Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2008 Issue

Important Civil War Documents and Items from Seth Kaller

Kaller

Civil War Catalog from Seth Kaller.


By Michael Stillman

This month we received our first catalogue from Seth Kaller, Inc., Civil War Catalogue. Offered is a collection of truly exceptional items. Here you will find handwritten Lincoln papers, and not just obscure personnel appointments but important historical documents. There are also items written by or related to Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and John Brown as he prepared for his raid at Harper's Ferry. In addition, there are non-written ephemeral items such as the 36-star American flag which flew over Richmond shortly after its capture, a Confederate physician's kit, a field surgeon's kit (you don't want to face surgery using one of these), signed photographs of Jefferson and Varina Davis, a Tiffany and Co. silk flag banner presented to Union General John Dix for preventing draft riots in New York, a profile of Abraham Lincoln cast from metal retrieved from the sunken USS Cumberland, and an inkwell in the shape of an elephant that stood on President Grant's desk in the White House. Here are some of the other pieces to be found in this magnificent Civil War collection.

On December 8, 1863, President Lincoln issued an amnesty to all Confederate soldiers and citizens, except Confederate government officials and certain military officers and those who mistreated imprisoned Black soldiers. The amnesty provided that if they swore allegiance to the United States government and supported all of its laws, they would have all of their property rights restored, except property interests in former slaves. Lincoln had hoped the amnesty would encourage Confederate fighting soldiers to abandon their units and rejoin the Union. However, what he found was that too many of the soldiers who took advantage of the offer were those already captured and in northern prisons, rather than those carrying on the war. So, Lincoln sat down and wrote in his hand this document, a draft of the revised amnesty proclamation which says this amnesty is not available to persons already under the custody of the United States unless granted special clemency by the President. Price on request.

Two days prior to writing this letter, John Brown met with noted abolitionist and one-time presidential candidate Gerrit Smith and Frank Sanborn to reveal his plans to raid the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry. Brown hoped he could spark a slave uprising if he could supply the arms. The fiery Smith quickly signed on, but Sanborn was reluctant. The result was Brown wrote this letter to Sanborn, encouraging the latter to support his cause. "I expect nothing but to 'endure hardness:" writes Brown, "but I expect to effect a mighty conquest even though it be like the last victory of Samson." While events did not quite unfold as Brown foresaw, he was still quite prophetic. He endured "hardness" and death as did Samson, and while his attempted rebellion did not take hold, it helped lead to the Civil War a short time later where Brown's goal to end slavery came to pass. As for Sanborn, he was convinced, and along with Smith, became one of Brown's "Secret Six" financial backers. After Brown's capture, the Senate attempted to call Sanborn to testify in committee, but he declined to attend, and the court in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, refused federal attempts to have him arrested. $44,000.

General George Meade could have been the great Union hero of the Civil War, rather than Grant. He led the battle that turned the course of the war around, the Union victory at Gettysburg. On July 4, 1863, the day after the battle concluded, Mead issued this proclamation of thanks to his troops from the battlefield. This rare document displays the fault that would soon lead to Meade being replaced by Grant as the leader of Union forces. Meade writes, "The privations and fatigue the Army has endured, and the heroic courage and gallantry it has displayed will be matters of history to be ever remembered." However, after these words which seem to presage Lincoln's later Gettysburg address, Mead says, "Our task is not yet accomplished, and the Commanding General looks to the Army for greater efforts to drive from our soil every vestige of the presence of the invader." Therein lies the rub. Meade seemed content to drive the Confederates from northern soil. Lincoln wanted the enemy followed to his home and destroyed. They were not invaders from a foreign land, but rebels from within, the south as much a part of the nation as the north. By the end of the year, Lincoln would put the more aggressive Grant in charge in place of Meade. $27,500.

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