Skip to main content

Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [9–14] March 1863

 duk.00425.001.jpg March '63 Dear Walt1

George2 is so engaged i told him i would write A few lines to you he wants you to send those flannel shirts here by express3 he thought he could get them better from here than to send them to fortress monroe4 i suppose Jeffy letter5 announced the news of his arrival he come at last quite unexpected although i had looked for him every day for A week but began to think he would not come he came about 11 Oclock came in with his key and came [cut away] in the6  duk.00425.003.jpg basement and could not get in I have been in the habit since you went away of locking the basement door so he went up stairs and went to bed and said nothing got up in the morning and was busy fixing the fire in my new stove as he opened the door i says Edd7 get your thick boots without looking around you may depend i was so glad to see him i did not know how to get breakfast so we took it upstairs and had buckwheat cakes the folks doo as if they would eat him up he has invitation from all quarters i told him  duk.00425.004.jpg to day i hoped he would get through his visits he aint home much this morning porter8 came to see him to night he has gone to hear miss heron)9

how are you walt i hope you have got better of that feeling in your head verhaps10 the wax in your ears is got hard that will sometimes cause a deafness a very little sweet oil would releive it11 if its caused by that write doo how you are i hope you wont get sick i feel quite well since i have got better of my cold I have had a letter from Heyd and hanna12  duk.00425.002.jpg wrote part of it she was rather better but it hurt her to lean over to write heyde said she was much better off there than she would be here on account of having a fire i suppose on the same frour13 she wrote quite cheerful said the doctor said he wondered she dident get better faster she said she should not always be sick the least sudden moove hurts her so i suppose it would be almost impossible for her to come at present i am in hopes when the weather comes warm she will get better we expect mary14 down to morrow or next day Marthe15 is pretty well and sis16 goes the whole figure she takes to her uncle George very much  duk.00425.006.jpg i went up and told then George had come they was not up she told her mother to get up quick and dress and take her down to see uncle george wounded in the cheek Andrew17 was here twice to see Georg and has not seen him yet he is gone out nearly all the time he finds many friends in brooklyn he has got his things mostly ready made Jeff went with him to new york they are very nice looking but very high price his pants 10 d his coat 22 his cap 4 1/2 his shoulder strap 6d his one shirt woolen 3 dollar all these figures is doller you must know and then he got drawers  duk.00425.005.jpg and some other things he had 100 and 25 dollar in the bank and he took out 100 and thought it would be enoughf but it is not i told him to draw it all out but he said he could borrow some several of the regiment has sent for things by him he thought he could get his pay but porter told him to day there was no funds here so i told him to get that 25 from the bank i would make out i can get things from Amerman18 and that you sent me change enoughf we have got all your letter walt and Jeff will send the pictures19 i have got all the change got some yesterday it comes very good whenever you can spare it

