Civil War trove is set for auction
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee characterized Virginia's Civil War secession as a revolution and President Abraham Lincoln uncharacteristically scolded a couple for their lack of loyalty to the Union cause in letters scheduled to be sold at auction.
The letters, along with a trove of Civil War treasures that includes the opera glasses Lincoln carried into Ford's Theatre the night of his assassination, will be up for bidding today at Sotheby's, the New York auction house. The opera glasses could fetch up to $700,000.
Lee and Lincoln were among the defining personalities of the Civil War, which is being recalled during 150th anniversary commemorations.
"I think you have to say that Lincoln is the principal figure in the North, and I do think most people, if asked, would come up with Lee in the South," said Selby Kiffer, international senior specialist in books and manuscripts for Sotheby's.
Lee's April 20, 1861, letter to his brother, Capt. Sidney Smith Lee, was sent days after a Virginia convention to secede from the Union and the same day he resigned a commission with the U.S. Army.
The Lincoln letter, which was previously unknown, is dated Feb. 13, 1864, and was in response to Mrs. V.C.K. Neagle, who had written Lincoln in hopes of easing the terms of her husband's parole for assisting a Confederate. The letter was never sent and ultimately ended up with the War Department and a private collector.
The Lee letter is expected to bring in $400,000 to $600,000, while the Lincoln letter's pre-sale estimate is $200,000 to $300,000. Lee's correspondence is valued more because it relates to "a historical moment that was momentous both personally and for the history of a nation," according to Sotheby's.
The sums are considerably lower than the $3.4 million paid in 2008 for a letter Lincoln wrote to Massachusetts schoolchildren who appealed to him to "free all slave children."
The auction will also include an original ledger from the first Confederate prison for Union soldiers, located in Richmond; and a Confederate flag from the naval cruiser CSS Alabama.