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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 22 June 1863

Dear mother,

Jeff's letter came informing me of the birth of the little girl,1 & that Matty was feeling pretty well, so far. I hope it will continue—Dear sister, I should much like to come home & see you & the little one, I am sure from Jeff's description it is a noble babe, & as to its being a girl it is all the better. (I am not sure but the Whitman breed gives better women than men.)

Well, mother, we are generally anticipating a lively time here or in the neighborhood,2 as it is probable Lee is feeling about to strike a blow on Washington, or perhaps right into it—& as Lee is no fool, it is perhaps possible he may give us a good shake—he is not very far off—yesterday was a fight to the southwest of here all day, we heard the cannons nearly all day—the wounded are arriving in small squads every day, mostly cavalry, a great many Ohio men—they send off to-day from the Washington hospitals a great many to New York, Philadelphia, &c. all who are able, to make room, which looks ominous—indeed it is pretty certain that there is to be some severe fighting, may be a great battle again, the pending week—I am getting so callous that it hardly arouses me at all—I fancy I should take it very quietly if I found myself in the midst of a desperate conflict here in Washington.

Mother, I have nothing particular to write about—I see & hear nothing but new & old cases of my poor suffering boys in Hospitals, & I dare say you have had enough of such things—I have not missed a day at Hospital I think for more than three weeks—I get more & more wound round—poor young men—there are some cases that would literally sink & give up, if I did not pass a portion of the time with them—I have quite made up my mind about the lecturing &c project—I have no doubt it will succeed well enough, the way I shall put it in operation—you know, mother, it is to raise funds to enable me to continue my Hospital ministrations, on a more free handed scale—As to the Sanitary Commissions & the like, I am sick of them all, & would not accept any of their berths—you ought to see the way the men as they lie helpless in bed turn away their faces from the sight of these Agents, Chaplains &c. (hirelings as Elias Hicks3 would call them—they seem to me always a set of foxes & wolves)—they get well paid, & are always incompetent & disagreeable—As I told you before the only good fellows I have met are the Christian Commissioners—they go everywhere & receive no pay4

Dear, dear mother, I want much to see you & dear Matty too, I send you both [my] best love, & Jeff too—the pictures came—I have not heard from George nor Han. I write a day earlier than usual.


We here think Vicksburgh is ours5—the probability is that it has capitulated—& there has been no general assault—can't tell yet whether the 51st went there—we are having very fine weather here to-day—rained last night.


  • 1. Jessie Louisa Whitman was born June 17, 1863 (Charles I. Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933], 136). Evidently the baby was not so named immediately, since Whitman referred to her in later letters as "black head" and "California." [back]
  • 2. Rumors were widespread that Lee was about to attack Washington, for the War Department on June 23, 1863 according to the New York Times, issued a report, "for the purpose of contradicting all erroneous reports, and giving quiet to the public mind," that "No enemy is on or near the old Bull Run battle-field." [back]
  • 3. Whitman described the career of Hicks (1748–1830), the famous American Quaker, in November Boughs (Richard Maurice Bucke, ed., The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman [New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1902], 6:241–280). [back]
  • 4. Here Whitman replied to Jeff's letter of June 13, 1863. [back]
  • 5. The city surrendered formally on July 4, 1863. [back]
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