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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 15 July 1863

Dear mother,

So the mob has risen at last in New York1—I have been expecting it, but as the day for the draft had arrived & every thing was so quiet, I supposed all might go on smoothly—but it seems the passions of the people were only sleeping, & have burst forth with terrible fury, & they have destroyed life & property, the enrolment buildings &c as we hear—the accounts we get are a good deal in a muddle, but it seems bad enough—the feeling here is savage & hot as fire against New York, (the mob—"copperhead mob" the papers here call it,) & I hear nothing in all directions but threats of ordering up the gunboats, cannonading the city, shooting down the mob, hanging them in a body, &c &c—meantime I remain silent, partly amused, partly scornful, or occasionally put a dry remark, which only adds fuel to the flame—I do not feel it in my heart to abuse the poor people, or call for rope or bullets for them, but that is all the talk here, even in the hospitals—

The acc'ts from N Y this morning are that the gov't has ordered the draft to be suspended there—I hope it is true, for I find that the deeper they go in with the draft, the more trouble it is likely to make—I have changed my opinions & feelings on the subject—we are in the midst of strange & terrible times—one is pulled a dozen different ways in his mind, & hardly knows what to think or do—Mother, I have not much fear that the troubles in New York will affect any of our family, still I feel somewhat uneasy—about Jeff, if any one, as he is more around—I have had it much on my mind what could be done, if it should so happen that Jeff should be drafted—of course he could not go, without its being the downfall almost of our whole family, as you may say, Mat & his young ones, & a sad blow to you too, mother, & to all—I didn't see any other way than to try to raise the $300, mostly by borrowing if possible of Mr Lane—mother, I have no doubt I shall make a few hundred dollars by the lectures I shall certainly commence soon, (for my hospital missionary purposes & my own, for that purpose) & I could lend that am't to Jeff to pay it back—May be the draft will not come off after all—I should say it was very doubtful if they can carry it out in N Y & Brooklyn—& besides it is only one chance out of several, to be drawn if it does—I dont wonder dear brother Jeff feels the effect it would have on domestic affairs. I think it is right to feel so, full as strongly as a man can. I do hope all will go well, & without such an additional trouble falling upon us, but as it can be met with money, I hope Jeff & Mat & all of you, dear mother, will not worry any more about it—I wrote to Jeff a few lines last Sunday, I suppose he got2—Mother, I don't know whether you have had a kind of gloomy week the past week, but somehow I feel as if you all had, but I hope it has passed over—How is dear sister Mat, & how is Miss Mannahatta & little black head—I sometimes feel as if I must come home & see you all, I want to very much—

My hospital life still continues the same—I was in Armory all day yesterday & day & night before—they have the men wounded in the railroad accident at Laurel station (bet[ween] here & Baltimore) about 30 soldiers, some of them horribly injured at 3 o'clock a m last Saturday by collision—poor, poor, poor men—I go again this afternoon & night—I see so much of butcher sights, so much sickness & suffering I must get away a while I believe for self preservation—I have felt quite well though the past week—we have had rain continually—Mother, I have not heard from George since, have you? I shall write Han to-day & send George's letter—if you or Jeff has not written this week I hope Jeff will write on receiving this. Good bye for present, dearest mother, & Jeff & Mat.


Mother, the army is to be paid off two months more, right away. Of course George will get two months more pay. Dear mother, I hope you will keep untouched & put in bank every cent you can. I want us to have a ranch somewhere by or before next spring.


  • 1. Jeff wrote a vivid account of the mob on July 19, 1863: "We have passed through a wonderful week for our New York. A week that I think will eventually be productive of great good to our country, but had at a fearful cost. From my own personal observations I think that the newspapers would give one the most perverted kind of an idea of the riot. The big type, the general 'skeery' look of the articles, was something that did not make its appearance on the public face" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). See also Lawrence Lader, "New York's Bloodiest Week," in American Heritage, 10 (June 1959). [back]
  • 2. According to Miller, this letter is lost. [back]
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