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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 31 March 1863

Dearest mother,

I have not heard from George, except a note he wrote me a couple of days after he got back from his furlough—I think it likely the regiment has gone with its corps to the west, to the Kentucky or Tennessee region 1—Burnside at last accounts was in Cincinnati—Well it will be a change for George, if he is out there—I sent a long letter to Han last Saturday, enclosed George's note to me. Mother, when you or Jeff writes again, tell me if my papers & MSS are all right—I should be very sorry indeed if they got scattered, or used up or any thing—especially the copy of Leaves of Grass covered in blue paper, and the little MS book "Drum Taps," & the MS tied up in the square, spotted (stone-paper) loose covers—I want them all carefully kept.

Mother, it is quite a snow storm here this morning—the ground is an inch and a half deep with snow—and it is snowing & drizzling—but I feel very independent in my stout army-boots, I go any where. I have felt quite well of my deafness and cold in my head for four days or so, but it is back again bad as ever this morning.

Dear mother, I wrote the above, in my room—I have now come down to Major Hapgood's office. I do not find any thing from home, and no particular news in the paper this morning—no news about the Ninth Army Corps, or where they are. I find a good letter from one of my New York boys, (Fifth Avenue)—a young fellow named Hugo Fritsch,2 son of the Austrian Consul General—he writes me a long first-rate letter this morning—he too speaks about the opera, (like Jeff) he goes there a good deal—says that Medori,3 the soprano, as Norma, made the greatest success ever seen—says that the whole company there now, the singers, are very fine—all this I write for Jeff & Mat—I hope they will go once in a while when it is convenient—

It is a most disagreeable day here, mother, walking poshy and a rain and drizzle—

There is nothing new with me—no particular sight for an office, that I can count on. But I can make enough with the papers, for the present necessities—I hear that the paymaster, Major Yard,4 that pays the 51st, has gone on West. I suppose to Cincinnati, or wherever the brigade has gone—of course to pay up—he pays up to 1st of March—All the Army is going to be paid up to 1st March every where.

Mother, I hope you are well and hearty as usual—I am so glad you are none of you going to move—I would like to have the pleasure of Miss Mannahatta Whitman's company, the first fine forenoon, if it were possible—I think we might have first rate times, for one day at any rate—I hope she will not forget her Uncle Walt5—I received a note from Probasco,6 requesting me not to put his name in my next letter—I appreciate his motive, and wish to please him always—but in this matter I shall do what I think appropriate—Mother, I see some very interesting persons here—a young master's mate, who was on the Hatteras, when surprised & broadsided by the Alabama, Capt. Semmes7—he gave me a very good acc't of it all—then Capt. Mullin,8 U. S. Army (engineer), who has been six years out in the Rocky Mt's, making a gov't road, 650 miles from Ft. Benton to Walla Walla—very, very interesting to know such men intimately, and talk freely with them—Dearest mother, I shall have great yarns to spin, when I come home—I am not a bit home sick, yet I should [like] to see you & Mat, very very much—One thinks of the vimmen when he is away.


Shall send the shirts in a day or two.


  • 1. There are no extant letters from George until April 2, 1863, when, as Walt Whitman predicted, George wrote to his mother from Paris, Kentucky. [back]
  • 2. Hugo Fritsch was actually the nephew rather than the son of the Austrian Consul General. Three drafts of letters to Hugo Fritsch are extant—two separate letters from August 7, 1863 (available here and here ) and another letter dated October 8, 1863 . According to his diary, Whitman sent a letter on April 23, 1863, to "Futch," possibly Fritsch (Charles I. Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933], 132). In diary entries in 1867 and 1870, Whitman noted Fritsch's address at the American Papier Maché Company (The Library of Congress #108, #109). [back]
  • 3. Giuseppini Medori was introduced to New York by Max Maretzek in the 1862–63 season. She made a sensational debut as Norma on March 23, 1863; see George C. D. Odell's Annals of the New York Stage, 15 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1927–49), 7:514–515. Jeff described his visits to the opera in letters written to Walt on March 21, 1863, and April 3, 1863. [back]
  • 4. Major Thomas W. Yard, paymaster, entered the army June 1, 1861, and resigned March 18, 1865. [back]
  • 5. Jeff wrote to Whitman on March 21, 1863: "We are having glorious spring weather and sissy [Mannahatta] wants to know if I wont write and tell Uncle Walt to come home and take her out on Fort Green." [back]
  • 6. Louis Probasco was a young employee in the Brooklyn Water Works, was probably the son of Samuel Probasco, and was listed as a cooper in the Brooklyn Directory of 1861–1862. See Whitman's letter from January 16, 1863 . [back]
  • 7. Raphael Semmes (1809–1877), Confederate naval officer, commanded the "Alabama" and sank the U.S.S. "Hatteras" off Galveston on January 11, 1863. Whitman printed an account of this engagement in the New York Daily Graphic in 1874; see American Literature, 15 (1943): 58–59. [back]
  • 8. Captain John Mullan (1830–1909), an army engineer, was associated with General Isaac I. Stevens in his surveys for a railroad route to the West. Mullan's explorations were described in the U.S. War Department's Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean (Washington: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1855–60), 12:123–125, 168–172, and 176–182. When Whitman met Mullan, Mullan was about to publish Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton (Washington, D.C.: Govt. Print. Off., 1863). In a notebook entry for April 1863 (The Library of Congress #76), Whitman referred to both reports. A transcontinental railroad had long fascinated Whitman; he had written an editorial on the subject in 1858 while he was editor of the Brooklyn Daily Times (see Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 213); Whitman also celebrated the completed transcontinental railroad in his poem, "Passage to India." [back]
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