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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 29 September 1863

Dear Mother,

Well here I sit this forenoon in a corner by the window in Major Hapgood's office—all the Potomac & Maryland & Virginia hills in sight—writing my Tuesday letter to you, dearest mother—Major has gone home to Boston on sick leave, & only the clerk & me occupy the office & he not much of the time—at the present moment there are two wounded officers come in to get their pay, one has crutches—the other is drest in the light blue uniform of the invalid corps—way up here in the 5th floor it is pretty hard scratching for cripples & very weak men to journey up here—often they come up here very weary & faint, & then find out they can't get their money, some red tape hitch, & the poor soldiers look so disappointed—it always makes me feel bad—

Mother, we are having perfect weather here nowadays, both night & day—the nights are wonderful, for the last three nights as I have walked home from the hospital pretty late, it has seemed to me like a dream, the moon & sky ahead of any thing I ever see before—Mother, do you hear any thing from George, I wrote to him yesterday & sent him your last letter & Jeff's enclosed—I shall send him some papers to-day—I send papers quite often—(why hasn't Jeff sent me the Union1 with my letter in—I want much to see it, & whether they have misprinted it.)

Mother, I dont think the 51st has been in any of the fighting we know of down there yet—what is to come of course nobody can tell—As to Burnside I suppose you know he is among his friends, & I think this quite important, for such the main body of East Tennesseans are, & are far truer Americans any how than the Copperheads of the North—the Tennesseans will fight for us too—Mother, you have no idea how the soldiers, sick &c. (I mean the American ones to a man) all feel about the copperheads, they never speak of them without a curse & I hear them say with an air that shows they mean it, they would shoot them sooner than they would a rebel—Mother, the troops from Meade's army are passing through here night & day, going west & so down to reinforce Rosecrans I suppose—the papers are not permitted to mention it, but it is so—two Army Corps I should think have mostly passed—they go through night & day—I hear the whistle of the locomotive screaming away any time at night when I wake up, & the rumbling of the trains—

Mother dear, you must write to me soon, & so must Jeff—I thought Mat was going to send me a great long letter, I am always looking for it, I hope it will be full of every thing about family matters & doings, & how every body really is—I go to Major's box three or four times a day—I want to hear also about Andrew, & indeed about every one of you & every thing, nothing is too trifling, nothing uninteresting.

O mother, who do you think I got a letter from, two or three days ago—Aunt Fanny, Ansel's mother—She sent it by a young man, a wounded soldier who has been home to Farmingdale on furlough, & lately returned—she writes a first rate letter, Quaker all over2—I shall answer it—She says Mary & Ansel & all are well—I have rec'd another letter from Mrs Price, she has not good health, I am sorry for her from my heart, she is a good noble woman, no better kind—Mother, I am in the hospitals as usual—I stand it better the last three weeks than ever before—I go among the worst fevers & wounds with impunity—I go among the small pox, &c just the same—I feel to go without apprehension, & so I go—nobody else goes, & as the darkey said there at Charleston when the boat run on a flat & the reb sharpshooters were peppering them, somebody must jump in de water (& shove the boat off)—



  • 1. In the Brooklyn Daily Union of September 22 appeared Whitman's communication "From Washington," which is adequately described by its subheadings: "Waiting and Speculating," "The Weather—The President," "Signs of Next Session," "The Wounded in the Hospitals," "The Army Young and American," "Benjamin D. Howell, Company D, 87th New York, Aged 18," and "Fifty-first New York Volunteers." It is reprinted in Emory Holloway, ed., The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1921), 2:26–29. [back]
  • 2. Fanny Van Nostrand, Mary's mother-in-law, wrote to Whitman from Farmingdale, Long Island, on September 25: "I have raiced my pen unexpectedly to address thee with a few lines thinking thee will be pleased to hear from us as thee was so kind to let us know thee had not foregotton us in our old age, we wos very pleased with them few lines thee favord us with…I have roat more than I expected to with asking thee to over look and excuse all blunders and mistaks, thee must consider that it is from and old woman and vary laim" (The Library of Congress). Whitman's letter is apparently lost. Mrs. Van Nostrand's letter was evidently delivered by the soldier Hendrickson mentioned in a letter from April 18, 1863 . [back]
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