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The Poignancy & Power of a Civil War Letter Auction

FREE APPRAISAL. To buy, consign and/ or sell in a Civil War letter auction (plus Civil War diaries), please email Nate@NateDSanders.com or call the Nate D. Sanders Auction House (http://www.NateDSanders.com) at (310) 440-2982.

Civil War Letter Auction

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns chose to have a Civil War soldier’s letter read to the theme song of his famous 1990 documentary, “The Civil War”.

The letter became famous, known as the “Sullivan Ballou letter,” as it was written by the Union officer a few days before his death at the Battle of Bull Run, on 21 July 1861.

This candid, emotional letter demonstrates the strength and courage soldiers were able to keep up in the face of incredible battles, terrible weather, months away from home.

Chickamauga,_Georgia_Battle Civil War Letter Auction


We’ve had a Civil War letter auction of an incredibly diverse selection of Civil War letters and diaries — from Commanders on both sides, to foot soldiers who died in the War’s most famous battles.

Each Civil War letter auction has been unique as it is from the perspective of the individual, and each individual of course had his own experience of the War.

Here are some of our top collections of from our Civil War letter auction:

This Civil War letter auction featured a dated handwritten letter serving as an official notice of General Lee’s resignation, and ultimately the end of the war, dated 9 April 1865. It sold for $10,780.

Written by Confederate General Loring to General Wilcox, the profoundly important letter details the conclusion of the historic war, “…surrender is complete this morning; munitions of war turned over to the U.S. and Genl. Grant leaves for City Point at eleven o’clk this morning. The Army of Northern Virginia is no more!!!”

40066_med Civil War Letter Auction

This Civil War letter auction had this General William Sherman Civil War Dated February 1865 Surprisingly Racist Letter, Well After the Emancipation Proclamation, That He Is Opposed ”to the policy of arming negroes…” It sold for $9,582.

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Particularly interesting as it shows thatS herman was one of the remaining hold-outs in his opposition to black soldiers. By this time in the war, approximately 10% of Union regiments were composed of black soldiers, and public opinion, including that held by officers and soldiers, had accepted the concept of arming former slaves in the war effort.

This Civil War letter auction had a brief Abraham Lincoln Autograph Note Signed as President Was Written to Facilitate an Intriguing Plan That Could Have Altered the Course of the Civil War. It sold for $5,407.

16721a_med Civil War Letter Auction

And the soldiers themselves often offer the most compelling personal narratives and details in their letters. Over the years, we’ve had a Civil War letter auction with soldiers’ letters from the battlefield, on both sides, with many letters detailing valorous efforts, and front of the line combat.

One of the top ticket Civil War letter auction have included:

The 149 letter lot below, with 3 diaries by a soldier in the 148th New York Infantry, sold for $28,000 at Nate D. Sanders Civil War letter auction:

Civil War Letter Auction

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It came with heavy battle content from Petersburg (including the taking of Fort Mahone), Drewry’s Bluff, Cold Harbor, the Crater, Chaffin’s Farm, Fair Oaks & Appomattox Court House.

Extracts include “…a dead Rebel lay on the ground, one we had killed Friday or Saturday. It looked pretty rough, his face was black as my boot, flies all over his face…” & “…lost 62 killed and wounded…Capt. Griswold is severely wounded in the shoulder, knocked the bone all to pieces, has had the socket bone taken out…” & “…Our loss since we came here in killed and wounded is about 180 or 190. We have not half the men we started with…” & “…all at once the Rebs opened on us…Shells burst all about us and we had to retreat across an open field they had complete command of…” & “…they were met by a perfect shower of bullets…I expected to be hit but felt cool throughout…” & “…a charge was made. We gained the Fort. A little later in the morning the niggers made a charge. They behaved very badly. They not only retreated, but was a regular stampede…” & “…The Rebels made two terrific assaults on our lines and were repulsed with a great slaughter both times…” & “…You ought to see the dead Rebels in front to our lines, they are piled right up. They are worse than ours were at Cold Harbor and Petersburg…”

The 31st Texas Cavalry 60+ letter lot below sold for $27,500.

49968 Civil War Letter Auction

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It came with content from the Battles of Stirling’s Plantation, Mansura, Vidalia, Harrisonburg, Fort DeRussy & Bayou de Glaise. Excerpts include “…it was the intention for our forces to go on & conceal ourselves until they were attacked…we went on & found them camped in some negro quarters…There were about 22 killed & about one hundred wounded…We had to charge through open ground on the negro houses…” & “…the grape & shell fell thick around us…the enemy rolled in to the river so we had to fight them here with field artillery & small arms. They shelled us for about three hours during that time we fought them as we could get position…We had three men killed & some fifteen wounded several of them having died since & 3 or 4 houses burned…” & “…our Division was let out on the prairie in time of battle to support the batteries which then were pouring it into them in a line of a mile in length & them at us. They continued the fight with Artillery for three hours until their infantry began to advance on us…they out numbered us largely…Our men held the battle grounds & buried their dead but they had the best of the fight…”

We, at one of our past Civil War letter auction, also sold an excellent Civil War archive from Jerome Bottomly of the 1st Engineer Battalion, Co. C, with 47 war-dated letters, two war diaries, a tintype of Bottomly in uniform and his GAR uniform and medals for $15,000.

