Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 10 April 1864

Date: April 10, 1864

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00817

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 Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), 1:209–210. 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, Sarah Synovec, Janel Cayer, and Alyssa Olson

April 10th 1864.

Dearest Mother,

I rec'd your letter & sent the one you sent for George immediately—he must have got it the next day—I had got one from him before yours arrived—I mean to go to Annapolis & see him—

Mother, we expect a commencement of the fighting below very soon, there is every indication of it—we have had about as severe rain storms here lately as I ever see—it is middling pleasant now—there are exciting times in Congress1—the Copperheads are getting furious, & want to recognize the Southern Confederacy—this is a pretty time to talk of recognizing such villains after what they have done, and after what has transpired the last three years—After first Fredericksburgh I felt discouraged myself, & doubted whether our rulers could carry on the war—but that has past away, the war must be carried on—& I would willingly go myself in the ranks if I thought it would profit more than at present, & I don't know sometimes but I shall as it is—

Mother, you dont know what a feeling a man gets after being in the active sights & influences of the camp, the Army, the wounded &c.—he gets to have a deep feeling he never experienced before2—the flag, the tune of Yankee Doodle, & similar things, produce an effect on a fellow never such before—I have seen some bring tears on the men's cheeks, & others turn pale, under such circumstances3—I have a little flag (it belonged to one of our cavalry reg'ts) presented to me by one of the wounded—it was taken by the secesh in a cavalry fight, & rescued by our men in a bloody little skirmish, it cost three men's lives, just to get one little flag, four by three—our men rescued it, & tore it from the breast of a dead rebel—all that just for the name of getting their little banner back again—this man that got it was very badly wounded, & they let him keep it—I was with him a good deal, he wanted to give me something he said, he didn't expect to live, so he gave me the little banner as a keepsake—I mention this, Mother, to show you a specimen of the feeling—there isn't a reg't, cavalry or infantry, that wouldn't do the same, on occasion—

Tuesday morning April 12th Mother, I will finish my letter this morning—it is a beautiful day to-day—I was up in Congress very late last night,4 the house had a very excited night session about expelling the men that want to recognize the Southern Confederacy—You ought to hear the soldiers talk—they are excited to madness—we shall probably have hot times here not in the Army alone—the soldiers are true as the north star—I send you a couple of envelopes, & one to George—Write how you are, dear Mother, & all the rest—I want to see you all—Jeff, my dear brother, I wish you was here, & Mat too—Write how sis is—I am well as usual, indeed first rate every way—I want to come on in a month, & try to print my "Drum Taps"5—I think it may be a success pecuniarily too—Dearest Mother, I hope this will find you entirely well, & dear sister Mat & all.



1. Whitman adapted the material in this letter for inclusion in November Boughs (Richard Maurice Bucke, ed., The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman [New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1902], 6:229-230). The sentence "this is a pretty time to talk of recognizing such villains" was attributed there to "a Pennsylvania officer in hospital." After this paragraph, Whitman added in the published version: "Then there is certainly a strange, deep, fervid feeling form'd or arous'd in the land, hard to describe or name; it is not a majority feeling, but it will make itself felt." [back]

2. In the printed version in November Boughs, Whitman once more (see the notes to Whitman's letter from October 27, 1863) encouraged readers to infer that his services during the war were not confined to hospital visits: "M[other], you don't know what a nature a fellow gets, not only after being a soldier a while, but after living in the sights and influences of the camps, the wounded, &c.—a nature he never experienced before." See Complete Writings (1902) 6:229. [back]

3. Whitman was probably thinking of an incident which a soldier of Kilpatrick's cavalry had related to him, and which he recorded in "Hospital Book 12" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection) about this time. See the letter from October 13, 1863 and Complete Writings (1902) 6:171. [back]

4. The expulsion of Alexander Long; see the letter from April 19, 1864. This paragraph up to "true as the north star" appeared in November Boughs (Complete Writings [1902], 6:230). [back]

5. On April 14, 1864 George informed his mother that Whitman in a recent letter wrote of "publishing a small book this Spring."  [back]


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