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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 15 December 1863

Dearest mother

The last word I got from home was your letter written the night before Andrew was buried, Friday night, nearly a fortnight ago—I have not heard any thing since from you or Jeff1—Mother, Major Hapgood has moved from his office cor 15th st. & I am not with him any more—he has moved his office to his private room—I am writing this in my room 456 Sixth st—but my letters still come to Major's care, they are to be addrest same as ever, as I can easily go & get them out of his box—(only nothing need be sent me any time to the old office, as I am not there nor Major either—any thing like a telegraphic dispatch or express box or the like should be addrest 456 Sixth st, 3d story back room)—

Dear mother, I hope you are well & in good spirits—I wish you would try to write to me every thing about home & the particulars of Andrew's funeral, & how you all are getting along—I have not rec'd the Eagle with the little piece in2—I was in hopes Jeff would have sent it—I wish he would yet—or some of you would—I want to see it—I think it must have been put in by a young man named Howard,3 he is now editor of the Eagle, & is very friendly to me—

Mother, I am quite well—I have been out this morning early, went down through the market, it is quite a curiosity—I bought some butter, tea, &c—I have had my breakfast here in my room, good tea, bread & butter &c—

Mother, I think about you all more than ever—& poor Andrew, I often think about him—Mother, write to me how Nancy & the little boys are getting along—I got thinking last night about little California—O how I wished I had her for an hour to take care of—dear little girl, I dont think I ever saw a young one I took to so much—but I mustn't slight Hattie—I like her too—Mother, I am still going among the hospitals, there is plenty of need, just the same as ever—I go every day or evening—I have not heard from George—I have no doubt the 51st is still at Crab Orchard4

Mother, I hope you will try to write—I send you my love, & to Jeff & Mat & all—so good bye, dear Mother—



  • 1. On December 4,1863, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had described the death scene. Nancy went to bed on Wednesday night and "in the morning she brought such a smell that Jeffy got sick" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Books, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). Meantime Jesse had been so affected by the crisis that he had threatened Mannahatta and Martha, an incident which led the explosive Jeff to exclaim in a letter to Walt from December 15, 1863: "I love Mat as I love my life—dearer by far—and to have this infernal pup—a perfect hell-drag to his Mother—treat [Martha] so—threaten to brain her—call her all the vile things that he could think of—is a little more than I will stand. He says he dont know any better—he lies—he does know better. I wish to God he was ready to put along side of Andrew. There would be but few tears shed on my part I can tell you. . . . To think that the wretch should go off and live with an irish whore, get in the condition he is by her act and then come and be a source of shortening his mother's life by years." Jeff finally proposed that Jesse be hospitalized.On December 15(?), 1863, Mrs. Whitman minimized Jesse's behavior, and gave Walt details of the funeral, including Nancy's "adue" to friends that "we had taken [Andrew] away from her," when the body was brought to the Whitman house (Trent Collection). Evidently Whitman had agreed with Jeff that something must be done about Jesse, for on December 28, 1863, Jeff wrote: "You wrote Mother abt getting Jess in the Asylum—It does not seem to meet with her wishes—when I wrote you my idea was that by each of us paying—say a $ a week—you and I and George—that we could keep him in some one of the hospitals around New York—I think it would be best yet. . . . I feel as if it was our duty to relieve Mother of him." (Jesse was admitted to the Brooklyn State Hospital on December 5, 1864; see Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman [New York: Macmillan, 1955; rev. ed., New York University Press, 1967], 318.) [back]
  • 2. In her letter of December 4, 1863, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote that "there was a very good little peice in the eagle last night about you" (Trent Collection), and promised that Jeff would send it. In a note appended to a letter from George, dated December 9, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman said that she thought that the article had been written by Dr. Ruggles. The "Personal" in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on December 3, 1863, read in part: "Who is there in Brooklyn who doesn't know Walt Whitman? Rough and ready, kind and considerate, generous and good, he was ever a friend in need.…Surely such as he will find their reward here and hereafter." [back]
  • 3. Joseph Howard, Jr. (1833–1908), was war correspondent for the New York Times until he was appointed city editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. See Louis M. Starr, Bohemian Brigade: Civil War Newsmen in Action (New York: Knopf, 1954), 315. [back]
  • 4. Whitman evidently had not received the letter written by George to his mother on December 9, 1863, in which he told her that the regiment had moved from Camp Orchard to Camp Pittman, near London, Kentucky. [back]
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