Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 25 May 1865
Date: May 25, 1865
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:260-263. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: Whitman House, Camden
Whitman Archive ID: wwh.00008
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Vanessa Steinroetter, and Alyssa Olson
Indian Bureau, basement of Patent Office. —house 468 M st 2d door west of 12th Washington,
Thursday, May 25, '65
I received your letter of the 22d—I feel uneasy about you all the time, & hope I shall get a letter to-day, & find you have recovered.
Well, the Review is over, & it was very grand—it was too much & too impressive, to be described—but you will see a good deal about it in the papers. If you can imagine a great wide avenue like Flatbush avenue, quite flat, & stretching as far as you can see, with a great white building half as big as fort Greene on a hill at the commencement of the avenue, & then through this avenue marching solid ranks of soldiers, 20 or 25 abreast, just marching steady all day long for two days, without intermission, one regiment after another, real war-worn soldiers, that have been marching & fighting for years—sometimes for an hour nothing but cavalry, just solid ranks, on good horses, with sabres glistening, & carbines hanging by their saddles, & their clothes showing hard service, but they mostly all good-looking hardy young men—then great masses of guns, batteries of cannon, four or six abreast, each drawn by six horses, with the gunners seated on the ammunition wagons—& these perhaps a long while in passing, nothing but batteries—(it seemed as if all the cannon in the world were here)—then great battalions of blacks, with axes & shovels & pick axes, (real southern darkies, black as tar)—then again hour after hour the old infantry regiments, the men all sunburnt—nearly every one with some old tatter all in shreds, (that had been a costly & beautiful flag)—the great drum corps of sixty or eighty drummers massed at the heads of the brigades, playing away—now and then a fine brass band—but oftener nothing but the drums & whistling fifes—but they sounded very lively—(perhaps a band of sixty drums & fifteen or twenty fifes playing "Lannigan's ball")—the different corps banners, the generals with their staffs &c—the Western Army, led by Gen. Sherman,1 (old Bill, the soldiers all call him)—well, dear mother, that is a brief sketch, give you some idea of the great panorama of the Armies that have been passing through here the last two days.
I saw the President several times, stood close by him, & took a good look at him—& like his expression much—he is very plain & substantial—it seemed wonderful that just that plain middling-sized ordinary man, dressed in black, without the least badge or ornament, should be the master of all these myriads of soldiers, the best that ever trod the earth, with forty or fifty Major-Generals, around him or riding by, with their broad yellow-satin belts around their waists—and of all the artillery & cavalry—to say nothing of all the Forts & Ships, &c, &c.
I saw Gen. Grant too several times—He is the noblest Roman of them all—none of the pictures do justice to him—about sundown I saw him again riding on a large fine horse, with his hat off in answer to the hurrahs—he rode by where I stood, & I saw him well, as he rode by on a slow canter, with nothing but a single orderly after him—He looks like a good man—(& I believe there is much in looks)—I saw Gen. Meade, Gen. Thomas,2 Secretary Stanton, & lots of other celebrated government officers & generals—but the rank & file was the greatest sight of all.
The 51st was in the line Tuesday with the 9th Corps. I saw George, but did not get a chance to speak to him. He is well. George is now Major George W. Whitman3—has been commissioned & mustered in. (Col. Wright4 & Col. Shephard5 have done it, I think.) The 51st is over to the Old Convalescent camp, between here and Alexandria, doing provost duty. It (the old camp) is now called Augur General Hospital. If you should write direct,
Major G. W. Whitman | 51st New York V. V. | on provost duty at | Augur Gen'l Hospital | near Alexandria | Va.
It is thought that the 51st will not be mustered out for the present—It is thought the Government will retain the re-enlisted veteran regiments, such as the 51st—If that is so, George will remain as he is for the summer, or most of it—The reason I havn't seen him is, I knew they had left provost duty in the Prince st. prison, but didn't know where they had gone till Tuesday—I saw Capt. Caldwell6 Tuesday, also Col. Wright Tuesday night—they said they all have pleasant quarters over there.
Dear brother Jeff, I was very sorry you wasn't able to come on to see the Review—we had perfect weather & every thing just as it should be—the streets now are full of soldiers scattered around loose, as the armies are in camp near here, getting ready to be mustered out. I am quite well & visit the Hospitals the same. Mother, you didn't write whether you got the package of 5 Drum-Taps—I keep thinking about you every few minutes all day—I wish I was home a couple of days—Jeff, you will take this acc't of the Review, same as if it was written to you.
1. William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891). [back]
2. George Henry Thomas (1816–1870) served under Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant, and in 1864 and 1865 commanded the Army of the Cumberland. [back]
3. George's official appointment as major, dated May 13, is in the Missouri Historical Society. [back]
4. John Gibson Wright rose from captain to colonel in the Fifty-first Regiment; he was appointed to the latter position May 18, 1865. He was taken prisoner with George in 1864. See also Whitman's letter from September 11, 1864 . [back]
5. Elliott F. Shepard, of the Fifty-first Regiment, informed George of his promotion on April 16, 1862 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1906–96], 2:201), and wrote to Walt Whitman about George's imprisonment on February 16, 1865. George had returned to his regiment, probably about the first of the month, and, when he wrote to his mother on May 8 (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library), he was in charge of the Prince Street Military Prison in Alexandria. According to Jeff's letter of May 14, 1865, George wanted an appointment in the regular army as captain. [back]