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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 26 April 1864

Dearest Mother

Burnside's army passed through here yesterday—I saw George & walked with him in the regiment for some distance & had quite a talk—he is very well, he is very much tanned & looks hardy, I told him all the latest news from home—George stands it very well, & looks & behaves the same good & noble fellow he always was & always will be—it was on 14th st.—I watched three hours before the 51st came along—I joined him just before they came to where the President & Gen Burnside were standing with others on a balcony, & the interest of seeing me &c. made George forget to notice the President & salute him—he was a little annoyed at forgetting it—I called his attention to it, but we had passed a little too far on, & George wouldn't turn round even ever so little—however there was a great many (more than half the army) passed without noticing Mr Lincoln & the others, for there was a great crowd all through the streets, especially here, & the place where the President stood was not conspicuous from the rest— The 9th Corps made a very fine show indeed—there were I should think five very full regiments of new black troops under Gen Ferrero,1 they looked & marched very well—It looked funny to see the President standing with his hat off to them just the same as the rest as they passed by—then there [were] Michigan regiments, one of them was a reg't of sharpshooters, partly composed of indians—then there was a pretty strong force of artillery—& a middling force of cavalry, many New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, R[hode] I[sland], &c reg'ts—all except the blacks were veterans, seen plenty of fighting—Mother, it is very different to see a real army of fighting men, from one of those shows in Brooklyn, or New York, or on fort Greene—

Mother, it was a curious sight to see these ranks after ranks of our own dearest blood of men, mostly young, march by, worn & sunburnt & sweaty, with well worn clothes & their bundles & knapsacks, tin cups & some with frying pans, strapt over their backs, all dirty & sweaty—nothing real neat about them except their muskets, but they were all as clean & bright as silver—they were four or five hours passing along, marching with wide ranks pretty quickly too—it is a great sight to see such a big Army, 25 or 30,000, on the march—they are all so gay too, poor fellows—nothing dampens their spirits—they all got soaked with rain the night before—I saw Fred McReady & Capt Sims, & Col LeGendre2 &c—I dont know exactly where Burnside's army is going—among other rumors it is said they [are] to go [with] the Army of the Potomac to act as a reserve force, &c—another is that they are to make a flank march, to go round & get Lee on the side &c—We know nothing—I havn't been out this morning & dont know what news, only that there is without doubt to be a terrible campaign here in Virginia this summer, & that all who know deepest about it, are very serious about it—Mother, it is serious times—I do not feel to fret or whimper, but in my heart & soul about our country, the army, the forthcoming campaign with all its vicissitudes & the wounded & slain—I dare say, Mother, I feel the reality more than some because I [am] in the midst of its saddest results so much—Others may say what they like, I believe in Grant & in Lincoln too—I think Grant deserves to be trusted, he is working continually—no one knows his plans, we will only know them when he puts them in operation—Our Army is very large here in Virginia this spring & they are still pouring in from east & west—you dont see about it in the papers, but we have very large army here—

Mother, I am first rate in health, thank God, I never was better—dear mother, have you got all over that distress & sickness in your head? You must write particular about it—Dear brother Jeff, how are you, & how is Matty?—& how the dear little girls—Jeff, I believe the devil is in it about my writing you, I have laid out so many weeks to write you a good long letter, & something has shoved it off each time—never mind, mother's letters keep you posted—you must write & don't forget to tell me all about sis, is she as good & interesting as she was six months ago? Mother, have you heard any thing from Han? Mother, I have just had my breakfast, I had it in my room, some hard biscuits warmed on stove, & a first rate bowl of strong tea, with good milk & sugar—I have given a Michigan soldier3 his breakfast with me, he relished it too, he has just gone—Mother, I have just heard again that Burnside's troops are to be a reserve to protect Washington, so there may be something in it—


It is very fine weather here yesterday & to–day—the hospitals are very full, they are putting up hundreds of hospital tents—


  • 1. See Whitman's letter from December 29, 1862. [back]
  • 2. On April 16, 1864 when George wrote to Walt Whitman, LeGendre (see the letter from April 15, 1863) and Sims (see the letter from May 26, 1863) were still in New York recruiting for the regiment. In the same letter, George reported that McReady (see the letter from May 13, 1863) was now a second lieutenant. [back]
  • 3. Possibly Albert G. Knapp, who wrote to Whitman on April 2, 1876 (Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library), and recalled their meetings at the Judiciary Square Hospital in 1863 and at Armory Square Hospital in 1864. Knapp remained in Washington until the summer of 1865. [back]
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