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Walt Whitman to Thomas Jefferson Whitman, 23 May 1864

Dear brother Jeff

I received your letter yesterday—I too had got a few lines from George dated on the field, 16th—he said he had also just written to mother—I cannot make out there has been any fighting since in which the 9th Corps has been engaged—I do hope Mother will not get despondent & so unhappy—I suppose it is idle to say I think George's chances are very good for coming out of this campaign safe, yet at present it seems to me so—but it is indeed idle to say so, for no one can tell what a day may bring forth1

Sometimes I think that should it come, when it must be, to fall in battle, one's anguish over a son or brother killed, would be tempered with much to take the edge off—I can honestly say it has no terrors for me, if I had to be hit in battle, as far as I myself am concerned—it would be a noble & manly death, & in the best cause—then one finds, as I have the past year, that our feelings & imaginations make a thousand times too much of the whole matter—Of the many I have seen die, or known of, the past year, I have not seen or heard of one who met death with any terror—Yesterday afternoon I spent a good part of the afternoon with a young man of 17, named Charles Cutter,2 of Lawrence City, Mass, 1st Mass heavy artillery, battery M—he was brought in to one of the hospitals mortally wounded in abdomen—Well I thought to myself as I sat looking at him, it ought to be a relief to his folks after all, if they could see how little he suffered—he lay very placid, in a half lethargy, with his eyes closed, it was very warm, & I sat a long while fanning him & wiping the sweat, at length he opened his eyes quite wide & clear, & looked inquiringly around. I said, What is it, my dear, do you want any thing?—he said quietly with a good natured smile, O nothing, I was only looking around to see who was with me—his mind was somewhat wandering, yet he lay so peaceful, in his dying condition—he seemed to be a real New England country boy, so good natured, with a pleasant homely way, & quite a fine looking boy—without any doubt he died in course of night—

There dont seem to be any war news of importance very late—We have been fearfully disappointed with Sigel3 not making his junction from the lower part of the valley, & perhaps harrassing Lee's left, or left rear, which (the junction or equivalent to it) was an indispensable part of Grant's plan, we think—this is one great reason why things have lagged so with the Army—some here are furious with Sigel, you will see he has been superseded—his losses in his repulse are not so important, though annoying enough, but it was of the greatest consequence that he should have hastened through the gaps ten or twelve days ago at all hazards & come in from the west, keeping near enough to our right to have assistance if he needed it—Jeff, I suppose you know that there has been quite a large army lying idle, mostly of artillery reg'ts manning the numerous forts around here, they have been the fattest & heartiest reg'ts any where to be seen, & full in numbers, some of them numbering 2000 men—well, they have all, every one, been shoved down to the front—lately we have had the militia reg'ts pouring in here mostly from Ohio, they look first rate, I saw two or three come in yesterday, splendid American young men, from farms mostly—we are to have them for a hundred days & probably they will not refuse to stay another hundred—Jeff, tell mother I shall write Wednesday certain (or if I hear any thing I will write to-morrow)—I still think we shall get Richmond—


Jeff, of course you must take this up to mother soon as you go home—Jeff, I have changed my quarters—I moved Saturday last—I am now at 502 Pennsylvania av, near 3d st.—I still go a little almost daily to Major Hapgood's, cor 15th & F st., 5th floor, am apt to be there about 12 or 1.—I am well, go the same among wounded day & night—see Fred McReady, & others of 51st—George's letter to me of 16th I sent to Han—should like to see Mr Worthen4 if he comes here—give my best remembrance to Mr Lane5

I have writ to George several times in hopes one at least may reach him—Matty, my dear sister, how are [you] getting along—O how I should like to see you this very day—

I may very likely go down for a few days to Bell Plain & Fredericksburgh, but one is wanted here permanently more than any other place—


  • 1. From Spotsylvania, Virginia, on May 20, 1864 George Washington Whitman described to his mother a skirmish of his regiment which cost "22 killed and wounded." "About One O'clock yesterday morning," he continued, "we were relieved in the rifle pitts and withdrawn to the rear, where we are now, resting ourselves and having good times. Mother, I suppose you know how we are getting along, better than we do ourselves, for I expect the newspaper correspondents keep you pretty well posted as to our movements, and here there are so many rumors flying around, that a fellow only knows, what he sees himself." [back]
  • 2. Charles Cutter's unexpectedly delayed death is reported in Walt Whitman's letters from May 25, 1864, May 30, 1864, and June 3, 1864. When Whitman printed his abridged version of this letter in November Boughs (The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman [New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1902], 6:230–232), he evidently forgot that Cutter had lingered for two weeks: "His mind was somewhat wandering, yet he lay in an evident peacefulness that sanity and health might have envied. I had to leave for other engagements. He died, I heard afterward, without any special agitation, in the course of the night." In addition, he altered phraseology: "What is it, my dear" became "What is it, my boy?"; "it was very warm" was rendered "it was extremely hot." [back]
  • 3. Franz Sigel (1824–1902), a German-born Union general, was in command of the department of West Virginia when he was seriously defeated at New Market in the Shenandoah Valley on May 15, 1864. He was relieved of his command. [back]
  • 4. William E. Worthen was an engineer, evidently employed in the Croton Aqueduct Department, New York. See the letter from May 25, 1864. [back]
  • 5. See the letter from January 16, 1863. [back]
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