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DEAREST MOTHER I wrote to Jeff Sunday last that his letter sent Sept. 3rd, containing your letter and $5 from Mr. Lane, had miscarried this morning when I came down to Major Hapgood' s office I found it on my table, so it is all right singular where it has been all this while, as I see the postmark on it is Brooklyn, Sept. 3, as Jeff said. Mother, what to do about Andrew I hardly know as it is I feel about as much pity for you as I do for my poor brother Andrew, for I know you will worry yourself about him all the time. I was in hopes it was only the trouble about the voice, etc., but I see I was mistaken, and it is probably worse. I know you and Jeff and Mat will do all you can and will have patience with all (it is not only the sick who are poorly off, but their friends ; but it is best to have the greatest forbearance, and do and give, etc., whatever one can but you know that, and practice it too, dear mother). Mother, if I had the means, O how cheerfully I would give them, whether they availed anything for Andrew or not yet I have long made up my mind that money does not amount to so much, at least not so very much, in serious cases of sickness ; it is judgment both in the person himself, and in those he has to do with and good heart in everything. (Mother, you remember Theodore Gould, how he stuck it out, though sickness and death has had hold of him, as you may say, for fifteen years.) But anyhow, I hope we will all do what we can for Andrew. Mother, I think I must try to come home for a month I have not given up my project of lecturing I spoke about before, but shall put it in practice yet ; I feel clear it will succeed enough. (I wish I had some of the money already ; it would be satisfaction to me to contribute something to Andrew's necessities, for he must have bread.) I will write to you, of course, before I come. Mother, I hope you will live better Jeff tells me you and Jess and Ed live on poor stuff, you are so economical. Mother, you mustn't do so as long as you have a cent I hope you will, at least four or five times a week, have a steak of beef or mutton, or something substantial for dinner. I have one good meal of that kind every day, or at least five or six days out of the seven but for breakfast I have nothing but a cup of tea and some bread or crackers (first-rate tea though, with milk and good white sugar). Well, I find it is hearty enough more than half the time I never eat anything after dinner, and when I do it is only a cracker and cup of tea. Mother, I hope you will not stint yourselves as to using George's money for your and Jess's and Ed's needful living expenses, I know George would be mad and hurt in his feelings if he thought you was afraid to. Mother, you have a comfortable time as much as you can, and get a steak occasionally, won't you ? I suppose Mat got her letter last Saturday ; I sent it Friday. O I was so pleased that Jeff was not drawn, and I know how Mat must have felt too; I have no idea the Government will try to draft again, whatever happens they have carried their point, but have not made much out of it. O how the conscripts and substitutes are deserting down in front and on their way there you don't hear anything about it, but it is incredible they don't allow it to get in the papers. Mother, I was so glad to get your letter ; you must write again can't you write to-morrow, so I can get it Friday or Saturday ? you know though you wrote more than a week ago I did not get it till this morning. I wish Jeff to write too, as often as he can. Mother, I was gratified to hear you went up among the soldiers they are rude in appearance, but they know what is decent, and it pleases them much to have folks, even old women, take an interest and come among them. Mother, you must go again, and take Mat. Well, dear mother, I must close. I am first rate in health, so much better than a month and two months ago my hand has entirely healed. I go to hospital every day or night I believe no men ever loved each other as I and some of these poor wounded sick and dying men love each other. Good-bye, dearest mother, for present. WALT.
'Tuesday afternoon. Mother, it seems to be certain that Meade has gained the day, and that the battles there in Pennsylvania have been about as terrible as any in the war I think the killed and wounded there on both sides were as many as eighteen or twenty thousand in one place, four or five acres, there were a thousand dead at daybreak on Saturday morning. Mother, one's heart grows sick of war, after all, when you see what it really is ; every once in a while I feel so horrified and disgusted it seems to me like a great slaughter-house and the men mutually butchering each other then I feel how impossible it appears, again, to retire from this contest, until we have carried our points (it is cruel to be so tossed from pillar to post in one's judgment). Washington is a pleasant place in some respects it has the finest trees, and plenty of them everywhere, on the streets and grounds. The Capitol grounds, though small, have the finest cultivated trees I ever see there is a great variety, and not one but is in perfect condition. After I finish this letter I am going out there for an hour's recreation. The great sights of Washington are the public buildings, the wide streets, the public grounds, the trees, the Smithsonian institute and grounds. I go to the latter occasionally the institute is an old fogy concern, but the grounds are fine. Sometimes I go up to Georgetown, about two and a half miles up the Potomac, an old town just opposite it in the river is an island, where the niggers have their first Washington reg't encamped. They make a good show, are often seen in the streets of Washington in squads. Since they have begun to carry arms, the Secesh here and in Georgetown (about three fifths) are not insulting to them as formerly.
One of the things here always on the go is long trains of army wagons sometimes they will stream along all day ; it almost seems as if there was nothing else but army wagons and ambulances. They have great camps here in every direction, of army wagons, teamsters, ambulance camps, etc. ; some of them are permanent, and have small hospitals. I go to them (as no one else goes ; ladies would not venture). I sometimes have the luck to give some of the drivers a great deal of comfort and help. Indeed, mother, there are camps here of everything I went once or twice to the contraband camp, to the hospital, etc., but I could not bring myself to go again when I meet black men or boys among my own hospitals, I use them kindly, give them something, etc. I believe I told you that I do the same to the wounded Rebels, too but as there is a limit to one's sinews and endurance and sympathies, etc., I have got in the way, after going lightly, as it were, all through the wards of a hospital, and trying to give a word of cheer, if nothing else, to every one, then confining my special attentions to the few where the investment seems to tell best, and who want it most. Mother, I have real pride in telling you that I have the consciousness of saving quite a number of lives by saving them from giving up and being a good deal with them ; the men say it is so, and the doctors say it is so and I will candidly confess I can see it is true, though I say it of myself. I know you will like to hear it, mother, so I tell you. I am finishing this in Major Hapgood's office, about I o'clock it is pretty warm, but has not cleared off yet The trees look so well from where I am, and the Potomac it is a noble river ; I see it several miles, and the Arlington heights. Mother, I see some of the 47th Brooklyn every day or two ; the reg't is on the heights back of Arlington house, a fine camp ground. O Matty, I have just thought of you dear sister, how are you getting along ? Jeff, I will write you truly. Good-bye for the present, dearest mother, and all. WALT.
- Walt Whitman
- THE WOUND DRESSER A Series of Letters Written from the Hospitals in Washington During the War of the Rebellion, Walt Whitman, 1898