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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 6 October 1863

Dearest mother

Your letter & George's came safe—dear brother George, one dont more than get a letter from him before you want to hear again, especially as things are looking pretty stormy down that way—but, mother, I rather lean to the opinion that the 51st is still in Kentucky at or near where George last wrote,1 but of course that is only my guess—I send George papers often & occasionally letters—mother, I sent him enclosed your letter before the last, though you said in it not to tell him how much money he had home, as you wanted to surprise him, but I sent it—Mother, I think Rosecrans & Burnside will be too much for the rebels down there yet—I myself make a great acc't of Burnside being in the midst of friends, & such friends too—they will fight & fight up to the handle & kill somebody—(it seems as if it was coming to that pass where we will either have to destroy or be destroyed)—

Mother, I wish you would write soon after you get this, or Jeff or Mat must, & tell me about Andrew, if there is any thing different with him—I think about him every day & night. I believe I must come home even if it is only for a week—I want to see you all very much—Mother, I know you must have a good deal to harrass & trouble you, I dont mean about Andrew personally, for I know you would feel to give your life to save his, & do any thing to nourish him, but about the children & Nancy—but, mother, you must not let any thing chafe you, & you must not be squeamish about saying firmly at times not to have little Georgy2 too much to trouble you (poor little fellow, I have no doubt he will be a pleasanter child when he grows older) & while you are pleasant with Nancy, you must be sufficiently plain with her—only, mother, I know you will & Jeff & Mat will too be invariably good to Andrew, & not mind his being irritable at times, it is his disease, & then his temper is naturally fretful, but it is such a misfortune to have such sickness, & always do any thing for him that you can in reason—Mat, my dear sister, I know you will, for I know your nature is to come out a first class girl in times of trouble & sickness, & do any thing—

Mother, you dont know how pleased I was to read what you wrote about little sis,3 I want to see her so bad I dont know what to do, I know she must be just the best young one on Long Island—but I hope I will not be understood as meaning any slight or disrespect to Miss Hat, nor to put her nose out of joint, because Uncle Walt I hope has heart & gizzard big enough for both his little neices, & as many more as the Lord may send—

Mother, I am writing this in Major Hapgood's office as usual—I am all alone to-day—Major is still absent, unwell, & the clerk is away somewhere—O how pleasant it is here, the weather I mean, & other things too for that matter—I still occupy my little room 394 L st., get my own breakfast there, had good tea this morning, & some nice biscuit, (yesterday morning & day before had peaches cut up)—My friends the O'Connors that I wrote about re-commenced cooking the 1st of this month, (they have been as usual in summer taking their meals at a family hotel near by.) Saturday they sent for me to breakfast & Sunday I eat dinner with them, very good dinner, roast beef, lima beans, good potatoes &c. They are truly friends to me—I still get my dinner at a restaurant usually. I have a very good plain dinner, which is the only meal of any acc't I make during the day, but it is just as well, for I would be in danger of getting fat on the least encouragement, & I have no ambition that way.

Mother, it is lucky I like Washington in many respects, & that things are upon the whole pleasant personally, for every day of my life I see enough to make one's heart ache with sympathy & anguish here in the hospitals, & I do not know as I could stand it, if it was not counterbalanced outside—it is curious—when I am present at the most appaling things, deaths, operations, sickening wounds (perhaps full of maggots), I do not fail, although my sympathies are very much excited, but keep singularly cool—but often, hours afterward, perhaps when I am home, or out walking alone, I feel sick & actually tremble, when I recal the thing & have it in my mind again before me—

Mother, did you see my letter in the N Y Times of Sunday Oct 4?4 That was the long delayed letter—Mother, I am very sorry Jeff did not send me the Union with my letter in5—I wish very much he would do so yet, & always when I have a letter in a paper I would like to have one sent—if you take the Union, send me some once in a while—Mother, was it Will Brown sent me those? tell him if so I was much obliged, & if he or Mr & Mrs Brown6 take any interest in hearing my scribblings, mother, you let 'em read the letters of course—O I must not close without telling you the highly important intelligence that I have cut my hair & beard—since the event, Rosecrans, Charleston, &c &c have among my acquaintances been hardly mentioned, being insignificant themes in comparison—Jeff, my dearest brother, I have been going to write you a good gossipy letter for two or three weeks past, will try [to] do it yet, so it will reach you for Sunday reading—so good bye, brother Jeff, & good by for present, Mother dear, & all, & tell Andrew he must not be discouraged yet—



  • 1. George's previous letter was written on September 22, 1863, from Camp Nelson, near Hickman's Bridge, Kentucky. [back]
  • 2. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had complained of Andrew's son on September 3(?), 1863: "georgie is so cross, he aint a nice child at all" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]
  • 3. About October 5, 1863, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman described Jeff's new baby as "fat and prettyer than hatty," and earlier in the same letter complained that Mannahatta was "very obstropdous" (Trent Collection). [back]
  • 4. "Letter from Washington," dated October 1, 1863, appeared in the New York Times on October 4; reprinted in Emory Holloway, ed., The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1921), 2:29–36. This letter is typical of Whitman's newspaper correspondence—chatty, discursive, and informal. Whitman described the Capitol and various Washington sights; only one section, "Army Wagons and Ambulances," was topical. Burroughs termed the article "one of the finest pieces of writing I have ever seen" (Clara Barrus, Whitman and Burroughs—Comrades (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931), 13). [back]
  • 5. See Whitman's letter from September 29, 1863 . [back]
  • 6. The Browns lived for five years with the Whitmans on Portland Avenue, Brooklyn. He was a tailor. Relations between the two families were sometimes strained; see Whitman's letter from March 22, 1864. On June 3, 1865 (Trent Collection), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman informed her son that she was glad to move away from the Browns. [back]
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