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Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 3 February 1865

Dear Brother Walt,

As I was at the office and nothing particular to do this evening I thought I would have a little talk with you

Did you see the Tribune of to-day—It had a long letter from Mr Richardson about the exchange of prisoners1—I thought strongly and well written—to-night's Evening Post extracts quite a long passage from it.2 How horrible the whole thing is. It does seem as if the Government could hardly dare to turn a deaf ear to the call for an exchange—I wish you could write upon the same subject and keep it before the reading public—I intend to send another box to George this week if I can—oh if he could only get them—What do you think about it—is it Grant's policy, after all, that prevents a general exchange—do you learn anything about the matter—I wrote you a few days ago about trying to get a special exchange of George through a letter from John Swinton3—what do you think of it—I have thought a great deal about it and think it perhaps might work

There is nothing new with us—yesterday the landlord sent over word that he should want more rent for the house—he did not say how much more  I told Mat and Mother that we would tell him to set the price on the part we occupy and if we did not wish to pay it we would move—I suppose it will be some weeks yet before we know how much he wants—but one thing is certain I am not going to make and have such a time as we all did last year4  Mother is quite well—I think to-day [she] is [or] seems in better spirits than usual—Mat has been over to New York "looking for work" as usual to-day with partial success I believe—and as a matter of course bought a new carpet and some other things. The children are getting along first-rate

Somehow I dont see as much of the Dr5 as I used to  the last time I saw him he asked how you was getting along and how you felt—He exp[r]esses a desire to learn in regard to your health—So you like your place—I am glad of that—for it makes it much more pleasant to have a steady income per month if one can only not dislike the duties that are to be performed for it—I hope to be able to come and see you some time this month

I have been quite exercised lately about trying to build a little "extension of a house" on the lot in Flatbush Av.—but have about come to the conclusion that I had better wait—material is so very high just now and I should have to borrow the money which would cost me say on a $1000. $100 for the coming year—well the rent for the year will not be much more than that and dont you think that things must be cheaper before another year—What is your idea of this peace business6—is there anything in it. It seems to me as if there is  I think if they once get to talking in earnest that it must come without much more fighting

I wish you would write me quite often Walt  somehow since you went away this time I have felt lonely—I suppose its because I dwell so much on the thought that something ought to be done to see if we can't do something to help George. Oh if we only could it seems to me it would be worth almost a life time—Jess I have not heard from since you went away  I suppose I ought to go see him but they are taking such quantities of small pox patients out to that hospital (even out in the cars they take them) that I am almost afraid to  We are having an immense quantity sick with that disease—and the excitement is quite intense

Just now in looking over the Evening Post I saw among the musical gossip a notice that our old friend Bettini was winning great success in Warsaw7—tis the fist time I have seen his name in 10 or 12 years—I've no doubt the mention of his name will call to you many pleasant thoughts—those were very pleasant times Walt.

Of course any information in relation to George—or about the exchange—or treatment of prisoners—or what not that relates to keeping up a fellows courage you will write me at once

All send their love

Affectionately Your brother Jeff


  • 1. On February 3, the New York Tribune devoted two and a half columns to Albert D. Richardson's "Our Prisoners in the South." Richardson had been imprisoned at Salisbury, North Carolina, from February 3, 1864, to December 18, 1864, when he escaped. Richardson not only argued that the Confederates were "deliberately killing" Union men, but he also attacked the inactivity of "well-fed and well-clothed Senators in their warm chamber...[and] cushioned chairs....I wish they would look into those foul pens at Salisbury, which by a perversion of the English tongue are called hospitals;...I wish they could look on the dead cart with its rigid forms, piled upon each other like logs—the stark swaying arms—the white, ghostly faces, with their dropped jaws and their staring, stony eyes—...I think a few hours in the stillness of that garrison...would change their view on the matter." [back]
  • 2. Under the headline "The Peach Question" the Evening Post for February 3 quoted three paragraphs from Richardson's letter, including his comments on the high mortality rates. [back]
  • 3. See Jeff Whitman's letter to Walt from January 31, 1865. [back]
  • 4. See Jeff's letter to Walt from March 19, 1864. [back]
  • 5. The Brooklyn physician Edward Ruggles (1817?–1867) befriended the Whitman family and became especially close to Jeff and Mattie Whitman. Late in life, Ruggles lost interest in his practice and devoted himself to painting cabinet pictures called "Ruggles Gems" (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:90, n. 85). [back]
  • 6. Newspapers of the day were filled with rumors of an impending meeting between Union and Confederate leaders at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. See Jeff's letter to Walt from February 7, 1865. [back]
  • 7. "Bettini and his wife Trebelti have been winning successes in various Italian operas in Warsaw" (New York Times, February 3, 1865). Although Allesandro Bettini performed in New York for only a year (December 5, 1850, to about February 1852), he was Whitman's favorite tenor (Robert D. Faner, Walt Whitman & Opera [Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1951], 59–61; see also Jeff's letter to Walt from March 21, 1863). [back]
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