work, and his brother George remained in the army, surviving many more battles until his capture and incarceration in 1864. From George's letters as well as letters from several other officers in the Fifty-First Regiment, Whitman was usually well aware of the location of his brother and the battles in which he was fighting. In fact, Walt Whitman was so well informed as to the itinerary of his brother's regiment that he was able to write the following description of George's activities during the war, published in the Brooklyn Daily Union of March 16, 1865:

His career since he started out in April, 1861, and again with the Fifty-first New York Vols., in October [sic], same year, down to his return home to Brooklyn, two days since, has indeed been an eventful one. The crowd of occurrences and changes, both personal and public, during that time, are oppressive in their solemnity and irretrievable nature. Of the officers, in their original positions, that went with the regiment, not a single one remains; and not a dozen out over a thousand of the rank and file. Most of his comrades have fallen by death. Wounds, imprisonment, exhaustion, &c., have also done their work. His preservation and return alive seem almost a miracle. For three years and two months he has seen and been a part of war waged on a scale of amplitude, with an intensity on both sides, that puts all past campaigning of the world into second class; and has had danger, hardship, and death for his companions by night and by day, in all their Protean forms. He has been in twenty-one general engagements or sieges, most of them first class of war, and skirmishing, &c., almost beyond count; has sailed the sea in long and severe storms, fought all over the blood-reddened soil of Virginia and Western Maryland, also in the Carolinas, also in Kentucky and Tennessee, also in Mississippi at Vicksburg and Jackson; and in all the Titanic struggle of the Wilderness, and so to Petersburg and the Weldon road. He has marched across eighteen states, traversing some of them across and back again in all directions. He has journeyed as a soldier, since he first started from this city, over twenty thousand miles; and has fought under Burnside, McClellan, McDowell, Meade, Pope, Hooker, Sherman and Grant. Such has been the experience, beyond what any romance could tell or narrative comprise, of one of our Brooklyn soldiers in this war the past three years and ten months.12

The article for which the preceding quotation serves as the peroration appeared only a few weeks after George Whitman had been released from the Confederate Military Prison at Danville, Virginia. Walt Whitman's enthusiasm for his brother's war record is also manifested in a similar article published in the Daily Union upon the occasion of George's final discharge from the army and return home.13 In fact, Whitman may have intended to write a regimental history of the Fifty-First. Among his papers preserved in the Collection of American Literature in Yale University Library are news articles about the regiment and numerous scraps of paper with notes on the activities and backgrounds of many of his brother's military comrades.


The Whitman family

During the war George Whitman's mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795-1873), lived at "Portland near Myrtle" in Brooklyn, New York. Walter Whitman, Sr., had died in 1855, and Mrs. Whitman derived her income from regular contributions by Walt and George. Of her other six children, some were burdened with the task of providing for their own families, while others were unable to support themselves, much less their mother. Indeed, the lives of the Whitman children were widely varied. A roll call of the family sounds much like one of Walt Whitman's own familiar catalogues: besides a poet and a war hero, it included a syphilitic sailor, a hypochondriac, an alcoholic, a successful civil engineer, and finally one who suffered from both mental and physical disabilities.

Jesse Whitman (1818-1870), the first-born, apparently led a life of debauchery in his earlier years. As a member of the Merchant Marine about 1848, he seems to have suffered an accident which affected his sanity. The exact nature of the mishap is vague. The official admittance certificate of the Kings County Lunatic Asylum, where Walt Whitman committed Jesse on December 5, 1864, states that he sustained a fall from a ship's mast. Yet the testimony of his niece Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863-1957) asserts that his failing mental condition was the result of an attack by thugs in which he was hit on the head with brass knuckles.14 Described by his niece in 1940 as having "the best mind of any of the children, until this [accident] happened,"15 Jesse Whitman began to show signs of insanity in the early years of the Civil War—when he lived in Brooklyn and sustained himself by occasional stints at the naval shipyard, a few blocks from his mother's home. Disturbed by the death of his brother Andrew (described below) in 1863, Jesse tried to assault the wife and child of another brother, Thomas Jefferson Whitman (described below), who was sharing the Portland Street residence with Mrs. Whitman. In relating the incident to Walt Whitman, Jeff implied that Jesse's behavior was also affected by a case of syphilis: "To think that the wretch should go off and live with an irish whore, [and] get in the condition he is by her act...." Suggesting in the same letter that such lapses in sanity were becoming more frequent and hence telling on their mother, Jeff advocated that Jesse be put "in some hospital or place where he would be doctored."16 Walt waited another year before choosing such a course of action, evidently at the behest of his mother. A week after Jeff's letter she wrote to Walt:

Jessy is a very great trouble to me to be sure and dont appreceate what i doo for him but he is no more deranged than he has been for the last three years  i think it would be very bad for him to be put in the lunatic assiliym....as long as i can get any thing for him to eat i would rather work and take care of him  that is as long as i see no danger of harm.17

Apparently during the ensuing year Jesse's behavior grew worse, for Walt had him committed in December. Nothing is known about Jesse during his confinement until the spring of 1869, when Edward, the youngest of the eight Whitman children (described below), encountered on the streets of Brooklyn Henry Rome, one of Jesse's fellow inmates, who had escaped from the asylum. According to Edward, Rome told him that Jesse had refused to escape with him.18 In a letter dated March 22, 1870, the Assistant Physician at the asylum informed Walt Whitman that Jesse had died the previous day "from the rupture of an aneurism."19 Uncertain whether the letter would reach Whitman, the authorities at the institution had buried Jesse in a potter's field. Probably few of the family—certainly not Jeff—lamented his passing except Mrs. Whitman, who wrote to Walt: "aint it sad to think the poor soul hadent a friend near him in his last moments and to think he had a paupers grave....i feel very sad of course walt  if he has done ever so wrong he was my first born."20

Mary Elizabeth Whitman (1821-1899) was the first of two daughters in the Whitman family, born two years after Walt Whitman. No doubt because of her comparatively tranquil existence apart from other family members during her adult life, little is known about her. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright from Farmingdale, Long Island, in 1840 and went off to live in the whaling village of Greenport, Long Island, where she raised five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, and Minnie.21 In 1878 Mary reported to Walt that all of her family lived near her in Greenport and that two of them—Fanny and Minnie—had provided her with granchildren.22 The only known incident in her life that resembled the problems encountered by several of her siblings occurred in 1869, when Mrs. Whitman wrote to Walt, who was still living in Washington, that Mary had moved in with her "bag and baggage." Apparently, Mary had a dispute with her husband, who—according to Mrs. Whitman—had "got a drinking" and "come near dying with the deleru tremen."23 Otherwise, her life was evidently so placid and her visits to Brooklyn so infrequent that she is seldom mentioned in the Whitman family correspondence. Perhaps, as Katherine Molinoff suggests, the desription of the monk's sister, Mary, in Walt Whitman's short story "The Half-Breed" (1845) approaches an accurate representation of Mary Whitman: "a lovely girl, some two years younger than myself...[who] possessed in her character some of the most excellent, as well as some of the weakest propensities of her sex. She was capricious and headstrong—but tender, and very affectionate."24

Mary's life must be considered uneventful when compared to that of her only sister, Hannah Louisa Whitman (1823-1908). The fourth child, Hannah was—for no obvious reason—the favorite of all the family members, including Walt. Perhaps she shared, to some extent, Walt's aesthetic bent, for in 1852 she married Charles L. Heyde, a French-born painter of some distinction from New York—after being introduced to him by her brother Walt. The couple moved to Burlington, Vermont, and—for the first few years at least—were happily married.25 Prior to the Civil War, however, the marriage had become one of connubial agony for both of them. The complaints in letters by each about the other to Mrs. Whitman and Walt were legion. Hannah charged her husband with both neglect and brutality. Heyde countered these accusations by sending irritating letters to the Whitmans in which he complained that his wife's slovenly habits were interfering with his work. While it appears that both were at fault in the marriage, the Whitmans were naturally in sympathy with Hannah. During the war George Whitman repeatedly urged Walt to go to Vermont and bring their sister back to Brooklyn. From New Bern, North Carolina, in 1862 he wrote: "if I could get away I would go myself to Burlington on purpose to give that little Cuss Heyde a good square kicking" (Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 9 June 1862). A year later Jefferson Whitman wrote in regard to Hannah's husband: "Oh I wish to God he had been in hell before we ever saw him...."

