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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 12 February 1864

Dear Mother,

I am still stopping down in this region. I am a good deal of the time down within half a mile of our picket lines, so that you see I can indeed call myself in the front. I stopped yesterday with an artillery camp, in the 1st Corps, at the invitation of Capt Cranford,1 who said that he knew me in Brooklyn. It is close to the lines—I asked him if he did not think it dangerous—he said no, he could have a large force of infantry to help him there, in very short metre, if there was any sudden emergency—The troops here are scattered all around, much more apart than they seemed to me to be opposite Fredericksburgh last winter—they mostly have good huts & fireplaces, &c—I have been to a great many of the camps, & I must say I am astonished how good the houses are almost every where—I have not seen one regiment nor any part of one, in the poor uncomfortable little shelter tents that I saw so common last winter, after Fredericksburgh—but all the men have built huts of logs & mud—a good many of them would be comfortable enough to live in under any circumstances2

I have been in the Division hospitals around here—there are not many men sick here, & no wounded—they now send them on to Washington—I shall return there in a few days, as I am very clear that the real need of one's services is there after all—there the worst cases concentrate, & probably will, while the war lasts—

I suppose you know that what we call hospital here in the field, is nothing but a collection of tents, on the bare ground for a floor, rather hard accommodations for a sick man—they heat them here by digging a long trough in the ground under them, covering it over with old railroad iron & earth, & then building a fire at one end & letting it draw through & go out at the other, as both ends are open—this heats the ground through the middle of the hospital quite hot—I find some poor creatures crawling about pretty weak with diarrhea—there is a great deal of that—they keep them till they get very bad indeed, & then send them to Washington—the journey aggravates the complaint, & they come into Washington in a terrible condition—O mother, how often & how many I have seen come into Washington, from this awful complaint, after such an experience as I have described—with the look of Death on their poor young faces—they keep them so long in the field hospitals with poor accommodations, the disease gets too deeply seated—

To-day I have been out among some of the camps of the 2d division of the 1st Corps—I have been wandering around all day, & have had a very good time, over woods, hills, & gullys, indeed a real soldier's march—the weather is good & the traveling quite tolerable—I have been in the camps of some Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, & New York regiments—I have friends in them, & went out to see them, & see soldiering generally, as I never cease to crave more & more knowledge of actual soldiers' life, & to be among them as much as possible—This evening I have also been in a large wagoners' camp—they had good fires, & were very cheerful—I went to see a friend there too, but did not find him in—it is curious how many I find that I know & that know me—Mother, I have no difficulty at all in making myself at home among the soldiers, teamsters, or any—I most always find they like to have me very much, it seems to do them good, no doubt they soon feel that my heart & sympathies are truly with them, & it is both a novelty & pleases them & touches their feelings, & so doubtless does them good—& I am sure it does that to me—

There is more fun around here than you would think for—I told you about the theatre the 14th Brooklyn has got up,3 they have songs & burlesques &c, some of the performers real good—As I write this I have heard in one direction or another two or three good bands playing—& hear one tooting away some gay tunes now, though it is quite late at night—Mother, I dont know whether I mentioned in my last letter that I took dinner with Col Fowler4 one day early part of the week—his wife is stopping here—I was down at the 14th as I came along this evening too—one of the officers told me about a presentation to George of a sword &c, he said he see it in the papers5—the 14th invited me to come & be their guest while I staid here, but I have not been able to accept—Col Fowler uses me tip top—he is provost marshal of this region, makes a good officer—Mother, I could get no pen & ink tonight—Well, dear Mother, I send you my love & to George & Jeff & Mat & little girls & all—


direct to care Major Hapgood, as before, & write soon—Mother, I suppose you got a letter I wrote from down here last Monday—


  • 1. Henry Loud Cranford entered the army as a first lieutenant in the Eighty-fourth New York Infantry on May 23, 1861, and was appointed captain on February 19, 1863. [back]
  • 2. At Culpepper Whitman noted in his "Hospital Book 12" about February 9: "Around through the landscape for miles, in pleasant situations, are . . . little villages of tents, log & mud huts, &c. There are scores of these little improvised [villages]. I see them in all directions. Some of the camps are quite large. I amuse myself by examining one of them, a mile or so off, through a strong glass. Some of the men are cooking, others washing, cleaning their clothes, others playing ball, smoking lazily, or lounging about. I watch the varied performance long. It is better than any play" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). [back]
  • 3. This letter is not known. [back]
  • 4. Edward Brush Fowler (1827–1896) became the commanding officer of the Fourteenth New York Regiment on December 9, 1862. He was badly wounded and mustered out on June 6, 1864. His statue is in Washington Park, not far from the Brooklyn home of the Whitmans. [back]
  • 5. An article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on February 12 noted that on the preceding evening, at the Uris' Dancing Academy, George had received a sword "in recognition of his services in the field . . . The guest of the evening was the observed of all observers . . . It was a very fine affair and worthy of the occasion which brought it forth." [back]
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