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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 19 May 1863

Dearest mother,

I received a letter from Heyde this morning, one of the usual sort, about as interesting as a dose of salts. Says Han has not been able to stand erect for the past five months—the doctor told her lately that she might possibly recover in one year if she was careful—then says he thinks, & he don't think, & has taken a little place, & Han has a girl to wait on her, &c. &c. All amounts to nothing more than we knew before, & only serves to make one feel almost heart-sick about Han, & the awful snarl in which we are all fixed about it all, & what to do. I wrote to Han yesterday, (before I received this letter of Heyde's), I wrote a short letter of my own, & sent her George's letter to you, (I cut out what was said about the money, as I did not wish Heyde to see it.)1

I also sent George a letter yesterday—have not got any letter myself from Georgy, but have sent him quite a good many & papers—Mother, what a tramp the 51st has had—they only need now to go to California, & they will finish the job complete—

O mother, how welcome the shirts were—I was putting off, & putting off, to get some new ones, I could not find any one to do them as I wear them, & it would have cost such a price—& so my old ones had got to be, when they come back from the wash I had to laugh, they were a lot of rags, held together with starch—I have a very nice old black aunty for a washwoman, but she bears down pretty hard I guess when she irons them, & they showed something like the poor old city of Fredericksburgh does, since Burnside bombarded it—Well, mother, when the bundle came, I was so glad—& the coats too, worn as they are, they come in very handy—& the cake, dear mother, I am almost like the boy that put it under his pillow—& woke up in the night & eat some—I carried a good chunk to a young man wounded, I think a good deal of, & it did him so much good—it is dry, but all the better, as he eat it with tea & it relished—I eat a piece with him & drinked some tea, out of his cup, as I sat by the side of his cot—Mother, I have neglected I think what I ought to have told you two or three weeks ago, that is that I had to discard my old clothes, somewhat because they were too thick & more still because they were worse gone in than any I ever yet wore I think in my life, especially the trowsers—wearing my big boots had caused the inside of the legs just above the knee to wear two beautiful round holes right through cloth & partly through the lining, producing a novel effect, which was not necessary, as I produce a sufficient sensation without—then they were desperately faded—I have a nice plain suit, of a dark wine color, looks very well, & feels good, single breasted sack coat with breast pockets &c. & vest & pants same as what I always wear, (pants pretty full,) so upon the whole all looks unusually good for me, my hat is very good yet, boots ditto, have a new necktie, nice shirts, you can imagine I cut quite a swell—I have not trimmed my beard since I left home, but it is not grown much longer, only perhaps a little bushier—I keep about as stout as ever, & the past five or six days I have felt wonderful well, indeed never did I feel better—about ten or twelve days ago, we had a short spell of very warm weather here, but for about six days now it has been delightful, just warm enough.

I generally go to the hospitals from 12 to 4—& then again from 6 to 9—some days I only go either in the middle of the day, or evening, not both—& then when I feel somewhat opprest, I skip over a day, or make perhaps a light call only, as I have received several cautions from the doctors, who tell me that one must beware of continuing too steady & long in the air & influences of the hospitals—I find the caution a wise one.

Mother, you or Jeff must write me what Andrew does about going to North Carolina2—I should think it might have a beneficial effect upon his throat.

I wrote Jeff quite a long letter Sunday3—Jeff must write to me whenever he can, I like dearly to have them, & whenever you feel like it you too, dear mother—tell sis her uncle Walt will come back one of these days from the sick soldiers & take her out on Fort Greene again—Mother, I received a letter yesterday from John Elliott's4 father, in Bedford co[unty,] Pennsylvania, (the young man I told you about, who died under the operation)—it was very sad, it was the first he knew about it—I don't know whether I told you of Dennis Barnett,5 pneumonia, three weeks since, had got well enough to be sent home—

Dearest mother, I hope you will take things as easy as possible & try to keep a good heart—Matty, my dear sister, I have to inform you that I was treated to a splendid dish of ice cream Sunday night, I wished you was with me to have another—I send you my love, dear sister. Mother, I hope by all means it will be possible to keep the money whole, to get some ranch next spring, if not before, I mean to come home & build it.6 Good bye for the present, dear mother.



  • 1. The material up to this point was omitted in earlier printings of this letter. Perhaps Whitman's executors considered the reference to Heyde unusually offensive. Note also the omissions in his letters from August 18, 1863, and August 25, 1863. [back]
  • 2. According to Jeff's letter of May 27, 1863, Andrew planned to go to New Bern, North Carolina, with a friend: "Andrew is going to take charge of the building of some fortifications I believe . . . I think he would get well easy enough if he took better care of himself and did not drink so much" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). [back]
  • 3. This letter is not extant. [back]
  • 4. See the letter from May 13, 1863. [back]
  • 5. Whitman wrote "Barnett," but spelled it "Barrett" in a letter from April 28, 1863, and "Barret" in his hospital notes (Charles I. Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933], 132). [back]
  • 6. Whitman was again referring to the money George sent home to his mother; see his letter from May 5, 1863. [back]
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