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Walt Whitman to Samuel Livingston Breese, November 1861


Jesse Whitman, a laboring man, in the engineer's department—has for some time been working in the provision store—was yesterday told that "his services were dispensed with."1

This is to apply that he be continued in employment. He is a steady industrious man, and was strongly recommended by Mr. Kalbfleish, the Mayor,2 and kept on by Mr. Graham, the late engineer.3 Can bring a request from Mr. Wall,4 M. C. or Mr. Humphrey,5 late M. C. if desired—but it is hoped that the engineer will continue him on in employment without6



  • 1. In a letter dated July 12, 1861, Whitman wrote to his brother George, then enlisted in the 13th New York: "Jess is the same as usual-he works every day in the yard. He does not seem to mind the heat. He is employed in the store-house, where they are continually busy preparing stores, provisions, to send off in the different vessels. He assists in that." [back]
  • 2. Martin Kalbfleisch (1804–1873) was a Dutch-born businessman who made his fortune from a chemical factory he founded in Greenpoint, Long Island, in 1842. He served two terms as mayor of Brooklyn from 1861 to 1863 and 1868 to 1871, interrupted only by his term in Congress. [back]
  • 3. Charles Kinnaird Graham (1824–1889) was constructing engineer of the Brooklyn navy yard; the dry-dock and landing-ways were built under his supervision in 1857. On April 15, 1861, he volunteered for the Union army and was commissioned as a colonel of Company S of the 74th New York Infantry on October 15, 1861. [back]
  • 4. William Wall (1800–1872) was a U.S. Representative from New York 5th District who served from 1861 to 1863. [back]
  • 5. James Humphrey (1811–1866) was a U.S. Representative from the 2nd District from 1859 to 1861, and the 3rd District from 1865 to 1866. [back]
  • 6. This draft letter was probably addressed to Samuel Livingston Breese (1794–1870), Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Breese was a naval officer who had command "of the Brooklyn navy yard from 1859 to 1861" (Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans). Given that the addressee would apparently not know Jesse personally (and is expressly not the engineer but would be in a position to reinstate his employment and might be influenced by the mayor), it seems likely that Breese was the recipient of this letter. A number of factors point to a November 1861 composition date, most importantly: Charles Kinnaird Graham was not "the late engineer" of the Navy Yard until October 15, 1861 (see below); William Wall was elected to office in 1861, and Humphrey left office at the same time; and finally, the decision by the Kentucky legislature to remain neutral in the Civil War (the subject of the poem on the recto of this manuscript) was not reached until late September 1861. [back]
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