Heyde was also jealous of what little attention Walt Whitman was receiving as a fellow artist. After reading a review of Drum-Taps in the Galaxy magazine for December 1, 1866—written by John Burroughs, a Washington intimate of Whitman's since 1863—Heyde sent Walt a copy of the issue, in which a review of Swinburne also appeared, and used the occasion to criticize Leaves of Grass, saying the poet was "woefully mistaken in the privilege [he took] of being merely savagely material, and consequently offensively vulgar."26 Whitman shrugged off Heyde's criticism by telling his mother that Heyde had written him "a lot of stuff...on 'poetry' & 'criticism' &c &c—of no interest at all to me."27 He was perhaps slightly more annoyed at Heyde's next attempt to criticize his work. On December 2, 1866, William O'Connor—another of Whitman's close friends—had written a long review in the New York Times of the latest edition of Leaves of Grass and a discussion of the poet himself. According to Whitman, in a letter to his mother, Heyde upon reading the piece wrote to the editor of the Times, saying his brother-in-law was " 'a good fellow enoughbut' "; he then proceeded "to run down Leaves of Grass."28

Apparently Heyde scratched out a living with his paintings of mountain scenery, for he remained in Burlington, married to Hannah, until his death in 1892. Shortly before the end, however, he began to suffer hallucinations and was committed to the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury.29 But Hannah—whose letters to her mother and Walt after 1860 suggest that she was a hypochondriac—managed to live until 1908, thereby surviving not only her husband but all of her brothers and sisters as well.

Walter Whitman, Sr., named his next three sons after United States presidents,30 and the first of these was Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827-1863). From all indications, Andrew (nicknamed "Bunkum") rivaled his eldest brother, Jesse, in his capacity for failure. Little is known of Andrew's life before the Civil War. In the early 1860's he worked as a carpenter and lived with his wife, the former Nancy McClure,31 and their two children, "Jimmy" and "Georgy," at 105 Park Avenue in Brooklyn, not far from the residence of Mrs. Whitman. Because of a statement by Walt Whitman that Andrew "too was a soldier"32 and queries in the Civil War letters of George Whitman (Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 9 June 1862, Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 29 June 1862, and Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 30 September 1862), several scholars have suggested that Andrew may have enlisted in the Union Army for a short time. Aside from such allusions in the Whitman family correspondence, however, there is no evidence to support this hypothesis.33 Possibly an alcoholic, Andrew began to suffer from a throat disease in the spring of 1863. He was encouraged by his doctor to go south for his health (to New Bern, North Carolina, where Federal troops were in occupation and Andrew could work as a carpenter), but there is no evidence that he ever left Brooklyn that year. While George offered to supply the funds for the trip out of his officer's pay (Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 7 September 1863), Andrew may have been discouraged from making it by his wife Nancy, who was a slovenly housekeeper and an undependable mother to their two children. Seeing that Andrew was receiving improper care from his wife, Jeff suggested that his mother reserve a room for him in her house "to sleep in," but told Walt that she discouraged the idea because it would "bring his whole family in."34

Nancy may have been Andrew's common-law wife, as there is no known record of their marriage.35 A month before Andrew finally died from his throat ailment, on December 3, 1863, Mother Whitman described her son's wife as "about the lazeyest and dirtiest woman i ever want to see....shes as ugly as she is dirty i dont wonder he [Andrew] used to drink."36 And recalling the day of Andrew's death, she reported: "nance went to bed  when she came out in the morning she brought such a smell that Jeffy got sick and had to come home [from Andrew's house after] being up all night."37 Andrew left his wife pregnant, and in the spring of 1864 she gave birth to a child later referred to as "Andrew Whitman." He was run over and killed by a brewery wagon in 1868, not long after Mother Whitman had told Walt that Nancy had given birth to "twins one dead."38 Evidently, Nancy became a streetwalker after Andrew's death (if not before) and sent her children into the streets to beg. Mrs. Whitman urged Walt to write to James Cornwell, a justice in the Brooklyn police court, asking him to make Nancy's children wards of the city. There is no evidence, however, that Whitman ever acted upon his mother's request. Nancy and her children are not mentioned again by either Walt or his mother in their extant letters except on the occasion of young Andrew Whitman's fatal accident.39 Newspaper accounts of the child's death suggest that Nancy at this time was living with another man. Both the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Daily Union of September 2, 1868, state that the child's body was taken to "the residence of his parents, No. 151 Navy Street." The Brooklyn directory for 1868-69, however, gives Nancy's adddress as "Johnston St. near Raymond," and no one named Whitman is listed in the same directory as living at the address stated in the newspaper articles. Whatever became of Nancy after this time is uncertain,40 but one of Andrew's sons—probably Jimmy—may have visited the George Whitman home in Camden in 1879.41

Renting rooms in the same house in which Mrs. Whitman and Edward (described below) were tenants during the war was Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833-1890).42 With him were his wife, Martha E. Mitchell ("Mat" or "Mattie"), and daughter Manahatta ("Hattie"), who was born on June 9, 1860. In his letters George Whitman also refers to her as "Sis" until the birth on June 17, 1863, of Jeff's second daughter, originally named California but later rechristened Jessie Louisa. After Jessie's birth, George's use of the nickname Sis is in reference to the younger daughter. More than any of the other Whitmans, Jeff appreciated Walt's interests in aesthetic matters—if not his peculiar contribution to literature. He also shared Walt's enthusiasm for the opera. In temperament, however, they were wholly antithetical: Jeff was easily excited and often hasty in judgment. When Jeff was fourteen, he accompanied Walt to New Orleans, where the poet worked for a time on a newspaper, the Crescent. Afterward, Jeff planned to become a printer like his brother, but—according to Walt—"eventually (with my approval) he went to employment at land surveying, and merged in his studies and work of topographical engineer; this satisfied him, and he continued at it."43

Jefferson Whitman never served in the Union Army. His name was not drawn in the New York draft for 1863; the next year, however, he was required to pay a $400 commutation fee to avoid military service.44 During the war he worked in the Engineer's Office of the Brooklyn Water Works and also supported Walt's hospital work in Washington by sending his brother various amounts of money collected from his co-workers and friends in the Brooklyn community. In April 1867 he was offered the position of Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis. He departed for that city soon afterward, followed by his wife and daughers early in 1868. And by this time Jeff must have been doing well financially, for he was able to lend his brother George over three thousand dollars.45 Later he could afford to send his two daughters to Mr. Archer's school, Patapsco Seminary, in Ellicott City, Maryland.46 Such success, though, was marred by the early deaths of his wife and eldest duagher. Martha Whitman—for whom all of the Whitmans had great affection—died on February 19, 1873, after suffering intensely, possibly from cancer, for several months. The cause of Manahatta's death is not known, but she succumbed suddenly in 1886. The younger daughter, Jessie Louisa lived until 1957. Jefferson Whitman lived in St. Louis until his death on November 25, 1890.

The youngest of the Whitman family was name Edward (1835-1892). Mentally retarded, he suffered also from a crippled left hand and a paralyzed leg.47 At the time of the Civil War he lived with his mother and the Jefferson Whitmans in Brooklyn, and his presence (then and throughout his life) appears to have been a burden to everyone concerned. Jeff had scarcely more patience with Edward than he had with Jesse. He frequently threatened to move to other quarters, taking his mother but not Edward. Mrs. Whitman, of course, was devoted to her youngest son and never agreed to such an arrangement. In a letter to Walt, Jeff suggested that Edward be placed in a mental institution along with Jesse.48 On another occasion, after the war, Jeff wrote to Walt: "When I got home last night Mat told me that during the afternoon Mother came up stairs crying as if her heart would break all on account of that boy baggage Ed—Mother cant do anything with him—he wont wait on himself hardly and wont do the least thing for her—I think he is the most infernal lazy and the most ugly human being I ever met."49 While Jeff did little himself to lessen his mother's hardship, he was not the only one to advocate—supposedly for his mother's welfare—separate accommodations for Edward. When George Whitman was settled with his new wife in Camden in 1871, Mrs. Whitman told Walt that the couple insisted on her living with them; she added, however, "they none of them want edd."50

While Edward never presented as much danger to his mother as her eldest son Jesse, he required frequent supervision, for he had to be bathed and dressed and would continue eating until stopped.51 Apparently, he occupied himself with doing chores for his mother and frequently attending his favorite church in Brooklyn. When Mrs. Whitman finally moved to Camden in 1872, Edward went with her. Walt, as he had done in the past, continued to make regular contributions to the board of both. After the mother's death in 1873, Edward remained in George's household until 1883. It is conceivable, of course, that if Walt had not come to live with the George Whitman family in the summer after his mother's death, Edward would not have remained in Camden as long as he did. But Walt, while he could not have attended to his youngest brother's needs as closely as his mother had, was almost as devoted to this grown child, and some sort of arrangement must have been made. A decade later, however, two changes dictated that Edward be relocated. First, he began to suffer epileptic fits and frequently displayed a "fiery temper."52 Secondly, George was planning to move to Burlington, New Jersey—then remote from Philadelphia. Most likely, for Edward to make the move with them, Walt would have had to go to Burlington also, and thus become isolated from his friends in the Quaker City. Consequently, Walt arranged with Johnson and Margaret Goodenough for Edward to live at their 110-acre farm near Moorestown, New Jersey. Here Edward remained until 1888, when he was transferred to a sanatorium in Blackwood, New Jersey.53

While Walt apparently provided for most of Edward's support, his other two brothers who were still living may have contributed. Though George may well have thought he had done his part over the last ten years, Jefferson Whitman was making donations—however irregularly—to Edward's board as late as 1882.54 Walt Whitman often worried about the possibility of his dying before Edward and therefore requested in his will that the proceeds from the sale of his house on Mickle Street (purchased in 1884) be used for the support of his brother.55 Whitman had always been the most tolerant of Edward. Indeed, he told Traubel that a line in his poem "Faces" alluded to his brother: "I knew of the agents that emptied and broke my brother."56 After the death of the poet, Edward lived only another eight months, succumbing to heart disease on November 30, 1892.

