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Walt Whitman to John Swinton, 3 February 1865

My dear friend,1

From the deep distress of my mother whose health is getting affected,2 & of my sister—& thinking it worth the trial myself, I write this hastily to ask you to do, or rather if you have an objection to do, as follows:

Write a brief letter, not filling more than one page, letter paper, to Lt. Gen. Grant. Date it from the office of the Times, which will add to its effect, & recal you to Gen. Grant. It is to request him to give directions, that one of the special exchanges (of which they are now making quite a number) shall be made, in favor of my brother George, and also another officer same regiment. State in short terms that Capt. Whitman has been in active military service of U. S. since April, 1861, nearly four years, has borne his part bravely in battles in nearly every part of the war in the United States, east & west, including Vicksburgh & Jackson, Miss.—has an aged widowed mother in deepest distress. Ask Gen. G. to order a special exchange of

Capt George W. Whitman, 51st New York Vol. & Lieut Samuel Pooley,25 51st New York Vol.

both of whom are now, or were lately, in C. S. Military Prison, in Danville, Va. (both the above officers have been promoted from the ranks for conduct on the field)—

Walt Whitman

My address is simply to Washington D. C. as I go to post office for my letters.


  • 1. Jeff suggested on January 31, 1865, that Whitman write to John Swinton: "Now, Walt, if you will remember among the first men that blowed for Grant and wrote him up, so to speak, was our friend John Swinton. . . . Now I am positive that a letter could be got from Swinton to Grant signed as Editor of the Times asking that a special exchange might be made in George's case." Swinton replied to Whitman on February 5, 1865, and included a letter to Grant in which he closely paraphrased Whitman's letter. In a lost letter, Whitman informed his family that he had written to Swinton, and, on February 7, Jeff replied that "we are all very joyful," and that Dr. Ruggles had visited Swinton "to urge him to write to Gen Grant." According to George M. Williamson, with Whitman's letter there is another from Lieutenant Colonel E. S. Parker, Grant's military secretary, dated February 13, 1865, informing Swinton that the cases of the two officers "had been ordered to be made a subject of special exchange" (Catalogue of a Collection of Books, Letters, and Manuscripts Written by Walt Whitman [Jamaica, New York: The Marion Press, 1903]). Swinton endorsed the envelope: "W. W. 1865 Asking me to help his captured brother. Successful." [back]
  • 2. Whitman overstated, for on the same day Jeff, who took nothing calmly, wrote from Brooklyn: "Mother is quite well—I think to-day [she] seems in better spirits than usual" (Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, February 3, 1865). [back]
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