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Walt Whitman to Thomas P. Sawyer, 27 May 1863

Dear brother,

I sit down to rattle off in haste a few lines to you. I do not know what is the reason I have been favored with nary a word from you, to let me know whether you are alive & well—that is, if you are so, which I pray to God you are. My thoughts are with you often enough, & I make reckoning when we shall one day be together again—yet how useless it is to make calculations for the future. Still a fellow will.

Tom, I wrote you one letter April 21st, & then another April 26th. The first one must have gone all right, as a letter was received by me April 28th,1 (very pretty written)—but I have not heard whether you got my second letter. I enclosed in it an envelope with my address on, in hopes you would write to me.

Well, dear brother, the great battle between Hooker & Lee came off, & what a battle it was—without any decisive results again, though at the cost of so many brave men's lives & limbs—it seems too dreadful, that such bloody contests, without settling any thing, should go on. The hospitals here are filled with the wounded, I think the worst cases & the plentiest of any fighting yet. Was you in the fight? I have made inquiries of two of the 11th Mass. here in hospital, but they could not tell me about you for certain.

Lewy Brown2 seems to be getting along pretty well. I hope he will be up & around before long—he is a good boy, & has my love, & when he is discharged, I should feel it a comfort to share with Lewy whatever I might have—& indeed if I ever have the means, he shall never want.

Dr. Bliss3 was removed from Armory & put for a few days in the Old Capitol prison—there is now some talk however of his going back to Armory. There is no particular change in my affairs here—I just about manage to pay my way, with newspaper correspondence &c. Tom, I believe I shall have to lay pipe for some office, clerkship, or something—

We had awful hot weather here three or four days ago—O how the grease run off of me—I invested in an umbrella & fan—it must have been gay4 down there about Falmouth—didn't you want some ice cream about last Sunday?

My dearest comrade, I cannot, though I attempt it, put in a letter the feelings of my heart—I suppose my letters sound strange & unusual to you as it is, but as I am only expressing the truth in them, I do not trouble myself on that account. As I intimated before, I do not expect you to return for me the same degree of love I have for you.


  • 1. See Whitman's letter from May 5, 1863. [back]
  • 2. Lewis K. 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 Feinberg Collection, Whitman on February 19 described Brown 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 (Library of Congress #103). Brown was mustered out in August 1864, and was employed in the Provost General's office in September. 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 is drawn from a memorandum prepared by Brown's family, now in the Library of Congress.) [back]
  • 3. 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" (Correspondence, 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).The only reference that Miller was able to find with regard to Bliss's imprisonment appears in court testimony quoted by Lafayette C. Baker, History of the United States Secret Service (Philadelphia: L. C. Baker, 1867), 624. [back]
  • 4. Whitman changed "celestial" to "gay." [back]
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