Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 15 April 1863

Date: April 15, 1863

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:87-90. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00766

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Vanessa Steinroetter, Kathryn Kruger, and Alyssa Olson




Washington,
Wednesday | forenoon, April 15, '63.

Dearest Mother,

Jeff's letter of the 11th, acknowledging the books, also the one about five days previous, containing the $10 from Van Anden, came safe.1 Jeff's letters are always first rate and welcome—the good long one with so much about home, and containing Han's & George's, was especially so. It is a great pleasure, though sometimes a melancholy one, to hear from Han, under her own hand. I have writ to George—I wrote last Friday—I directed the letter to "Lexington or elsewhere, Kentucky"—as I saw in a letter in a Cincinnati paper that Gen. Ferrero2 was appointed provost marshal at Lexington—the 51st is down there somewhere, and I guess it is about as well off there as anywhere—there is much said about their closing up the regimental companies—that is, where there are ten companies of 40 men each, closing them up to five companies, of 80 men each. It is said the government purposes something of this kind—it will throw a good many captains & lieutenants out—I suppose you know that LeGendre3 is now Col. of the 51st—it's a pity if we havn't Americans enough to put over our old war regiments—(I think less and less of foreigners, in this war—what I see, especially in the hospitals, convinces me that there is no other stock, for emergencies, but native American—no other name by which we can be saved.)

Mother, I feel quite bad about Andrew4—I am so in hopes to hear that he has recovered—I think about him every day—he must not get fretting and disheartened—that is really the worst feature of any sickness—diseases of the throat and bronchia are the result always of bad state of the stomach, blood, &c. (they never come from the throat itself)—the throat and bronchia are lined like the stomach and other interior organs with a fine lining like silk or crape, and when all this gets ulcerated or inflamed or what not, (it is Dr. Sammis's mucous membrane, you know,) it is bad, and most distressing—medicine is really of no great account, except just to pacify a person—this lining I speak of is full of little blood vessels, and the way to make a real cure is by gentle and steady means to recuperate the whole system—this will tell upon the blood, upon the blood vessels, and so finally & effectually upon all this coating I speak of that lines the throat &c. But as it is a long time before this vital lining membrane (very important) is injured, so it is a long time before it can be made all healthy & right again—but Andrew is young & strong enough and good constitution for basis—& of course by regular diet, care, (& nary whiskey under any circumstances) I am sure he would not only get over that trouble, but be as well & strong as he ever was in his life. Mother, you tell him I sent him my love, and Nancy the same, and the dear little boys the same. The next time you or Mat goes down there you take this & show him.

Mat, I am quite glad to hear that you are not hurried & fretted with work from New York this spring—I am sure I should think sis & housekeeping &c would be enough to attend to. I was real amused with sis's remarks, and all that was in the letter about her. You must none of you notice her smartness, nor criticisms, before her, nor encourage her to spread herself nor be critical, as it is not good to encourage a child to be too sharp—and I hope sissy is going to be a splendid specimen of good animal health—for the few years to come I should think more of that than any thing—that is the foundation of all, (righteousness included)—as to her mental vivacity & growth, they are plenty enough of themselves, and will get along quite fast enough of themselves, plenty fast enough—don't stimulate them at all—dear little creature, how I should like to see her this minute—Jeff must not make his lessons to her in music any ways strong or frequent on any account—two lessons a week, of ten minutes each, is enough—But then I dare say Jeff will think of all these things, just the same as I am saying.5

Jeff writes he wonders if I am as well and hearty, and I suppose he means as much of a beauty as ever—whether I look the same6—well, not only as much, but more so—I believe I weigh about 200 and as to my face, (so scarlet,) and my beard and neck, they are terrible to behold—I fancy the reason I am able to do some good in the hospitals, among the poor languishing & wounded boys, is that I am so large and well—indeed like a great wild buffalo, with much hair—many of the soldiers are from the west, and far north—and they take to a man that has not the bleached shiny & shaved cut of the cities and the east. I spent three to four hours yesterday in Armory Hospital—One of my particular boys there was dying,7 pneumonia—he wanted me to stop with him awhile—he could not articulate—but the look of his eyes, and the holding on of his hand, was deeply affecting. His case is a relapse—eight days ago, he had recovered, was up, was perhaps a little careless—at any rate took cold, was taken down again and has sunk rapidly. He has no friends or relatives here—Yesterday he labored & panted so for breath, it was terrible—he is a young man from New England, from the country—I expect to see his cot vacated this afternoon or evening, as I shall go down then. Mother, if you or Mat was here a couple of days, you would cry your eyes out. I find I have to restrain myself and keep my composure—I succeed pretty well. Good bye, dearest mother.


Walt.

