Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Walt Whitman to Hannah Whitman Heyde, 18 May 1863

Date: May 18, 1863

Whitman Archive ID: loc.05421

Source: Walt Whitman Papers (Miscellaneous Manuscript Collection), 1848–1891, 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.

Contributors to digital file: Mai Contino, Maire Mullins, Stephanie Blalock, and Kassie Jo Baron

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May 18th '63

Dear sister Han,

I scribble off a few lines, partly because I want to write you, though a word—& partly to enclose a letter mother2 sends me from dear brother George.3 All seems to be going on about as usual home—Mother wants to see you so much, & the rest do too that she thinks of getting Mary4 to come on for you—I wish I was a little nearer north—I should like much to come on & see you, and have you return with me. Dear sister I hope the spring & summer have improved your health—how is it?—I have written a few lines to George & send them at the same time with this—

Lowell5 is in the middle of the eastern part of Kentucky but it is probable George's division is moving for Tennessee.

Dearest sister, I hope this will find you in improved health & cheerful spirits—As to me I am in first rate health; though in the midst of frightful & distressing scenes of wounds, sickness & death every day.

Good bye dear sister—I shall count on you coming home very soon


(George's letter got rather torn—but you can make it out)

Hannah Louisa Whitman Heyde (1823–1908) was the fourth child of Walter and Louisa Whitman and Walt Whitman's youngest sister. Hannah was named for her paternal grandmother, Hannah Brush Whitman (1753–1834), and her mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873). Although Walt Whitman had a close relationship with his younger brother Jeff Whitman, Hannah was his favorite, most beloved sibling. Until she married, Hannah lived at home with her parents and her brothers. Educated at the Hempstead Academy, Hannah taught school in rural Long Island. On March 23, 1852, Hannah married Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a landscape painter. It is possible that Walt introduced Hannah to Charles. In August 1852 the Heydes departed for Vermont. The first decade of their marriage was marked by constant moving from boarding houses to hotels, mostly in rural Vermont, as Heyde sought out vantage points for his landscape paintings. In 1864 the Heydes settled in Burlington, purchasing a house on Pearl Street. After Hannah's marriage and relocation to Vermont, Mother Whitman became Hannah's faithful correspondent; Walt also kept in touch, sending letters and editions of Leaves of Grass after publication. Hannah faced several health crises during her marriage, partly due to the ongoing trauma of emotional, verbal, and physical intimate partner violence that she experienced. In the 1880s and 1890s Heyde increasingly had difficulty earning enough to cover household expenses; in addition, he may have become an alcoholic. He repeatedly asked Whitman for funds to cover their expenses. Whitman sent both Heyde and Hannah small amounts of money. After Heyde died in 1892, Hannah remained in Burlington, living in their house on Pearl Street until her death in 1908. For more information, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Heyde), Hannah Louisa (d. 1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Whitman was living in Washington, D.C., at the time that this letter was sent. He had arrived in mid-December 1862 in search of his brother, George Whitman, a Union soldier in the American Civil War who had been wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Whitman would remain in Washington, D.C. for a decade, volunteering in the Civil War Hospitals and, later, performing clerical tasks for several government offices. For more information on Whitman's time in Washington, see Martin G. Murray, "Washington, D.C. (1863–1873)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

2. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman [Mother Whitman] (1795–1873), was born and raised in Long Island. Louisa married Walter Whitman Sr. in June 1816; together they had nine children, two girls and seven boys. Louisa's fifth child, a son, died at the age of six months; the rest of her children lived to adulthood. In 1823 the Whitmans moved to Brooklyn. See Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor [1795–1873]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the seventh child of Walter and Louisa Whitman. George learned to read and write as a pupil under his older brother Walt (who briefly served as a schoolteacher) in Long Island, and worked as a carpenter prior to his military service during the Civil War. When the war ended, he became a pipe inspector for the City of Camden and the New York Metropolitan Water Board. For more on George's life, see Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

4. Mary Elizabeth Whitman Van Nostrand (1821–1899), the third child of Walter Whitman and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, and Hannah's older (and only) sister. Mary married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipbuilder, in 1840 and moved to Greenport, Long Island, a whaling town. Hannah and Walt visited her there before Hannah's marriage to Heyde. Mary and Ansel had five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, and Minnie. For more information, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Van Nostrand), Mary Elizabeth (b. 1821)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

5. Whitman had noted in a letter to his mother that George had been in Kentucky but his regiment was moving to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. See Walt Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated May 13, 1863[back]


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