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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 3 May 1864

Dearest Mother

I rec'd your letter dated last Friday afternoon, with one from Mr Heyde—it seems by that Han is better, but as you say it would be much more satisfactory if Han would write to us herself—Mother, I believe I told you I sent a letter to Han last week, enclosing one of George's from Annapolis—I was glad to get Heyde's letter though, as it was—Mother, I am sorry you still have returns of your cold, does it affect your head like it did?—dear Mother, I do hope you will not expose yourself, nor work too much, but take things easier—

I have nothing different to write about the war, or movements here—what I wrote last Thursday about Burnside's corps being probably used as a reserve, is still talked of here, & seems to be probable—a large force is necessary to guard the railroad between here & Culpepper, & also to keep for any emergency that might happen, & I shouldn't wonder if the 9th would be used for such purpose, at least for the present—I think the 51st must be down not very far from Fairfax Court House yet, but I havn't heard certain—

Mother, I have seen a person up from front this morning—there is no movement yet & no fighting started—the men are in their camps yet—Gen Grant is at Culpepper—You need not pay the slightest attention to such things as you mention in the Eagle,1 about the 9th corps—the writer of it, & very many of the writers on war matters in those papers dont know one bit more on what they are writing about than Ed does—

Mother, you say in your letter you got my letter the previous afternoon—why, Mother, you ought to got it Wednesday forenoon, or afternoon at furthest—this letter now will get in New York Wednesday morning, by day light—you ought to get it before noon—the postmaster in Brooklyn must have a pretty set of carriers, to take twice as long to take a letter from New York to you as does to go from Washington to N Y—Mother, I suppose you got a letter from me Friday also—as I wrote a second letter on Thursday last, telling you the 9th Corps was camped then about sixteen miles from here—

About George's pictures, perhaps you better wait till I hear from him, before sending them—

I remain well as usual—the poor fellow I mentioned in one of my letters last week, with diarrhea, that wanted me to ask God's blessing on him, was still living yesterday afternoon, but just living, he is only partially conscious, is all wasted away to nothing, & lies most of the time in half stupor, as they give him brandy copiously—yesterday I was there by him a few minutes, he is very much averse to taking brandy, & there was some trouble in getting him to take it, he is almost totally deaf the last five or six days—there is no chance for him at all—Quite a particular friend of mine, Oscar Cunningham,2 an Ohio boy, had his leg amputated yesterday close up by the thigh, it was a pretty tough operation—he was badly wounded just a year ago to-day at Chancellorsville, & has suffered a great deal, lately got erysipelas in his leg & foot—I forget whether I have mentioned him before or not—he was a very large noble looking young man when I first see him—the doctor thinks he will live & get up, but I consider [it] by no means so certain—he is very much prostrated—

Well, dear Mother, you must write, & Jeff too—I do want to see you all very much—how does Mat get along, & how little sis & all? I send my love to you & Jeff & all—we are having a very pleasant coolish day here—I am going down to post office to leave this, & then up to my old friends O'Connors, to dinner, & then down to hospital—Well good by, dear Mother, for present—


Tuesday afternoon 3 o'clock—Mother, just as I was going to seal my letter, Major Hapgood has come in from the P O & brings me a few lines from George, which I enclose—you will see they were written four days ago3


  • 1. See the letter from February 13, 1863. [back]
  • 2. The rapid decline of Oscar Cunningham is traced in letters from May 6, 1864, May 10, 1864, May 25, 1864, June 3, 1864, and June 7, 1864. In his diary, on April 12, before the amputation, Whitman wrote, "The chances are against him, poor fellow" (Charles I. Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933], 150). In a manuscript written as he sat in Armory Square Hospital, about the time of this letter, Whitman observed: "Right opposite is a young Ohio boy, Oscar Cunningham, badly wounded in right leg—his history is a sad one—he has been here nearly a year—he & I have been quite intimate all that time—when he was brought here I thought he ought to have been taken to a sculptor to model for an emblematical figure of the west, he was such a handsome young giant over 6 feet high, with a great head of brown yellow shining hair thick & longish & a manly noble manner & talk—he has suffered very much since—the doctors have been trying to save his leg but it will probably have to be taken off yet. He wants it done, but I think he is too weak at present" (The Library of Congress). The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library, possesses a cheerful letter from Cunningham's sister Helen, dated May 15; another from a friend in Lincoln Hospital, May 17; and a letter from Helen to Whitman on June 11, in which she requested details of her brother's death. [back]
  • 3. The letter of April 29 from Bristoe Station; see notes to the letter from April 28, 1864. [back]
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