Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [5 March 1865]

Date: March 5, 1865

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.00435

Contributors to digital file: Zachary King, Elizabeth Lorang, Wesley Raabe, Felicia Wetzig, and Nicole Gray



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Sunday night1

dear Walt

George2 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 the lung fever he was six weeks in the hospital so bad that the doctor thought he would die this doctor i think he calls his name wilson3 seems to have taken A liking to him and did what he could for him he had no medicine blistered him and gave him mercury he was dilirious and lay in A stupor till the night 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 flann[el?] trowsers 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 any thing to eat from friday morng till sunday when he was captured he had 100 dol they searched him 3 times and he saved his money he cut A place in his neck tie and put 50 d bill in and put some in his tobacco and some silver in his mouth one next to him they took 600 dl from they took all sam pooley s4 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 he brought home A piece of the corn bread how they lived on it i cant see they would have nothing else for six weeks at a time i sent Georges letter5 yesterday as soon as i got yours i had no idea but what you see Georges name amongst the arrived Georg says there was 20 yesterday died at anapolus some died eating they were he says like hungry woolvs had got so famished i told him to day to not think any more about it he has pains in his legs effects of the fever Jeffy6 is not home yet and sis is not well yet7 she seems to have A kind of fever write walt when you get this i feel better than i have felt the rest is all well i thought you would like to hear something about his prison life


L W8


Notes:

1. This letter dates to March 5, 1865. On an accompanying slip of paper held in the Trent Collection (not reproduced here) that is bound with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 7, 1865 letter to Walt, Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter February 26 or March 2, 1863. Bucke's date is incorrect, and he probably erred because he associated George Washington Whitman's release from imprisonment with his imminent arrival to Brooklyn. After his release from the Confederate Military Prison at Danville, George arrived at Annapolis, Maryland, on February 24, and he continued to Brooklyn several days later. See Jerome M. Loving, ed., Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 134–135. His one-month furlough, which expired on April 4, would have begun on March 4, 1865. George arrived in Brooklyn on March 5, 1865, a Sunday, and this letter dates to the evening of his arrival. [back]

2. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. 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). 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 eventually took up a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

3. The doctor named "Wilson" has not been identified. [back]

4. Samuel M. Pooley was a soldier in the Fifty-first New York Volunteers. In his notes on the Fifty-first regiment, Walt Whitman wrote that Pooley was "born in Cornwall, Eng. 1836—struck out & came to America when 14—has lived mostly in Buffalo[,] learnt ship joining—left Buffalo in the military service U.S. June, 1861—came out as private—was made 2d Lieut at South Mountain. Made Captain Aug. 1864—got a family in Buffalo" (Manuscripts of Walt Whitman in the Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University). [back]

5. See George Washington Whitman's February 24, 1865 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Louisa wrote on the verso of the letter from George, which she forwarded, "Walter i should have sent you this letter from george but thought of course you knew all about his arrival at Anapolis i saw his name in the times with 500 others arrived)" (see her March 4, 1865 letter to Walt). [back]

6. 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]

7. The nickname "Sis" refers to Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957), the daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. Jessie and her sister Manahatta "Hattie" were both favorites of their uncle Walt. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman reported on March 7, 1865 that "sis is much better she has been down stairs to day and plays about she has lost some of her fat but will regain it again." The nickname "Sis" was given first to Manahatta but was passed to her younger sister Jessie Louisa when Manahatta became "Hattie." [back]

8. 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]


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