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Benton H. Wilson to Walt Whitman, 18 July 1869

 loc_vm.01429_large.jpg Syracuse Dear Friend1 Walt Whitman

It has been a long time since we have heard from each other and I am feeling quite anxious to hear from my kind & Loving Friend again and hear how he is getting along in this world, but I think I can imagine about how you are getting along, in just about the same way that you used to at Armory Square Hospital2 when your kind face & pleasant words cheered the soldier Boys & won their hearts I never shall forget the first time you came in after David3 & I got there We Loved you from the first time we spoke to you. But to the present. We heard from David last week he is doing first rate on a Rail Road in California & Says he will come  loc_vm.01430_large.jpg back in a few years a rich Man. I hope he will for he is a good Boy & kind to his Old Mother4 he sent her $250.00 Last week which will do her a great deal of good.

Father5 & Mother6 send Love to you. My little Walt7 is quite a big Boy most 16 months old and full of mischief, he can walk all around the house & yard & talks very little I wish you could see him.

Write Soon

Yours With Love B. H. Wilson

Benton H. Wilson (1843–1914?) was the son of Henry Wilson (1805–1870)—a harness and trunk maker—and Ann S. Williams Wilson (1809–1887). Benton Wilson was a U. S. Civil War soldier recovering in Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C., when he met Whitman. Later, Wilson was employed selling melodeons and sewing machines. He also sold life insurance and may have worked as a pawnbroker. He married Nellie Gage Morrell Wilson (ca. 1841–1892). Nellie had two children, Lewis and Eva Morrell, from a previous marriage, and she and Benton were the parents of five children. Wilson named his first child "Walter Whitman Wilson," after the poet; their other children were Austin, Irene, Georgie, and Kathleen Wilson. Benton Wilson's correspondence with Whitman spanned a decade, lasting from 1865 to 1875.


  • 1. The friendship between Whitman and Wilson, a former U. S. Civil War soldier, can be reconstructed from Wilson's letters (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). On July 18, 1869, Wilson recalled his confinement in Armory Square Hospital (as mentioned in Whitman's November 8–9, 1863, letter to Lewis K. Brown), "when your kind face & pleasant words cheered the soldier Boys & won their hearts. I never shall forget the first time you came in after David & I got there. We Loved you from the first time we spoke to you." In Wilson's first letter, written on November 11, 1865, he began: "I suppose you will think that I have forgotten you long before this time but I have not, your kindness to me while in the hospital will never be forgotten by me." After a lapse in the correspondence, he wrote on December 16, 1866: "I wish if aggreeable to yourself to keep up a regular correspondence between us ... I think it will be of benefit to me morally, and perhaps will not be of any detriment to you." In this letter he admitted that he had just discovered that Whitman was a poet. On January 27, 1867, he informed Whitman that he had been reading Leaves of Grass, but complained: "I wrote to you a year and more ago that I was married but did not receive any reply, so I did not know but you was displeased with it"; he concluded the letter: "I remain as ever your 
      Boy Friend 
      with Love 
      Benton H. Wilson." Walt Whitman replied (lost), and sent The Good Gray Poet, which Wilson acknowledged on February 3, 1867. On April 7, 1867, after he informed Whitman that his wife had gone to the hospital for her first confinement (the child was to be named Walt Whitman), Wilson complained: "I am poor and am proud of it but I hope to rise by honesty and industry. I am a married man but I am not happy for my disposition is not right. I have got a good Woman and I love her dearly but I seem to lack patience or something. I think I had ought to live alone, but I had not ought to feel so." On April 21, 1867, Wilson acknowledged Whitman's reply of April 12, 1867: "I do not want you to misunderstand my motives in writing to you of my Situation & feelings as I did in my last letter or else I shall have to be more guarded in my letters to you. I wrote so because you wanted me to write how I was situated, and give you my mind without reserve, and all that I want is your advice and Love, and I do not consider it cold lecture or dry advice. I wish you to write to me just as you feel & express yourself and advise as freely as you wish and will be satisfied." On September 15, 1867, Wilson wondered why Whitman had not replied. In his letter of December 19, 1869, Wilson reported that he had moved to Greene, N. Y., but was still selling melodeons and sewing machines. On May 15, 1870, Wilson informed Whitman of his father's death two weeks earlier and related that his son "Little Walt . . . is quite a boy now . . . and gets into all kinds of Mischief." Evidently Wilson wrote to the poet for the last time on June 23, 1875, when he wanted to know "what I can do to contribute to your comfort and happiness."
  • 2. Armory Square Hospital was the hospital Walt Whitman most frequently visited in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. Because of Armory Square's location near a steamboat landing and railroad, it received the bulk of serious casualties from Virginia battlefields. At the end of the war, it recorded the highest number of deaths among Washington hospitals. See Martin G. Murray, "Traveling with the Wounded: Walt Whitman and Washington's Civil War Hospitals." [back]
  • 3. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 4. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 5. Henry Wilson (1805–1870) was the father of Benton H. Wilson—a former U. S. Civil War soldier and one of Whitman's correspondents (for Benton Wilson, see Whitman's letters of April 12, 1867, and April 15, 1870). On May 15, 1870, Wilson informed Whitman of his father's death two weeks earlier; Benton's father, who "was insane at times," had written to Whitman on January 17, 1867, and on March 30, 1868. [back]
  • 6. Ann S. Williams Wilson (1809–1887) was the wife of Henry Wilson (1805–1870) and the mother of Whitman's friend, the former Civil War soldier, Benton H. Wilson. [back]
  • 7. Walter Whitman Wilson (1868–1906) was the son of former U.S. Civil War Soldier Benton Wilson (1843–1914?) and Nellie Gage Morrell Wilson (ca. 1841–1892). Walter's father, Benton, had met Whitman in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War, and Benton had named his first child in honor of the poet. Walter Whitman Wilson was a pawnbroker in New York for most of his life; he married Lillian M. Ferris Wilson Foran (1870–1935), and the couple had two children. [back]
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