Skip to main content

Mary A. Babbitt to Walt Whitman, 6 September 1863

Dear Sir

I feel that as my brothers friend you have been neglecred but owing to sickness in the family having been away most of the time I have not had much spare time.1 Caleb is not quite as well as when I wrore you before. He can not sit up at all. He was very much pleased with your letter & he wishes me to tell you to keep writing if you do not hear from him first. for your letters do him more good than a great deal of medicine. He wants to know if you will be so kind as to ask Dr. Bliss2 what he must do to have his furlough extended if he should not be able to come back then. His head troubles him very much and I fear he will not be able to come back for a long time if ever through he will not own it. Hoping to hear from you again soon I will now close, Yours Respectfully


  • 1. As Whitman informed Mrs. Curtis in a October 28, 1863, Caleb Babbitt suffered a sun stroke in July and was admitted to Armory Square Hospital. According to the "Hospital Note Book" (Henry E. Huntington Library), Babbitt had been in Mobile, Alabama, earlier. About August 1, 1863, he left Washington on furlough. On August 18, 1863, Caleb's sister, Mary A. Babbitt informed Whitman of Caleb's arrival in Barre, Massachusetts; because of his exhaustion he was unable to write. On September 18, 1863, at the expiration of his forty-day furlough, Caleb was strong enough to write: "Walt—In your letters you wish me to imagine you talking with me when I read them, well I do, and it does very well to think about, but it is nothing compared with the original." On October 18, 1863, Babbitt was depressed—"dark clouds seem to be lying in my pathway and I can not remove them nor hide them from my mind"—until he mentioned his beloved, Nellie F. Clark, who "has saved me." On October 26, 1863, S. H. Childs wrote for Caleb from the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston: "He Is unable to set up & suffers considerable pain In his head." See also Whitman's letters from December 27, 1863, and February 8, 1864. [back]
  • 2. D. Willard Bliss (1825–1889) was a surgeon with the Third Michigan Infantry, and afterward in charge of Armory Square Hospital. See John Homer Bliss, Genealogy of the Bliss Family in America, from about the year 1550 to 1880 (Boston: John Homer Bliss, 1881), 545. He practiced medicine in Washington after the war; see "Letter from Walt Whitman to Hiram Sholes, May 30, 1867" (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961], 1:331–332). When a pension for Whitman was proposed in the House of Representatives in 1887, Dr. Bliss was quoted: "I am of opinion that no one person who assisted in the hospitals during the war accomplished so much good to the soldiers and for the Government as Mr. Whitman" (Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 169). [back]
Back to top