It appears that the Whitman familiy was in many ways representative in nineteenth-century America. Principally a family of carpenters, its members prided themselves on being practical and spent most of their time combatting economic adversity. Like many other families, some of the Whitmans prospered and others failed dramatically. For the Whitman children who married, their partners came from similar domestic environments. The only exception was Hannah, who married a painter of mountain landscapes; yet it is important to remember that this marriage was a failure. Because of the family's size and usually tenuous pecuniary condition, they were a cohesive group who wrote to one another frequently (forwarding such correspondence to others in the family); they often filled those letters, however, with vehement complaints against particular family members. In several of her extant letters, Mother Whitman warns Walt to censor her epistle before forwarding it. And some of Jefferson Whitman's letters are venomous in their attacks on one or another of his brothers. Notwithstanding their domestic differences, the Whitmans grieved profoundly at each other's misfortunes, rallied heartily around George Whitman's achievements in war, and—despite their practicality—always held Walt Whitman in the highest regard. And though the poet's interests differed sharply from those of the rest of the family, he returned this affection with equal or greater intensity, always answering his mother's needs or offering whatever solace he could to his brothers and sisters, regardless of whether their dilemma reflected the malice of nature and society or their own shortcomings.

In a sense, the diverse and yet ordinary nature of Walt Whitman's family helps to explain his poetry. The Whitmans in their plodding and often self-defeating way were a part of a new race of men and women—the "Americanos" whom Whitman saw as the founders of a truly democratic way of life. In a nation of such families, who could conquer frontiers, establish civilizations, and even sacrifice their sons in the fight for liberty, Whitman visualized the beginning of a universal democracy. It is therefore not at all paradoxical that the poet Walt Whitman should have emerged from a background so foreign to that of Emerson, Melville, or Hawthorne. Whitman's family was far more typically American—one displaying both ideal and sordid aspects. Indeed, such a composition is indicative of the poet's own personality, in that he combined the wholly antithetical roles of mystical poet and American "rowdy."


George Whitman as a prisoner of war

When Walt Whitman wrote in Specimen Days that the "interior history [of the Civil War] will not only never be written—its practicality, minutiae of deeds and passions, will never even be suggested,"57 he was probably recalling, along with the many scenes of courage he had witnessed in the Washington hospitals, his continual feeling of fear and amazement at the charmed life his brother George seemed to be leading in the many campaigns he survived. Probably more anxious after George had been wounded at the battle of First Fredericksburg, Whitman perhaps studied his brother's subsequent epistles. In a letter dated August 25, 1863—shortly after George had participated in the Union siege of Vicksburg and survived Sherman's arduous march in pursuit of Johnston (Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 23 July 1863)—Whitman wrote to his mother:

I was glad indeed to be certain that George had got back to Kentucky safe & well—while so many fall that we know or, what is about as bad, get sick or hurt in the fight, & lay in hospital, it seems almost a miracle that George should have gone through so much, south & north & east and west, & been in so many hard-fought battles, & thousands of miles of weary & exhausting marches, & yet have stood it so, & be yet alive & in good health & spirits—O mother, what would we [have] done if it had been otherwise—if he had met the fate of so many we know—if he had been killed or badly hurt in some of those battles—I get thinking about it sometimes, & it works upon me so I have to stop & turn my mind on something else.58

Given the uneasiness of certainly the calmest of George's immediate family (who daily faced the grim reality of war in his hospital work), one may imagine not only Walt's concern but that of the other family members as well when it was learned thirteen months later that almost the entire regiment in which George had been fighting for the last three years had been captured by Confederate forces at Poplar Grove, Virginia.

George Whitman was among 332 officers and men in the Fifty-First New York Regiment taken prisoner on September 30, 1864. First sent from Petersburg to Libby Prison in Richmond on October 3, and then to Salisbury, North Carolina, on October 8, where he remained for a longer period, Captain Whitman—along with the other officers in his regiment—was finally confined at the Confederate Military Prison at Danville, Virginia, about October 22, where he remained until his release.59

At first Walt and the rest of the family did not know whether George was captured or dead. Probably one of the first reports of the losses incurred by the Fifth and Ninth Armies to reach the Whitmans was in the Brooklyn Daily Union of October 3, 1864, where Union losses were underestimated. Whatever fears this report might have aroused in the minds of the Whitmans—including Walt, who had been in Brooklyn recuperating from an illness since the previous June—the Daily Union story of October 4 must have been even more alarming. It said that the total number killed, wounded, and captured approached two thousand—"more than half of whom were taken prisoner." On October 8, Whitman wrote to Charles W. Eldridge of the family's anxiety over George: "We are deprest in spirits home here about my brother George, (2d div 9th Corps)—if not killed, he is a prisoner—he was in the engagement of Sept. 30...."60

Soon after George had been taken with his fellow officers behind Confederate lines at Petersburg, he sent the first of four letters (Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 2 October 1864) to his mother, dated October 2, 1864. The Whitman family doubtlessly received it within a few weeks, for Walt's unsigned article in the New York Times of October 29, 1864, states that "Capt. WHITMAN has been heard from since by his relatives in Brooklyn, by a letter written in a rebel prison at Petersburgh by him a few days after the capture...."61 George Whitman sent another letter to his mother "from Libby Prison a few days after I was taken prisoner,"62 but it was probably never received.63 It seems clear, however, from Walt's mention of Peteresburg in the Times piece that the family received the letter of October 2. What confuses the matter is Walt's memorandum for December 26, 1864,64 in which he states that the family had not heard from George since the third of October instead of the second. There is no evidence in the Whitman family correspondence or any of Whitman's known writings to suggest that the family ever received the second letter, from Libby Prison; further, George himself expresses doubt in his third letter—dated October 23, 1864, from Danville (Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 23 October 1864)—whether the Libby Prison letter would ever reach its destination. This letter essentially repeats the information given in the first. Because there is no allusion to it in the family correspondence, however, it appears unlikely that it was received before the fourth and final letter, of November 27, 1864. This letter—though received in January 1865, but now lost—apparently carried (aside from a brief note received a day earlier) the first word to the Whitmans that George was imprisoned at Danville.

The arrival of George Whitman's trunk on December 26, 1864, served only to augment the family's grief. In his diary for that day, Walt Whitman recorded: It stood some hours before we felt inclined to open it. Towards evening mother & Eddy looked over the things. One could not help feeling depressed. There were his uniform coat, pants, sash, &c. There were many things reminded us of him. Papers, memoranda, books, nick-nacks, a revolver, a small diary,65 roll of his company, a case of photographs of his comrades (several of them I knew as killed in battle,) with other stuff such as a soldier accumulates. Typically, Whitman saw in such an indication of individual misfortune the plight of all imprisoned Union soldiers: Their situation, as of all our men in prison, is indescribably horrible. Hard, ghastly starvation is the rule. Rags, filth, despair, in large open stockades, no shelter, no cooking, no clothes—such the condition of masses of men, in some places two or three thousand, & in the largest prison [Andersonville] as high as thirty thousand confined. The guards are insufficient in numbers, & they make it up by treble severity, shooting the prisoners literally just to keep them under terrorism.66

These melancholy thoughts were echoed in a letter on the question of prisoner exchange that Whitman had sent to several newspapers, including the New York Times and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, where it was published simultaneously on December 27, 1864: The public mind is deeply excited, and most righteously so, at the starvation of the United States prisoners of war in the hands of the Secessionists. The dogged sullenness and scoundrelism prevailing everywhere among the prison guards and officials,...measureless torments of the forty or fifty thousand helpless young men, with all their humiliations, hunger, cold, filth, despair, hope utterly given out, and the more and more frequent imbecility, I have myself seen the proofs of in so many instances, that I know the facts well, and know that the half has not been told, nor the tithe either.67 Whitman continued in the letter to criticize officials under Lincoln who were, in his opinion, responsible for the delay of a mass prisoner exchange. He attacked Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, and Major Benjamin F. Butler, one of the commissioners for the exchange of prisoners, for complicating matters by insisting that the Confederacy recognize the military status of Negro prisoners of war. He also assailed Major General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, the senior commissioner of the prisoner exchange, for his alleged statement that "none but cowards are ever taken prisoners in war." Curiously, Whitman was later to have several interviews with Hitchcock, who appears to have been agreeable to securing George Whitman's freedom in a special prisoner exchange.

