Title: The Fifty-first New-York Volunteers
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: January 24, 1865
Publication information: New-York Times 24 January 1865: 3.
Source: Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of an original issue.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00202
Contributors to digital file: Ashley Lawson, Janel Cayer, Sarah Walker, and Elizabeth Lorang
cropped image 1
The Fifty-first New-York Volunteers.
Since the capture of this veteran regiment last September at the battle of Poplar Grove Church,1 below Petersburgh, the friends of the officers and men had lost all trace of them—no letters being received, and much anxiety beginning to be felt about them. But within the current week an exchanged Union Chaplain, Rev. Mr. EMERSON, returned from confinement at Danville, Va., brings word of the Fifty-first officers at the latter place. Maj. WRIGHT, Capt. G. W. WHITMAN, Lieuts. POOLEY and ATKINSON, and some eight or ten more officers, are there, or, rather, were, toward the last of November.2 They were kept in a large tobacco warehouse, and were doing as well as men could do under such circumstances. Mr. EMERSON, after leaving Danville to be paroled, was detained over a month in Richmond. He is now at Annapolis. He brought a number of those significant slips of paper, of all textures, colors and degrees of legibility, known so well to persons familiar with the Southern prisons and with the returned Union prisoners—deaths, memoranda, messages, &c. Among these slips is one written by Capt. WHITMAN, of the Fifty-first, dated at Danville, Nov. 23, and simply addressed to his mother in Brooklyn, with the indorsement, "Well and hearty."3
In our former sketch of the Fifty-first we should have mentioned a gallant officer, Capt. DANIEL E. JENKINS, shot and instantly killed while leading his men in the hottest of the Wilderness fight last May. We also omitted to mention Lieut.-Col. MITCHELL, a valuable officer, who served his three years, and was honorably mustered out. Several company officers and brave soldiers might also have been properly mentioned. Then we are told that the Fifty-first esteems, as part of its regimental history, the making of such [militaires?] as EDWARD FERRERO,4 now Major-General by brevet, and ROBERT B. POTTER,5 also Major-General by brevet, both of this city, and who were the two first commissioned Colonels of the Fifty-first; and, as they say, two braver soldiers or better officers, while they were in command of the Fifty-first, no regiment could ever possess, whatever must be said of subsequent matters.
The rank and file of the Fifty-first, consisting of some 350 men, captured at Poplar Grove Church, we have no intelligence of. They are distributed somewhere in the Southern prisons. The remnant, some 50 to 60 men, are still in their old camp, in the Ninth Corps. Of the rumor that Gov. SEYMOUR,6 just before he left office, had been induced to appoint a Capt. MCKIBBEN to the Colonelcy of the Fifty-first, thus taking advantage of the absence by captivity of the old officers, we are glad to be able to state it is an error. As indeed no honorable soldier would procure advancement by a trick upon brave men in misfortune, nor accept promotion only belonging to them, promotions that should be waiting for them when they return with their regiment from captivity.
1. In the Battle of Poplar Grove, alternately the Battle of Poplar Spring Church or the Battle of Peebles' Farm (Virginia, September 30–October 2, 1864), Union General George Meade defeated Confederate General A. P. Hill. Most of the 51st New York regiment was captured during this battle, including Whitman's brother George Washington Whitman. [back]
2. At the time of writing, Whitman's brother, George Washington Whitman, was held as a prisoner at Danville. In an October 23, 1864 letter to his mother from Danville Prison, George describes himself as being "in tip top spirits" and "tough as a mule, and about as ugly." [back]
3. This letter is not extant. [back]
4. Edward Ferrero, a dance instructor at West Point before the war, was a famous Italian-American leader during the Civil War. After the war he continued teaching dance lessons at the ballroom of Tammany Hall in New York City. [back]
5. Robert B. Potter enlisted in the 51st New York Infantry in October 1861 and was promoted to colonel in September 1862. With the 51st, he participated in Burnside's North Carolina Expedition, and like George Whitman, he was wounded at Fredericksburg. In 1863, Potter was promoted to brigadier general, and he commanded troops at Vicksburg and Knoxville. As major-general, he commanded troops in the battles at the Wilderness and Petersburg in 1864. [back]
6. Horatio Seymour was the Democratic Governor of New York from 1853–1854 and 1863–1864. He opposed many of President Lincoln's policies, including the military draft. Seymour was the Democratic nominee for President in the 1868 election. [back]