Seattle's Confederate Olympic Gold Medalist
***The only Civil War soldier to win Olympic Gold***
Seattle's Will H. Thompson was the only man to have fought in the Civil War and win an Olympic medal. He didn't just win one. He won a total of three, one gold and two bronze in archery at the 1904 Olympics.
As a boy of just 15 years old, he served in the Confederate army with the 4th Georgia Infantry. He fought in such famously violent battles as the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor. After the war, he and his brother Maurice became pioneers in the sport of archery in the United States. They wrote foundational books on archery and were leading figures in the development of the sport. He was a founding member of the National Archery Association in 1879 and served as the organization's president 3 times. He competed in 18 NAA national tournaments between 1879 and 1913 never failing to place out of the top 10 and won 5 national titles. Will and his brother are both members of the Archery Hall of Fame.
In 1904 at the St. Louis Olympic games, he won a gold medal in the men's team round and also two individual bronze medals in the Double York Round and Double American Round competitions. Thompson was the only veteran of the American Civil War to ever compete in the Olympics.
Will H. Thompson was a well-known figure in Seattle in his time. He was a successful lawyer, nationally renowned poet and sought-after orator. His poem "High Tide at Gettysburg" was one of the most famous and widely read poems written about the pivotal battle. He is best known historically in Seattle for being the defense attorney in the sensational 1907 murder trial for his son Chester, who had killed a federal judge and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Thompson died in 1918 and is buried in Seattle's Lake View cemetery. His 1894 built home is a registered historic landmark and still stands in Seattle today.
The life of Will H. Thompson is one worthy of a Hollywood screenplay. A short Facebook post is hardly able to scratch the surface of his complex and fascinating history. With the 24th Winter Olympics drawing to a close, it is worth remembering this unique, important and overlooked story in the life of Seattle's Will H Thompson, the only man to have been a soldier in the Civil War and an Olympic champion.
Will H Thomson
A younger Will H Thompson with national championship medal
A cartoon from the Seattle-Post Intelligencer 1904
Will and Maurice Thompson's foundational book on archery
1904 Olympic medal
The Will H Thompson house in the Judkins Park neighborhood of Seattle