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Walt Whitman to Hugo Fritsch, 7 August 1863

Dear Hugo,1

I rec'd a letter from Bloom yesterday—but, before responding to it (which I will do soon) I must write to you, my friend. Your good letter of June 27th was duly rec'd—I have read it many times—indeed, Hugo, you know not how much comfort you give, by writing me your letters—posting me up.

Well, Hugo, I am still as much as ever, indeed more, in the great military hospitals here. Every day or night I spend four, five, or six hours, among my sick, wounded, prostrate boys. It is fascinating, sad, & with varied fortune of course. Some of my boys get well, some die. After I finish this letter (and then dining at a restaurant), I shall give the latter part of the afternoon & some hours of the night to Armory Square Hospital, a large establishment & one I find most calling on my sympathies & ministrations. I am welcomed by the surgeons as by the soldiers—very grateful to me. You must remember that these government hospitals are not filled as with human débris like the old established city hospitals, New York, &c., but mostly [with] these good-born American young men, appealing to me most profoundly, good stock, often mere boys, full of sweetness & heroism—often they seem very near to me, even as my own children or younger brothers. I make no bones of petting them just as if they were—have long given up formalities & reserves in my treatment of them.

Let me see, Hugo. I will not write any thing about the topics of the horrible riots of last week,2 nor Gen. Meade, nor Vicksburgh, nor Charleston—I leave them to the newspapers. Nor will I write you this time so much about hospitals as I did last. Tell Fred his letter was received—I appreciate it, received real pleasure from it—'twas a true friend's letter, characteristic, full of vivacity, off hand, & below all a thorough base of genuine remembrance & good will—was not wanting in the sentimental either—(so I take back all about the apostate, do you understand, Freddy, my dear?)—& only write this for you till I reply to that said letter a good long (especial) missive to yourself.

I3 meant to [tell] Nat Bloom that if he expects to provoke me into a dignified not mentioning him, nor writing any thing about him, by his studious course of heart-breaking neglect, (which has already reduced me to a skeleton of but little over 200 lbs & a countenance of raging hectic, indicating an early grave), I was determined not to do any thing of the sort, but shall speak of him every time, & send him my love, just as if he were adorned with faithful troth instead of (as I understand) beautiful whiskers—Does he think that beautiful whiskers can fend off the pangs of remorse? In conclusion I have to say, Nathaniel, you just keep on if you think there's no hell.

Hugo, I suppose you were at Charles Chauncey's4 funeral—tell me all you hear about the particulars of his death—Tell me of course all about the boys, what you do, say, any thing, every thing5

Hugo, write oftener—you express your thoughts perfectly—do you not know how much more agreeable to me is the conversation or writing that does not take hard paved tracks, the usual & stereotyped, but has little peculiarities & even kinks of its own, making its genuineness—its vitality? Dear friend, your letters are precious to me—none I have received from any one are more so.

Ah, I see in your letter, Hugo, you speak of my being reformed—no, I am not so frightfully reformed either, only the hot weather here does not admit of drinking heavy drinks, & there is no good lager here—then besides I have no society—I expect to prove to you & all yet that I am no backslider—But here I go nowhere for mere amusement, only occasionally a walk.

And Charles Russell—how I should like to see him—how like to have one of our old times again—Ah Fred, and you, dear Hugo, & you repentant one with the dark-shining whiskers6—must there not be an hour, an evening in the future, when we four returning concentrating New York-ward or elsewhere, shall meet, allowing no interloper, & have our drinks & things, & resume the chain & consolidate & achieve a night better & mellower than ever—we four?

Hugo, I wish you to give my love to all the boys—I received a letter from Ben Knower, very good—I shall answer it soon—Give my love to Ben—If Charles Kingsley7 is in town same to him—ditto Mullen—ditto Perk,8 (I hope to hear that sweet, sweet fiddler one of these days, that strain again.)

I wish to have Fred Gray say something from me, giving my love to his mother & father—I bear them both in mind—I count on having good interviews with them when I see New York.9


  • 1. On December 23, 1888, Horace Traubel records that "W. gave me one of what he calls his 'soger boy letters'. . . . he even had me read it to him. I don't like to read these letters aloud. They move me too much. I notice that he too is stirred strangely over them hearing them again" (With Walt Whitman in Camden [Rowman and Littlefield, 1961], 3:367). The New York friends mentioned in this letter are discussed briefly in the notes to a letter from March 19–20, 1863 . The envelope with this draft was stationery from the United States Christian Commission. [back]
  • 2. If Whitman referred to the New York riots of July 15, 1863, the date of this letter may be incorrect. There was, however, a draft drawing in Washington on August 3 and 4, 1863. [back]
  • 3. As Horace Traubel read this letter, Whitman said that he did not think that this paragraph had been sent: "It was too damned nonsensical for a letter otherwise so dead serious" (With Walt Whitman in Camden [1961], 3:368). It is lined through in the manuscript. [back]
  • 4. See Whitman's letter from August 7, 1863 . [back]
  • 5. Whitman deleted the following: "did you go out to Bloom's for 4th of July? I heard about your bold(?) & aquatic excursion to Bloo[m's]." [back]
  • 6. Nat Bloom. [back]
  • 7. In a notebook, Whitman described Kingsley as "a young man, upper class, at Pfaff's &c—fond of training for boat-racing &c.—June, July, 1862" (The Library of Congress #8). He was listed in the Directory of 1865–1866 as the proprietor of a furniture store; his name did not appear thereafter. [back]
  • 8. We have not identified Perkins, who was mentioned again in letters from September 5, 1863, and October 8, 1863 . [back]
  • 9. Draft Letter. Endorsed (by Walt Whitman): "To Hugo | Aug 7 '63." [back]
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