Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [29 April 1863]

Date: April 29, 1863

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 Walt Whitman Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00169

Contributors to digital file: Felicia Wetzig, Heather Kaley, Wesley Raabe, and Elizabeth Lorang



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wensday morning1

My dear Walt

i2 have just got your letter with the shinplasters3 dident you get my letter when mary4 was here saying i got the other there is no letters miscarries that is directed here i think i have had another attack of the rheumatism but not much in my hands so i can use them but in my neck and shoulders i had not A very good night last night but am better this morning i am in hopes it will wear off without going to mrs pierceys5 if it dont get better i shall go and take the baths but i think i shall be better of it in a while) are you got well Walt of your cold and deafness) Jeffy6 had a letter from george7 monday he was then in Lexington but was going back to camp the next day they are to winchester 16 miles from Lexington he was ordered there to bring the souldiers money to put8 in addams s express9 he came on horseback with 1110 thousand dollars all to be sent in packages from 4 to 400 dollar he says he had an wonderful job but it came out right to a cent and the next day he was going back the letter was dated the 22 he likes Kentucky very much is glad he is out of the virginia mud he says the roads is like a house floor and good living11 i see in the mercury12 last sunday that he was to come with the money but it said to cincennatty instead of lexington i am glad he is releeved of the responcibility he sent home 300 and 50 dollars i got it yesterday and am going to the bank to day but i cant put but 200 and 50 in i will tell you Walt all about it before i got it Mat13 and Jeff began to hint about their having it i would not mind lending Jeff but it seems as if martha had no thought whatever Jeff is very much in debt and no steady work he has had 50 dollars of georges money and it will go in short order for things they could be just as well of without i told mat the other day she knowed what expence it would be when she was sick and i would not get nore than i needed but its no use the other 50 i had to pay my grocery bill which has been ever since before you went away i believe it was not 30 dollars i did not want to lend them but 25 dollars i said i had my grocery to pay and i wanted to have some to send for han14 but i could doo no different without giving offence George wants me to try to get a litle place in the country somewhere15 i would like to have put 300 in the bank but so it is we live very saving indeed but things is very high i have got 2 10 dollar bills left if i send for hanna i shall need them mary says she will go what doo you think of it i don[t?] know how it would doo write to me Walter what do you think) dont write Walt any thing what i have said about the money i have not seen Andrew16 in some days but i think he is on the gain a little) Jim17 comes round to see me quite often comes after cake his father says Mr Howel18 was here the same morning he returnd poor [man?] he said you was very kind to him indeed

good bie my dear walt


Notes:

1. This letter dates to April 29, 1863. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter only Wednesday. The executors did not assign a date, and Edwin Haviland Miller appears not to have been aware of the letter (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:373). The letter must follow George Washington Whitman's April 22, 1863 letter to his brother Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman. George, writing from Lexington, Kentucky, described his regiment as "encamped at Winchester about 16 miles from here" and reported that he had sent $350 to his mother. According to Louisa's letter, Jeff received a letter from George the previous Monday, and she echoed George's statement on his location and the amount of money sent. Therefore, Jeff received George's April 22, 1863 letter two days before this letter was written. George forwarded pay for soldiers in his regiment on April 19: his role in the process is corroborated in an April 23, 1863 letter in the New York Sunday Mercury. Also, Louisa addressed two matters from Walt Whitman's most recent letter: he sent shinplasters (currency of a small denomination) and inquired whether Henry D. Howell had visited (see his April 28, 1863 letter to Louisa). Louisa acknowledged Walt's letter here. Therefore, this letter dates to the Wednesday that followed George's April 22, 1863 letter to Jeff and Walt's April 28, 1863 letter to Louisa: April 29, 1863. [back]

2. 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]

3. The term shinplasters refers to paper money of a small denomination issued by the United States government from 1862 to 1878. According to Walt Whitman's April 28, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, "Mother, you rec'd a letter from me, sent last Wednesday, 22d. of course, with a small quantity of shinplasters." [back]

4. Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the oldest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they subsequently moved to Greenport, Long Island. They raised five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, Jr., and Mary Isadore "Minnie." See Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 10–11. [back]

5. Mrs. Piercy was the wife of Henry R. Piercy, who operated sulphur baths at 5 Willoughby Avenue, Brooklyn. Walt Whitman in his May 5, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote, "I think it would be well for me to write a line to Mrs. Piercy, . . . so that you could take the baths again." [back]

6. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was the son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's favorite brother. In early adulthood he worked as a surveyor and topographical engineer. In the 1850s he began working for the Brooklyn Water Works, at which he remained employed through the Civil War. In 1867 Jeff became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and became a nationally recognized name in civil engineering. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

7. George Washington Whitman wrote to Thomas Jefferson Whitman on April 22, 1863 from Lexington, Kentucky.

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]

8. The letter "t" in "put" is cut off in the digital image but is clearly visible in the original manuscript. [back]

9. Adams Express, a packet delivery service, was noted for its fast delivery, trustworthiness, and its guarantee of privacy for shippers. The Whitmans used Adams Express to transfer larger sums of money both during and after the war, but Walt Whitman generally sent his mother smaller sums via the postal service. George Washington Whitman was repaying in installments a loan that Walt had made to him when George was struggling financially in his speculative housebuilding business. For Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's account of George's loans from Walt and from his brother Thomas Jefferson Whitman, see her June 23, 1869 letter to Walt. For more on Adams Express, see Hollis Robbins, "Fugitive Mail: The Deliverance of Henry 'Box' Brown and Antebellum Postal Politics," American Studies 50:1/2 (2009), 12–13. [back]

10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote the number "11" over the word "eleven." [back]

11. See George Washington Whitman's April 22, 1863 letter to Thomas Jefferson Whitman (Jerome M. Loving, ed., Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1975] 91–92). [back]

12. A special correspondent from the New York Fifty-first Volunteers to the New York Sunday Mercury signed as "Greenback." In his April 19, 1863 letter from Winchester, Kentucky, Greenback wrote, "Captain Whitman is ordered to Cincinnati to send the boys money by express" (April 23, 1863, [7]). The pseudonym "Greenback" may be a pun: Captain Whitman, the one sending the greenbacks (dollars) to New York, may be the special correspondent whose letter is printed. The Sunday Mercury was a weekly newspaper published from 1839 to 1896. [back]

13. 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]

14. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's younger daughter, resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1890), a French-born landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

15. Only the first five letters of the word "somewhere" are visible in the image. The letter is pasted into a manuscript book, and the final letters on the edge closest to the binding in the page image are often obscured. Most of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman manuscript letters in the bound volume entitled Walt Whitman: A Series of Thirteen Letters from His Mother to Her Son, held at the Harry Ransom Center, have obscured text on at least one page. Text from this page was recorded based on an examination of the physical volume, which allowed more text to be recovered. [back]

16. Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) was Walter Whitman, Sr., and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's son, and Walt Whitman's brother. Andrew was seriously ill from tuberculosis, and the family struggled with a series of health crises before Andrew's death in December 1863. For more on Andrew, see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10:3 (1993), 142–148. [back]

17. James "Jimmy" Whitman was the son of Walt Whitman's brother Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) and Andrew's wife Nancy McClure Whitman. For more on Andrew's family, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]

18. Henry D. Howell (d. 1862) was employed with Walt Whitman's brother Andrew Jackson Whitman in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Walt Whitman published an article in the Brooklyn Daily Union about Howell's son Benjamin D., who died in Yorktown in June 1862. Howell had seen Walt in Washington, and Walt inquired whether Howell had visited his mother in Brooklyn (see Walt's April 28, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). [back]


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