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Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 10 February 1863

Dear Brother

I received your letter of yesterday morning.1 I am glad to hear that you are still visiting the hospitals and doing so much good. We are trying to do what little we can to furnish you with the necessary funds (in a small way to be sure) and the only thing that we are sorry about is that we cannot do more. The enclosed money is contributed by

Theo. A. Drake2 $2.
"Cash" through John D Martin3 $2.

both of whom are employed on the work under Mr Lane.4

Mr Lane has written a letter to Mr Webster 5 the clerk of Seward6 that I spoke to you about and will send you a letter of introduction to him immediately. He tells me that he (Webster) is a "politician" and that he will help you without doubt provided that he thinks that it will not interfere at all with him. Or that is about the idea of what he said.

We are all getting well at home  Sis has almost entirely recovered  Mat's throat is still quite sore and mothers cough was a great deal better, till she went and caught more but she is again getting well. We do not hear any more from Heyde so I presume that Han is getting better again and perhaps will soon be home. I hope so anyway

I hope that George may be successful in getting his furlough.7 I saw Capt. Simms8 Sunday night, he had left George and the rest on Thursday morning. He was then well and engaged in building his hut. Simms looks very well indeed. My old friend Bill DeBevoise9 is home sick with "weakness" I suppose you might call it. He can hardly walk alone  He has been home about 2 weeks and has got so he can just get about a little. My friend J. W. Mason,10 (used to be in my party on the Water Works) was in Brooklyn on Saturday  He was then on his way to his fathers at Towando, Pa. and promised that he would call on you when he returned to the army  He is now a Capt. in the regulars. (5th Cavalry)

I think I shall take a few of your letters and give them to George Wright11 (of the ferry) and let him see if he cannot collect a few dollars from the ferry hands  dont you think it would be a good idea. I think that he might be able to collect something quite handsome. I have not seen any of the ferry hands since you went away.

We often wish that you and George could pop in on us just as we were about to sit down to dinner, particularly when we have "Turk" as sis calls it. Mother eats with us at almost every meal and I think living well is about all that keeps her up through all the trouble and worry that she goes through, for work and worry she will and I dont think the power of man can prevent it. Mat is nearly the same as usual  she is not very well and sometimes has to give up for a little while, but she soon buckels in again. Sis of course when she is well is just as big a little scamp as ever, more mischief-making than ever, if that is possible. Jess and Ed are I guess, in every respect are just the same. I met Andrew Rome,12 'tother day, he wanted to know how soon you would be in Brooklyn again  I told him I did not know and asked him to write you. How would it do for you to write to Wilke,13 detailing what you are doing, what we have contributed so that he might strike some of the big-bugs that he moves among or shall I give him the letters that you have written to us. advise me about it

Mr Lane has about finished his reports and wishes me to tell you that he will now have some time to devote and thinks he will be able to raise some more money, however he will write you himself before long, a day or two.

What about your chances for the "position" and what kind of a position do you expect to get. I sincerely hope that you might succeed and get detailed to New York.14 Try for it Walt and dont be discouraged if you do not succeed at first

Do you write to dear brother George often, I wish he could honorably get out of it. Would'nt it be good if he was home just now to build my "house"  I should like much to have it done by him, let him get a gang of men and pay him by the day. However I suppose it cannot be done in that manner and shall have to do it in some other.

Dear Walt let me hear from you soon. All send their love to you and receive my best wishes for your health and success  I remain as ever your affectionate brother



  • 1. This letter is not extant. [back]
  • 2. Theodore A. Drake was a waterworks inspector. [back]
  • 3. John D. Martin was an engineer. [back]
  • 4. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. He later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. Like Jeff Whitman, he collected money from his employees and friends for Walt's hospital work. Lane sent Whitman $15.20 in his letter of January 26, 1863, and later various sums which Whitman acknowledged in letters from February 6, 1863, May 11, 1863, May 26, 1863, and September 9, 1863. In his letter of May 27, 1863, Lane pledged $5 each month. In an unpublished manuscript in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library, Whitman wrote, obviously for publication: "I have distributed quite a large sum of money, contributed for that purpose by noble persons in Brooklyn, New York, (chiefly through Moses Lane, Chief Engineer, Water Works there.)" Lane assisted Whitman in other ways as well (see Whitman's letters from December 29, 1862, and February 13, 1863). He was so solicitous of Whitman's personal welfare that on April 3, 1863, he sent through Jeff $5 "for your own especial benefit." [back]
  • 5. For Lane's letter to E. D. Webster, see Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence (New York: New York University Press, 1961–77), 1:72, n. 32. [back]
  • 6. William Henry Seward (1801–1872) was secretary of state from 1861 to 1869 under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson. [back]
  • 7. George had to wait until March 7, 1863, for his ten-day furlough to Brooklyn. [back]
  • 8. Samuel H. Sims, a captain in George's Fifty-first New York Volunteer Regiment, had been the subject in part of Walt Whitman's article, "Our Brooklyn Boys in the War," which appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, on January 5, 1863. Sims died on July 30, 1864, of wounds received near Petersburg, Virginia (see George Washington Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman from August 9, 1864). Walt Whitman may have lived in Sims's tent during part of his stay at Falmouth, Virginia, opposite Fredericksburg—a trip that Walt took in search of George after reading his brother's name in the New York Herald listed among the wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. As it turned out, George only suffered a minor injury; George wrote in a letter to his mother on December 16, 1862: "I have come out safe and sound, although I had the side of my jaw slightly scraped with a peice of shell which burst at my feet." [back]
  • 9. Formerly a bookkeeper and clerk, William H. DeBevoise was now serving in the Union army. He was a member of a large, established family that had lived in Brooklyn at least thirty years. There was a DeBevoise Street in Brooklyn as early as 1859. [back]
  • 10. After working for the Brooklyn Water Works, Julius ("Jule") Mason became a career army officer. With his help Jeff and Walt Whitman were later able to get provisions to George when he was a prisoner of war (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 37). Jeff accidentally spells "Towanda" as "Towando." [back]
  • 11. Unidentified. Brooklyn directories of the period list seven George Wrights. [back]
  • 12. Andrew Rome was one of the members of the firm of the Rome Brothers, which printed the first edition of Leaves of Grass. [back]
  • 13. Probably George Wilkes (1820?–1885), owner of the New York paper, Wilkes' Spirit of the Times (formerly edited by William T. Porter). Wilkes was known for his strong antislavery, pro-Union views, which may be why Jeff thought he would support Walt Whitman's work. Wilkes was also among the first to advocate a transcontinental railroad, having published a pamphlet, Project for a National Railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, in 1845. [back]
  • 14. Walt Whitman did not find full-time government work until January 24, 1865, when he became a first-class clerk in the Indian Affairs Office, Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C. There is no record of his looking for work in New York. [back]
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