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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 3 June 1864

Dearest mother

Your letter came yesterday—I have not heard the least thing from the 51st since—no doubt they are down there with the Army near Richmond—I have not written to George lately—I think the news from the Army is very good—Mother, you know of course that it is now very near Richmond indeed, from five to ten miles1

Mother, if this campaign was not in progress I should not stop here, as it is now beginning to tell a little upon me,2 so many bad wounds, many putrified, & all kinds of dreadful ones, I have been rather too much with—but as it is I shall certainly remain here while the thing remains undecided—it is impossible for me to abstain from going to see & minister to certain cases, & that draws me into others, & so on—I have just left Oscar Cunningham,3 the Ohio boy—he is in a dying condition—there is no hope for him—it would draw tears from the hardest heart to look at him—he is all wasted away to a skeleton, & looks like some one fifty years old—you remember I told you a year ago, when he was first brought in, I thought him the noblest specimen of a young western man I had seen, a real giant in size, & always with a smile on his face—O what a change, he has long been very irritable, to every one but me, & his frame is all wasted away—the young Massachusetts 1st artillery boy, Cutter, I wrote about is dead—he is the one that was brought in a week ago last Sunday, badly wounded in breast—the deaths in the principal hospital I visit, Armory Square, average one an hour—I saw Capt Baldwin4 of the 14th this morning, he has lost his left arm—is going home soon—

Mr Kalbfleisch5 & Anson Herrick,6 (M C from New York) came in one of the wards where I was sitting writing a letter this morning, in the midst of the wounded—Kalbfleisch was so much affected by the sight that he burst into tears—O I must tell you I gave the boys in Carver hospital a great treat of ice cream a couple of days ago, went round myself through about 15 large wards, (I bought some ten gallons, very nice)—you would have cried & been amused too, many of the men had to be fed, several of them I saw cannot probably live, yet they quite enjoyed it, I gave everybody some—quite a number western country boys had never tasted ice cream before—they relish such things, oranges, lemons, &c—Mother, I feel a little blue this morning, as two young men I knew very well have just died, one died last night, & the other about half an hour before I went to the hospital, I did not anticipate the death of either of them, each was a very, very sad case, so young—well, mother, I see I have written you another gloomy sort of letter—I do not feel as first rate as usual—


You don't know how I want to come home & see you all, you, dear Mother, & Jeff & Mat & all—I believe I am homesick, something new for me—then I have seen all the horrors of soldier's life & not been kept up by its excitement—it is awful to see so much, & not be able to relieve it—


  • 1. Grant was moving toward Richmond. The headline in the New York Times of this date read: "Encouraging Success at Every Point." [back]
  • 2. Whitman began to complain of his health in a letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman of May 18, 1864, when he noted that his "head feels disagreeable"; In a letter dated May 30, 1864 also to Louisa Whitman, he wrote that "my head begins to trouble me a little with a sort of fulness, as it often does in the hot weather." The attacks increased in severity, as succeeding letters indicated. [back]
  • 3. See Whitman's letter from May 3, 1864. [back]
  • 4. William M. Baldwin entered the army at age twenty-nine, became a captain on October 1, 1862, was wounded at Laurel Hill, Va., on May 10, 1864, and was mustered out on June 6 of the same year. See The History of the Fighting Fourteenth (Brooklyn: Brooklyn Eagle Press, 1911), 260. [back]
  • 5. See the letter from January 29, 1864. [back]
  • 6. Anson Herrick (1812–1868) established the New York Atlas in 1836, and served one term in the House of Representatives (1863–1865). He was defeated for re-election in 1864. [back]
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