On January 19, 1865, a few days before Walt Whitman returned to Washington, where he would be employed at the Department of the Interior, Louisa Whitman received from George—according to Walt's diary entry for January 19 and 20—"one of those significant slips of paper (of which I have seen so many bushels one time & another brought up by exchanged prisoners, dingy, soiled, half-legible records of Death...) written by his own hand...." Delivered through an exchanged chaplain, the note simply gave George's name, his place of confinement as Danville, and the refrain that George had used throughout the war to quell his mother's fears: "Well & hearty." Whitman wasted no time in spreading the news of his brother's note. The same day an article entitled "A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One" appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Union.68 Written in the style of the poet, the piece stated that George had just been heard from by his family "though for the first time since his capture." In fact, the Whitman family had received a letter from George shortly after his capture,69 but Whitman—in his desire to dramatize the event—could not resist the opportunity to exaggerate. The article also rendered an account of George's military career to the time of his capture. Whitman described his brother as having been in "genuine fighting service in all parts of the war."

The next day the Whitman family received the letter from George of November 27, 1864, from Danville (mentioned above). Whitman recorded in his diary that George had "written in good spirits, putting the best face on his imprisonment, & claiming to be in good health. He mentioned the other officers of the regiment, Major Wright, Lieut. Pooley, &c.70 The prison is in charge of Lieut. Col. Robert C. Smith, Confederate Army." At best, this letter served only to tell the Whitmans that George had been alive and at Danville as late as November 27. Well aware of the high death rate from disease and other causes in Confederate prisons (whose authorities lacked the resources to provide adequate living conditions for their inmates), the Whitman family was not much comforted by a letter written almost three months before.

Shortly after Whitman had returned to Washington, he again heard about George—through letters from two officers in the Fifty-First Regiment (who had not been captured at Poplar Grove), Lieutenant William Babcock, who had forwarded George's trunk to Brooklyn, and Lieutenant Aaron Smith, whom the poet had met in the summer of 1864 when Smith was a patient in the Carver Hospital, Washington. Both letters—which were dated January 21, 1865 (Feinberg Collection of Walt Whitman, Library of Congress)—essentially paraphrased a letter (date unknown) addressed to Babcock from Lieutenant William Caldwell, an officer captured with George. Caldwell had written that the officers of the Fifty-First New York Regiment were at Danville and in desperate need of food. The letters from Babcock and Smith, which suggested that Whitman send items such as "Hard Bread and Pork" to Danville, indicated that George was still alive. Walt and Jeff promptly sent those provisions. They never knew, of course, whether the parcels were actually reaching their brother. In fact, George and his fellow officers were not to enjoy their contents until late February when going North for exchange they received them at Richmond (Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 24 February 1865).

In a letter to Walt dated January 31, 1865, Jefferson Whitman suggested a plan for having George released in a special exchange. He had heard about other special exchanges and advocated using the influence of John Swinton, managing editor of the New York Times, to persuade General Grant to arrange one for George. "Now Walt if you will remember among the first men that blowed for Grant and wrote him up, so to speak was our friend John Swinton....Now I am positive that a letter could be got from Swinton to Grant signed as Editor of the Times asking that a special exchange might be made in George's case." In his attempt to convince Walt of the feasibility of the plan, Jeff added that "Gen Grant is just now in the position when a few words of censure in a print like the Times would do him great injury...."71 On February 3 he wrote again urging his brother to consider the plan, but Walt had already written to Swinton that day asking him to write to Grant, requesting him to order a special exchange for George and Lieutenant Samuel Pooley, a close friend of George's in the Fifty-First Regiment. About the same time, Swinton was also contacted by Jeff through Edward Ruggles, a Brooklyn physician and friend of the Whitman family. Swinton replied to Walt's letter on February 5, saying that he had enclosed the letter to Grant but added that the general had already announced arrangements for a general prisoner exchange.72 Quite anxious about George's welfare, Whitman nevertheless sent Swinton's letter to Grant, after making a copy of it. Grant had the reputation of replying to all such requests, and apparently both Whitman and Swinton received a favorable response to the latter's petition.73 In addition to the Swinton plan, Whitman on February 4 had gone to Major General Hitchcock to request a special exchange for George. He noted in his diary for February 17 that it was "immediately granted. Col. Mulford, executive officer of the Exchange, who came up a few days after, took down the order on the 11th on his return." Evidently, neither effort for a special exchange had time to succeed. But perhaps Grant and Hitchcock were able to assure Whitman that some sort of an arrangement would be made because they probably anticipated the general exchange of prisoners that began about February 17, 1865. Any relief that such promises brought Whitman, however, was only temporary; when the Union prisoners from Danville and Salisbury began to arrive at Annapolis on February 22, there was no sign—as far as Whitman could discern—of George or any of his fellow officers. He complained in his diary for February 28 that the past four days had put him through all the changes of hope & dismay about getting George exchanged. I had been thinking for a fortnight that he was, at last as good as within our lines. They heard about the 25th or 6th that all the Danville prisoners had come up, heard so from Gen. H. the Commissioner of Exchange. But Sunday night I heard, to my consternation, that although all the Danville prisoners had indeed come up, (The secession authorities said they had sent up all from that place) neither George nor any other 51st officers had come. I had just heard by one of the returned men (he brought me a slip, I knew it well, my brother's own writing) that George was certainly at Danville on the 14th. Why then had he not come up, with the 250 others, on the 18th or 19th? Whitman feared that the Confederate authorities were "playing foul" by moving George and other officers deeper into the South to hold them until the end of the war. He went to see Major General Hitchcock again, but the latter could not explain the absence of George and the other officers of the Fifty-First Regiment from the throng of released prisoners at Annapolis. Hitchcock dismissed Whitman's suggestion that Confederate authorities might be punishing them "for trying to break out of the military prison, Dec. 10 last."

The "slip" with George's writing, which is mentioned in Whitman's diary entry (quoted above), at least indicated that George was alive and ready to be exchanged. Mrs. Whitman also received such a note from George, delivered through Captain William Cook, a prisoner already released in the general exchange. In the accompanying letter dated February 19, Cook wrote: "I enclose the memorandum your son gave me Feb. 14th." Because Cook's letter was sent from Annapolis, Mrs. Whitman concluded that George had already been exchanged.74 She overlooked (or ignored), however, the fact that her son's note stated he was still a "Prisoner of war at Danville, Va."75 Whitman, on the other hand, was not so optimistic. First, he knew that no prisoners had arrived at Annapolis as early as February 14. He was also aware—by the 27th—that the general exchange had been completed. He therefore wrote to Cook, who had gone to his home in New York City, for "a little further information" about George.76 Cook's reply to his query served only to confound him further. Although the officer tried to assure Whitman that his brother was probably already at Annapolis "awaiting his leave of absence," he curiously admitted that he did not even know George Whitman.77 It appears that Cook—like many other men leaving in the first group of paroled prisoners—simply accepted the identification slip from George without either knowing or later remembering him. In the chaos of the exchange, Cook probably had no time for even the briefest conversation.

