Skip to main content

Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 19 December 1862

Dear Brother Walt,

We are all much worried at not hearing anything from you. I have been over to the headquarters of the 51st three or four times but could get no information about brother George. The Times of day before yesterday gave his name among the wounded thus  "Lieut Whitman Co. E 51st N. Y. V. cheek" and we are trying to comfort ourselves with hope that it may not be a serious hurt. We certainly expected to hear from you before this and that you had found him. I know you will spare neither pains nor anything else to find him. I do hope that dear brother George is not seriously hurt. Dont fail to let us hear from you at once, even if you have not been able to learn anything about him  it would be a consolation to know certainly that you had arrived safely at Washington  Mother stands it pretty well, but begins to feel pretty bad about not hearing from you

Mat and Dolly2 are quite well. We have been picturing to ourselves that you would bring George home with you and how nicely we would establish him in our front room with Mat as chief nurse. Dear brother do write immediately. Tell George how much we all love him and how badly we all feel that he should be hurt.

Your affectionate brother Jeff


  • 1. Almost exactly a year after Jeff's last letter the Civil War began. George Whitman responded by joining the Union army, in which he served until the end of the war. The family's fears and anxieties for George were the dominant theme in Jeff and Walt's correspondence for these years, and were a chief reason for the intense correspondence between the brothers in 1863; in this year more than one-third of Jeff's extant letters were written. Walt's general correspondence also increased: seventy-five letters from 1863 survive compared to only nineteen from the preceding seven years.

    The immediate cause for family concern was the appearance of George's name in a list of wounded from the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862). The poet set out on December 16, 1862, for Washington to search the hospitals for his brother. After finding George, who had sustained a superficial cheek wound, Walt decided to stay in the capital to help with the war effort by rendering aid in the city's numerous military hospitals. On January 1, 1863, Jeff wrote the poet and offered financial support, thus making Walt's hospital work a feasible project. Jeff began collecting money from his fellow engineers and sending it to Walt, who relied heavily on this source of funds. The engineers probably supported the hospital work because they were personal friends of the Whitman brothers and because their interest in engineering projects of a national scope (such as the transcontinental railroad) promoted belief in a strong federal government.

  • 2. Probably a nickname for Manahatta ("Hattie") Whitman. [back]
Back to top