User menu


Letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, March 8, 1863

Whitman, Walt. "Letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, March 8, 1863." Walt Whitman: The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. New York: New York University Press, 1961. 77-78.
Full Text Available Below
Permission to reprint this text has been granted by New York University Press.

Whitman writes to his mother from Washington. He tells her about a poor Frenchman named d’Almeida who is wrongly held in the Old Capitol prison, and complains about the brutish officials who run the place.

Full Text

To Louisa Van Velsor Whitman
Washington, Sunday | March 8th 1863.

Dearest Mother,
Jeff must have got quite a long letter, (three sheets,) I wrote Thursday od Friday last—nothing particular. This is the fifth letter I have sent with shinplasters in—(Since George’s $3 got lost I am more on the alert and mention the)—
The poor Frenchman d’Almeida I told you about in my last, got out of the Old Capitol prison this morning—has been in a week—it was a most ridiculous thing putting him in—he was as square a man as I am—while he was in, the chief officer of the prison laughed sarcastically one day at his broken English, and d’Almeida said, “Sir you ought not to laugh—you ought much more to weep, to see a poor traveler like me in such a misfortune”—and Mr. Chief Officer immediately called the guard and sent d’Almeida to the guard-house for that awful offence of making such an answer. The guard-house is a nasty, lousy dungeon without light—in it was a nigger with his wrists in manacles, and four white deserters—there is among the Old Capitol prisoners a little boy of seven years old—he and his father were taken as secesh guerillas In Virginia, and the government is holding on to the child, to exchange him for some Union prisoner south, in an exchange. Mother, my heart bleeds at all sorts of such damnable things of one kind or another I meet with every day—it is not the fault of the President—he would not harm any human being—nor of Seward or Stanton—but the heartless mean-souled brutes that get in positions subordinate but where they can show themselves, and their damned airs and pomposity—they think nothing of treating a man like the worst slave-owner is supposed to treat his niggers—
Meanwhile the great officers of the government have every minute occupied with pressing business, and these wretches have full swing. It seems impossible that there could be in the Free States such tyrants, as many you see hereabout—This d’Almeida is a very modest man, a real French gentleman, poor, and quite distinguished as a traveler and man of science—and is a Professor in the Academy of France. He takes or appears to take his misfortunes very goodnaturedly—yet it must have cut pretty deep on some accounts, he suffered every humiliation.
Well, dearest mother, how does it go at home? I hope you are none of you going to move—I hope it is arranged that you shall stay—there would be something dissatisfactory wherever you should go. I was real glad to hear Jeff had abandoned the idea of building, this spring—to attempt it without money is winding oneself round and round in the devil’s own net.
I saw Frederick Ellison here yesterday—he is a young man that used to be in Hughes’s store there above Cumberland street—he is in the 9th N.Y. Militia—has just come from Brooklyn, where he has been on a furlough—
I would be glad to hear about Han—I must write to her very soon. I have not heard from George since. Yesterday I spent the day at Emory Hospital—a very needy place—I gave out a great many things, and about $4 in money—it was a good day. I was covered with mud, getting there. (I don’t mean good weather, it rained hard)—

Jeff, I shall write a few lines soon to Mr. Rae—also to the firm that contributed the $10. I have not yet rec’d the engravings.

People who Created this Work

Whitman, Walt author