Ultimately, Whitman discovered that his concern had been needless. George Whitman had arrived at Annapolis in a group of five hundred officers on February 23, 1865. The next day he wrote to his mother, promising to be home "in the course of 3 or 4 days" (Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 24 February 1865). Thinking that Walt would see George's name in the list of exchanged prisoners published in the New York Times of February 28, Mrs. Whitman did not send him George's letter until March 4—the day before George arrived in Brooklyn for a thirty-day furlough. She wrote again to Walt the next day. The following excerpt form her letter is the longest and most detailed record of George Whitman's incarceration:

George has come home came this morning  he looks quite thin and shows his prison life but feels pretty well considering what he suffered  he was very sick at one time  i think it was in january  with lung fever  he was six weeks in the hospital78  so bad that the doctor thought he would die....  he was dilirious and lay in A stupor till the nigth the fever turned  he says he felt A thrill run through him and thought he was dying  he was in the dark  he cald to one of the nurses to bring A light and to raise him up and give him A piece of paper and pencil and he wrote to me that was his last night and what was due him from the goverment and told the man to blow out the light and go to bed and he said he shut his eyes and never expected to open them again and went to sleep and when he awoke he was all in a sweat and just at daylight one of the officials of the place came very softly to take all he had in his pockets  they thought he would be dead  he says he has seen them before the poor fellows is dead turn their pockets inside out and take all  when the doctor came in the morng he says you are better he said it was his constitution that saved him  he lay on the flour two or three days before he went to the hospital  he had no drawers and only A thin pair of flanne trousers and no shirt part of the time  they stole his things  it seems awful to think of but he is got home  when they were captured they dident give them anything to eat from friday morning till sunday  when he was captured he had 100 dl  they searched him 3 times and he saved his money  he cut A place in his neck tie and put 50d bill in and put in his tobacco and some silver in his mouth  one next to him they took 600dl from  they took all sam pooleys  George says sam would fared poorley if it hadent been for him  he cooked what they could get and george provided  he says that beans kept them alive  they would get A quart and cook them without any thing....George says there was 20 yesterday died at anapolus  some died eating  they were he says like hungry woolvs had got so famished....he has pains in his legs  effects of the fever.79

Although George Whitman's furlough was to expire on April 4, 1865, the Whitmans tried to persuade him to ask for an extension.  He had been immediately hospitalized upon reaching Camp Parole (Annapolis) in February, and by the end of March—after three weeks in Brooklyn—he was still suffering from the effects of his confinement.  Walt Whitman wrote to William O'Connor and his wife on March 26 that George was in what I would almost call fair condition, if it were not that his legs are affected—it seems to me it is rheumatism, following the fever he had—but I don't know—He goes to bed quite sleepy & falls to sleep—but then soon wakes, & frequently little or no sleep that night—he most always leaves the bed, & comes downstairs, & passes the night on the sofa....He is going to report to Annapolis promptly when his furlough is up—I told him I had no doubt I could get it extended, but he does not wish it—He says little, but is in first rate spirits.80 George Whitman did not return to his regiment on schedule, however, as his health continued to plague him. On April 3—the day before his military leave was to expire—Walt had Edward Ruggles, the family physician, write a letter to the commanding officer at Annapolis certifying the poor state of George's health and recommending an extension of his furlough to April 24, 1865.81 Walt wrote to O'Connor again on April 7, saying that his brother was "unwell, again, & has sulkily permitted me to get an extension of his leave of absence...."82 Indeed, George may have been forced to remain in Brooklyn a few days past the April 24 deadline, for in a letter dated May 8, from Alexandria, Virgina, where he was assigned command of the Prince Street Military Prison, he reported to his mother that he had arrived and joined his regiment "about ten days ago" (Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 8 May 1865).


George Whitman after the war

A major after May 18, 1865, George Whitman remained at his prison assignment in Alexandria until July 25, when the Fifty-First Regiment was discharged en masse from military service. Prior to his discharge, he attempted to secure a commission at the rank of captain in the regular standing army, but—according to Jefferson Whitman—was found ineligible because he was not a graduate of a military academy.83 Before George discovered definitely that he would not be allowed to transfer into the regular army, Jeff suggested (as he had when George was a prisoner of war) that the right political influence could be brought to prevail on the matter. He recommended that George obtain the endorsement of the officers he had served under "and then bring whatever other influence he could on the Sec of War and Gen Grant."84 Jeff even advised asking John Swinton of the New York Times for another letter—this time to Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War.

Whether such a plan was ever attempted is not known, but George nevertheless left military service with the rest of his regiment and returned to Brooklyn. Walt Whitman recorded in his Diary Notes for July 27 the regiment's departure for home: This morning the 51st packed every thing up, obedient to orders received last night, & moved from Camp Augur, across the Long Bridge, through Washington, to the Baltimore depot, whence they departed about 7 p.m. for New York. I was down among them, I saw George, Sam'l. Pooley, & all the officers & men. The day has been very hot. Fortunately the march was not over five miles. The men & officers look well. The long train, carrying other regiments also, as it bent round a curve, some twenty cars, the roofs also covered with men, clustering on like bees, was quite a sight. A few days later George Whitman arrived in Brooklyn to resume his life as a civilian. The fact that he was breveted a lieutenant colonel shortly before his discharge may have been some consolation for his failure to become a regular army officer.

To celebrate George's homecoming, Walt Whitman published anonymously a sketch of his brother's military career in the Brooklyn Daily Union of August 5, 1865.85 Although he had published a similar piece in the Union of March 16, Whitman evidently felt that his brother's military career deserved further notice. This article, however, produced possibly one of the poet's more dramatic catalogues:

Such is an outline or skeleton of George W. Whitman's military life from the day he first left Brooklyn till he returned a few days ago. Who could fill up the details of this outline? What pen could anything like fully describe the varied scenes and experiences of that eventful stretch of time; the long marches, hard diet, sea-voyaging, frequent deprivation of food, scenes in new locations, scouting, picketing, travelling strange roads, advances on the enemy, the sight of the works, thoughts while waiting for the battle, the advance, the furious charge, the sturggle, the wounded, the dead, the maddening excitement of active contest, the smoke, the comrades struck and falling, the blood, the scorched and singed jacket or pants, the quickly livid face, the strewn field, the heat, the sweat, the storm, the snow, the mud, the forced march through these, sometimes pursuing, sometimes retreating; of a war-experience, continued through springs, summers, autumns, and winters, well into the fifth year—a long and dark and bloody road of battle and death—who indeed can ever make a picture of it? Perhaps some of our readers will think such questions too romantic, but the veteran soldier will know they but faintly suggest the actual truths of war.

Upon his return to Brooklyn, George ate his meals at his mother's house and rented a room elsewhere. Within a week of his homecoming, Mrs. Whitman told Walt that George was already restless about finding suitable employment and sorry that he was no longer in the army. "I guess they are all sorry," she added. "i dont know as they are sorry the war is over but i guess they would much rather staid in camp."86 Jeff encouraged him "to get a shop lease or buy a lot and go in business,"87 but George was hoping for an appointment in one of the New York custom houses—a position which never materialized. In the meantime, he used part of his army savings to enter the speculative building business with a man by the name of Smith,88 but their concern earned them little profit during the remainder of 1865. In September George expected to win a contract for the construction of an office building in Manhattan, but—as he told his mother—"the architect was in favor of the new york bosses."89 Such disappointments in business evidently had their effect on George, for Mrs. Whitman complained that her son's wartime generosity had shrunken to insensitive frugality. She wrote to Walt in Washington: "i hadent one cent and i asked georgee to give me 50 cents and after looking for a considerable time he laid down 50 cents."90 She added that George was often moody and perhaps tired of living so close to her and Edward. George may also have resented Jeff's failure to contribute to the support of his mother and retarded brother—who were sustained only by funds from Walt and himself.

In 1866 his progress in the construction business continued at the same dilatory pace. Mrs. Whitman told Walt that "george is building his [carpentry] shop and he gets very tired  he had never aught to have commenced to work at his trade  he says he had aught to have staid in the army and if his money was not invested he would go south."91 Walt replied on April 23 that he had little doubt about George's success in business—adding that "of course there will be slack times."92 That June a mason by the name of French93 joined George and his partner in their business for a time. Together they purchased five lots on Portland Avenue in Brooklyn and planned to build a brick house upon each of the lots.94 Then, probably encouraged by Walt's offer earlier in the year to raise $800 for George to build two houses, "one of the two for us,"95 George tried to sell Walt one of the lots for $700, on which he promised to build a house for their mother.96 Walt offered "$500 cash" in January, 1867,97 but it is not known whether the transaction was ever completed.