your dear mother20

write if you are [cut away] well21

dont forget the shirts


  • 1. The date "March 1863" on the letter in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke is accurate, but the letter can be dated a more narrow range, to between March 9 and March 14, 1863. The letter followed Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's March 9, 1863 letter to Walt, which reported George Washington Whitman's arrival in Brooklyn on "Sunday morning" (March 8) for a ten-day furlough. George departed from Brooklyn the morning of March 17, the day his furlough ended (see George's April 2, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). In this letter, Louisa refers to Jeff's letter and twice asks Walt to send the flannel shirts. She could have written no earlier than the same day as Jeff's letter, March 9. If she expected the shirts to arrive before George's expected departure from Brooklyn, she must have written no later than March 14. This date range is confirmed also by Walt's March 18, 1863 letter to Jeff, in which he reported having sent a packet with George's shirts on March 15, 1863. Louisa's letter likely was not written on neither end of the possible extremes, so between one day after Jeff's letter (March 10) and four days before George's departure (March 13) is most likely as the date of the letter. [back]
  • 2. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in the Union Army in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with a partner named Smith and later a mason named French. George eventually took up a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]
  • 3. Walt Whitman sent a packet with "George's shirts, drawers, &c" via Adams Express on March 15, 1863 (see his March 18, 1863 letter to Thomas Jefferson Whitman). Adams Express, a packet delivery service, was noted for its fast delivery, trustworthiness, and its guarantee of privacy for shippers (see Hollis Robbins,"Fugitive Mail: The Deliverance of Henry 'Box' Brown and Antebellum Postal Politics," American Studies 50:1/2 [2009], 12–13). [back]
  • 4. Fort Monroe, located on the southernmost tip of the Virginia Peninsula, remained under Union control throughout the Civil War. George Washington Whitman, whose Ninth Army Corps unit had been encamped at Newport News, Virginia before his ten-day furlough in early March, hoped to receive the shirts in Brooklyn before his March 17 return to the encampment near Fort Monroe (see George's April 2, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). The blue flannel shirts were probably sewn by Louisa's daughter-in-law Martha "Mattie" Whitman, the wife of George's brother Thomas Jefferson Whitman. Robert Roper has traced the many references to these flannel shirts in the Whitman family's early 1863 correspondence (see Now the Drum of War [New York: Walker and Company, 2008], 204–6). [back]
  • 5. In a March 9, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman, Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman reported George's arrival in Brooklyn. During the Civil War, Jeff was employed as a civil engineer for the Brooklyn Water Works. Jeff eventually became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and a nationally recognized name. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]
  • 6. This letter is written on paper of very low quality. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in another letter on the same paper expressed her frustration: "this 12 sheets of writing paper for 4 cents is awful stuf to write on" (see her March 19, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman). The passage of 150 years has proven that the paper is "awful stuf" on which to preserve a letter: it is slowly crumbling away at edges and folds. To arrest the deterioration, a conservator at Duke University has stabilized the document with backing, which is visible in the reproduction. Many crumbled fragments are also preserved. Many words could only be recovered from the letter itself by reassembling the document from a small envelope of crumbled fragments. However, a typed transcription for each letter is available in a two-volume manuscript album, Walt Whitman: An Extensive Collection of Holograph Manuscripts Written to Walt Whitman by His Mother Mrs. L. Whitman (Trent Collection). According to Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections at Duke University Library, the manuscript albums and transcripts were prepared by a previous owner in the early twentieth century. For this letter, portions of the text that were still legible when the manuscript album was prepared in the early twentieth century have been recovered from the type transcript. [back]
  • 7. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. During Louisa's final illness, Eddy was taken under the care of George Washington Whitman and his wife, Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, with financial support from Walt Whitman. [back]
  • 8. Porter has not been positively identified, but he was probably a member of George's regiment, the 51st New York Volunteers. The National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database lists three men named Porter in George's regiment: Thomas, a chaplain, George A., a first lieutenant, and George W., also a first lieutenant. [back]
  • 9. Matilda Agnes Heron (1830–1877), an actress, was a famous interpreter of Alexander Dumas' Camilleand of Ernest Legouvé's Medea, both roles that she adapted for the stage. See George C. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage (New York: Columbia University Press, 1928), 6:534–6. [back]
  • 10. Louisa wrote the descender of the letter "p" separately. Here she neglected to add the descender, which makes the word appear more like "verhaps." [back]
  • 11. Walt Whitman in his March 18, 1863 letter to Jeff Whitman reported a "bad humming feeling and deafness, stupor-like at times, in my head." Olive oil or "sweet oil," which Louisa Van Velsor Whitman recommended, was a common treatment for the removal of ear wax in the nineteenth century. [back]
  • 12. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. [back]
  • 13. The individual letters in this word most closely resemble "frour," a nonsense reading, so Louisa may have intended "floor" or "from." If the word is "floor," it completes the phrase "fire on the same [floor]," reporting Charles Heyde's assertion about Hannah's comfort in her Vermont home. If the word is "from," it marks a transition between Heyde's words and what Hannah, her daughter, wrote. Though the phrase "from she wrote" is not idiomatic, the reading "from" is more probable because the passage that follows reports the portion of the letter written by Hannah. [back]
  • 14. Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the oldest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they subsequently moved to Greenport, Long Island. They raised five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, Jr., and Mary Isadore "Minnie." See Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 10–11. [back]
  • 15. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. Mattie suffered a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). See also Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]
  • 16. "Sis" is Manahatta "Hattie" Whitman (1860–1886), the elder daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Hattie, who lived most of the first seven years of her life in the same home as Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, was especially close to her grandmother. The nickname "Sis" would eventually pass from Manahatta to her younger sister Jessie Louisa, the latter born in June 1863. Hattie and Jessie were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]
  • 17. Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) was Walter Whitman, Sr., and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's son and Walt Whitman's brother. In the early 1860s, Andrew worked as a carpenter, and he enlisted briefly in the Union Army during the Civil War (see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10 [Winter 1993], 142–8). He developed a drinking problem that contributed to his early death, leaving behind his wife Nancy McClure Whitman, pregnant with son Andrew, Jr., and their two sons, George "Georgy" and James "Jimmy." For Andrew's family after his death, see Jerome Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]
  • 18. Nicholas Amerman had a grocery store on Myrtle Avenue. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman's September 5, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]
  • 19. Walt Whitman in his March 18, 1863 letter again asked Jeff Whitman to "put the engravings (20 of the large head) in the same package" with copies of a newspaper article, "The Great Washington Hospitals" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 19, 1863, 2). [back]
  • 20. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt Whitman was the second. For more information on Louisa and her letters, see Wesley Raabe, "'walter dear': The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt" and Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)." [back]
  • 21. This portion of postscript continues in the right margin of the first page, with a large tear after the word "are." Because of the gap, an entire word may be missing. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman may have asked Walt to "write if you are [not] well." The postscript then continues in the top margin of the first page. [back]
Back to top