Skip to main content

Walt Whitman to Lewis K. Brown, 1 August 1863

Both your letters have been received, Lewy1—the second one came this morning, & was welcome, as any thing from you will always be, & the sight of your face welcomer than all, my darling—I see you write in good spirits, & appear to have first-rate times—Lew, you must not go around too much, nor eat & drink too promiscuous, but be careful & moderate, & not let the kindness of friends carry you away, lest you break down again, dear son—I was at the hospital yesterday four or five hours, was in ward K—Taber2 has been down sick, so he had to lay abed, but he is better now, & goes around as usual—Curly3 is the same as usual—most of the others are the same—there have been quite a good many deaths—the young man who lay in bed 2 with a very bad leg is dead—I saw Johnny Mahay4 in ward E—poor fellow, he is very poorly, he is very thin, & his face is like wax—Lew, I must tell you what a curious thing happened in the chaplain's5 house night before last—there has been a man in ward I, named Lane, with two fingers amputated, very bad with gangrene, so they removed him to a tent by himself—last Thursday his wife came to see him, she seemed a nice woman but very poor, she stopt at the chaplain's—about 3 o'clock in the morning she got up & went to the sink, & there she gave birth to a child, which fell down the sink into the sewer runs beneath, fortunately the water was not turned on—the chaplain got up, carried Mrs Lane out, & then roused up a lot of men from the hospital, with spades &c. dug a trench outside, & got into the sink, & took out the poor little child, it lay there on its back, in about two inches of water—well, strange as it may seem, the child was alive, (it fell about five feet through the sink)—& is now living & likely to live, is quite bright, has a head of thick black hair—the chaplain took me in yesterday, showed me the child, & Mrs Jackson, his wife, told me the whole story, with a good deal I havn't told you—& then she treated me to a good plate of ice cream—so I staid there nearly an hour & had quite a pleasant visit. Mrs Lane lay in an adjoining room.

Lew, as to me & my affairs there is nothing very new or important—I have not succeeded in getting any employment here yet, except that I write a little (newspaper correspondence &c), barely enough to pay my expenses—but it is my own fault, for I have not tried hard enough for any thing—the last three weeks I have not felt very well—for two or three days I was down sick, for the first time in my life, (as I have never before been sick)—I feel pretty fair to-day—I go around most every day the same as usual. I have some idea of giving myself a furlough of three or four weeks, & going home to Brooklyn, N Y, but I should return again to Washington, probably. Lew, it is pretty hot weather here, & the sun affects me—(I had a sort of sun stroke about five years ago)—You speak of being here in Washington again about the last of August—O Lewy, how glad I should be to see you, to have you with me—I have thought if it could be so that you, & one other person & myself could be where we could work & live together, & have each other's society, we three, I should like it so much—but it is probably a dream—

Well, Lew, they had the great battle of Gettysburgh, but it does not seem to have settled any thing, except to have killed & wounded a great many thousand men—It seems as though the two armies were falling back again to near their old positions on the Rappahannock—it is hard to tell what will be the next move—yet, Lewy, I think we shall conquer yet—I don't believe it is destined that this glorious Union is to be broken up by all the secesh south, or copheads north either—

Well, my darling, I have scribbled you off something to show you where I am & that I have rec'd your welcome letters—but my letter is not of much interest, for I don't feel very bright to-day—Dear son, you must write me whenever you can—take opportunity when you have nothing to do, & write me a good long letter—your letters & your love for me are very precious to me, for I appreciate it all, Lew, & give you the like in return. It is now about 3 o'clock, & I will go out & mail this letter, & then go & get my dinner—So good bye, Lewy—good bye, my dear son & comrade, & I hope it will prove God's will that you get quite well & sound yet, & have many good years yet—


Address my letters care Major Hapgood, paymaster U S A, cor. 15th & F st Washington D C—


  • 1. Lewis Kirke Brown (1843–1926) was wounded in the left leg near Rappahannock Station on August 19, 1862, and lay where he fell for four days. Eventually he was transferred to Armory Square Hospital, where Whitman met him, probably in February 1863. In a diary in the Library of Congress, Whitman described Brown on February 19, 1863, as "a most affectionate fellow, very fond of having me come and sit by him." Because the wound did not heal, the leg was amputated on January 5, 1864. Whitman was present and described the operation in a diary (Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #103). Brown was mustered out in August 1864, and was employed in the Provost General's office in September; see Whitman's September 11, 1864 . The following September he became a clerk in the Treasury Department, and was appointed Chief of the Paymaster's Division in 1880, a post which he held until his retirement in 1915. (This material draws upon a memorandum which was prepared by Brown's family and is now held in the Library of Congress.) Brown had written from Judiciary Square Hospital on July 6, 1864, and July 18, 1864. [back]
  • 2. On July 18, 1864, Brown wrote to Whitman: "I suppose you herd that J. A. Tabor was killed. he was killed in the wilderness the second days battle. I seen some men out of his company & they say that he fell dead when he was shot." [back]
  • 3. "Curly," a soldier from Ohio, is again referred to in a Letter from Walt Whitman to Hiram Sholes, May 30, 1867 (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:331–332). [back]
  • 4. John Mahay, Hundred and First New York, was wounded in the bladder at second Bull Run, August 29, 1862. In Specimen Days, Whitman notes in the section dated February 4, 1863, that Mahay, despite his pain, "was of good heart" and "was delighted with a stick of horehound candy I gave him" (Richard Maurice Bucke, ed.,The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman [New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1902], 4:46). Mahay is referred to as in poor health in this letter and in a letter dated August 15, 1863; evidently he died later in the year. In describing Mahay's death, Whitman writes: "Poor Mahay, a mere boy in age, but old in misfortune" (The Complete Writings of Walt Whitman, 4:98–99). See also Charles I. Glicksberg, Walt Whitman and the Civil War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933), 149. [back]
  • 5. Eliphalet W. Jackson, a chaplain in Armory Square Hospital, was ardently patriotic. On March 7, 1863, the Washington National Republican noted that at a hospital party Jackson proposed a lengthy resolution which began: "Resolved, That the rebellion now waged against our Government is the most wicked and atrocious of any since the days of Satan, Absalom, or Judas." [back]
Back to top