Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 26 May 1863

Date: May 26, 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), 1:104-106. 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.00772

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

Tuesday forenoon, | May 26th 1863.

Dear Mother,

I got a long letter from George, dated near Lancaster, Kentucky, May 15th1—he seems to be well & in good spirits, says he gets some letters from me & papers too—At the time he wrote, the 51st was doing provost duty at Lancaster, but would not probably remain so very long—seem to be moving toward southeast Kentucky—had a good camp, & good times generally. LeGendre2 is colonel—Gen. Ferrero3 has left the service—Col. Potter4 (now Brig. Gen.) is in Cincinnati—Capt. Sims5 &c are all well—George describes Kentucky as a very fine country—says the people are about half & half, secesh & union. This is the longest letter I have yet rec'd from George. Did he write you one about the same time? Mother, I have not rec'd any word from home in over a week—the last letter I had from Mr. Lane was about 12 days ago, sending me $10 for the soldiers, (5 from Mr. Kirkwood6 & 5 from Conklin Brush.)7

Mother dear, I should like to hear from Martha, I wish Jeff would write me about it8—has Andrew gone? & how is your wrist & arm, mother—We have had some very hot weather here—I don't know what I should have done without the thin grey coat you sent—you don't know how good it does, & looks too—I wore it three days, & carried a fan & an umbrella, (quite a Japanee)—most every body here carries an umbrella, on acc't of the sun—yesterday & to-day however have been quite cool, east wind—Mother, the shirts were a real godsend, they do first rate, I like the fancy Marseilles collar & wristbands—

Mother, how are you getting along—I suppose just the same as ever—I suppose Jess & Ed are just the same as ever—when you write, you tell me all about every thing, & the Browns,9 & the neighborhood generally. Mother, is George's trunk home & of no use, there? I wish I had it here, as I must have a trunk—but do not wish you to send it, until I send you word—I suppose my letter never appeared in the Eagle,10 well I shall send them no more, as I think likely they hate to put in any thing which may celebrate me a little, even though it is just the thing they want for their paper & readers. They altered the other letter on that account, very meanly. I shall probably have letters in the N. Y. Times & perhaps other papers in about a week11—Mother, I have been pretty active in hospitals for the past two weeks, somewhere every day or night—I have written you so much about cases &c I will not write you any more, on that subject this time—O the sad, sad things I see, the noble young men with legs & arms taken off—the deaths—the sick weakness, sicker than death, that some endure, after amputations—(there is a great difference, some make little of it, others lie after it for days, just flickering alive, & O so deathly weak & sick)—I go this afternoon to Campbell Hospital, out a couple of miles.

Mother, I should like to have Jeff send me 20 of the large sized portraits & as many of the standing figure, do them up flat. I think every day about Martha. Mother, have you heard any further about Han? Good bye for the present, dearest mother.



1. This letter to Whitman and one to his mother on the following day are apparently lost. There is a letter from George to Jeff, dated May 15, 1863, in the Missouri Historical Society. On May 29, from "Heusonville" [Hustonville], Kentucky (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library); Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections [Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1949], 156-158), George described the recent movements of his regiment. [back]

2. See Whitman's letter from April 15, 1863[back]

3. Walt Whitman's or George's information about Ferrero (see his letter from December 29, 1862) was incorrect; he did not leave the service at this time. [back]

4. Robert Brown Potter (1829–1887) was a lawyer who enlisted as a private at the beginning of the war. He rose rapidly and became a lieutenant colonel on November 1, 1861, in George's regiment. From March 16 through March 18, 1862, George described Potter's bravery in the battle at New Bern, North Carolina: "I went up to him and asked him if he was struck, he said only with a spent ball that did not hurt him mutch, and he got up and went into the thickest of it again and did not give up untill the fighting was over which was an hour after I spoke to him, when he found a ball had struck him just above the hip and passed through his side" (Trent Collection). Whitman described Potter's courage in the New York Times, October 29, 1864 (Emory Holloway, ed., The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1921], 2:38–39). [back]

5. Whitman stayed in the tent of Samuel H. Sims (or Simms) when he visited George at Fredericksburg (Charles I. Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933], 69–70), and commended him in the Brooklyn Daily Union of September 22, 1863 (The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, 2:29). According to the New York State Muster Rolls, Sims had recruited George for the Fifty-first Regiment. He was killed in the Petersburg mine explosion in 1864; see Richard Maurice Bucke's The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman (New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1902), 4:134, and Whitman's letter from September 11, 1864[back]

6. James P. Kirkwood was a New York engineer; he probably heard of Whitman's hospital work through Moses Lane. See his letter from April 27, 1864[back]

7. Conklin Brush was president of the Mechanics' Bank, Brooklyn, according to the Directories of 1861–1862 and 1865–1866. [back]

8. Martha Mitchell Whitman, also known as "Mattie," was Whitman's sister-in-law and wife of his brother Jeff. At the time of this letter, Martha was pregnant. Jeff wrote on May 27, 1863: "Mattie is well yet but how long she will continue so is a question, she is getting along first rate, she has a young girl to help her do the house work and is in the best of spirits" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). [back]

9. The Browns lived for five years with the Whitmans on Portland Avenue, Brooklyn. He was a tailor. Relations between the two families were sometimes strained; see Whitman's letter from March 22, 1864. On June 3, 1865 (Trent Collection), Mrs. Whitman informed her son that she was glad to move away from the Browns. [back]

10. See Walt Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman from April 28, 1863[back]

11. These "letters" have not been identified (Correspondence, 1:105). [back]


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