Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [21 October 1863]

Date: October 21, 1863

Related item: Louisa wrote this letter on a letter she received from George Washington Whitman. She forwarded George's letter to Walt Whitman and included this note on the verso of the last page of George's letter. See duk.00347.

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.00571

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



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wensday evening 9 oclock1

dear walt

i send you georges letter2 you will know where to direct too he says he will write to you but i thought he might not and you would be glad any how to see it as i was i thought he was in tenesee and if i wrote he would never get it O i was so glad to get this letter i sat right down and wrote to him it seems strang[e?] he has not got the letters you have sent him3 Andrew4 has been here this afternoon he went down town and walked up but was very muc[h?] fatigued when he got here he laied down on the sofa [a?]while before he went home he is about the same jess5 went home with him and took some rice pudding matty6 made him he c[an?] seem to eat that better i made him some broth yesterday boiled the beef a long time and put a little salt in it and he could not take much of it i told him i would make him some more to morrow and not put any salt in it i gave him the 2 dollar you sent and the letter [to re?]ad he worries about things i give him money wheneve i have it if he could only eat without such misery he could get along better he came here last sunday morning and staid all day matty washed his neck and gave him a clean shirt and while he was here she went round and gave nance7 a real talking too told her she ought to have patience she is so very high temper[d?] poor han8 i wonder how she is i think so much about her some nights i cant sleep if she wou[ld?] only write to me) my coughf is little better


[y?]our mother9


Notes:

1. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote this letter on a blank verso of George Washington Whitman's October 16, 1863 letter to Louisa, which Thomas Jefferson Whitman enclosed with his October 22, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman.

Edwin Haviland Miller assigned the letter the approximate date October 21?, 1863 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:374). Because Walt acknowledged receiving "Yours & George's letter" in his October 27, 1863 reply to Louisa, and October 27 was a Tuesday in 1863, this letter from Louisa, which was written on the Wednesday preceding Walt's October 27 letter, must date to October 21, 1863. [back]

2. See George Washington Whitman's October 16, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. 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. Walt Whitman reported sending a letter to George Washington Whitman in his October 13, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. He reported sending two more letters to George in his October 20, 1863 letter to Louisa, one on October 14 and a "short note" that he had forwarded with Louisa's October 19 letter (not extant). George began his October 16, 1863 letter (which Louisa forwarded to Walt) with the complaint that he had been expecting "for the last two weeks to get a letter from home." Louisa also paraphrased George's surmise toward the end of his October 16 letter that the geographical separation of the Fifty-first Regiment, New York Volunteers, in Camp Nelson, Kentucky, had resulted in letters addressed to the 9th Army Corps being sent to Knoxville, Tennessee (Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman [Durham: Duke University Press, 1975], 107–109). Thomas Jefferson Whitman enclosed George's October 16 letter, Louisa's note to Walt on George's letter (this letter), and the letter that Louisa "sat right down and wrote to [George]," which is not extant, with his October 22, 1863 letter to Walt (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 80–82). [back]

4. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's son Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) was married to Nancy McClure Whitman. During Andrew's lifetime, he and Nancy had two sons James "Jimmy" and George "Georgy," and Nancy was pregnant when Andrew died in December 1863 of the throat condition from which he was suffering at this time. In the early 1860s, Andrew worked as a carpenter, and he enlisted briefly in the Union Army during the Civil War (see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10 [Winter 1993], 142–148). [back]

5. 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]

6. 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]

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. 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]

9. 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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