Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 2 July 1864

Date: July 2, 1864

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00357

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. The transcription presented here is derived from George Washington Whitman, Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman, ed. Jerome M. Loving (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 123-124. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Vanessa Steinroetter, Gillian Price, and April Lambert

Near Petersburg Va
July 2d 18641

Dear Mother.

You see Mother I have to date my letters yet from near Petersburg instead of from Richmond2

We are laying here yet in front of the Rebel lines, our Regt about a quarter of a mile from the enemy's works, but our line of battle in front of us is not more than 200 yards from that of the enemy,  both parties are working away at night, strengthening their lines and as they are so close togather, and watch each other so closely the least unusual noise at night will frequently start the fire along the whole line and almost every night we have a general row lasting half an hour or so. These night affairs are splendid, when a fellow can lay back in the rear and look at them. They are generaly commenced by the pickets, and soon the stragling picket fireing changes to regular volleys, then the Batteries generaly open pretty savage, and the Mortars join in and altogather they manage to kick up a terrible noise but as both parties are behind earthworks the execution done is very slight compared with the noise made.

I suppose Mother, you all want to hear something about the prospects of our soon takeing Petersburg, but I cant tell you anything more than you can see in the newspapers. All that I know is that we are laying here waiting for Genl Grant to say what he wants us to do next, and everyone is satisfied to wait untill he gives the word, and then whether it be, to take the City by Assault, or whatever the order may be, I think all hands will obey it just as readily and cheerfully as if the campaign was just commencing,  The ammount of it is Mother we all believe in Grant, and as far as I can hear the opinion is universal in the army, that before this campaign is over Petersburg and Richmond will be in our posession. Our lines are in some places within easy Artillery Range of the City, and from where we lay we can plainly see the spires of the Churches in the City.

I received a letter from Walt a few days ago dated June 25th  I am very sorry to hear Walt is sick but I am glad he is home and I hope by this time he is all right again.3 I hold my own first rate and feel about as well as ever I did. Walt reports everything going on at home the same as usual, and he says Mother looks as well as he ever see her. Mattie and the babies he says are flourishing first rate, and I am very glad to hear you all are getting along so well.

I have been in command of the Regt for the last two weeks and have been kept pretty buisy trying to get things straigtened out, but this morning one of our seniour Captains arrived from Furlough and I hope that he will relieve me from the command of the Regt. I have a horse but I dont get much chance to ride as we are kept pretty close. The weather here is verry hot indeed but I dont believe it is much warmer here than in Brooklyn, and the nights are quite cool and pleasant & if we could have a shower occasionaly to keep the dust down it would be much pleasanter.

Walt says you have not heard from Hannah in some time. I am verry much in hopes that she is getting strong again.

One of Walts aquaintances Capt McKibben4 was severely wounded here a few days ago,  he was on Gen Potters5 Staff, and has now gone home to New York.

Well Mother I believe I have nothing more to say at present, so good bye for a short time. Give my love to all.

George W. Whitman


1. After the Union assault on Confederate lines in front of Petersburg, Virginia, had failed, Grant began a siege of the city which would last almost ten months. [back]

2. Petersburg, Virginia, which provided railroad communication with the rest of the South, had to fall before Richmond could be captured by Union forces. [back]

3. On June 7, 1864, Walt Whitman wrote his mother that he was suffering from fainting spells, headaches, and a sore throat. Adding that he had probably seen too much of the mass misery in the Washington hopsitals (which Grant's costly Petersburg campaign had caused thus far), he nevertheless determined to remain in Washington because he feared that George would be among the many battle casualties arriving in the city every day. Sometime after June 17, however, Whitman left Washington for Brooklyn a sick man. His illness confined him to the Portland Avenue residence until July 8 when he felt up to going riding with Jeff (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman [New York: Macmillan, 1955; rev. ed., New York University Press, 1967], 315; Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:230–34). [back]

4. Gilbert H. McKibbin was wounded while daringly riding his horse in clear sight of the enemy—for no apparent reason. [back]

5. See George Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman from March 16, 1862[back]


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