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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 27 October 1863

Dearest mother,

Yours & George's letter came, & a letter from Jeff too, all good.1 I had received a letter a day or so before from George too—I am very glad he is at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, & I hope & pray the reg't will be kept there—for God knows they have tramped enough for the last two years, & fought battles & been through enough. I have sent George papers to Camp Nelson, & will write to-morrow. I send him the Unions, & late New York papers. Mother, you or Jeff write & tell me how Andrew is, I hope he will prove to be better, such complaints are sometimes very alarming for awhile, & then take such a turn for the better. Common means, & steadily pursuing them, about diet, especially, are so much more reliable than any course of medicine whatever. Mother, I have written to Han. I sent her George's letter to me, & wrote her a short letter myself. I sent it four or five days ago.

Mother, I am real pleased to hear Jeff's explanation2 how it is that his wages was cut down, & that it was not as I fancied, from the meanness of the old coons in the Board—I felt so indignant about it, as I took it into my head, (though I don't know why), that it was done out of meanness, & was a sort of insult—I was quite glad Jeff wrote a few lines about it—& glad they appreciate Jeff too—

Mother,3 if any of my soldier boys should ever call upon you, (as they are often anxious to have my address in Brooklyn,) you just use them as you know how to without ceremony, & if you happen to have pot luck & feel to ask them to take a bite, dont be afraid to do so—there is one very good boy, Thos Neat,4 2d N Y Cavalry, wounded in leg—he is now home on furlough, his folks live I think in Jamaica, he is a noble boy, he may call upon you, (I gave him here $1 toward buying his crutches &c.)—I like him very much—Then possibly a Mr. Haskell,5 or some of his folks, from western New York, may call—he had a son died here, a very fine boy. I was with him a good deal, & the old man & his wife have written me, & asked me my address in Brooklyn, he said he had children in N Y city, & was occasionally down there—Mother, when I come home I will show you some of the letters I get from mothers, sisters, fathers &c. They will make you cry—There is nothing new with my hospital doings—I was there yesterday afternoon & evening, & shall be there again to-day—

Mother, I would like to hear how you are yourself—has your cold left you, & do you feel better?—do you feel quite well again? I suppose you have your good stove all fired-up these days—we have had some real cool weather here—I must rake up a little cheap second hand stove for my room, for it was in the bargain that I should get that myself—Mother, I like my place quite well, better on nearly every account than my old room, but I see it will only do for a winter room—they keep it clean, & the house smells clean, & the room too—my old room they just left every thing lay where it was, & you can fancy what a litter & dirt there was—still it was a splendid room for air, for summer, as good as there is in Washington—I got a letter from Mrs Price this morning—does Emmy ever come to see you?

Matty, my dear sister, & Miss Mannahatta, & the little one (whose name I dont know, & perhaps han't got any name yet,) I hope you are all well & having good times. I often, often think about you all. Mat, do you go any to the opera now?—they say the new singers are so good—when I come home we'll all try to go6

Mother, I am very well—have some cold in my head & my ears stopt up yet, making me sometimes quite hard of hearing—I am writing this in Major Hapgood's office—last Sunday I took dinner at my friends the O'Connors, had two roast chickens, stewed tomatoes, potatoes, &c. I took dinner there previous Sunday also.

Well, dear Mother, how the time passes away7—to think it will soon be a year I have been away—it has passed away very swiftly somehow to me—O what things I have witnessed during that time—I shall never forget them—& the war is not settled yet, & one does not see any thing at all certain about the settlement yet, but I have finally got for good I think into the feeling that our triumph is assured, whether it be sooner or whether it be later, or whatever roundabout way we are led there, & I find I dont change that conviction from any reverses we meet, or any delays or government blunders—there are blunders enough, heaven knows, but I am thankful things have gone on as well for us as they have—thankful the ship rides safe & sound at all—then I have finally made up my mind that Mr Lincoln has done as good as a human man could do—I still think him a pretty big President—I realize here in Washington that it has been a big thing to have just kept the United States from being thrown down & having its throat cut—& now I have no doubt it will throw down secession & cut its throat—& I have not had any doubt since Gettysburgh—Well, dear, dear Mother, I will draw to a close, Andrew & Jeff & all, I send you my love—good bye, dear Mother, & dear Matty & all hands—



  • 1. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman sent George's letter of October 16, 1863, on which she wrote a note, and Jeff wrote on October 22, 1863. [back]
  • 2. See footnote 5 in Whitman's letter from October 20, 1863. [back]
  • 3. This paragraph, rearranged, appeared in November Boughs (Richard Maurice Bucke, ed., The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman [New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1902], 6:226–227). [back]
  • 4. Neat was cited in the "Notebook: September–October, 1863" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection) as a patient in Ward H, Armory Square Hospital. According to an 1864 Notebook (The Library of Congress #103), he was attached to the headquarters of Kilpatrick's cavalry. [back]
  • 5. See the letters from July 27, 1863 and August 10, 1863. [back]
  • 6. Whitman kept his word when he returned to Brooklyn in November; see his letter from November 15, 1863. [back]
  • 7. In the printed version of this paragraph (Bucke, 6:227), Whitman made significant alterations. He, to put it mildly, exaggerated his wartime activities: "To think it is over a year since I left home suddenly—and have mostly been down in front since." Whitman also attempted to create the impression that he had never wavered about the outcome of the conflict, when he altered "I have finally got for good I think into the feeling" to "I do not lose the solid feeling, in myself." The latter part of this paragraph, following the remarks about "government blunders," was drastically abridged, and again minimized Whitman's day-by-day doubts about the war and Lincoln's leadership: "One realizes here in Washington the great labors, even the negative ones, of Lincoln; that it is a big thing to have just kept the United States from being thrown down and having its throat cut. I have not waver'd or had any doubt of the issue, since Gettysburg." [back]
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