Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [31 August or 2 September 1863]

Date: August 31 or September 2, 1863

Editorial note: The annotation, "3 Sept '63," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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.00427

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



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My dear Walter1

i2 sit down to write you a few lines you have received georges3 letter before this i wrote to him last night and jeffy4 took it down this morning and the 10 doller i hope it wont mis-carry he did not regester it as george proposd he did not think it would be any good i got the money he sent on monday and had put the most of it in the bank i had the 10d i sent him without getting any out but will have to get some as he wants 10 more next week well Andrew5 has gone to a place called freehold6 and he went on the central railroad he went last monday as far as suffron station and came back the next day he has not drank any nancy7 says in three months untill that day one week ago to day he w[as?] with Jim cornell8 and drank a little and his being so weak it affected him very much he went home to get his things and nancy had not put them up she told him to put them up himself and his having drank some he was very angry and he went away without taking any thing he was in a waggon with jim [C?]ornell and Buckly9 they were going to take him to the boat i blamed nancy very much so they came around here and stopped i see andrew had been drinking i said to him that i would not give him the 10 dollars i promised him as i knew he had money then) i thought probably they would have a spree but he went as far as suffron station about 30 miles and came back and went again on thursday nancy came here the night after he first went with very great complaints she said georgee10 was sick a [illegible]nd Andrew had gone and left her without any money i gave her one dollar and one of my gowns and a quilt petticoat little jim11 was here yesterday and nancy has been here to day and she has got a letter from Andrew he wrote he was not so well as when he went away i gave her some paper and envelopes and told her to write to him he had better come home)

if they had taken the money and got a place up above here a comfortable place i think it would have been better i gave him the 10 d when he went the last time he looks very bad indeed he could only work a half a day at a time he says he wouldent care about living only for his children i think nance might do better at any rate she might keep things a little cleaner i hope he will be better but am afraid it has gone to long

they are drafting here to day12 not in this district Jeff feels confidant he will be drafted if he does he will not go there is part of two regmints encamped on fort green13 the indianaan 14th california it is full of tents14 looks like war sis15 and i went up there this afternoon poor fellows they looked like hard times i spoke to some of them one from Ohio said he had never been home since he listed over 2 years) we are all about the same jesse16 aint very well he has such sick spells he rocks the cradle for marthe17 day in and day out i have not had any letter from hannah18 nor mary willy saw mary19 when he was at greenport20 she said they were all well write walt to me and write to george and han you can send georges letter21 to her

i get all the letter you send22


Notes:

1. This letter dates to a range from August 31, 1863, the most likely date of composition, through September 2, 1863, the last possible date. Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter September 3, 1863, a date based, presumably, on Walt Whitman's having received Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's "letters sent Sept 3d containing your letter" (see Walt's September 8, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). Edwin Haviland Miller also dated this letter September 3?, 1863 or "about" September 3, 1863 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:373).

How one dates this letter depends in part on a reading of two letters by Jeff Whitman. Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price dated two of Jeff's letters September 5, 1863, because Walt acknowledged that date in his September 8, 1863 letter (see Jeff's September 5?, 1863 and his second September 5?, 1863 letters to Walt). Berthold and Price note the inconsistency in the latter letter between Jeff's statement that he wrote on Wednesday and his date September 5, which fell on a Saturday. That inconsistency makes the dates of the two letters from Louisa, which Jeff enclosed in his, nearly impossible to resolve based on Jeff's letter dates.

Walt seems to have responded to this letter's concerns about Andrew Jackson Whitman in his September 8, 1863. If so, this letter is probably the one that Jeff enclosed with his first September 5?, 1863 letter, though Jeff's letter, which does not include a day of the week, would probably need to date September 3, 1863. That date must remain speculative because an earlier non-extant letter from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman about Andrew's ongoing illness may have also elicited Walt's concerns.

The most reliable way to date this letter is to the Brooklyn draft and to Walt's brother George Washington Whitman's acknowledgment of his mother's August 30 letter (not extant) in George's September 7, 1863 letter. Louisa in this letter says that she wrote to her son George "last night." Therefore, the letter that she wrote George "last night" could be dated or postmarked on August 30, which would date the writing of this letter (the next day) to August 31 or September 1. Louisa also mentions the drafts in Brooklyn: military drafts were held on August 31, September 1, and September 2, 1863. She refers twice to Andrew's drinking binge as "last monday" and once as "that day one week ago." Because August 31 fell on a Monday, it is consistent both with her statement on the military draft, her writing on a Monday, and with her having written George's August 30 letter "last night." Therefore, Louisa presumably wrote one letter to Walt on August 31, 1863 and another on September 2. August 31, 1863 is the most likely date of this letter, the one that prompted Jeff to apologize in his early September 1863 letter, which also included this letter from his mother written "some days ago" as an enclosure. However, since Jeff also enclosed a letter from Louisa with his September 5?, 1863 to Walt, this letter could date as late as September 2, 1863. Ultimately, this letter is dated to accord with Louisa's statement on the Brooklyn draft and with her having written George's August 30 letter "last night." [back]

