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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 13 October 1863

Dearest mother,

[Nothing] particular new with me. I am well & hearty—think a good deal about home. Mother, I so much want to see you, even if only for a couple of weeks—for I feel I must return here & continue my hospital operations. They are so much needed, although one can do only such a little in comparison, amid these thousands. Then I desire much to see Andrew.1 I wonder if I could cheer him up any—does he get any good from that treatment with the baths, &c. Mother, I suppose you have your hands full with Nancy's poor little children, & one worry & another (when one gets old little things bother a great deal). Mother, I go down every day looking for a letter from you or Jeff—I had two from Jeff latter part of the week.2 I want to see Jeff much. I wonder why he didn't send me the Union with my letter in.3 I am disappointed at not getting it. I sent Han [a] N Y Times with my last letter, & one to George too. Have you heard any thing from George or Han?

There is a new lot of wounded now again.4 They have been arriving, sick & wounded, for three days—First long strings of ambulances with the sick. But yesterday many with bad & bloody wounds, poor fellows. I thought I was cooler & more used to it, but the sight of some of them brought tears into my eyes—Mother, I had the good luck yesterday to do quite a great deal of good—I had provided a lot of nourishing things for the men, but for another quarter—but I had them where I could use them immediately for these new wounded as they came in faint & hungry, & fagged out with a long rough journey, all dirty & torn, & many pale as ashes, & all bloody—I distributed all my stores, gave partly to the nurses I knew that were just taking charge of them—& as many as I could I fed myself—Then besides I found a lot of oyster soup handy, & I procured it all at once—Mother, it is the most pitiful sight I think when first the men are brought in—I have to bustle round, to keep from crying—they are such rugged young men—all these just arrived are cavalry men—Our troops got the worst of it, but fought like devils. Our men engaged were Kilpatrick's5 cavalry. They were in the rear as part of Meade's retreat—& the reb cavalry cut in between & cut them off & [attacked] them & shelled them terribly. But Kilpatrick brought them out mostly—this was last Sunday.

Mother, I will try to come home before long, if only for six or eight days. I wish to see you, & Andrew—I wish to see the young ones & Mat. You must write. I am about moving,6 I have been hunting for a room to-day—I shall write next how I succeed. Good by for present, dear mother.



  • 1. While Walt Whitman remained in Washington, tension was increasing among the Whitmans in Brooklyn. Jeff was incensed by his mother's frugality. On September 24, 1863, he commented to Walt: "I certainly think Mother is following a mistaken notion of economy. I think the only decent meals that any of them have had for three months is what they have eaten with Mat and I"; and again on October 8, 1863: "There is no doubt, Walt, in my mind but that mother is doing injury both to herself and Jess by her economy, they do not have enough good things to eat…I have spoken of it till I have tired and it dont accomplish anything." See also notes to Whitman's letter from September 8, 1863. Meanwhile, Andrew refused the advice of Dr. Ruggles and of Jeff, and he accepted the expensive ministrations of a quack who, Jeff said on October 15, 1863, "told Andrew yesterday that he must not come there again till he brought him $45 more. Only think of it. The infernal son of a bitch. I would like to hang him for a thousand years, ten times a second." Dr. Ruggles, according to Jeff's letter of October 8, 1863, "thinks that it is more than wicked to take his [Andrew's] money and make believe to cure him, for in his opinion that is almost impossible…his lungs are much diseased." Repeatedly, and with some hostility, Jeff urged Walt to return home. Writing on October 15, 1863, he pleaded: "Dear Walt, do come home if only for a short time. And unless you come quite soon you certainly will never see Andrew alive." Though there was little excuse for delay, Whitman remained in Washington until November 2. [back]
  • 2. Whitman, presumably, inked out the next line of the letter. [back]
  • 3. See the letter from September 29, 1863. [back]
  • 4. This paragraph was later printed in November Boughs (Richard Maurice Bucke, ed., The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman [New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1902], 6:225–226) with alterations that reduced the original effectiveness of the material. [back]
  • 5. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick (1836–1881) distinguished himself as a commander of cavalry. He was with Meade at Gettysburg and in the campaigns in Virginia from August to November, 1863. In his "Hospital Book 12" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection), Whitman, after " 'chinning' with some soldier in hospital," elaborated on Kilpatrick's conduct. His cavalry cut off and outnumbered, the general ordered his two bands to play: "They joined, & played Yankee Doodle, it went through the men like lightning, every man seemed a giant. They charged & cut their way out with the loss of 20 men." See also November Boughs, 6:171. [back]
  • 6. See the letter from October 20, 1863. [back]
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