Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 19 March [1863]

Date: March 19, 1863

Editorial notes: The annotation, "—63," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

Related item:

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00426

Contributors to digital file: Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, and Elizabeth Lorang



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March [th?] 191

Well Walt

george has come and gone2 he dident want to go much i3 think he went tuesday night started from here about 9 [Ockoch?] jeff4 was going over with him but there was so many going with him i told jeff he better not go as he was very tyred george said it would be 12 or 1 Oclock before he would get back we felt bad whe[n?] he started and he did too appeard to feel very bad he says he thinks it altogether likely he will be back in a month [he?] thinks the regiment will be consolidated and there will be more officers than will be needed but i dont think he will be dischargd we all eat supper up stairs the night he went away not so very solem as you would suppose but when he came to go i felt bad enoughf he went down to Andrews before he went away Andre[w?]5 i believe has got in the yard again nancy6 was here to day another of her brothers is buried to day she was going to the funeral) those things you sent george all came safe he thinks [he?] wont want any more cloths in some time he had just gone when the express came7 he said he gesst they would not come that he must get some shirts he was going down to Harrisons8 to have his likeness taken so marthe9 got ready quick and stopp[ed?] and told him they had come so he went down to the bank and took out the remander of his money his things cost so much more than he antisapated he gave me 7 dollars i told him i could doo with enoughf to get half ton of coal that you sent me some every little while but he said he had enoughf i got your letter10 Walt with the dollar in and have just got Jeffs with the 20 cents Jeff will sen[d?] your engravings fryday or saturday with one of george11 they wont be done till thin he wanted one sent to you and one to han12 and one to mary13 and one to Andrew mary did not co[me?]14 we have not heard any thing from her i had a letter from heyde15 yesterday he says hanna is about the same he says he wishes you would write to her that she would write to you but it seems to hurt her to bend over i think she is quite poorly at times but maybee when the weather gets warm she will improve at any rate i do so hope she may i did think i would go on there as soon as the weather got warmer but jeff and george dont seem to think i am capable of taking care of myself but i think i could go i wish Walt you could go down and see george he thinks they are going on an expedition before long he has got a good tent only one besides himself tom16 is discharged and gone home this 12 sheets of writing paper for 4 cents is awful stuf to write on it [want?] better write[r than?] mammy i dont think i [shall?]17 invest in it again george made sis18 a present of a gold locket cost six dollar and a half she cals it her gold wacth told her father he must get her a key to wind up her wa[tch?] i was glad he did get it jeff is very good we gave george a lot of fruit cake and crullers19 mat marked his things so we fixed him off very good we are all well but eddy20 he is quite under the weather has got of his [bed?] [so?] you may think he is not very well i am sorry walt your head is no better [how bad?] it must b[e?]

good by my dear walt


Notes:

1. This letter dates to March 19, 1863. "March 19" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to the year 1863. Edwin Haviland Miller dated the letter March 19?, 1873 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:373). The quizzical "th" could be the abandoned word "Thursday": March 19 fell on Thursday in 1863. Or it could be the word "th[e?]" as part of an abandoned postscript. The letter coincided with the end of George Washington Whitman's ten-day furlough. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman in his March 9, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman reported George's arrival in Brooklyn on "Sunday morning" (March 8) for a ten-day furlough. George departed from Brooklyn on Tuesday, March 17, two days before this letter. The date March 19, 1863 is certain. [back]

2. In March 1863 George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) returned home to Brooklyn for the first time in sixteen months on a ten-day furlough, which ended on March 17. He returned to his regiment in Newport News, Virginia. George was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and he was ten years younger than Walt Whitman. He enlisted in the Union army in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with a partner named Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

3. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt Whitman was the second. For more information on Louisa and her letters, see Wesley Raabe, "'walter dear': The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt" and Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)." [back]

4. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was the son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's favorite brother. In early adulthood he worked as a surveyor and topographical engineer. In the 1850s he began working for the Brooklyn Water Works, at which he remained employed through the Civil War. In 1867 Jeff became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and became a nationally recognized name in civil engineering. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

5. Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) was Walter Whitman, Sr., and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's son, and Walt Whitman's brother. Andrew developed a drinking problem that contributed to his early death, leaving behind his wife Nancy McClure Whitman, who was pregnant with son Andrew, Jr., and their two sons, George "Georgy" and James "Jimmy." For more on Andrew, see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10:3 (1993), 142–148. [back]

6. Nancy McClure Whitman was the wife of Walt Whitman's brother, Andrew Jackson Whitman. James "Jimmy" and George "Georgy" were Nancy and Andrew's sons, and Nancy was pregnant with Andrew, Jr., when her husband died in December 1863. Andrew, Jr., died in 1868, and Georgy died in 1872. For Nancy and her children, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]

7. Walt Whitman, in his March 18, 1863 letter to Thomas Jefferson Whitman, reported his hope that "the bundle of George's shirts, drawers, &c came safe by Adams Express. I sent it last Saturday." Adams Express, a packet delivery service, was noted for its fast delivery, trustworthiness, and its guarantee of privacy for shippers (see Hollis Robbins, "Fugitive Mail: The Deliverance of Henry 'Box' Brown and Antebellum Postal Politics," American Studies 50:1/2 [2009], 12–13). Robert Roper has traced the many references to these flannel shirts in the Whitman family's early 1863 correspondence (Now the Drum of War [New York: Walker and Company, 2008], 204–206). [back]

8. According to the Brooklyn City Directory (1863), Gabriel Harrison was a photographer at 73 Fulton Avenue. He was a friend of Whitman's and took the daguerreotypes that Whitman used for the engraved portrait of himself that appeared in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. In addition to being an award-winning daguerreotypist, Harrison was also a writer, actor, painter, and stage manager, and he remained for Whitman one of the true artisan-heroes of the era. [back]

9. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

10. This letter is not extant. [back]

11. Thomas Jefferson Whitman forwarded copies of George Washington Whitman's photograph and the engravings in his March 21, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

12. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. [back]

13. Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the oldest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they subsequently moved to Greenport, Long Island. They raised five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, Jr., and Mary Isadore "Minnie." See Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 10–11. [back]

14. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman's March 3, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

15. Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), Hannah (Whitman) Heyde's husband, was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

16. This Thomas, presumably a member of George Washington Whitman's regiment, the 51st New York Volunteers, cannot be identified. [back]

17. Louisa wrote "shall" over "should." [back]

18. Because the letter dates to May 1863, the nickname "Sis" refers to Manahatta Whitman (1860–1886), the elder daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother, and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. In later letters, Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957), born in June, acquired the nickname "Sis" when Manahatta became "Hattie." [back]

19. Crullers are a "cake cut from dough containing eggs, butter, sugar, etc., twisted or curled into various shapes, and fried to crispness in lard or oil" (Oxford English Dictionary). [back]

20. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. During Louisa's final illness, Eddy was taken under the care of George Washington Whitman and his wife, Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, with financial support from Walt Whitman. [back]


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