Late in 1867 George Whitman began working part time as an inspector of gas pipes in the cities of Brooklyn and Camden. Such employment enabled him to begin building a three-story house in Brooklyn for his mother by July 1868.98 His financial problems were far from over, however, and by the next year he was even deeper in debt to his brother Jeff. Evidently, his partner Smith failed to produce his share of the payment for the lots they had purchased, and George had made up the difference in the hope that they would start selling houses. Mrs. Whitman reported to Walt that George was fast becoming discouraged: george has got disappointed and dont hardly know what to doo in the money matters  the masons he contracted to doo the work lumped out the plaistering and they have got it all done but the last coat and smith says they wont finish it till they have the payment which is six hundred dollars.99 She concluded by asking in behalf of George whether Walt could provide this amount in exchange for the mortgage on the house he was building, which was supposed to be completed by May 1869. Apparently, Walt agreed. In addition to this sum, George continued to borrow significant amounts from Jeff. In fact, by the summer of 1869 he owed him a total of $3,400.100

Like veterans of all wars, George Whitman probably found his return to civilian life as much of a mental strain as he had the perilous encounters in war. While he carried the title of "Colonel" and was no doubt respected for his war record, such a background evidently had little or no influence on his success in the speculative building business. Such failure by one who always took pride in his practical nature was probably even more difficult to accept in light of the fact that his brother Jeff (who had avoided military service) was prospering at his superintendent's job in St. Louis and his "impractical" brother Walt was earning $1,600 per annum as a third-class clerk in the Attorney General's office.101

In the spring of 1869, however, his fortunes were already beginning to turn upward. In April he had succeeded in getting a loan of $3,200 on property owned by the undependable Smith102 and finished the construction of his house on schedule—which enabled him to lease one floor and also provided better quarters for his mother and Edward Whitman on another. By the end of 1869 he had accepted a position in a foundry in Camden as inspector of pipes and had begun to pay back the money he owed Walt and Jeff.103 For the next year or more, George Whitman periodically returned to Brooklyn to oversee his construction business, which was now evidently more prosperous. By 1871, however, he probably had eased himself out of that business and become a full-time resident of Camden. George married Louisa Orr Haslam, whom he apparently had been courting for several years, on April 14, 1871, and soon after began living at 322 Stevens Street in Camden.104 Mrs. Whitman told Walt in the winter of that year that George had spent $700 on his new house and was earning $14 per day at the Camden foundry.105

George and his wife were soon insisting that Mother Whitman come to live with them. As has been noted above, however, they were not particularly eager to have Edward, but eventually accepted the fact that the two were inseparable.106 George was adamant about his mother's coming to Camden, for both he and Walt were concerned about her safety in Brooklyn with only Edward to protect her. Mrs. Whitman was also being annoyed by an obstreperous family living below her in George's Brooklyn house. Walt told Jeff on January 26, 1872, that George finally "turned 'em out for impudence to mother."107 In August Mrs. Whitman and Edward had moved to Camden, and her retarded son was depressed about leaving his church in Brooklyn.108

Evidently Mrs. Whitman was quite unhappy in Camden during the final year of her life. Her letters to Walt show increasing bitterness. She found George too parsimonious—especially in light of the fact that Walt contributed twenty dollars a month toward the board of Edward and her.109 Further, she suspected that George's wife resented their presence. She told Walt that "Lou sometimes says when she and george was alone they got this and that but now theres so many."110 Complaining also that Lou showed favor to her aunt, who frequently stayed with the George Whitmans for extended periods, Mrs. Whitman did not particularly hold George responsible for her discomfort—she described him as being "full of business" and "up to his eys in business." Yet she said: "i dont think i ever saw any one so changed  he used to be so generous and free but now he is very saving  never goes out any where."111 George was preoccupied with building another, larger house for himself on a corner lot in Camden (431 Stevens Street) that he had purchased in February, 1873.112 He was also kept busy at his new position as inspector for the Metropolitan Water Board of New York, which sometimes required him to travel as far away as Boston.113 By this time, however, George Whitman probably had made up the losses he suffered in the construction business. He could now afford to spend $3,700 for his new house, a three-story edifice with a bay window.114

Not long after Mrs. Whitman's death on May 23, 1873, Walt Whitman became a permanent member of the George Whitman household—at least for the next eleven years. Initially, he had intended only a visit of not more than two months115 in Camden in order to recuperate from the paralytic stroke he had suffered in January. But his health continued to plague him, and after a year away from Washington he lost his position in the Attorney General's office.116 His dismissal left him without any dependable income and he was forced to remain indefinitely in George's home. Such an arrangement, however, did not deprive Whitman of the social intercourse he had enjoyed in Washington; for he soon made acquaintances in Camden, and Philadelphia was easily accessible by ferry. It was not until 1884, when George was prepared to move to a farmhouse he had built in Burlington, New Jersey, that Walt once again established his own residence. Such action surprised George, for he had apparently assumed that his brother would agree to living on a farm twelve miles from the city limits of Camden. According to Lou Whitman's niece, "This misunderstanding I believe caused a coldness between the two brothers. I cannot remember George's visiting Walt until his last illness;117 and as far as I am aware, Walt never even saw the commodious country house."118

At least prior to 1884 the relationship between the poet and George Whitman was congenial, if not mutually beneficial. As Whitman's most recent biographer suggests, George was no substitute for the friends Whitman had enjoyed in Washington. Whitman once described his brother as believing "in pipes, not in poems."119 And if George and his wife enjoyed poetry at all, it was the more conventional verse of Longfellow and Tennyson.120 For the most part preoccupied with business affairs, George limited his recreational reading to accounts of the Civil War—perhaps the only subject in which he and Walt shared an interest. Furthermore, George disapproved of "Song of Myself" and thought his brother's poetry in general unsuccessful because of its unconventional verse. As Whitman told Horace Traubel, "I think George would have been pleased, better pleased, if I had written in rhyme. He said this to me in a burst of confidence: 'Damn it, Walt, I think you have talent enough to write: what are you up to, anyhow?'"121

In their wish to have children, George and his wife were twice tragically disappointed. On November 4, 1875, Lou Whitman gave birth to a son, Walter Orr (named after Walt), but the child was not strong and died on July 12, 1876. An account of the child's funeral appeared in the Philadelphia Ledger of July 20. In part, it read: For over an hour all the young ones of the neighborhood kept coming silently [to view the child's body]....Near the corpse, in a great chair, sat Walt Whitman, the poet, quite enveloped by children, holding one encircled by either arm and a beautiful little girl on his lap. The little girl looked curiously at the spectacle and then inquiringly up in the old man's face. "You don't know what it is, do you, my dear?" said he, adding, "We don't either."122 On the anniversary of the child's death a year or two later, Walt Whitman wrote to Mrs. Emma Dowe, Lou's sister, in regard to the stillborn birth of George's second son, named after his father: The babe ceased to live before it was delivered. That Lou's life was saved and that she will recover (as now seems every way probable) is something to be devoutly thankful for. The case is curiously solemn and sad—to me—Everyone says it was the most beautiful, perfect, and well-developed babe, boy.123

When after the death of Walt Whitman in 1892 Mrs. Mary O. Davis—the poet's housekeeper during his last years in Mickle Street—brought suit against the Whitman estate for more than $5,000, George Whitman was unsympathetic. In his will, Walt had provided $1,000 for Mrs. Davis, but she charged that over a period of seven years she had spent over $3,000 of her own money to maintain the household. Further, she testified that although Whitman had been poor before 1885, he had accumulated almost $8,000 since that time in royalties and gifts and she had been led to believe that she would receive a more generous amount at his death.124 The Philadelphia Ledger of July 16, 1893, reported that a sworn copy of her claim had been delivered to George, adding that "Colonel Whitman, as the custodian of his brother's estate, refuses to pay the bill." The Philadelphia Times of the same day quoted George as saying, "This is the first time that she has been asked to get out of the house [on Mickle Street] and had it not been that she made the claim against the estate she would...in all probability, have been allowed to make her home there for the remainder of her life." Privately, he wrote to Emma Dowe: "On my second visit to Mickle Street...I noticed a coldness toward me, so that I was not suprised soon afterwards to receive notice of a lawsuit. I thought if they wanted a fight, they could have it."125 Despite the assistance of Thomas Harned, one of Whitman's literary executors and an attorney, the court ordered George Whitman on January 31, 1894, to pay Mrs. Davis the sum of $500.126 George's only known recorded remark in regard to the decision was that "Considering that the plaintiff was a woman, I think we made out pretty well."127

By the time of this litigation, George Whitman had already lost his wife, as well as his brother Edward. Lou Whitman, who had almost died a few years before during childbirth, succumbed to "a sudden illness"128 on August 9, 1892—less than six months after the passing of Walt and on the fifty-seventh birthday of the feeble-minded Edward, who died three months later.

