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Walt Whitman to Lewis K. Brown, 11 July 1864

Dear comrade

I have rec'd your letter of the 6th1 as it has been sent on to me by Major Hapgood. My dear comrade, I have been very sick, and have been brought on home nearly three weeks ago, after being sick some ten days in Washington—The doctors say my sickness is from having too deeply imbibed poison into my system from the hospitals—I had spells of deathly faintness, & the disease also attacked my head & throat pretty seriously—

The doctors forbid me going any more into the hospitals—I did not think much of it, till I got pretty weak, & then they directed me to leave & go north for change of air as soon as I had strength—But I am making too long a story of it—I thought only to write you a line—My dear comrade, I am now over the worst of it & have been getting better the last three days—my brother took me out in a carriage for a short ride yesterday which is the first I have been out of the house since I have been home—the doctor tells me to-day I shall soon be around which will be very acceptable—This is the first sickness I have ever had & I find upon trial such things as faintness, headache & trembling & tossing all night, & all day too, are not proper companions for a good union man like myself—

Lewy, I dont know any news to send you—the acc'ts here to-night are that the railroad & telegraph between Baltimore & Washington are cut, & also between Philadelphia by the rebel invasion2

My dear boy, you say you would like to see me—well I would give any thing to see your face again too—I think of you often—tell Jo Harris & Bartlett3 I have not forgotten them—

And now good bye, Lewy, & accept my heartfelt & true love, my dearest comrade—& I will try to write again before a great while & tell you how I am getting along, & which way I expect to move, &c. And I hope you will do the same to me—

So good bye again, Lew, & God bless you, dear son, now & through life—

Walt Whitman

Portland av near Myrtle | Brooklyn | New York


  • 1. Lewis Kirke 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 Library of Congress, Whitman described Brown on February 19, 1863, 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 (Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #103). Brown was mustered out in August 1864, and was employed in the Provost General's office in September; see Whitman's letter from September 11, 1864 . 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 draws upon a memorandum which was prepared by Brown's family and is now held in the Library of Congress.)Brown had written from the Judiciary Square Hospital in an attempt to locate Whitman. Usually inarticulate, Brown was deeply moved in his reply to Whitman on July 18, 1864: "I was also very sory to hear of your illness & to think that it was brought on by your unselfish kindness to the Soldiers. There is a many a soldier now that never thinks of you but with emotions of the greatest gratitude & I know that the soldiers that you have bin so kind to have a great big warm place in their heart for you. I never think of you but it makes my heart glad to think that I have bin permited to know one so good." [back]
  • 2. In his letter of July 18, 1864, Brown gave a colorful firsthand account of the attempted invasion of Washington. He had hobbled to the front on his crutches and had remained there until witnesses near him were killed. John Burroughs was also a participant in this skirmish; see Burroughs's letter to Whitman from August 2, 1864. [back]
  • 3. Brown, on July 18, 1864, reported that he had not seen Adrian Bartlett and Joseph Harris since they returned from a spree to Baltimore on July 4. According to his letter of September 5, 1864, the three young men were living in a Washington boardinghouse; Harris was not in good health, and Bartlett worked in the Treasury Department. Harris enclosed a letter with Brown's on September 5, 1864. Brown and Bartlett were still clerks in the Treasury on May 30, 1867; see "Letter from Walt Whitman to Hiram Sholes, 30 May 1867" (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:331–332). [back]
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