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Walt Whitman to James P. Kirkwood, 27 (?) April 1864

I forget whether I wrote to you1 acknowledging the receipt of the $10 sent for the wounded & sick, 1st Feb.2 It came safe—also the $5 you sent some ten days since. My dear sir, your contributions are very, very welcome—they go to the direct sustenance, cheer, & comfort of special cases of wounded & sick.3 I have now been over a year among the wounded. I find that personal application, tact, & insight, with entire sympathy, are the only means effectual in hospitals—every case wants some peculiar adaptation—to some, some little article purchased—many the tender hand & word, oft repeated, never slacking up, till danger is past. Some, while prostrated, are out of money, & too proud to speak of it, to these a little gift of two or three [cents?]—to some a little tobacco is a great treasure. Any thing like beggars or deceivers, are very rare—indeed I dont meet one a fortnight. The soldiers are nearly altogether young American men of decent breeding, farmers' sons ordinarily educated, but well behaved & their young hearts full of manliness & candor. Their condition makes deepest attachments4 under their sufferings & wounds often brought right to the bitterness of death. Some, indeed, one feels to love deeply, & they return it with interest.

I have lately been down front, on a short tour through the Army, part of the time being in camp among the men, (I know a great many soldiers in the ranks) & part visiting the division hospitals. The hospitals in the field are at present thin—the main cases are here. The condition of the Army the past winter has been surpassingly good—(go on with acc't)5—the talk here is that Grant is going to make things hop in this region presently—The idea is that the means of railway transportation between here & the southwest are to be increased to the extremest practical degree, so that he can swing large bodies to & fro, with unprecedented dispatch, & have the use of the Army, in either quarter, at a few days notice. We hear he (Grant) thinks it indispensable that we should smash Lee & the Richmond junta this summer, though more for our prestige than for any practical need of Richmond as a locality. I can assure you from personal knowledge that the Army of the Potomac is in splendid condition, physically & in soul—it has now the fibre of the most veteran troops, one of the historic armies. It is very youthful. I think well of Meade. He is very cautious & conscientious, yet very alert—(would be perfect if he fused those qualities with the lightning of audacity & venturing all when it was worth it, but he has not that dangerous but necessary crowning merit, Napoleon's.)

I make no calculations on the course & result of the ensuing summer campaign, except that I believe it will be vehement. Meantime we are liable at any moment to have an incipient caving in of the South, parts of it like North Carolina, but the shrewd ones here still reckon on a desperate fight of the Richmond junta, ferocious, carrying things with as high hand as ever the ensuing year.

I see the President often. I think better of him than many do. He has conscience & homely shrewdness—conceals an enormous tenacity under his mild, gawky western manner. The difficulties of his situation have been unprecedented in the history of statesmanship. That he has conserved the government so far is a miracle itself. The difficulties have not been the south alone. The north has been & is yet honeycombed with semi-secesh sympathisers ever ready to undermine—& I am half disposed to predict that after the war closes, we shall see bevies of star-straps, two or three of our own Major Generals, shot for treachery, & fully deserve their fate.

I write this in hospital, having leisure here. I am sitting by the side of a soldier of the 6th Maine—he had his leg amputated lately. The sick are coming in pretty freely here, poor wrecks & phantoms—a sign of action, as they are breaking up the field hospitals. One's heart bleeds for them. Every day I am among them as usual. I desire you, if you have any friends able to send me aid, & that feel to do so, that you would show them this letter, as I would like more means. It shall be sacredly [incomplete]6


  • 1. Kirkwood, an engineer, sent sums of money to Whitman for his hospital work; see Whitman's letters from May 26, 1863 and April 28, 1864. I have dated the draft on the basis of the reference in the next letter: "I wrote to Mr Kirkwood yesterday." [back]
  • 2. Jeff had enclosed $5 from Kirkwood on January 8, 1864 (Charles E. Feinberg Collection). [back]
  • 3. The text up to this point was lined through, and perhaps was not included in the actual letter. [back]
  • 4. Whitman originally wrote: "One gets so attached to them." [back]
  • 5. It is impossible to know what Whitman meant by this parenthetical remark. Conceivably the letter itself was to be rearranged drastically. [back]
  • 6. Endorsed (by Walt Whitman): "for J P Kirkwood | 44 Union Square | New York City." Draft Letter. [back]
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