Heber S. Thompson was almost at the end of his four-year commitment to Yale University in the spring of 1861. Ready to graduate, the shortstop on the school’s fledgling baseball club would commit to something else instead.
Thompson enlisted in Lincoln’s army four days after the fall of Fort Sumter and joined theBill Fuller: Talks of his “short stop” who “protected the Capitol.” And discusses Thompson playing Civil War base ball at Fort Washington, which was more pleasant than fighting. Thompson joined the Washington Artillerists, who marched through Baltimore to protect the U.S. Capitol in Washington from attacking Confederates, earning a handshake from President Lincoln.
He would go on to follow General William T. Sherman into Atlanta, become a prisoner of war and ultimately earn a promotion to major. Now, four hand-written letters of appreciation from his former Yale teammates applauding his dedication to the baseball team and his country are part of Lelands’ 2019 Spring Classic auction.
Civil War era baseball items are rare and Lelands describes the heartfelt notes as “unlike anything we have previously seen in all our decades in the hobby.”
Yale didn’t officially begin its intercollegiate baseball program until after the war, but it’s clear from the letters and records kept at the time, that there was a club effort underway much earlier. Thompson, in fact, served as the team’s secretary.
Former teammate Bill Fuller mentions his “short stop” who “protected the Capitol” and discusses Thompson playing Civil War “base ball” at Fort Washington, making it clear that Thompson was corresponding with his former mates.
Wrote Henry Durfee, “If I had nothing to remember you by than the fact of your prompt response to the call of the country in its peril… I shall not soon forget our sharing the glories and disasters of the Yale Base Ball Club.”
Another former teammate mentions Thompson as playing for the “first nine” of the Yale team, indicating the importance of the group.
Those aren’t the only Civil War baseball letters in the auction, though. Another remarkable collection of ten, fresh to the hobby dispatches is also part of the sale–these penned by an enthusiastic teenaged player in upstate New York who was an eyewitness to part of Abraham Lincoln’s journey to Washington and the impact of the war.
The letters of William Richmond include content related to the Liberty Base Ball Club, of which he was a member. Just 14 years old in 1860, he wrote to a friend, instructing him not to bring his cricket bat while inviting the other boy to join his team.
He excitedly writes about the team’s new uniforms and even draws a cap, which according to Lelands is the “earliest written description and drawing of a baseball uniform we know of.”
Other letters discuss the team’s games including a line about Ethan Allen being elected club president and the young William writes in February of 1861 of seeing Abraham Lincoln on his way to Washington for the inauguration. “When “When Mr. Lincoln passed down the river, I of course went to see the ‘Big Thing’. I was so lucky as to be near enough to get a very good view of him. I think him a very fine-looking man.”
By 1862, the content of the Richmond letters steers toward the impact of the war. “Our Base-Ball club disbanded with spring because a great number of the members had left (for the War). O! I forgot our new club would not have broken up if the boys had been Unionists.”
The final letter from Richmond to Harry Syle indicates his sight is failing and mentions he’ll be unable to attend college at Harvard.
Both groups of letters open with a $1,000 reserve with bidding set to close June 7 at Lelands.com.