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Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 7 February 1865

Dear brother Walt—

Yours received1—We are all very joyful over what you wrote in regard to George—It seemed to put new life in mother—I went to see the Dr2 to-day—He said immediately that he would go and see Swinton3 and talk with him about the matter and urge him to write to Gen Grant  The Dr. thinks that Swinton will do it and that Grant will grant the request—He seemed to feel very sanguine about it—Oh I so hope that we will prove successful in getting George exchanged

I was glad to see that Mason4 made a response to your asking him to send supplies to George—I intend to send a box this week if I can

The enclosed letter5 came to the house for you  Mother opened it—I thought I would send it to you and you could tell me if any more of the same style came whether to send them to you or not—

We are now having quite a snow storm—it looks as if it would be quite deep—I am rather sorry to see it for it looks hard for the soilders  I feel disappointed in regard to the peace talks.6 I was in hopes that we had had war enough  It seems almost impossible that the south can keep up the fight much longer—however I think the president showed a great deal of cuteness in going down to see them and if he only told them that the Union was all he asked [he showed] more statesmanship than I ever gave him credit for  I see that a great many here have not yet given up the idea but what there is something more to come—the desire for a peace on the basis of the Union alone seems so far as I can see meets with universal applause

Well Walt so you have gone to keeping house7 have you  You must be car[e]ful or you will get sick again—I fear you do not live well—I think the great cause of good health is good eating—Keep up the supply of good things—Do you have about the same experience in the Hospitals as you used to—were the men glad to see you back—were any remaining that you used to visit  if so I know they were glad to see you—and it must seem like old times for you to go among them—Do you see many of the friends that you used to know then—I suppose you visit the Hospitals once a day—are there as many in them as there used to be—I hope not—tis so long since we have had any very large battles that I should suppose the Hospita[l]s were not full8

What is it about the Exchange of prisoners—do you know it looks to me as if they were trying to delay the exchange and yet talk about it as if they were going to do it and wished to do it all the time—I was very glad to have you write that Hichcock said Butler lied9—I thought as much but did not dare to believe it either  I do hope that Grant will make an exchange—The people seem almost to demand it—Do talk it up—Walt—write it up if you have a chance—One thing I think I see and that is that whoever does delay it that they are pretty well frightened about it and want to humbug the people with the idea that they are going to exchange at once—I was almost overjoyed a few nights since to see a dispatch that the President had ordered a complete and general exchange—but alas it turned out to be nothing

Mother is quite well—Mat and the babies are well and all send their love—the baby often calls "Walt" to come  Write me

affectionately Jeff


  • 1. Whitman's letter of about February 6, 1865, is not extant. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. Swinton had already written a letter to Grant on February 6, 1865. See Jeff Whitman's letter to Walt from January 31, 1865. [back]
  • 4. See Jeff's letter to Walt from February 10, 1863. By February 10, 1865, Julius W. Mason, a lieutenant colonel in the Fifth Cavalry, had sent a box to George and had promised Whitman that the poet's letter to his imprisoned brother would be sent by the first flag of truce. See Mason's February 16 letter to Whitman. [back]
  • 5. Unidentified. [back]
  • 6. On February 3, 1865, Lincoln and his Secretary of State Wiliam H. Seward met with Vice-President of the Confederacy Alexander H. Stephens on the Union transport River Queen lying in Hampton Roads. All through 1864 Lincoln had insisted that he would consider any peace plan that included restoration of the Union and the emancipation of all slaves; he now also demanded a complete end to the war, refusing to consider a temporary cessation of hostilities. Lincoln's last requirement frustrated the Southerners' desire for an armistice, which would, they hoped, allow for a cooling of passions before the beginning of negotiations. The meeting ended with no agreement reached. [back]
  • 7. In his letter of January 30, 1865, Whitman briefly described the comfortable room he rented from "a very friendly old secesh landlady whose husband & son are off in the Southern army." [back]
  • 8. The hospitals were fairly full because, as Whitman noted, some soldiers remained with "bad old lingering wounds" while others were moved to Washington as field hospitals were dismantled. See Whitman's letter to Abby H. Price from February 4, 1865. [back]
  • 9. Major General Ethan Allen Hitchcock (1798–1870), military advisor to Lincoln and U.S. commissioner for the exchange of prisoners, had long feuded with Butler (see Jeff Whitman's letter to Walt from January 31, 1865) over the question of exchanging prisoners. He may have pointed out to Whitman that Grant was not solely responsible for the exchange policy because Stanton and Lincoln shaped it also. [back]
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