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Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [19–24? December 1863]

 duk.00572.001.jpg walt1

i did try to get some eagles that had that little peece2 in but i could not i suppose they might be got at the office it was the day Andrew died3 that it was in we thought it was Ruggles4 it began with who in brooklyn but knows walt whitman even at the couch of the dying and sick soldier to comfort and relieve them


that is the content the last is walt is now in washington5 it was A short peece but very good Jeffy6 had one paper he said he wanted it to send to some one maybee he can get some


  • 1.

    This letter likely dates to December 18 or 19, 1863. It is possible, though unlikely, that it dates to as late as December 24, 1863.

    This brief letter from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman is inscribed in the margins of George Washington Whitman's December 9, 1863 letter from Camp Pittman, Kentucky. Louisa received the letter from George on the same day that she received Walt's December 15, 1863 letter, and she planned to forward George's letter after Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman had read it. Jeff probably read George's letter shortly after his return from the surveying trip that took him to Springfield, Massachusetts. Jeff's return from that surveying trip is estimated at December 18 or 19, 1863 because Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman noted that Jeff had visited the home of his sister-in-law Nancy McClure Whitman (his brother Andrew Jackson Whitman's widow) on December 19 or 20, 1863 (see Jeff's December 15, 1863 letter to Walt; and see Mattie's December 21, 1863 letter to Louisa in Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1971], 34–35).

    Jeff in his late-December letter to Walt had yet to acquire the brief sketch of Walt from an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which is the subject of Louisa's note on George's letter (see Jeff's December 28, 1863 letter to Walt). The more probable case is that Jeff was so busy that he was unable to write Walt the letter about acquiring a copy of the sketch in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and Louisa took it upon herself to take care of the matter and forward George's letter after Jeff read it, probably on December 19 or 20, 1863. The less probable case is that Jeff's apology at month's end for not acquiring copies of the sketch could indicate that Louisa had continued to delay forwarding George's letter and had waited perhaps another week, until December 24 or 25, 1863. Based on Louisa's December 25, 1863 letter to Walt, which mentions neither George nor the Brooklyn Daily Eagle sketch, the matter of forwarding George's letter and the sketch to Walt were unlikely to remain matters of pressing concern to her, though Jeff had still to complete the task of acquiring copies.

  • 2. The "little peece" was a brief newspaper sketch of Walt Whitman in Washington ("Personal," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 3, 1863, 3). [back]
  • 3. Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) was Walter Whitman, Sr., and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's son, and Walt's younger brother. He died on December 4, 1863. The brief sketch of Walt Whitman had appeared in the newspaper the previous day ("Personal," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 3, 1863, 3). Louisa's account of Andrew's death appears in her December 4–5, 1863 letter to Walt. For more on Andrew, see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10:3 (1993), 142–148. [back]
  • 4. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and his mother Louisa Van Velsor Whitman at first thought Brooklyn physician Edward Ruggles (1817?–1867), a close friend of the Whitman family, wrote the sketch of Walt Whitman. However, Jeff had several talks with Ruggles about placing his brother Jesse Whitman in an asylum in December, and he did not mention Ruggles's authorship in his next letter to Walt (see Jeff's December 28, 1863 letter to Walt). Walt suspected that the sketch was written by Joseph Hayward, Jr. (1833–1890), a city editor from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle who also had served as a war correspondent (see Walt's December 15, 1863 letter to Louisa). [back]
  • 5. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's transcription is near verbatim: "Who is there in Brooklyn who doesn't know Walt. Whitman? Rough and ready, kind and considerate, generous and good, he was ever a friend in need, which is, after all, the only friend indeed. Walt is now in Washington, a volunteer nurse, going from hospital to hospital, and doing good every minute of his life. We hear of him at the bedside of the sick, the pallet of the wounded, the cot of the dying, and the pestilential ward. He writes letters home for disabled men, bathes the feverish brow of half-crazed soldiers, refreshes the parched lips of neglected sufferers, and attends with fidelity and tact to the thousand and one necessities of those who approach the gate of death. Surely such as he will find their reward here and hereafter" ("Personal," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 3, 1863, 3). [back]
  • 6.

    Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was the son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's favorite brother. In early adulthood he worked as a surveyor and topographical engineer. In the 1850s he began working for the Brooklyn Water Works, at which he remained employed through the Civil War. In 1867 Jeff became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and became a nationally recognized name in civil engineering. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)."

    Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was the wife of Jeff Whitman. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" (b. 1863). In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to join Jeff after he had assumed the position of Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis in 1867. For more on Mattie, see the introduction to Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26.

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