2. 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]

3. George Washington Whitman's (1829–1901) late August letter is not extant. George was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and he was ten years younger than Walt. George 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). For more on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [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. Freehold, New Jersey was readily accessible from Brooklyn by steamboat to Long Branch, New Jersey and then via the Central Railroad toward Trenton (J. Calvin Smith, The Illustrated Hand-book, a New Guide for Travelers Through the United States of America [New York: Sherman and Smith, 1847], 83, 122). [back]

7. 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]

8. Cornell is James H. Cornwell, a friend of Andrew Whitman, who got him a job in North Carolina in 1863 building fortifications. Cornwell served as a judge in the Brooklyn City Hall and is listed as a lawyer in the 1870 census, which also identifies his wife as Mary (b. 1822?) (United States Census, 1870, Brooklyn, Kings, New York). He is mentioned in Whitman's "Scenes in a Police Justices' Court Room" (Brooklyn Daily Times, September 9, 1857). For more on the relationship between Andrew Jackson Whitman and Cornwell, see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10 (Winter 1993), 142–148. [back]

9. Andrew's companion "Buckly" has not been identified. [back]

10. George "Georgy" Whitman was the son of Walt Whitman's brother Andrew Jackson Whitman and Andrew's wife Nancy McClure Whitman. For more on Andrew's family, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]

11. James "Jimmy" Whitman was the son of Walt Whitman's brother Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) and Andrew's wife Nancy McClure Whitman. For more on Andrew's family, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]

12. See "Drafting in the Second District," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 31, 1863, 2; and "The Draft in Brooklyn. The Drawing To-Day. The Eleventh Ward. The Eleventh and the Sixteenth Ward Complete," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 2, 1863, 2. [back]

13. Fort Greene is the former name for the site that is now Washington Park. It was opposite the Whitman home on Portland Avenue (see Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's March 21, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. The regiments were encamped on Fort Greene during this September draft to prevent a repeat of draft riots that had taken place July 13–16 (see Jeff's July 19, 1863 letter to Walt).  [back]

14. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the infantry regiments encamped at Fort Greene were the 1st Minnesota and the 8th and 10th Ohio ("Entertaining the Soldiers," September 3, 1863, 3). But according to the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database (CWSS), the 14th Indiana was also among units "detached on duty at New York City during draft disturbances August 16 to September 6" (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm), which is consistent with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's statement that she talked to an Ohio soldier who had already completed two years of active service. Ohio infantry regiments designated 5th, 7th, and 8th were formed early in the war (June 1861), and these seasoned units were dispatched to New York for the September draft as part of the 12th Army Corps, 2nd Division, 1st Brigade (CWSS).

Louisa's word "california" is not a designation for a regiment but an interjection that adapted the name "California" from its brief appearance as a slang term for money (Oxford English Dictionary).  [back]

15. "Sis" is Manahatta "Hattie" Whitman (1860–1886), the elder daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Hattie, who lived most of the first seven years of her life in the same home as Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, was especially close to her grandmother. The nickname "Sis" would eventually pass from Manahatta to her younger sister Jessie Louisa, the latter born in June 1863. Hattie and Jessie were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]

16. Jesse Whitman (1818–1870) was the first-born son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He suffered from mental illness that included threats of violence for several years before he was committed to an asylum, where he was placed in December 1864. Shortly after an outburst that followed his brother Andrew Jackson Whitman's death in December 1863—he threatened Martha Mitchell and Thomas Jefferson Whitman's daughter Manahatta—Jeff sought to "put him in some hospital or place where he would be doctored" (see Jeff's December 15, 1863 to Walt Whitman). Louisa resisted institutionalizing Jesse because, according to her December 25, 1863 letter, she "could not find it in my heart to put him there." On December 5, 1864, Walt committed Jesse to Kings County Lunatic Asylum on Flatbush Avenue, where he remained until his death on March 21, 1870 (see E. Warner's March 22, 1870 letter to Walt). For a short biography of Jesse, see Robert Roper, "Jesse Whitman, Seafarer," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 26:1 (Summer 2008), 35–41. [back]

17. Jessie Louisa Whitman, born June 17, 1863, is being rocked in the cradle. 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 (b. 1860) and Jessie Louisa. For more on Mattie, see the introduction to Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

18. 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]

19. 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.

The "Willy" who encountered Mary is probably the son of John Brown, a tailor who boarded in the Portland Avenue home.  [back]

20. Greenport is a seaport village near the end of the northern fork of Long Island, New York. It was the home of Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand and family. [back]

21. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman may have forwarded George Washington Whitman's August 16, 1863 letter. [back]

22. See Walt Whitman's August 25, 1863 and September 1, 1863 letters to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]


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