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Walt Whitman to Alfred Pratt, 25 July 1867

Dear boy & comrade,1

It is a long while since I have written to you—I believe it is six months, or over—but you must not think I have forgotten you—I have thought of you often, & wished we could be together.

Al, I believe the last letter I got from you was last April.2 I went home about that time to Brooklyn, N. Y., & remained home quite a long time—one of my brothers, (who had been a soldier & all through the war, in the 9th Corps,) was sick with erysipelas, & lay very low for a while—but has recovered. My Mother, & the rest of the folks, are all well. I have had good health since I last wrote to you. I am still working in the Attorney General's Office, here—I am writing this letter at my desk in the office, seated by the same old open window, where I can look out & have a splendid view of the Potomac river, & the hills & trees & banks, for miles & miles. It looks pleasant enough—but we are having it very hot indeed, just now—last night was very oppressive—then the air is so close & stale in the city in hot weather any how—I sometimes feel as I could hardly breathe.

Alfred, I suppose you read in the papers about the trial of John H. Surratt3 for taking part in the murder of President Lincoln. I went down to the trial, day before yesterday. Surratt is very young—I sat near him & looked at him a long time—he sits most of the time fanning himself with a big palm leaf fan, & watches the witnesses with his sharp eyes—& his brother,4 a young farmer-looking man from Texas, sits close by him. The lawyers on both sides are very smart—sometimes the evidence goes strongly against him, & then again for him. It is very interesting to sit & hear the witnesses & the speeches of the lawyers. It has been a tedious trial, & it is hard to tell how it will end.

Al, you mentioned about your father buying a new farm, last spring. You must tell me how it goes—& also how you are getting along yourself, for I want to hear every thing, & all the particulars about you.

Tell your father & mother I would write to them, but I suppose writing to you is almost the same. I send them my love, & a full share to you, dearest comrade. My address is the same as you directed your former letters. Well, I must draw to a close. Alfred, your love for me, & the kind invitations you have sent me, & from the kind father & mother also, to come & pay you all a visit, are fully appreciated by me.5 I hope & intend to come & see you all, one of these days. Write & let me know if you get this. Farewell, my darling boy, & God bless you, & bless the dear parents also.

Walt Whitman.


  • 1. All that is known about Alfred Pratt is contained in this letter and those of June 10, 1865, August 7, 1865, August 26, 1865, September 27, 1866, January 29, 1867, October 28, 1867, July 1, 1869, and January 20, 1870. [back]
  • 2. Only two of Pratt's letters are extant—August 7, 1865 and September 29, 1867—both of which are held in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. [back]
  • 3. John H. Surratt, who had been a secret dispatch bearer for the Confederacy and involved, with his mother Anna, in John Wilkes Booth's conspiracy, fled the country before the murder of Abraham Lincoln. He remained a fugitive until he was arrested in Egypt in 1866. Unlike his mother, who had been convicted by a military tribunal and ordered hanged on July 7, 1865, the son was tried in a civil court, between June 10 and August 10, 1867. When the jury could not agree, a new trial was ordered, but because of inadequate evidence the government quietly released Surratt on June 22, 1868. His sister Anna sought clemency for her mother in 1865, but, presumably because of a conspiracy, her plea never reached the desk of President Andrew Johnson. See David Miller DeWitt, The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909). [back]
  • 4. Isaac was John Surratt's elder brother. His counsels were Joseph H. Bradley and Richard T. Merrick, and the government was represented by Edwards Pierrepont; see De Witt, The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909). [back]
  • 5. Walt Whitman mentioned one such invitation in his January 29, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]
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