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Walt Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 29 January 1867

Dearest mother,

I wrote to Han last Saturday. I hope you manage to keep comfortable this cold winter—it must be pretty tough up there on that bleak hill—It has been very cold here, but I have not minded it—My thick overcoat that Nelson1 made comes in first-rate this winter—it is quite good yet—I have not bought any new clothes for a long while—suppose I must get some next spring.

There is a Bill before Congress to give extra pay to the clerks—if it passes I shall have something extra, too—but I make no calculations on it, for I think it quite uncertain. The debates in Congress now are quite exciting—sometimes they hold their sessions quite late in the night, & things get to be quite stormy. William Hunter (who is in the House, from Brooklyn, to fill out James Humphrey's term)2 called a Republican member "a liar"—so the Speaker had Mr. Hunter up before him & gave him a formal reprimand—it was last Saturday. Mrs. Mix3 went that cold Friday night, twelve days ago—I have not heard from her. It was a bad night for a journey, & the track was blocked with snow.

I receive letters from the soldiers every now & then. Within a week I have had two invitations—one is from a young fellow named Alfred Pratt.4 I knew him in one of the hospitals two years ago, & more. His folks are farming people out in northwestern New York, near the shores of Lake Erie—he writes half the letter, & his father & mother write the other half, inviting me to come there & pay them a visit—the parents say they "will do every thing they can to make a country visit agreeable"—the letter is very old fashioned, but very good. Then I had another invitation, from a Michigan boy. He has got married, & has a small farm, not far from Detroit.

Do you remember Lewis Brown,5 the Maryland boy, who had such a time with his leg, & had it amputated at last in Armory Square hospital? He is quite well otherwise, & has got a place in the Treasury Dep't. I send the advertisement of the new book about the Ninth Corps—if George wants it, I think he can find it at the American News Co. 121 Nassau st. New York6—We have ill luck among the clerks &c in our office—I send a little slip from the Washington Star7—then another clerk, Mr. Rowland,8 is lying very sick. It is doubtful if he recovers. Wm. O'Connor has just been in to see me—He is well & flourishing.


Mother, no letter from you the past week—


  • 1. There were two tailors by this name in the Brooklyn Directory of 1865–1866: Andrew, 372 Myrtle Avenue, and N., 739 Atlantic Avenue. [back]
  • 2. John Ward Hunter (1807–1900), not William, was elected to complete the term of James Humphrey (1811–1866), who was a Congressman from 1859 to 1861, and, after two unsuccessful attempts, was elected for the second time in 1864. [back]
  • 3. Mary Mix lived with her daughter, Juliet Grayson, who operated the boardinghouse at 468 M North, where Walt Whitman lived between late January 1865 and February 1866. After her daughter's death on January 7, 1867 (which Whitman reported to his mother on January 15, 1867), Whitman wrote in a January 22, 1867 letter to his mother that Mix would be leaving Washington to live with her granddaughter, Mrs. Samuel S. Haskell, Jr. [back]
  • 4. 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, July 25, 1867, October 28, 1867, July 1, 1869, and January 20, 1870. [back]
  • 5. 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 of 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.) [back]
  • 6. The book in question is Augustus Woodbury, Burnside and the Ninth Army Corps: A Narrative of Operations in North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee (Sidney S. Rider & Bros., Publishers, Providence, R.I.). Walt Whitman pasted on the advertisement of the book. He had previously written of Jeff's potential interest in the book in his January 22, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [back]
  • 7. The clipping from the Star read: "Accidents.—On Tuesday morning, as Mr. J. Hubley Ashton, Assistant Attorney General, was leaving his residence, corner of 14th and F streets, he fell and cut his face so badly as to confine him to his room for a few days. On the following day, Mr. F. U. Stitt, the pardon clerk of the same office, received a fall, by which his left arm was badly injured." Ashton actively interested himself in Walt Whitman's affairs and obtained a position for the poet in his office after the Harlan fracas. [back]
  • 8. John A. Rowland, a clerk in the Attorney General's office, substituted for Walt Whitman when he was on leave in 1870. [back]
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