Walt Whitman Writes His Mother about a Regimental Flag, a Precious Treasure
April 10, 1864
Washington | April 10th 1864.
I rec’d your letter & sent the one you sent for George immediately — he must have got it the next day — I had got one from him before yours arrived — I mean to go to Annapolis & see him
Mother, we expect a commencement of the fighting below very soon, there is every indication of it . . . there are exciting times in Congress — the Copperheads [Northerners who are sympathetic to the Confederacy] are getting furious, & want to recognize the Southern Confederacy — this is a pretty time to talk of recognizing such villains after what they have done, and after what has transpired the last three years — After first Fredericksburgh I felt discouraged myself, & doubted whether our rulers could carry on the war — but that has past away, the war must be carried on — & I would willingly go myself in the ranks if I thought it would profit more than at present, & I don’t know sometimes but I shall as it is —
Mother, you dont know what a feeling a man gets after being in the active sights & influences of the camp, the Army, the wounded &c. — he gets to have a deep feeling he never experienced before — the flag, the tune of Yankee Doodle, & similar things, produce an effect on a fellow never such before — I have seen some bring tears on the men’s cheeks, & others turn pale, under such circumstances — I have a little flag (it belonged to one of our cavalry reg’ts) presented to me by one of the wounded — it was taken by the secesh in a cavalry fight, & rescued by our men in a bloody little skirmish, it cost three men’s lives, just to get one little flag, four by three — our men rescued it, & tore it from the breast of a dead rebel — all that just for the name of getting their little banner back again — this man that got it was very badly wounded, & they let him keep it — I was with him a good deal, he wanted to give me something he said, he didn’t expect to live, so he gave me the little banner as a keepsake — I mention this, Mother, to show you a specimen of the feeling — there isn’t a reg’t, cavalry or infantry, that wouldn’t do the same, on occasion —
Tuesday morning April 12th Mother, I will finish my letter this morning — it is a beautiful day to-day — I was up in Congress very late last night, the house had a very excited night session about expelling the men that want to recognize the Southern Confederacy — You ought to hear the soldiers talk — they are excited to madness — we shall probably have hot times here not in the Army alone — the soldiers are true as the north star — I send you a couple of envelopes, & one to George — Write how you are, dear Mother, & all the rest — I want to see you all — Jeff, my dear brother, I wish you was here, & Mat too — Write how sis is — I am well as usual, indeed first rate every way — I want to come on in a month, & try to print my “Drum Taps” — I think it may be a success pecuniarily too — Dearest Mother, I hope this will find you entirely well, & dear sister Mat & all.
Of Course, They Didn’t Know What the Future Held
April 9, 1864. In April of 1864, there was no sight of a Union military victory any time soon, and, moreover, it looked highly unlikely that President Lincoln would be re-elected. If he were defeated in the November election, it was expected that the new president, George McClellan, would stop the war. The result would most likely have been both the end of the Union and the continuation of slavery.
What they didn’t know, of course, was that Lincoln would be re-elected seven months later, and that the war would end exactly one year later.
But then in a war as bloody as this one, a year was still a long time.
– Both pieces in this edition were submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert