Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Whitman, Andrew Jackson (1827–1863)
Author:
Murray, Martin G.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

The sixth of Walter and Louisa Whitman's nine children, Andrew Jackson Whitman was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 9 April 1827. Andrew was one of three Whitman sons named after an American hero, a reflection of the patriotic ardor imbued in the Whitman children by their parents.

Andrew appears in an early Whitman prose work, "My Boys and Girls," published in The Rover (20 April 1844). The piece celebrates the high spirits and wrestling skills of Walt's younger brother.

As an adult, Andrew took up his father's trade of carpenter, and worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He took Nancy McClure as his wife. They had three children: James Cornwell (also spelled Cornell), named after the Brooklyn police justice who was featured in an early Whitman newspaper sketch; George; and Andrew, Jr.

References to Andrew in family correspondence indicate that he was often sickly, and that he may have been an alcoholic. Perhaps the family's nickname for Andrew—"Bunkum"—was an ironic tribute to one who must have often complained, "I don't feel so bunkum." Despite his chronic health problems, Andrew joined the Union Army, enlisting as a "three-months' man" during the summer of 1862. He served as a private in Company H of the Thirteenth Regiment, New York State Militia—the same regiment that his brother, George, had served with in the spring of 1861.

Upon returning to Brooklyn, Andrew began a decline that ended in his death on 3 December 1863, at the age of thirty-six. His doctor listed the cause of death as laryngitis, an indication that Andrew had tuberculosis. Carriages provided by Andrew's friend Cornwell took the family to Evergreens' Cemetery, where Andrew was buried. Whitman had said his goodbyes in a visit he made to Brooklyn shortly before his brother's death, but he was back in Washington nursing the war wounded when his brother died, and did not attend the funeral.

Andrew's estate was limited to the contents of his carpenter's tool box, which were auctioned off by his navy yard comrades. The proceeds were given to his widow, pregnant with their third son, Andrew, Jr. This youngest child was killed by an errant brewer's wagon in 1868, but at least one of Andrew's boys, James, lived to adulthood and was named in Walt Whitman's last will.

Bibliography

Loving, Jerome M., ed. Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman. Durham, N.C.: Duke UP, 1975.

Molinoff, Katherine. Some Notes on Whitman's Family. Brooklyn: Comet, 1941.

Murray, Martin G. "Bunkum Did Go Sogering." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10 (1993): 142–148.


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