Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [26 February 1865]

Date: February 26, 1865

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.00181

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



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Sunday afternoon1

My dear Walt

wasent it good to get that from george2 and so lately i3 began to feel worried at not hearing from him in so long i read the names in the times4 to day but georges was not amongst them they were all officers Captain Cook5 was very good to send me such A kind note you know i suppose whoo he is brother to the one you went to see Cook and voluntary he must have been exchanged it came from Anappolis without any stamp wrote on it soldiers letter O i was very glad indeed to hear from him i just got it A few minuts before Jeffy6 was going down to the office so we sent it to you) well Walt how are you getting along well i hope) i can appreciate your bad feelings you had in your head i have been affected with the same feelings but i feel better of it to day it seemed like as if there was A dozen crickets singing in my head i think i over worked i was fixing A bedroom for George and tried to get mrs Howard7 to whitewash but i could not i offered her 1 dol an half for one day but she did not come matty8 does not have her any more so she did not come so bye reaching up probably was the cause of my bad feelings and i had A bad could in my head i could not sleep at nights but i feel better to day but as soon as i go to work i feel so very weak and bad i dident say much about it but it is A very disagreable feeling Jeffy is going to the oil regions to survey to morrow and he says if he can he [will?] come to Washington before he returns we have not heard from Jesse9 since you was there if you have Walter i wish you would write abou[t?] it when you write to me i must give you A list Walt of my domestic affairs well to begin with the beef came but was rather A failure it was more per lb than it was to have been and was 17lb short of weight well it had to be paid for) and i have got A cheap carpet or cheap for these times the old carpet is all played out wel i drawed all my money out off the bank there was only 100) 50 dollar it was all right Jeffy see to it i have paid my rent up to the first of may and am square with the grocery land am out of money great mama aint she so walt you must send some so as i can keep along i dont want to take up any of Georges till i see what he says when he comes


Notes:

1. This letter dates to February 26, 1865. The executors did not date the letter, and Edwin Haviland Miller did not list it in his calendar of letters (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:376). Louisa Van Velsor Whitman knew that her son George Washington Whitman had been released from his imprisonment, so this letter must date to a Sunday, the date in Louisa's hand, in late February 1865. The first line of the letter refers to one that she received as "that from George," but she did not forward it to Walt Whitman at this time. She received George Washington Whitman's February 24, 1865 letter, which she forwarded the following Sunday (see Louisa's March 4, 1865 letter to Walt). Therefore, this letter must date to February 26, the only Sunday between George's February 24 letter to Louisa and Louisa's March 4 letter to Walt. George was expected to arrive in Brooklyn on March 5. This letter's late-February date is corroborated further by her reference to a February 26, 1865 article in the New York Times[back]

2. See George Washington Whitman's February 24, 1865 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Walt did not yet know that George was among the exchanged prisoners. Louisa the following week wrote to Walt that "i should have sent you this letter from George but thought of course you knew all about his arrival at Anapolis" (see her March 4, 1865 letter to Walt). Walt remained unaware that his brother George had been exchanged (see his February 27, 1865 letter to William Cook).

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]

3. 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]

4. See "Exchange of Prisoners [. . .] List of Officers Exchanged," New York Times, February 26, 1865, 1. [back]

5. William Cook was a Captain in the 19th U.S. Colored Troops. He was held prisoner with George Washington Whitman, and after Howard's release he forwarded a letter from George to his mother. In February 1869, Walt Whitman had written Cook, who was then at home in New York City, for additional detail about George. Cook replied that he did not really know George. For more information about the exchange, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 24. [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)."

Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was the wife of Jeff Whitman. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" (b. 1863). In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to join Jeff after he had assumed the position of Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis in 1867. For more on Mattie, see the introduction to Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

7. Mrs. Howard has not been identified. The Brooklyn Directory (1865) lists fifty families and persons with the name Howard. [back]

8. 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]

9. Jesse Whitman (1818–1870) was the first-born son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He suffered from mental illness that included threats of violence for several years before he was committed to an asylum, where he was placed in December 1864. Louisa's remark is her first extant reference to Jesse after he was institutionalized the previous December. Shortly after an outburst that followed his brother Andrew Jackson Whitman's death in December 1863—he threatened Martha Mitchell and Thomas Jefferson Whitman's daughter Manahatta—Jeff sought to "put him in some hospital or place where he would be doctored" (see Jeff's December 15, 1863 to Walt Whitman). Louisa resisted institutionalizing Jesse because, according to her December 25, 1863 letter, she "could not find it in my heart to put him there." On December 5, 1864, Walt committed Jesse to Kings County Lunatic Asylum on Flatbush Avenue, where he remained until his death on March 21, 1870 (see E. Warner's March 22, 1870 letter to Walt). For a short biography of Jesse, see Robert Roper, "Jesse Whitman, Seafarer," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 26:1 (Summer 2008), 35–41. [back]


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