Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Hugh B. Thompson to Walt Whitman, 22 July 1869

Date: July 22, 1869

Whitman Archive ID: yal.00131

Source: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial notes: The annotation, "from a Soldier," is in the hand of Walt Whitman. The annotation, "H.B. Thompson 22 July '69," is in an unknown hand.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Ashley Lawson, John Schwaninger, Caterina Bernardini, Marie Ernster, Cristin Noonan, Paige Wilkinson, and Stephanie Blalock

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New York,
July 22 1869.

Mr Walt Whitman
Dear friend.

You will not remember the writer of this letter. he is only one of the many whom you befriended during our struggle for the right. one of Uncle Sam's boys. whose cause you made yours in poetry. charity and words of cheer. for the hale and hearty as well as the wounded and jaded soldier. I won't forget Walt Whitman. I have just read that you have completed your half century. may you live to a ripe old age. loving and beloved. I was reading "Drum Taps"1 last night. no man can depict Army life so vividly that had not spent his time amongst the boys. again wishing you health and strength. a happy existence.

Ever Sincerely Yours
HB Thompson
With the above firm

Little is known about Hugh B. Thompson. He is likely the Hugh B. Thompson (b. 1840) who enlisted as a Union soldier in the U. S. Civil War in 1861. He began as a private in Company F of the 2nd Regiment, New York Heavy Artillery, and he was appointed Sergeant in 1863. In 1864, he was on daily duty as an Adjutant General's Clerk, and was mustered out at the conclusion of his service in 1864, near Petersburg, Virginia. He likely met Whitman in Washington during the War.


1. Whitman's Drum-Taps, a volume that consisted of fifty-three Civil War poems, was published in 1865. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln occurred while Drum-Taps was being printed, and Whitman promptly added the short poem "Hush'd be the Camps To-day," with a note about Lincoln's death to the final signature of the book. Whitman then decided to stop the printing and add a sequel to the book that would more fully take into account Lincoln's death. Copies of the volume were withdrawn so that the sequel could be added. Whitman hastily composed several poems, adding eighteen new poems to those that appeared in Drum-Taps, and all of these poems were published in a second edition Sequel to Drum-Taps (1865–1866). Later, these poems were folded into Leaves of Grass, and by the time the final arrangement of Leaves of Grass was printed in 1881, the "Drum-Taps" cluster that Whitman included in that volume contained forty-three poems. For more information on the printing of Drum-Taps (1865), see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary (Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, University of Iowa, 2005). For more on the poems of Drum-Taps and their arrangement in Leaves of Grass, see Huck Gutman, "Drum-Taps," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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