Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Robert Underwood Johnson to Walt Whitman, 12 July 1884

Date: July 12, 1884

Whitman Archive ID: loc.02422

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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, "see notes Aug 29 1888," is in the hand of Horace Traubel.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Stefan Schöberlein, and Nicole Gray

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1884. July 12.

Walt Whitman, Esq.,
My dear Sir:

We are making preparations for a notable series of papers on the Battles of the War to be written by participants—general officers—including Grant,1 McClellan,2 Rosecrans,3 Beauregard,4 Longstreet5 & Joe Johnson6 & others. These we desire to supplement by short pithy papers on different phases of the war. At Mr. Gilder's7 request I write to ask if you would not write us a short, comprehensive paper on Hospital Nursing in Washington and on the field—something human and vivid. We should like about 4000 words.8

The object of the supplementary papers is to give the life, the spirit, the color of the war, which may be left out by the generals.

Yours sincerely,
R. U. Johnson

N.B. Of course we should like the paper to cover different ground from what you have before written if possible—at least to cover it in a different way.

Robert Underwood Johnson (1853–1937) was on the staff of The Century Magazine from 1873 to 1913 and was the U.S. ambassador to Italy in 1920 and 1921.


1. Ulysses Simpson Grant (1822–1885) was the highest ranking Union general of the Civil War. As commander of the Army of the Potomac, he accepted the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. After the war, Grant served two terms as president, elected in 1868 and again in 1872. [back]

2. General George Brinton McClellan (1826–1885) was General-in-Chief of the Army of the United States from November 1861 until July 1862, when he was replaced by General Henry W. Halleck. In 1864, when McClellan ran for the presidency, the Democratic party split between war Democrats and peace Democrats. [back]

3. William Starke Rosecrans (1819–1898) was a general in the Union Army during the Civil War. Though he was successful in several early campaigns during the war, he is most known for his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. [back]

4. Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard (1818–1893) was a prominent general of the Confederacy during the Civil War. By defending Petersburg, Virginia, from Union Troops in 1864 he effectively saved the Confederate capital of Richmond from being captured. After the war, Beauregard became a railroad executive. [back]

5. James Longstreet (1821–1904), nicknamed "Old War Horse," was a Confederate general and was involved in the Southern victories at Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chickamauga. After the war, Longstreet joined the Republican Party and held a number of civil and diplomatic positions. [back]

6. Joseph E. Johnston (1807–1891) was a Confederate general and the senior commanding officer of P. G. T. Beauregard. Johnston was a key figure in the defense of Richmond against Union troops. Like Beauregard, Johnston entered the railroad business after the war. [back]

7. Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909) was the assistant editor of Scribner's Monthly from 1870 to 1881 and editor of its successor, The Century, from 1881 until his death. Whitman had met Gilder for the first time in 1877 at John H. Johnston's (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: New York University Press, 1955], 482). Whitman attended a reception and tea given by Gilder after William Cullen Bryant's funeral on June 14; see "A Poet's Recreation" in the New York Tribune, July 4, 1878. Whitman considered Gilder one of the "always sane men in the general madness" of "that New York art delirium" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, August 5, 1888). For more about Gilder, see Susan L. Roberson, "Gilder, Richard Watson (1844–1909)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

8. "Army Hospitals and Cases" was printed in the magazine in October 1888. See also the letter from Whitman to William D. O'Connor of September 29, 1884[back]


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