George spent the rest of his life on the Burlington farm, alone and cripled from the rheumatism that had plagued him frequently since his days as a prisoner of war. He lived out his days, however, as a man of considerable wealth. After his death on December 20, 1901, his estate was valued at $59,348.14. The bulk of this amount—over $58,000—consisted of cash deposits in twenty-four different banks in New Jersey and New York.129 George Whitman's will provided a trust fund for his sister Hannah which paid her $6,000 a year until her death. The remainder was given to Jefferson Whitman's daughter, Jessie. It is not known how George Whitman accumulated so much money. After he became clear of his debts in Brooklyn in the 1870's, he may have successfully invested in the house construction business both there and in Camden. His primary profession, however, had been as inspector of iron pipes—first for the city of Camden and later for the New York Metropolitan Water Board. And perhaps this combination—a position of public trust and personal wealth—was the reason for Amy Haslam Dowe's assertions about her uncle's integrity: "So strongly did he feel the need for absolute idnependence he would not accept even a cigar from a foundry owner, and no pressure could make him pass pipes not up to the specifications. And when the initials G.W.W. stood on a pipe in white paint, the inhabitants of Boston and New York were safeguarded from bursting mains."130 All available evidence indicates that George Whitman performed his job as inspector of water mains with the pride and honesty that had characterized his wartime career as an army officer.

It appears that George Whitman was an individual of obvious courage and tenacity, one who saw his duty in life and tried to perform it well—whether it consisted of fighting a war or making a living. Not given to any form of the debauchery or even the mild profanity that characterized the lives of some of his brothers, George once defended Walt against claims of immorality: "Any charge that he led a miscellanceous life is without a bottom," he told Horace Traubel. "They get these ideas from writings about 'Leaves of Grass,' not from Walt himself—they infer them all."131 Although it is probably true that George Whitman did little more than "finger" through his brother's poetry, his life apparently reflected the spirit of Leaves of Grass. He typified what Walt Whitman saw as the native American—frequently narrow in his views (George once threatened to burn the picture of Oscar Wilde given to Walt Whitman)132 and yet strong in many other ways that would, the poet hoped, create a viable democracy. Walt Whitman, of course, derived little intellectual stimulation from his brother, but then the poet probably encountered the same deficiency in most Americans of a similar "hue and caste" whom he glorified in his poetry.


Annotation

In editing the Civil War letters of George Washington Whitman, I have provided italic headnotes where the need for transition existed. The footnotes contain identifications of persons mentioned in the letters (other than family members), textual clarifications, explanatory remarks, and, generally, information of interest to the close reader of the letters. With few exceptions (e.g., names of some enlisted men and such well-known figures as Lincoln and Grant), I have identified the personae of the letters upon the occasion of George Whitman's first mention of them. Subsequently, they are identified by cross references to the letters in which they originally appear. Other than information relating specifically to the Whitman family, I have not in most cases stated the source of the material in the notes. Generally, historical facts concerning the Civil War are derived from such standard works as Johnson and Buel's Battles and Leaders and Randall's The Civil War and Reconstruction. Because of the frequent allusions to members of the Whitman family, I have not identified them in the footnotes; rather, their relation to George Whitman, as well as biographical sketch of each, appears under the heading "The Whitman Family" in this introduction. The family members are also identified in the list of genealogical data which immediately precedes the letters.

In the text of the letters, I have endeavored as editor to remain as unobtrusive as possible. Accordingly, I have not inserted sic after misspelled or omitted words. I have also silently included needless repetitions of words in a sentence, but have not recorded crossed-out or erased words (except where they seem necessary to an accurate reading of the letter). I have also presented the author's interpolated material as if it occurred in its proper place in the syntax. Generally, I have tried to present an inclusive text in terms of George Whitman's final intention for each letter.

In cases where there was doubt over the interpretation of the handwriting, I have placed my reading in brackets with a question mark. Exceptions to this rule, however, appear in the text of George Whitman's Civil War diary where many pages in the manuscript are torn. In instances where it is apparent what word was written on the torn page, I have placed that work in brackets without a question mark. Obliterated words that are not so obvious have been suggested within brackets with a question mark. Finally, the obliteration of entire phrases, sentences, or paragraphs in the diary is indicated by empty brackets.

As for missing punctuation—in both the letters and the diary—I have added a small extra space where a comma might be helpful to the reading, and have indicated with a larger space the beginning of a new sentence.

Unless otherwise noted, all of the letters are addressed to George Whitman's mother, Mrs. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. In annotating the letters, I have drawn heavily on her own letters to Walt Whitman (Trent Collection of Walt Whitman, Duke University)—as well as the letters of Walt Whitman and Thomas Jefferson Whitman (Feinberg). I have also consulted George Whitman's Civil War diary for parallel information and have cross-referenced it with the appropriate letters. Finally, with the exception of seven letters in this edition, all others are the property of the Josiah C. Trent Collection of Walt Whitman, Rare Book Room, Duke University Library. The sources of the other letters and the Civil war diary are indicated in the appropriate footnote.


Notes:

1. "To Thee Old Cause," in Leaves of Grass, ed. Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1965), p. 5. Further references to Whitman's poetry are to this text. [back]

2. Leaves of Grass, p. 279. [back]

3. Our knowledge of the poet's life before 1855 has recently been broadened by Joseph Jay Rubin, The Historic Whitman (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1973); and Floyd Stovall, The Foreground of "Leaves of Grass" (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1974). [back]

4. "Conversations with George W. Whitman," In Re Walt Whitman, ed. Horace C. Traubel et al. (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1893), p. 39. [back]

5. In Re Walt Whitman, pp. 33-34. [back]

6. In Re Walt Whitman, pp. 35-36. [back]

7. With Walt Whitman in Camden, ed. Horace C. Traubel (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1906), I, 227. [back]

8. See Jerome M. Loving, "'Our Veterans Mustering Out'—Another Newspaper Article by Whitman about His Soldier-Brother," Yale University Library Gazette, 29 (October 1974), 217-24 at p. 201. [back]

9. It is interesting to note that Goerge Whitman's enlistment coincided closely with the publication of his brother's poem "Beat! Beat! Drums!" [back]

10. See Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 16 December 1862 and Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 19? December 1862. [back]

11. Walt Whitman: The Correspondence, ed. Edwin H. Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961), I, 59. [back]

12. Walt Whitman and the Civil War: A Collection of Original Articles and Manuscripts, ed. Charles I. Glicksberg (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933), p. 89. [back]

13. See n. 8, above. [back]

14. Katherine Molinoff, Monographs on Unpublished Whitman Material (New York: Comet Press, 1941), No. 2, pp. 19-22. [back]

15. Molinoff, No. 2, p. 19. [back]

16. Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, December 15, 1863, Feinberg Collection of Walt Whitman, Library of Congress; cited below as TJW to Walt Whitman. [back]

17. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman [December 25, 1863], Trent Collection of Walt Whitman, Duke University; cited below as Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman. [back]

18. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, April 7, [1869] (Trent). [back]

19. With Walt Whitman in Camden, I, 294. [back]

20. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [March] 24, [1870] (Trent). [back]

21. Molinoff, No. 2, pp. 3-4. [back]

22. Faint Clews and Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family, ed. Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1949), p. 207. [back]

23. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, October 19, [1869] (Trent). [back]

24. Molinoff, No. 2, p. 4; and "The Half-Breed: A Tale of the Western Frontier," in Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction, ed. Thomas L. Brasher (New York: New York University Press, 1963), p. 270. [back]

25. Gohdes and Silver, Faint Clews and Indirections, pp. 214-16. [back]

26. Faint Clew and Indirections, p. 224. [back]

27. Miller, The Correspondence, I, 299. [back]

28. Miller, The Correspondence, I, 303; see also Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (New York: New York University Press, 1955), p. 376. [back]

29. Molinoff, No. 2, p. 37. [back]

30. In a sketch published in 1844 entitled "My Boys and Girls," Whitman facetiously alludes to these three brothers: "What would you say, dear reader, were I to claim the nearest relationship to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson?" See Brasher, Walt Whitman, the Early Poems and the Fiction, p. 248. [back]

31. Nancy's surname has been established in the following manner. In a letter to Walt, dated [May 14, 1868] (Trent), Mrs. Whitman refers to Nancy's "brother's wife" as "Janey Maquire," whose husband is named Edward. Mrs. Whitman further identifies Edward in the same letter as "the one with one arm [who] keeps the new court house." In a letter to Walt, dated June 25, [1868] (Trent), however, Mother Whitman refers to Nancy's sister-in-law, Janey, as having the last name of "McClure." While there is not one listed under the name of "Maquire" in the Brooklyn directories for the years 1867-69, the Brooklyn directory for 1867-68 lists the name of one Edward McClure, who worked as a janitor in the courthouse. [back]

32. Miller, The Correspondence, I, 179. [back]

33. See Appendix D for further discussion of this question. [back]

34. TJW to Walt Whitman, September 3, 1863 (Feinberg). [back]

35. Molinoff, No. 2, p. 18. [back]

36. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [October 30, 1863] (Trent). [back]

37. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [December 4, 1863] (Trent). [back]

38. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [May 14, 1868] (Trent). [back]

