Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 29 January 1864

Date: January 29, 1864

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:192-194. 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.00807

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Bev Rilett, Vanessa Steinroetter, and Alyssa Olson

Friday afternoon Jan 29 1864

Dear Mother

Your letter of Tuesday night came this forenoon—the one of Sunday night I rec'd yesterday—Mother, you don't say in either of them whether George has re-enlisted or not—or is that not yet decided positively one way or the other?1

O Mother, how I should like to be home, (I dont want more than two or three days)—I want to see George, (I have his photograph on the wall, right over my table all the time)—& I want to see California—you must always write in your letters how she is—I shall write to Han this afternoon or to-morrow morning, & tell her probably George will come out & see her, & that if he does you will send her word beforehand—

Jeff, my dear brother, if there should be the change made in the works & things all overturned, you mustn't mind—I dare say you will pitch into something better—I believe a real overturn in the dead old beaten track of a man's life, especially a young man's, is always likely to turn out best, though it worries one at first dreadfully—

Mat, I want to see you most sincerely—they havn't put in anything in the last two or three letters about you, but I suppose you are well, my dear sister—

Mother, the young man that I took care of, Lewis Brown,2 is pretty well, but very restless—he is doing well now, but there is a long road before him yet—it is torture for him to be tied so to his cot, this weather—he is a very noble young man, & has suffered very much—he is a Maryland boy, & (like the southerners when they are union,) I think he is as strong & resolute a union boy as there is in the United States—he went out in Maryland reg't but transferred to a N Y battery—But I find so many noble men in the ranks, I have ceased to wonder at it—I think the soldiers from the New England States & the Western states are splendid, & the country parts of N Y & Pennsylvania too—I think less of the great cities than I used to—I know there are black sheep enough, even in the ranks, but the general rule is the soldiers are noble, very—

Mother, I wonder if George thinks as I do about the best way to enjoy a visit home, after all—When I come home again, I shall not go off gallivanting with my companions half as much, nor a quarter as much as I used to, but shall spend the time quietly home with you, while I do stay—it is a great humbug spreeing around, & a few choice friends for a man, the real right kind, in a quiet way, are enough—

Mother, I hope you take things easy, dont you? Mother, you know I was always advising you to let things go, & sit down & take what comfort you can while you do live—

It is very warm here, this afternoon it is warm enough for July—the sun burns where it shines on your face—it is pretty dusty in the principal streets—Congress is in session, I see Odell,3 Kalbfleisch,4 &c. often—I have got acquainted with Mr Garfield,5 an M C from Ohio, & like him very much indeed—(he has been a soldier west, was a Major General & I believe a good brave one)—I don't go much to the debates this session yet—Congress will probably keep in session till well into the summer—as to what course things will take, political or military, there's no telling—I think though the secesh military power is getting more & more shaky—how they can make any headway against our new, large & fresh armies next season passes my wit to see—

Mother, I was talking with an (pretty high) officer, here, who is behind the scenes—I was mentioning that I had a great desire to be present at a first class battle—he told me if I would only stay around here three or four weeks longer, my wish would probably be gratified—I asked him what he meant, what he alluded to specifically—but he would not say any thing further—so I remain as much in the dark as before—only there seemed to be some meaning in his remark, & it was made to me only as there was no one else in hearing at the moment—(he is quite an admirer of my poetry)—

The re-enlistment of the veterans is the greatest thing yet, it pleases every body but the rebels—& surprises every body too—

Mother, I am well & fat, (I must weigh about 206)—So Washington must agree with me—I work three or four hours a day copying—Dear mother, I send you & Hattie my love, as you say she is a dear little girl—Mother, try to write every week, even if only a few lines—love to George & Jeff & Mat—



1. George came home on a thirty–day furlough in January, and re–enlisted. [back]

2. Brown's leg had been amputated on January 5. Whitman was present at the operation, which he described in his diary (Charles I. Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933), 93. See also Whitman's letter from August 1, 1863[back]

3. A member of the House of Representatives; see the letter from December 29, 1862[back]

4. Martin Kalbfleisch (1804-1873) was an important Brooklyn politician, an alderman from 1855 to 1861, and mayor from 1862 to 1864 and again in 1867 to 1871. He served one term in Congress from 1863 to 1865. [back]

5. James Garfield (1831–1881) entered the House of Representatives in 1863 and served until 1880, when he was elected President. Whitman eulogized him in "The Sobbing of the Bells"; see also Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (New York: Macmillan, 1955; rev. ed., New York University Press, 1967), 495. [back]


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