Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Thomas M. Prentiss to Walt Whitman, 2 June 1891

Date: June 2, 1891

Whitman Archive ID: loc.03491

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.

Notes for this letter were derived from Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller, 6 vols. (New York: New York University Press, 1961–1977), and supplemented, updated, or created by Whitman Archive staff as appropriate.

Editorial note: The annotation, "See p:74 Spec: Days I remember the case well," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Cristin Noonan, Marie Ernster, Stephanie Blalock, and Amanda J. Axley



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N" 11 E. Lafayette Ave
Baltimore M.d
June 2nd. 1891

Mr Walter Whitman,
Dear Sir,

Yesterday's "Sun" of this city contained a notice of the celebration of your seventy-second birth day;1 and called to my mind events which took place at "Armory Square Hospital"2 at the close of the War of the Rebellion.—

I had two wounded brothers there, one Colonel C. K. Prentiss3 of the 6th Maryland volunteers; in the officers ward, and the other, Willie S. Prentiss,4 private from a Maryland Regt in the Southern Army.

They had both been wounded in the same battle before Petersburgh on the 2nd of April, the two Regts having met face to face.—

I mention these facts in the hope that they might bring the case to your memory.—

They were both desparately wounded, and lay in Wards separated from one another, and I was in attendance upon them both, passing from one to the other as their needs required, and dreadfully anxious for them.

Going into Willie's Ward one day, I found a stranger seated by his side, in kindly converse with him.(—He had had a leg amputated—)

This gentleman proved to be none other than your self, and I have never ceased to feel deeply grateful to you for your kindness to my dear brother; for your visits to him were repeated again and again, until his death, and I know gave him great pleasure.—

My one object in now writing is to thank you for your Friendship to him with the hope that the case may not have wholly passed from your memory, and to tell you that the lapse of quarter of a Century has not lessened my appreciation of the attention shown my brother.—

May Gods best belongings rest upon you.

Yours gratefully
T. M. Prentiss


Correspondent:
Thomas Melville Prentiss (1829–1901) was the son of John Prentiss (1818–1861) and his first wife, Amelia F. Kennedy, of Baltimore, Maryland (d. 1857). Thomas became a presbyterian minister in Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, New York. He was the older brother of Clifton Kennedy Prentiss (1835–1865) and William Scollay Prentiss (1839–1865), who fought on opposite sides during the American Civil War. Both of Thomas's brothers were wounded in the conflict and both died as a result of their injuries. Whitman met and cared for Clifton and William at Armory Square Hospital, where the poet was volunteering. Whitman described his experiences with the Prentiss brothers in "Two Brothers, One South, One North," which was published in Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882: 74–75).

Notes:

1. Whitman's seventy-second (and last) birthday was celebrated with friends at his home on Mickle Street. He described the celebration in a letter to Dr. John Johnston, of Bolton, England, dated June 1, 1891: "We had our birth anniversary spree last evn'g — ab't 40 people, choice friends mostly—12 or so women—[Alfred, Lord] Tennyson sent a short and sweet letter over his own sign manual . . . lots of bits of speeches, with gems in them—we had a capital good supper." [back]

2. Armory Square Hospital was the hospital Walt Whitman most frequently visited in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. Because of Armory Square's location near a steamboat landing and railroad, it received the bulk of serious casualties from Virginia battlefields. At the end of the war, it recorded the highest number of deaths among Washington hospitals. See Martin G. Murray, "Traveling with the Wounded: Walt Whitman and Washington's Civil War Hospitals." [back]

3. Colonel Clifton Kennedy Prentiss (1835–1865) was the son of John Prentiss (1818–1861) and his first wife, Amelia F. Kennedy, of Baltimore, Maryland (d. 1857). Clifton (C. K.) Prentiss served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was fatally wounded when Union forces stormed the Confederate earthworks near Petersburg, Virginia. Prentiss, having been struck in the chest with a musket ball, was taken to a field hospital and then to Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C., where Whitman met him. Prentiss's brother William, a Confederate soldier who had been wounded in the same battle, was also in Armory Square. [back]

4. William Scollay Prentiss (1839–1865) was the son of John Prentiss (1818–1861) and his first wife, Amelia F. Kennedy, of Baltimore, Maryland (d. 1857). He enlisted at Richmond and served as a Confederate soldier during the American Civil War. He recevied what would prove to be a fatal leg wound while defending the Confederate earthworks near Petersburg, Virginia, against Union forces. Prentiss was taken to a field hospital and then to Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C., where Whitman met and cared for him. Prentiss's brother Clifton, who had been wounded in the same battle while fighting on the side of the Union, was also in Armory Square, and Whitman recalled finding Clifton in an adjoining ward when visiting William (Specimen Days & Collect [Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882], 74–75). [back]


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