39. See Allen, The Solitary Singer, pp. 397-98; and Miller, The Correspondence, II, 42. [back]

40. A postcard to Walt Whitman, dated January 23, 1879, might possibly have been written by Nancy (Feinberg). [back]

41. Amy Haslam Dowe, "A Child's Memories of the Whitmans," (Lion Collection of Walt Whitman), part of which is published by Edwin Miller in the Walt Whitman Review, 13 (September 1967), 73-79. Amy Haslam Dowe—a niece of Louisa Whitman, George's wife—visited the Whitmans in Camden when the poet was living with the George Whitmans. See also Miller, The Correspondence, II, 149, n. 4. [back]

42. The next oldest child after George Whitman. [back]

43. Walt Whitman: Prose Works 1892, ed. Floyd Stovall (New York: New York University Press, 1964), II, 693. [back]

44. See Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 30 August 1864. [back]

45. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, June 23, 1868 (Trent). Further explanation of this transaction appears below in the section treating George Whitman's postwar activities. [back]

46. See Dowe, "A Child's Memories of the Whitmans," p. 10; and Edwin Haviland Miller, "New Letters of Walt Whitman," Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society, 16 (January 1960), 105. [back]

47. Molinoff, No. 2, p. 11. [back]

48. TJW to Walt Whitman, December 15, 1863 (Feinberg). [back]

49. TJW to Walt Whitman, June 4, 1865 (Feinberg). [back]

50. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [October] 10, [1871] (Trent). [back]

51. Molinoff, No. 2, p. 13. [back]

52. Molinoff, No. 2, p. 12. [back]

53. Molinoff, No. 2, p. 15. [back]

54. TJW to Walt Whitman, Occtober 29, 1882 (Feinberg). [back]

55. Allen, The Solitary Singer, pp. 539-540. [back]

56. With Walt Whitman in Camden, II, 56-57. [back]

57. Stovall, Walt Whitman: Prose Works 1892 (1963), I, 117. [back]

58. Miller, The Correspondence, I, 137. [back]

59. Military Record of George W. Whitman, Bureau of National Archives; and Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War, pp. 86-89. [back]

60. Miller, The Correspondence, I, 243. [back]

61. "Fifty-first New York City Veterans," reprinted in The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, ed. Emory Holloway (New York: Peter Smith Press, 1921), II, 37-41. [back]

62. See Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 23 October 1864. [back]

63. This letter is not known. [back]

64. Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Unless otherwise indicated, further mention of Walt Whitman's "Memoranda" or "Diary Notes" refers to unpublished material in this collection. [back]

65. See Civil War Diary, below. [back]

66. Walt Whitman's "Memoranda During the War" and "Death of Abraham Lincoln," ed. Roy P. Basler (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962), pp. 16-17. [back]

67. Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War, pp. 178-79. [back]

68. See Jerome M. Loving, "'A Brooklyn Soldier, and a Noble One'—A Brooklyn Daily Union Article by Whitman," Walt Whitman Review, 20 (March, 1974), 27-30. [back]

69. See n. 62, above. [back]

70. These officers, as well as others mentioned by Whitman, are identified as they first appear in George Whitman's letters. [back]

71. TJW to Walt Whitman, January 31, 1865 (Feinberg). [back]

72. Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, II, 426. [back]

73. There is no record of this in Grant's official correspondence; however, Whitman recorded in his diary for January 17, 1865, that he had heard that day "by official letter from Lt. Gen'l. Grant's military secretary. He writes that the Lt. Gen'l. has directed a special exchange for George and also for Lt. Pooley." Furthermore the following statement appears in Miller, The Correspondence, I, 253, n. 23: "According to Williamson's Catalogue of A Collector of Books, Letters, and Manuscripts Written by Walt Whitman (1903), with Walt Whitman's letter [to Swinton] there is another from Lieutenant Colonel E. S. Parker, Grant's military secretary, dated February 13, 1865, informing Swinton that the cases of the two officers 'had been ordered to be made a subject of special exchange.' Swinton endorsed the envelope: 'W.W. 1865 Asking me to help his captured brother. Successful.'" The editor of this edition, however, examined two copies of George Millar Williamson's Catalogue of a Collection of Books, Letters, and Manuscripts Written by Walt Whitman (1903)—in the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress—without encountering the information on Parker. [back]

74. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, February 26, 1865, Hanley Collection of Walt Whitman, University of Texas at Austin. [back]

75. Both Cook's letter and George Whitman's note are in the Collection of American Literature at Yale University. [back]

76. Miller, The Correspondence, I, 255. [back]

77. Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, III, 202-3. [back]

78. See Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 23 October 1864. [back]

79. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [March 5, 1865] (Trent). While the officers of the Fifty-First Regiment were confined at Danville, the regiment's enlisted members were kept at Salisbury, North Carolina. In his records of the activities of the regiment (Yale), Walt Whitman noted that out of three hundred enlisted men captured with the regiment in September, only eight survived their imprisonment. [back]

80. Miller, The Correspondence, I, 256-57. [back]

81. See Letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 8 May 1865. [back]

82. Miller, The Correspondence, I, 258. [back]

83. TJW to Walt Whitman, May 14, and July 16, 1865 (Feinberg). [back]

84. TJW to Walt Whitman, May 14, 1865 (Feinberg). [back]

85. "Our Veterans Mustering Out; Major George W. Whitman, Fifty-first N.Y.V.V." See n. 8, above. [back]

86. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, August 8, [1865] (Trent). [back]

87. Ibid. [back]

88. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [August 29, 1865] (Trent). [back]

89. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, November 25, [1865] (Trent). [back]

90. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [December 10, 1865] (Trent). [back]

91. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [March 1866] (Trent). [back]

92. Miller, The Correspondence, I, 273. [back]

93. Possibly G. French, who had remodeled the Plymouth Chuch in Brooklyn in 1860. New York Times, April 19, 1860. [back]

94. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, June 7, [1866] (Trent). [back]

95. Miller, The Correspondence, I, 293. [back]

96. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [October 10, 1866] (Trent). [back]

97. Miller, The Correspondence, I, 306. [back]

98. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, July 15, 1868 (Trent). [back]

99. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, March 4, 1869 (Trent). [back]

100. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, June 23, [1869] (Trent). [back]

101. Dixon Wecter, "Walt Whitman as Civil Servant," PMLA, 58 (December 1943), 1098. [back]

102. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, April 7, [1869] (Trent). [back]

103. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, December 7, [1869] (Trent). [back]

104. Allen, The Solitary Singer, p. 453. [back]

105. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [March, 1871] (Trent). [back]

106. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [October] 10, [1871] (Trent). [back]

107. Miller, The Correspondence, II, 157. [back]

108. Ibid., p. 183. [back]

109. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [Spring, 1873] (Trent). [back]

110. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [April 12, 1873] (Trent). [back]

111. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [March 21, 1873] (Trent). [back]

112. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, February 27, [1873] (Trent). [back]

113. Dowe, "A Child's Memories of the Whitmans," p. 24. [back]

114. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, April 12, 1873, and April 8, 1873 (Trent). [back]

115. Whitman was granted a two-month leave of absence from his job on June 15, 1873; see Allen, The Solitary Singer, p. 453. [back]

116. Ibid., p. 461. [back]

117. This clause is emended by an unknown hand to read as follows: "George visited Walt only when he was very ill." [back]

118. Dowe, "A Child's Memories of the Whitmans," p. 20. [back]

119. Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, I, 227. [back]

120. Dowe, p. 3. [back]

121. Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, III, 538. [back]

122. A copy of this article, clipped from the newspaper, is preserved as part of Whitman's papers in the Trent Collection. This anonymous piece may well have been written by Walt Whitman himself. An equally flattering and similarly worded account of the funeral, identified through external evidence as Whitman's, appeared in the New York Daily Tribune of July 19, 1876. See Edwin Haviland Miller, "Walt Whitman's Correspondence with Whitlaw Reid, Editor of the New York Tribune," Studies in Bibliography, 8 (1956), 244-45. [back]

123. Miller, The Correspondence, III. 90-91. [back]

124. George Hendrick, "Mrs. Davis' Claim Against the Whitman Estate," Walt Whitman Birthplace Bulletin, 4 (October 1960), 6-7. [back]

125. Dowe, "A Child's Memories of the Whitmans," p. 31. [back]

126. Hendrick, "Claim Against the Whitman Estate," p. 7. [back]

127. Dowe, p. 31. [back]

128. Ibid. [back]

129. A copy of George Whitman's will and inventory of his estate is on file at the Burlington County Surrogate's Office, Mount Holly, New Jersey. [back]

130. Dowe, p. 24. [back]

131. In Re Walt Whitman, p. 36. [back]

132. Miller, in Walt Whitman Review, 12 (September 1967), 76. [back]


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