Malkin Lecture: Walt Whitman, the Civil War, and New York’s Seventh Regiment

America’s greatest poet, Walt Whitman, whose bicentennial birthday arrives in 2019, was the quintessential 19th-century New Yorker. Our understanding of his work is enriched through knowing the people, politics, arts, science, and philosophy of his times as described in Professor David Reynolds’s award-winning Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography. Whitman had many connections to the New York’s Seventh Regiment and witnessed many of the militia’s impressive parades and marches, from the 1824 greeting of the Marquis de Lafayette to the military escort of President Lincoln’s coffin through the city forty-one years later. Such pageantry enlivened Whitman’s poetry and prose. He hobnobbed with figures associated with the Seventh Regiment, including artist Thomas Nast, poet Fitz-James O’Brien, and author Theodore Winthrop. The heroism of New York’s soldiers in the Civil War inspired him and contributed to his view of the war as the central event in American history.

David S. Reynolds is the Distinguished Professor of American literature and U.S. History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography, winner of the Bancroft Prize and the Ambassador Book Award and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His other books include John Brown, Abolitionist (winner of the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Prize), Beneath the American Renaissance (winner of the Christian Gauss Award), Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, Mightier than the Sword: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and the Battle for America, A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman, and Lincoln’s Selected Writings: A Norton Critical Edition. Professor Reynolds is a regular book reviewer for The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, and The Wall Street Journal.

Image: Walt Whitman, pictured sometime between 1860–1865. Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-cwpbh-00752

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