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John F. S. (Fred) Gray to Walt Whitman, 1 May 1863

My very dear Friend,

Finally I find time and quiet to write you—I beseech you be not angry at what may seem to you to be "apostate sentimentalism" & neglect! To say that in the past two months I have had no time to acknowledge the receipt of your very welcome letter would be stupid; but, on the other hand, to affirm that during this time I had thought it better, influenced, perhaps, by my invariable tendency to procrastinate, to postpone writing till I could do so quietly, & in a manner befitting my earnest affection for you & the memory of the "good old times," would be emphatically the truth. Be appeased! Remember that since I left Genl. Smith I have been constantly on the "go"; either attending Genl. Wool1 (with whom I now am) on his tours of inspection, or bothering my brain with the detestable clerical duties incidental to my position. I take for granted that you are mollified, & herewith proceed to talk unrestrainedly to you.

The Spring has come, & I long to have you write me again—on reading this sentence you will undoubtedly ask yourself why the "apostate sentimentalist" should wish to see you because the Spring had come: answer: I don't know. Charley Chauncey, of whose illness you have heard, is said to be much better—I leave my card often, but never see him, owing to the fact that only a chosen few are allowed that priviledge​ , but friend Raymond is dead.2 During a march from New Orleans he was suddenly attacked by congestive-fever, & in less than 48 hours he had made his adieus to this world & gone roaming into the suppositive one. Curious that the "Hater" should be first one to go. Our little joyful party of a year ago is entirely broken up. Now & then I see Bloom & Fritsch—the others I rarely see. You ask me to tell you about myself—alas! it would be but a stupid catalogue of folly to bore you with. How long I shall remain with Genl. Wool I do not know; if the government see fit to give either Genl. Smith or Genl. Franklin3 an active command I shall in all probability enter the field again. I have just come from my Mother, who, together with my Father, desires to be kindly remembered to you. My mother says she has heard of your whereabouts & what you are doing from the news-papers4—furthermore she states with unusual vehemence that she thought you a good & noble man & that the Deity would be sure even. I state what my Mother said mainly as an illustration of what a great many others have remarked to me concerning you & your noble devotion to suffering man. As for myself I must say that I feel d—d proud of you.

Don't forget to destroy this almost illegible & dirty letter? It is a shame to send it to you, but I fear if I commence another I shall be interrupted & not get through with it.

I had a very different life from what I did last summer—no more beer-houses & disreputable "cakes & ale". Sometimes when I think of my poor little Clothilde & you I feel as if I were not as happy now as then. However, "man must work & woman must weep" I suppose!

Everybody whom I meet who knew you formally asks after you with unaffected interest. Charley Russel5 was in town some weeks ago, he told me not to fail to send his warmest love to you. He is on Genl. Meade's6 staff as Medical Inspector Genl. of the 5th Corps d'armeé— a first rate position & one that he has earned by his industry & talents.

If I remain in town this summer I hope you will come on & see me. I detest writing letters to a dear friend like you—its such a devilish slow & insufficient way of communicating your thoughts.

The country looks charmingly now—the other day I took a walk in the central park with Perk.7; the park was so heavenly that it actually made me as sentimental & lachrymose as a school-boy—I'm damned if I wouldn't have given up all my hopes in the future to have had you & my little girl with me then. Don't fail to write me, will you, old Boy! Be Charitable & forgive! The Original Jacobo has just ordered me to see about some d—d fortification.

Good Bye old Boy!

John Frederick Schiller Gray was a captain in the Twentieth New York Infantry and later held the same rank in the Assistant Adjutant General's Volunteers. He became a major on January 4, 1865, and resigned on December 6 of the same year; see Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 2 vols. (Washington D.C.: Government Publications Office, 1903). In 1862 he fought in the battle at Antietam, and at Charles Pfaff's beer cellar located in lower Manhattan, he gave Whitman "a fearful account of the battlefield at ½ past 9 the night following the engagement." (For discussion of Whitman's activity at Pfaff's, see "The Bohemian Years.") See Whitman's notations in Frederick W. Hedge's Prose Writers of Germany, reprinted in Emory Holloway, ed., Walt Whitman—Complete Poetry & Selected Prose and Letters (London: Nonesuch Press, 1938), 1099. In 1864, according to one of Whitman's notebooks (Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman, The Library of Congress, Notebook #103), Gray was stationed at New Orleans. He graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York in 1871, and briefly practiced medicine with his father in New York. Whitman referred to him during this period in a notebook (The Library of Congress, Notebook #109). Later he practiced in Paris, Nice, and Geneva. He died of Bright's disease at St. Clair Springs, Michigan, on April 18, 1891; obituaries appeared in the New York Herald and the New York Tribune on August 19, 1891.


  • 1. General John Ellis Wool (1784–1869) was the oldest Union general of the American Civil War and was in command of the Department of the East. Among other assignments, he led military operations in New York City during and after the draft riots the following July. [back]
  • 2. A Charles W. Chauncey was listed as an importer in the New York Directories of the period. Chauncey was part of the so-called Fred Gray Association, a group that gathered at Pfaff's beer saloon and that Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price characterize as "a loose confederation of young men who seemed anxious to explore new possibilities of male-male affection" (see chapter four, "Intimate Script and the New American Bible: 'Calamus' and the Making of the 1860 Leaves of Grass" from Re-Scripting Walt Whitman: An Introduction to His Life and Work). Along with Chauncey, members of the Fred Gray Association included Walt Whitman, John Frederick Schiller (Fred) Gray, Nathaniel Bloom, Benjamin Knower, Charles S. Kingsley, Charles Porter Russell, Hugo Fritsch, Fred Vaughan, Samuel M. Raymond, a man known only as "Perkins," another known only as "Towle," and someone referred to as "Mullen," who may be Edward F. Mullen, an illustrator. [back]
  • 3. It is not clear which general with the surname Smith is meant here. General William Buel Franklin (1823–1903) was a Union Army general in the American Civil War who saw action in the Peninsula Campaign, the Battle of Antietam, and the Battle of Fredericksburg. [back]
  • 4. Gray's mother may have seen Whitman's "The Great Army of the Sick" in the New York Times (February 26, 1863) or "Life Among Fifty Thousand Soldiers" in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (March 19, 1863). [back]
  • 5. Charles Russell, as mentioned in note 3, was part of the so-called Fred Gray Association. [back]
  • 6. George Gordon Meade (1815–1872) was a Union general during the Civil War who rose to the command of the Army of the Potomac. He is best known for his defeat of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. [back]
  • 7. This may be a reference to the "Perkins" affiliated with the Fred Gray Association (see note 3 above). [back]
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