Civil War on the Block

Cowan’s Auctions just completed a massive auction of Civil War items of all kinds. The catalog is fun to look through, even if you can’t afford to buy any of it. Three items I found particularly interesting were:

A letter from General Lee to Virginia Senator Andrew Hunter in January 1865 about the enlistment of Negro troops in the Confederate army.

we should employ them without delay. I believe that with proper regulation, they can be made efficient soldiers.” He outlines some regulatory measures for the use of African American troops, noting: “But it is certain that the best foundation upon which the fidelity of any army can rest. . . is the personal interest of the soldier in the issue of the contest. Such an interest we can give our negroes, by granting immediate freedom to all who enlist, and freedom at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully. . .We should not expect slaves to fight for prospective freedom, when they can secure it at once by going to the enemy.

A letter from Confederate private Warren Ward about the state of his unit, the 1st Georgia Sharpshooters, when he returned to duty in August 1864.

I found the Battalion of Sharpshooters to which I formerly belonged disbanded there was so few of them left that the command was ineffectuall [sic].

And finally a collection of watercolors by a Confederate prisoner, John Omenhausser, of conditions at Point Lookout POW camp.

Point Lookout POW Camp was established following the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg and would grow to become the largest POW facility in the North. Confederate prisoners were held within a wooden walled pen and had only tents as their shelter. Like most Civil War prisons, conditions at the camp became increasingly deplorable as more and more prisoners filled its confines, far exceeding intended capacity. It is believed that because Omenhausser had relatives in the North, he had access to supplies including paper, brushes, and inks. The artwork he created with these supplies would ultimately ease the difficulty of his imprisonment as he used his creations to barter with other soldiers for much sought after items including money, tobacco, crackers, etc. In creating these depictions of camp life, Omenhausser meticulously documented not only the extreme hardship faced by the prisoners, but also encapsulated race relations, the prison economy, and everyday moments that characterized the citizen-soldier’s POW experience.

One of the things he documents is the daily humiliations that the Confederate soldiers had to endure at the hands of the African-American guards, which included things like riding them on their backs, kneeling to curse Jeff Davis, and much more.




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