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Walt Whitman to Julia Elizabeth Stilwell, 21 October 1863

Dear friend,2

Jimmy is getting along favorably as usual but of course somewhat slowly. I was with him night before last, & am going again this afternoon. It requires a good deal of patience in him to lay so steadily confined in bed, but he still has the good luck to continue remarkably free from any acute suffering. Night before last he had some pain & swelling in the foot & leg below the wound, but nothing of serious account. They bandaged it pretty tightly, & that seemed to relieve it. Jim wished me to write to you this time, & I promised him night before last to do so. I wrote at that time from the hospital to your parents at Comac, & sent the letter yesterday. Jim is dissatisfied unless I write pretty often, whether there is any thing to write about or not—My friend, I rec'd your note about your folks getting your dear brother's body from down in Virginia.3 Dear friend, the rebels have lately advanced upon us, as you doubtless know, & held Culpepper & thereabout for many days past—but the rumor now is that they are falling back, & that Meade will probably take possession of his old ground4—but at present I doubt if any thing could be done—the authorities here do not grant passes yet, they are stricter than ever—

Dear friends all, I would say to you as I have written to Jimmy's parents, that I shall try to keep watch of the boy, as I shall probably continue in Washington for some time yet—& if any thing should occur I will write to you—as it may be some reliance to you & make you feel less uneasy, to feel that Jim can have nothing occur in his case without your being informed—though as far as now appears, he will go on favorably, & his wound is likely to heal so that he can sit up, & then gradually move about, & so in due time be able to travel—

So, my friend, farewell for present, & I pray that God may be with you, & though we are strangers I send my love to you & all Jimmy's sisters & brothers in law—for in times of trouble & death folks draw near in spirit regardless of being separated by distance, or of being personally strangers—

Walt Whitman

care Major Hapgood, paymaster U S A | cor 15th & F st | Washington | D C.


  • 1. Draft Letter. [back]
  • 2. James S. Stilwell, Second New York Cavalry, was confined in Ward C of Armory Square with a gunshot wound in his left leg; see "Notebook: September–October, 1863" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection) and "Hospital Notes" (Henry E. Huntington Library). He recovered slowly from his injury. About the end of May in the following year he was sent to Mower Hospital, Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, where he remained until he was granted a furlough in August 1864. He later returned to Mower Hospital and wrote to Whitman on September 27, 1864, that his wound was "most healed up," and that he expected either to be discharged or to be transferred to New York. See also Stilwell's letters to Whitman from July 5, 1864, and September 2, 1864. He was the brother of Julia and John Stilwell. When Horace Traubel received this draft letter from Whitman, he noted that "it was addressed to Julia Elizabeth Stilwell, South Norwalk, Connecticut" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, [New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 1:434). After Traubel had read the letter, Whitman said "fervently": "I thank God for having permitted me to write that letter." As Whitman indicated in a letter from October 4, 1863 , he corresponded frequently with members of the Stilwell family. John and Margaret Stilwell on October 20, 1863, wrote: "I hope God will bless you in your basket and in your Store, in your Soul and in your body.…be a father and a Mother to him"; and on December 28, 1863, Margaret wrote to Whitman: "You have been More than a brother to James and to his Sisters and to us his parents More than a Son." [back]
  • 3. John Stilwell, brother of James and Julia Stilwell, was evidently killed at Culpeper, Virginia, about the time that James was wounded, for Julia Stilwell wrote to Whitman about both brothers on October 13, 1867. Whitman was mistaken about the body, however, since, according to Margaret Stilwell's letter of October 25, 1863, members of the family had been refused a pass to Culpeper. [back]
  • 4. The New York Herald reported this rumor on the following day. [back]
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