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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 5 May 1863

Dearest Mother,

Your letter came safe, and was very welcome, & always will be—Mother, I am sorry about your rheumatism—If it still continues, I think it would be well for me to write a line to Mrs. Piercy,1 & get Jeff to stop with it, so that you could take the baths again, as I am sure they are very beneficial—Dear mother, you write me, or Jeff must in the next letter, how you are getting along, whether it is any better, or worse—I want to know.

Mother, about George's fund in the bank, I hope by all means you can scratch along so as to leave $250 there—I am so anxious that our family should have a little ranch, even if it is the meanest kind, off somewhere that you can call your own, & that would do for Ed, &c.—it might be a real dependence, & comfort—and may-be for George as much as any one. I mean to come home one of these days, and get the acre or ½ acre somewhere out in some by-place on Long Island, & build it, you see if I dont. About Hannah,2 dear mother, I hardly know what advice to give you—from what I know at present, I cant tell what course to pursue. I want Han to come home, from the bottom of my heart. Then there are other thoughts & considerations that come up. Dear mother, I cannot advise, but shall acquiesce in any thing that is settled upon, & try to help.

The condition of things here in the Hospitals is getting pretty bad—the wounded from the battles around Fredericksburgh are coming up in large numbers.3 It is very sad to see them. I have written to Mr. Lane, asking him to get his friends to forward me what they think proper—but somehow I feel delicate about sending such requests, after all.4

I have almost made up my mind to do what I can personally, & not seek assistance from others.

Dear Mother, I have not received any letter from George. I write to him & send papers to Winchester. Mother, while I have been writing this, a very large number of southern prisoners, I should think 1000 at least, has past up Pennsylvania avenue, under a strong guard. I went out in the street, close to them, to look at them. Poor fellows, many of them mere lads—it brought the tears, they seemed our own flesh & blood too, some wounded, all miserable in clothing, all in dirt & tatters—many of them fine young men. Mother, I cannot tell you how I feel to see these prisoners marched [incomplete]


  • 1. Henry R. Piercy operated sulphur baths at 5 Willoughby Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. [back]
  • 2. Jeff wrote of Hannah on May 2, 1863: "We have not heard from Han since the letter that I sent you. I suppose she is about the same. Mother speaks of sending for her &c and then says she hardly knows what to do. Tis rather a puzzling question I confess. I hope however that she will come home herself before long. It certainly is a great relief not to be cursed with letters from Heyde every few days." [back]
  • 3. In his diary Whitman noted on May 4: "Tonight the wounded begin to arrive from Hooker's command"; on May 6: "Very bad for Hooker"; and on May 7: "Last night we heard of Hooker recrossing the Rappahannock—news very distressing" (Charles I. Glicksberg, ed., Walt Whitman and the Civil War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933), 134–135). The New York Tribune printed lengthy lists of the wounded on May 9, 1863, and May 11, 1863. [back]
  • 4. This letter to Moses Lane is not known. 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, he collected money from his employees and friends to give to Walt's hospital efforts during the Civil War. In his letter of May 27, 1863, Lane pledged $5 each month. Similarly, Lane sent dollar contributions from six individuals on May 2, 1863. In an unpublished manuscript in the Berg Collection, 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 also assisted Whitman in other ways. 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]
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