Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 9 May 1863

Date: May 9, 1863

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00412

Source: Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The transcription presented here is derived from Thomas Jefferson Whitman, Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman, ed. Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984), 54–55. 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, Vanessa Steinroetter, Kathryn Kruger, and April Lambert

Brooklyn, N. Y.
May 9th 1863

Dear Walt

Although I know Mr Lane1 intends to write you to-day and send you a little money yet I thought I would jot you a note. My main object is to ask you if you can possibly hear anything of Lane's nephew (or boy as he calls him) as he has always been with him and Lane loves him like a son)  He belongs to the 20th Conn. and was in the 12th Army Corps under Gen Birney2  The letter of his Company I forget but think it was K. Lane is quite cast down about him, mostly from not hearing from him at all. The boys name is "Horace G. Tarr."3

Dear Walt, if you should by any chance or inquiry come across him or any news from him wont you please write Lane for I feel real sorry to see him so cast down. I see by some of the papers that quite a number of the 20th Conn. are at Washington in hospital

I feel thankful indeed that George did not have to go through the dangers of this battle although we know not what is in store for him where he is.4 I do so hope he will be spared to us and that he will come home without ever being injired.

Everything is moving the same as usual at home  of course we all feel pretty well down-hearted at the news but then we try to look on it in the most favorable light. God only knows what will be the next. I had certainly made up my mind that we should meet with partial success certainly, but it seems otherwise5

I suppose you are overcrowded with work just now  I cannot see Walt how you can stand it. I am sure that I could never get used to all the scenes of pain and horror that you have to witness  Tis well though that you can do so, for I know that you are doing a great deal of good.

I suppose you do not have much time to write home  We do not hear from you but seldom now. I suppose however that as long as we dont hear, everything is going as usual with you. We have not heard from either Han or George since I last wrote you  I am getting along first rate just now, make quite a little money and every thing goes well  Mother and Mat and Sis and all are well and send love. Write me Walt

Affectionatley Jeff


1. 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. Like Jeff, he collected money from his employees and friends to give to Walt's hospital efforts during the Civil War. In his letter of May 27, 1863, Lane pledged $5 each month. Similarly, Lane sent dollar contributions from six individuals on May 2, 1863. In an unpublished manuscript in the Berg Collection, Whitman wrote, obviously for publication: "I have distributed quite a large sum of money, contributed for that purpose by noble persons in Brooklyn, New York, (chiefly through Moses Lane, Chief Engineer, Water Works there.)" Lane also assisted Whitman in other ways. He was so solicitous of Whitman's personal welfare that on April 3, 1863, he sent through Jeff $5 "for your own especial benefit." [back]

2. Jeff seems to be in error here. Major General David Bell Birney (1825–64) commanded divisions at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, both places where the Twentieth Connecticut Volunteers fought, but he never commanded in the Twelfth Army Corps. At this time he commanded the First Division, Third Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, while the Twentieth Connecticut Volunteers was in the Twelfth Army Corps, Second Brigade, First Division, under the command of Colonel Samuel Ross (1820?–80). [back]

3. Horace G. H. Tarr (1844–?) had just been promoted from private to sergeant major of Company K. His regiment fought at Chancellorsville, Virginia, May 1–5, 1863, but he was not injured. Evidently Tarr became a lifelong friend of Jeff and Walt Whitman (see Jeff's letter to Walt dated 11 September 1885). [back]

4. George was encamped near Lexington, Kentucky (Jerome M. Loving, ed., Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman [Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1975], pp. 91–93). [back]

5. Jeff is depressed by the results of the Battle of Chancellorsville, where a Union army of 130,000 men led by General Joseph Hooker was defeated by General Robert E. Lee's 60,000 Confederates. For Notherners, the only encouraging news was that Lee sacrificed 11,000 men—about as many as Hooker lost—and Stonewall Jackson, Lee's superb general, was killed. [back]


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