Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 8 August [1865]

Date: August 8, 1865

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00438

Source: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. 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.

Editorial note: The annotation, "–'65," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

Contributors to digital file: Zachary King, Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, and Elizabeth Lorang

page image
image 1
page image
image 2

August 81

Dear Walt

i received your letter last saturday i began to think you had forgotten to fulfill your promi[se?] to write every friday to let two fridays pass i got it saturday with the three dolrs well george2 is here dident get paid till yesterday monday Augus 7 the men was paid last saturday down to harts island george has been down there A couple of days to settle up3 he has had much writing to doo fred Mcready was here last sunday week and helped him was here to tea4 the ball is not taken from his leg but he is going to have it taken out he looks very well I gess they are all sorry i dont know as they are sorry the war is over but i gess they would much rather staid in camp i hope George will get in something he is very restless i tell him to not be worried i dont think it is because he is uneasy about gitting A living but such a change he is much stouter than when he was home before5 i wish he could get something to doo at washington i dont think he will work journey work he says he could not at present Jeff wants him to get a shop lease or buy a lot and go in business for himself6 i think he will doo something of the kind there is one or two wants to go in with him) but i think it is such an exciting life to live if any bad luck should befall him) i tell him to not be in a hurry but rest but i can see he is very uneasy he got a very honerable discharge the turnout to honor the regment i gess was very good Jeff and matty and hattie7 went over to see it they went over some store of Jeffs friends and had a good view george went over early in in the morning and it came nearly 3 oclock and no george come i couldent think what was the matter pretty soon he come on the horse he was to ride he had no time to eat any dinner he wore his new sword and sash looked very good) i dont know when i shall go to Burlington8 the weathe has been so hot and i have felt so weak but i shall go i think quite soon9 george has gone to new york to see about getting some clothing the military must be all doffed10 i think he ought to be rejoised to think he went through the war without the loss of a limb there is so many unfortunates poor fellows)11 Jeff and mat and the children had a very pressing invitation to come to masons fathers he is home on a 30 days furlough12 but Jeffy cant leave mr Lane is away in the country13 write walt what you think about georges going into the building line jeff is going to put up a small house i think he is to have money of Dr. Ruggles14 write just what you think would be best for George Walt write it just to me and not for the family i expect han thinks we are never coming I have had so much to doo i could not get any ready)

your mother15


1. This letter dates to August 8, 1865. The date "August 8" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the year 1865 to the letter, and Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (The Correspondence, 1842–67 [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:376). The year can be confirmed based on Louisa's many references to her son George Washington Whitman: her admiration for his uniform in preparation for a military review, his need to "settle up" his pay at the conclusion of his service, and his possible plans to seek "journey work" (day labor). It is consistent also with Thomas Jefferson Whitman's recommendation that George start up his own business. [back]

2. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted 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 partner Smith and later a mason named French. George also took a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. George struggled initially to find employment after the war. He ate meals with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and his brother Edward at the Portland Avenue house in Brooklyn but boarded in a rented room. For more information on George Washington Whitman, see "Whitman, George Washington" and Jerome M. Loving, ed.,"Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham: Duke University Press, 1975), 26–28. [back]

3. Hart Island, or Hart's Island, located near the western end of Long Island, served as a military depot and training center for new recruits into the Union army. It also served as a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp. [back]

4. Since this letter dates to August 8, 1865, a Tuesday, the phrase "here last sunday week" indicates that the soldier Frederick B. McReady visited for tea on July 30. McReady served with George Washington Whitman in the Fifty-first New York Volunteers, and he rose to the rank of captain. Walt Whitman encountered McReady at Fredricksburg, Virginia. See George's October 16, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walt's May 13, 1863 letter to Louisa. [back]

5. When George Washington Whitman arrived home to Brooklyn for a 30-day leave after his release from the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote that he "looks quite thin and shows his prison life"(see her March 5, 1865 letter to Walt). [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. At the time of this letter, Jeff was employed as a civil engineer at the Brooklyn Water Works, and in 1867 he moved to St. Louis to become Superintendent of Water Works, where he become a nationally recognized name. Jeff encouraged his brother George Washington Whitman to pursue an independent business in building houses on speculation, and through his connection to Moses Lane, his supervisor at the Brooklyn Water Works, Jeff found George an offer of employment (see Jeff's September 11, 1865 letter to Walt). For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

7. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman. Their elder daughter Manahatta (1860–1886), nicknamed "Hattie," also attended George's military review; Jessie Louisa "Sis" (1863–1957) presumably remained at home. 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]

8. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his often offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

9. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman visited daughter Hannah (Whitman) Heyde in early September 1865. She provided an extended description of Charles and Hannah's home in her September 27, 1865 letter to Walt. [back]

10. To doff is to remove clothing. George soon would muster out of the Union Army, set aside his military uniform, and purchase civilian clothes. [back]

11. According to the National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database, George Washington Whitman's regiment, the 51st New York, "lost during service 9 Officers and 193 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 2 Officers and 174 Enlisted men by disease." [back]

12. Julius W. Mason (1835–1882) was a lieutenant colonel in the Fifth Cavalry. Thomas Jefferson Whitman mentioned a J. W. Mason who "used to be in my party on the Water Works" in his February 10, 1863 to Walt Whitman. Mason became a career army officer, and he assisted in getting supplies to George when he was held prisoner. Mason remained in the army until dying of apoplexy in 1882. His father George F. Mason was a prominent Pennsylvania businessman and state senator, with whom Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman stayed after selling her furniture in preparation for departure to St. Louis. See Jeff Whitman's February 10, 1863 and February 7, 1865 letters to Walt, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's May 3, 1867 letter to Walt, and Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 37. [back]

13. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. He later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. He was instrumental in promoting Thomas Jefferson Whitman's career and employed George Washington Whitman as a pipe inspector after the war. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman's December 21, 1866, letter to Walt Whitman. For Lane's career, see "Moses Lane," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers (February 1882), 58. [back]

14. The Brooklyn physician Edward Ruggles (1817?–1867) befriended the Whitman family and became especially close to Thomas Jefferson Whitman and his wife. Late in life, Ruggles lost interest in his practice and devoted himself to painting cabinet pictures called "Ruggles Gems." [back]

15. 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]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.