Title: Walt Whitman to Abby H. Price, 11–15 October, 1863
Date: October 11–15, 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), 1:161-164. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York
Whitman Archive ID: pml.00012
Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Tim Jackson, Vanessa Steinroetter, Nicole Gray, and Alyssa Olson
October 11 1863
Your letters were both received, & were indeed welcome. Don't mind my not answering them promptly, for you know what a wretch I am about such things. But you must write just as often as you conveniently can. Tell me all about your folks, especially the girls, & about Mr Arnold1—of course you won't forget Arthur,2 & always when you write to him send him my love. Tell me about Mrs Urner3 & the dear little rogues. Tell Mrs Black4 she ought to be here hospital matron—only it is a harder pull than folks anticipate. You wrote about Emma, her thinking she might & ought to come as nurse for the soldiers—dear girl, I know it would be a blessed thing for the men to have her loving spirit & hand, & whoever of the poor fellows had them would indeed feel it so. But, my darling, it is a dreadful thing—you dont know these wounds, sicknesses &c—the sad condition in which many of the men are brought here, & remain for days, sometimes the wounds full of crawling corruption &c—Down in the field hospitals in front they have no proper care & attention, & after a battle go for many days unattended to—
Abby, I think often about you, & the pleasant days, the visits I used to pay you & how good it was always to be made so welcome. O I wish I could come in this afternoon, & have a good tea with you, & have three or four hours of mutual comfort & talk, & be all of us together again. Is Helen home, & well? And what is she doing now? And you, my dear friend, how sorry I am to hear that your health is not rugged—but, dear Abby, you must not dwell on anticipations of the worst. (But I know that is not your nature, or did not use to be.) O I hope this will find you feeling quite well, & in good spirits—I feel so well myself—I will have to come & see you I think—I am so fat, out considerable in the open air, & all red & tanned worse than ever. You see therefore that my life amid these sad & unhealthy hospitals has not yet told upon me, for I am this fall running over with health, so I feel [as] if I ought to go on that account [working] among all the sick & deficient [who are deprived of] it—& O how gladly I would [bestow upon you a] liberal share, dear Abby, [if such a]5 thing were possible.
I am continually moving around among the hospitals. One I go to oftenest the last three months is Armory Square, as it is large, generally full of the worst wounds & sicknesses, & is one of the least visited—to this, or some one, I never miss a day or evening. I am enabled to give the men something—add perhaps some trifle to their supper all round. Then there are always special cases, needing something special. Above all the poor boys welcome magnetic friendship, personality (some are so fervent, so hungering for this)—poor fellows, how young they are, lying there with their pale faces, & that mute look in the eyes. O how one gets to love them, often, particular cases, so suffering, so good, so manly & affectionate—Abby, you would all smile to see me among them—many of them like children, ceremony is mostly discarded—they suffer & get exhausted & so weary—lots of them have grown to expect as I leave at night that we should kiss each other, sometimes quite a number, I have to go round—poor boys, there is little petting in a soldier's life in the field, but, Abby, I know what is in their hearts, always waiting, though they may be unconscious of it themselves—
I have a place where I buy very nice home-made biscuits, sweet crackers &c—Among others, one of my ways is to get a good lot of these & for supper go through a couple of wards & give a portion to each man—next evening two wards more, & so on—then each marked case needs something to itself—I spend my evenings altogether at the hospitals—my day, often. I give little gifts of money in small sums, which I am enabled to do. All sorts of things indeed, food, clothing, letter-stamps (I write lots of letters), now & then a good pair of crutches &c &c. Then I read to the boys—the whole ward that can walk gathers around me & listens—
All this I tell you, my dear, because I know it will interest you. I like Washington very well (did you see my last letter in N Y Times of Oct 4, Sunday?)6 I have three or four hours work every day copying & in writing letters for the press, &c., make enough to pay my way—live in an unexpensive manner any how—I like the mission I am on here, & as it is deeply holding me I shall continue—
October 5 Well, Abby, I guess I will send you letter enough—I ought to have finished & sent off the letter last Sunday, when it was written—I have been pretty busy—we are having new arrivals of wounded & sick now all the time—some very bad cases—Abby, should you come across any one who feels to help, contribute to the men through me, write me. (I may then send word some purchases I should find acceptable for the men)—but this only if it happens to come in that you know or meet any one, perfectly convenient—
Abby, I have found some good friends here, a few, but true as steel—W D O'Connor & wife, above all. He is a clerk in Treasury—she is a Yankee girl—then C W Eldridge7 in paymaster's department. He is a Boston boy too—their friendship has been unswerving.
In the hospitals among these American young men, I could not describe to you what mutual attachments & how passing deep & tender these boys—some have died, but the love for them lives as long as I draw breath—those soldiers know how to love too when once they have the right person & the right love offered them. It is wonderful. You see I am running off into the clouds—but this is my element—
Abby, I am writing this note this afternoon in Major Hapgood's office—he is away sick—I am here a good deal of the time alone—it is a dark rainy afternoon—we don't know what is going on down in front, whether Meade is getting the worst of it, or not8—(but the result of the big elections cheers us)9—I believe fully in Lincoln—few know the rocks & quicksands he has to steer through. I enclose you a note Mrs O'Connor handed me to send to you, written I suppose upon impulse—she is a noble Massachusetts woman, is not very rugged in health—I am there very much—her husband & I are great friends too—Well I will close—the rain is pouring, the sky leaden—it is between 2 & 3—I am going to get some dinner & then to hospital—good by, dear friends, & I send my love to all—
Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). During the 1860s, Price and her family, especially her daughter, Helen, were friends with Whitman and with Whitman's mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. In 1860 the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother in Putnam's Monthly 5 (1908): 163–169. In a letter to Ellen M. O'Connor from November 15, 1863, Whitman declared with emphasis, "they are all friends, to prize and love deeply."
1. John Arnold lived with his daughter's family in the same house as the Price family. Helen Price, Abby's daughter, described Arnold as "a Swedenborgian," with whom Whitman frequently argued without "the slightest irritation between them" (Bucke, 26–27). [back]
2. Price's son, Arthur Price, was a naval officer. [back]
3. Price is most likely referring to the wife of Benjamin Urner, publisher, 160 Fulton Street, New York. [back]
4. Price is most likely referring to one of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's neighbors. [back]
5. The letter has been repaired in the lower left-hand corner; the insertions, however, appear to be in Whitman's hand. [back]
7. He was the publisher of the third edition of Leaves of Grass (see the letter from March 29, 1860) and the man who obtained a position for Whitman in Major Hapgood's office (see the letter from December 29, 1862). [back]
8. Meade was unable to prevent a massive rebel movement across the Rapidan River. [back]
9. The New York Times on October 15, 1863, headed its account of the New York election "Copperheads Crushed," and printed an editorial entitled "The Great Union Victory." [back]