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George Washington Whitman to Thomas Jefferson Whitman, 8 January 1863

Dear Brother

I am very very sorry to have coused you all so much uneasyness. I was in hopes that you would not hear of our Regts being in the fight untill you got my letter. How my name came to be in the papers I cant see, as I was very careful not to report myself in the list of wounded in my company, but I think Colonel Potter1 who saw the scratch on my face, must have aded my name to the list little thinking I suppose how much uneasyness it would cause at home. But there is one consolation Jeff,  I know that I would have been well cared for if I had been badly hurt, for Walt told me how anxious Matt was to come on and take care of me, and that she was to come to Washington as soon as he sent word that I was there, and it seems to me I would have to be pretty badly hurt if I did not soon get well, if I could get home and be doctored by Mother and Mattie. Poor old Mother  she is hardly ever out of my mind, when we are going into a fight, and I have often thought when I have been in a pretty hot place, how glad I was that none of you at home, knew anything about it, and it makes me feel quite bad to think how worried you all were, on account of seeing my name in the list of wounded, while I was just as well as ever I was in my life, as the scratch I got scared me a great deal worse than it hurt,  It was a mighty warm place we were into when I was hit, as the Rebs had a battery planted right in front of us and not more than 1000 yards distance, and they poured grape and cannister into us like the very devil. You see we had to advance over a level plane and their batteries being on high ground and they being behind breastworks we had no chance at them, while they could take as deliberate aim as a fellow would at a chicken,  the range was so short, that they threw percussion shels into our ranks, that would drop at our feet and explode killing and wounding Three or four every pop. It was a peice of one of that kind of varmints that struck me in the jaw,  the shell burst right at my feet so I think that I got off pretty luckey.  I had several pretty narrow chances that day, but you know the almynack says, a miss is as good &C. I suppose Walt has told you all the particulars of his visit here,2 I have had one letter from him since he went to Washington,3  he says he shall probaly stay there some time. We are haveing very comfortable times here in camp, as the weather is fine and we have plenty to eat. The rebels still hold the other side of the river and apear to be in considerable force, but they keep very quiet, and mind their own business, and we do the same,  I dont see much signs of a move on our part although the camp is full of rumors, of our going to some of the Fortifications around Washington but I have heard so much of that kind of talk that I dont put any faith in it, although I think they will have to do something with our Regt soon as we can only turn out about 160 men and it seems to me to be foolishness, to pay the officers and keep such Regt's in the feild, when there are plenty of full Regt's laying idle around Washington and in Maryland. Nearly all the old Regts about here have been partly filled up, except the three old Regts of our Brigade, which rather looks to me as if they intended to consolidate us with some other New York Regt or send us somewhere to do garrison duty. I rather think the greater part of the fighting for our Regt is over. Jeff I got your letter of Jan 2d yesterday morning and am very sory to hear that Han has not recovered from her sickness,  is there no way to get her to come home,  I am sure she would soon get better if she would come home. Jeff you seem to think I had better come home too,4  well I dont know but you about are half right, but I am a great deal better off than you think, and Walt can tell you how foolish Mother, and the rest of you are to worry on my account. I dont much like the idea of resigning as long as we lay here right in front of the enemy, but I think I shall ask for a Furlough bye and bye, for a short time, if things remain quiet, and if I dont get it, I shall probaly send in my resignation, but if they would accept it or not I dont know. My pay is now about $125 a month and tell Mother, I have drawn several plans, for that little house in the Country, where, Mattie, and Sis, and the rest of us can go and visit her, and where she will have nothing to do but feed chickens and make pumpkin pies and sich like, and tell her if she will only take things cooly and not worry, things will all come out right.

We have just heard of the splendid victory of Rosecrans at Murfreesboro.5 It seems to me very strange that away down in the Southwest our forces should accomplish almost anything they undertake, while here almost under the shadow of the Capitol of the nation where all the Big guns, are supposed to be, we can do nothing and yet we have plenty of as good men as any General could ask for, as was proved in the Fredricksburg fight,  I am pretty well satisfied that as yet we have had no one to command the Army of the Potomac that was a match for Lee, and it seems to me that in all the fights I have been in since we have been in the Potomac army (except the battle of South mountain) we have been most terribly outgenerald,  the men fight as well as men can fight, and I firmly believe that all we want, is some one competent to lead, to finish up this work in short order.6 I got a letter from boss Rac7 a day or two ago. Jeff write me often, and give my love to all.

George W. Whitman


  • 1. Robert Brown Potter (1829–1887) was a lawyer who enlisted as a private at the beginning of the war. He rose rapidly and became a lieutenant colonel on November 1, 1861. [back]
  • 2. See the letter from Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, December 29, 1862. [back]
  • 3. Whitman remained at the Fifty-First Regiment's camp near Falmouth until December 28, 1862 (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:58). [back]
  • 4. In a letter to Walt dated January 1, 1863, Jeff wrote: "I have written George, somewhat urging him to quit the army. I think that it is the duty of all of us to urge this upon him,  I honestly think that he has done enough and run risk enough for any one man.... Walt, I beg of you, do not neglect to see George and put this thing in its strongest light. Just think for a moment of the number of suckers that are gaining all the real benefits of the war (if that is not wicked to say) and think of George and thousands of others running all the risk..." [back]
  • 5. General William Starke Rosecrans (1819–1898) was then in command of the Army of the Cumberland. In December 1862 he repulsed General Bragg's Army of Tennessee at Murfreesboro, Tennessee—an engagement in which the total loss for both sides approached twenty-five thousand. [back]
  • 6. See the letter from George Washington Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, September 5?, 1862. [back]
  • 7. E. Rac was either the owner or foreman of a construction company building houses in Brooklyn. On at least one occasion, Rac contributed five dollars to Walt Whitman's hospital fund for wounded and sick Union soldiers. See the letter from Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, February 12, 1863. [back]
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