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Bottomly, an Artificer in the Engineer’s, saw almost constant battle during his enlistment, including Antietam, Savage’s Station, 1st and 2nd Fredericksburg and continual skirmishing along the Rappahannock, where they bridged the River six times.

This interesting 39 Civil War letter lot by Thomas W. Colley of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, Co. D, sold for $13,500.

49263 Civil War Letter Auction

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Thomas W. Colley was wounded four times during the war, including losing a finger and being shot. It wasn’t until the Battle of Hawes’ Shop in May 1864 that Colley was discharged for wounds, after having his foot amputated. Until then, he was engaged in dozens of battles, many of which he writes about here, including Cold Harbor, Gaines’ Mill, Antietam, Manassas, Seven Pines and Dranesville.

“…Our loss was 160 killed, wounded and missing…They outnumbered us 5 to one. We got all our dead and wounded the next morning…” & “…we came up with the enemy at Cole Harbour abought 3 o’clock Thursday 26th, when the fight commenced and has lasted 5 dayes with very little cesation…” & “…I went in the great fight at Sharpsburg with the 2nd South Carolina Regt. I experanced some pretty hard fighting in that battle…”

An excellent 62 letter lot by Corporal Frank Ashley of the “Bloody 64th”, the 64th Ohio Infantry, Co. H, sold for $13,000.

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True to form, Ashley writes of numerous battles — mostly during the Siege of Atlanta — in these letters home to his wife, which run from 1861-65 and span the Battle of Perryville in October 1862 to fighting in Atlanta in August 1864, with much exciting content in between.

We also sold an extraordinary 43 letter and CDV lot by James Clarke, Sergeant of the 5th Ohio Infantry, Co. D, for $10,000.

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At this Civil War diary auction, the lot included a diary-style letter from the month of May 1862. Addressed mostly to his brother, Clarke writes engaging and riveting stories, with details on battles and skirmishes fought by the 5th Ohio in almost every letter.

“…The gunners of this battery fought like tigers…and at every shot mowed down heaps of the enemy…the Chaplin was dividing his time between shooting secesh cavalry and comforting the wounded…” & “…double shot of canister was directed at point blank range into the grey devils swarming…the evening left the ground in our front stewn with the killed and wounded…” & “…A great slaughter of the enemy…”

This collection of 45 letters from Private Edward Stacy of the 36th Massachusetts Infantry sold for $9300.

43526 Civil War Letter Auction

Mustered in 1862, Stacy was killed in action in May of 1864 during the battle of Wilderness. Two letters specifically discuss Fredericksburg, the second running 8pp. long, dated 18 December 1862. It reads in part: “The bombardment commence at about 6 o’clock AM and gradually increased till about 11 o’clock. At that time the cannonading was the heaviest. Our lieutenant counted 35 discharges of the cannon in half a minute…I looked round in the city some of the lower end where we were. There was scarcely a house but had one or more shells through them and in the majority of them a family would hardly escaped alive. I went into one very nice large house that several shells had been through although none had burst in it and the furniture was knocked round the library tipped over and the books all sprawled round. The soldiers were allowed to roam over the city and take just what they wanted. If I had had my knapsack I or any place to carry them I might have got some nice books. But I supposed we were going into a fight and I did not want to load myself down with plunder…”

We sold this Francis Parker Civil War Archive for $9300.

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An expansive collection of 38 Civil War letters, 18 of the letters were written to Colonel Francis Jewett Parker of the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry, and 20 were written by Parker himself, a very articulate chronicler of the war. A wealthy Bostonian, Parker mustered into the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry on 9 December 1861 becoming the first colonel of the regiment, which was part of Fox’s 300 Fighting Regiments. Correspondence dates from 7 December 1860 to 21 November 1862 with some of the earlier letters being a back-and-forth between Parker and Governor Andrew regarding his military ranking. At first, Parker declined an appointment he deemed beneath him though by late 1861, eager to fight, Parker apparently swallowed his pride and accepted a battalion with Major’s rank.

This 78th Pennsylvania Civil War Lot sold for $8800.

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The extensive lot of 75 Civil War autograph letters were signed by Abram E. Kipp of the 78th Pennsylvania Infantry, Co. F. The letters were addressed to Kipp’s mother Eliza Bawn, save for two addressed to his sister. Kipp begins writing home from Louisville, Kentucky and writes through his engagement in the battle for Atlanta, encompassing his participation in Stone River, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. “…My partner was shot dead by my side…fired on every man we saw…” & “…There was a guerilla band attacked us on the way…”

We also sold this 50th New York Engineers Civil War Archive for $8500.

48370 Civil War Letter Auction

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The archive of 76 Civil War letters were written by three brothers in the 50th New York Engineers: Captain Walker V. Personius and Privates Charles W. and Daniel V. Personius, all in Co. G. “… take no prisoners meaning by this they kill every single one they have a chance to…When the order was given them to charge, one of their orderlies shouted out in clear distinct tone, ‘Boys, remember Fort Pillow’…Revenge is strong with them…”

Be sure to check back for more Civil War diaries and Civil War letters!

FREE APPRAISAL. To buy, consign and/ or sell in a Civil War letter auction (plus Civil War diaries), please email Nate@NateDSanders.com or call the Nate D. Sanders Auction House (http://www.NateDSanders.com) at (310) 440-2982.

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