Jeff, Capt. Mullen8 remains here yet for some time. He is bringing out his Report. I shall try to send you a copy. Give my best respects to Dr. Ruggles.9

Mother, my last letter home was a week ago to-day—We are having a dark rainy day here—it is now ½ past 3—I have been in my room all day, so far—shall have dinner in ½ an hour, and then down to Armory.


Notes:

1. In his letter to Walt from April 6, 1863, Jeff included $10 from Isaac Van Anden (1812–1875), the founder of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Walt Whitman was editor of this newspaper in 1846–47, but left after a political disagreement with the proprietor; see Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 90–91. In an April 2, 1863, letter Jeff had requested "a copy of the Pacific R. R. Exploration &c Reports. . . . I find them of great use in giving me ideas about my business and they are too cursed costly to buy." By April 11, 1863, he had received two books: "I am extremely obliged . . . and shall, Oliver Twist like, ask for more" (see Jeff's letter to Walt dated April 11, 1863). [back]

2. Edward Ferrero (1831–1899) was appointed on October 14, 1861, colonel, Fifty-first New York Volunteers, and commanded George's regiment during the following winter. After the second battle of Bull Run, he was appointed brigadier general. [back]

3. Charles W. LeGendre (1830–1899), born in France and educated at the University of Paris, was a soldier who helped to recruit the Fifty-first New York Volunteer Infantry. LeGendre was severely wounded at New Bern, North Carolina, on March 14, 1862, as George observed in his letter of March 16–18,1862, to his mother, Lousia Van Velsor Whitman (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). LeGendre was appointed lieutenant colonel on September 20, 1862, and later succeeded Edward Ferrero (see Walt's letter to his mother from December 29, 1862) and Robert B. Potter (see Walt's letter from May 26, 1863) as commanding officer of the Fifty-first Regiment. During the second Battle of the Wilderness, May 6, 1864, he lost his left eye and the bridge of his nose, and was honorably discharged on October 4 of the same year. See Whitman's account of LeGendre's hospitalization in his letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated May 13, 1864[back]

4. In a letter dated February 12, 1863, Jeff informed Whitman that "Andrew had been discharged from the [navy] yard. Tis too bad but I presume it is on account of his not being there much of the time." This was but the first of the disasters that befell Andrew in 1863. In a letter from April 3, 1863, Jeff noted that Andrew's health was poor, and that the doctor had advised him to stop drinking and "to work out-doors." [back]

5. In a letter to Walt dated April 11, 1863, Jeff, like a typical father, boasted of Mannahatta's verbal ability: "Yesterday one of the Hearkness children was in our rooms and they were talking about rolling their hoops, one told sis—4½ yrs old—that she had rolled her hoop down the 'teet'; sis says 'I rolled mine down the street, thats the way to say it'." On April 6, 1863, Jeff wrote: "Every day I give her a little exercise in singing, two or three notes only. I think she could be made a fine musician and am going to try it." [back]

6. Also in the April 6, 1863, letter Jeff wrote: "Walt, how I should like to see you, do you look the same as ever or has the immense number of unfortunate and heart-working cases given you an sober and melancholy look." Whitman always endeavored to allay Jeff's fears. [back]

7. Whitman might be referencing "M. de F.," of Connecticut, mentioned in Specimen Days (Richard Maurice Bucke, ed., The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman [New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1902], 4:44). Whitman spent most of his time in Armory Square Hospital because, he wrote on June 30, "it contains by far the worst cases" (see Walt's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman from June 30, 1863). [back]

8. Captain John Mullan (1830–1909), an army engineer, was associated with General Isaac I. Stevens in his surveys for a railroad route to the West (U.S. Topographical Bureau, Report of Exploration of a Route for the Pacific Railroad Near the 47th and 49th Parallels From St. Paul to Puget Sound [Washington, D.C.: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1860]). When Whitman met Mullan, Mullan was about to publish his Report on the Construction of a Military Road From Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton (Washington, D.C.: Government Publications Office, 1863). In a notebook entry for April 1863 (Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #76), Whitman referred to both of these reports. In a letter to his mother from March 31, 1863, Walt had praised "Capt. Mullin, U.S. Army (engineer), who has been six years out in the Rocky Mt's, making a gov't road, 650 miles from Ft. Benton to Walla Walla—very, very interesting to know such men intimately, and talk freely with them." A transcontinental railroad had long fascinated Whitman; he later wrote an editorial on the subject in 1858 while he was editor of the Brooklyn Daily Times (see Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 213). Walt celebrated the completion of the railroad in his poem, "Passage to India." [back]

9. The Brooklyn physician Edward Ruggles (1817?–1867) befriended the Whitman family and became especially close to Jeff and Mattie. Late in life, Ruggles lost interest in his practice and devoted himself to painting cabinet pictures called "Ruggles Gems" (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:90, n. 85; 330). [back]


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