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Walt Whitman to James Redpath (?), 6 August 1863

Dear friend,1

I am going to write you to ask any friends you may be in communication with for aid for my soldiers. I remain here in Washington still occupied among the hospitals—I have now been engaged in this over seven months. As time passes on it seems as if sad cases of old & lingering wounded accumulate, regularly recruited with new ones every week—I have been most of this day in Armory Square Hospital, Seventh st. I seldom miss a day or evening. Out of the six or seven hundred in this Hosp[ital] I try to give a word or a trifle to every one without exception, making regular rounds among them all. I give all kinds of sustenance, blackberries, peaches, lemons & sugar, wines, all kinds of preserves, pickles, brandy, milk, shirts & all articles of underclothing, tobacco, tea, handkerchiefs, &c &c &c. I always give paper, envelopes, stamps, &c. I want a supply for this purpose. To many I give (when I have it) small sums of money—half of the soldiers in hospital have not a cent. There are many returned prisoners, sick, lost all—& every day squads of men from [the] front, cavalry or infantry—brought in wounded or sick, generally without a cent of money. Then I select the most needy cases & devote my time & services much to them. I find it tells best—some are mere lads, 17, 18, 19 or 20. Some are silent, sick, heavy hearted, (things, attentions, &c. are very rude in the army & hospitals, nothing but the mere hard routine, no time for tenderness or extras)—So I go round—Some of my boys die, some get well—

O what a sweet unwonted love (those good American boys, of good stock, decent, clean, well raised boys, so near to me)—what an attachment grows up between us, started from hospital cots, where pale young faces lie & wounded or sick bodies. My brave young American soldiers—now for so many months I have gone around among them, where they lie. I have long discarded all stiff conventions (they & I are too near to each other, there is no time to lose, & death & anguish dissipate ceremony here between my lads & me)—I pet them, some of them it does so much good, they are so faint & lonesome—at parting at night sometimes I kiss them right & left—The doctors tell me I supply the patients with a medicine which all their drugs & bottles & powders are helpless to yield.

I wish you would ask any body you know who is likely to contribute—It is a good holy cause, surely nothing nobler—I desire you if possible could raise for me, forthwith, for application to these wounded & sick here, (they are from Massachusetts & all the New England states, there is not a day but I am with some Yankee boys, & doing some trifle for them)—a sum—if possible $50—if not, then less—$30—or indeed any am't—

I am at present curiously almost alone here, as visitor & consolator to Hospitals—the work of the different Reliefs & Commissions is nearly all off in the field—& as to private visitors, there are few or none—I wish you or some of your friends could just make a round with me, for an hour or so, at some of my hospitals or camps—I go among all our own dear soldiers, hospital camps & army, our teamsters' hospitals, among sick & dying, the rebels, the contrabands, &c &c. What I reach is necessarily but a drop in the bucket but it is done in good faith, & with now some experience & I hope with good heart.2


  • 1. When Whitman gave this letter to Horace Traubel on August 12, 1888, he observed: "I don't know for sure who it was written to—probably one of those Boston women—the Curtis people, it may be" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden [New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 2:127). It seems probable, however, that this draft letter was addressed to James Redpath, who gave the original to Dr. Le Baron Russell (see Whitman's letter from December 3, 1863), who in turn gave it to Mrs. Charles P. Curtis (see the letter from October 4, 1863). An envelope in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection is endorsed, "letter to Jas. Redpath | Aug 6th '63."James Redpath (1833–1891) was the author of The Life of John Brown (1860), a correspondent for the New York Tribune during the war, the originator of the "Lyceum" lectures, and editor of the North American Review in 1886. He met Whitman in Boston in 1860 (The Library of Congress #90), and remained an enthusiastic admirer; see Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961), 3:459–461. He concluded his first letter to Whitman on June 25, 1860: "I love you, Walt! A conquering Brigade will ere long march to the music of your barbaric yawp" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection; Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961), 3:460). See also Charles F. Horner, The Life of James Redpath (New York: Barse and Hopkins, 1926). In February 1863, Whitman had evidently written to Redpath for assistance with his work in the hospitals. Redpath reported on March 10, 1863 (Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 143) that he had called Whitman's appeal to the attention of Emerson, who replied on February 23, 1863: "I shall make some trial whether I can find any direct friends and abettors for him and his beneficiaries, the soldiers" (144). Redpath, however, noted on May 5, 1863 that "Emerson tried to have something done about you, but failed" (144), and explained: "There is a prejudice agst you here among the 'fine' ladies & gentlemen of the transcendental School. It is believed that you are not ashamed of your reproductive organs, and, somehow, it wd seem to be the result of their logic—that eunuchs only are fit for nurses. If you are ready to qualify yourself for their sympathy & support, that you may not unnecessarily suffer therefrom, is the sincere wish of your friend" (Historical Society of Pennsylvania; omitted in Donaldson's transcription of the letter). See also Whitman's letters to Redpath from October 12, 1863 and October 21, 1863 . [back]
  • 2. Draft Letter. [back]
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