COLUMBIA, S.C. — After years of legal wrangling, a collection of 444 Civil War letters will be offered at auction in a sale set for Sept. 29.
“We have received an order from the courts and agreement of all parties involved in the ownership of the Civil War letters,” said auctioneer Bill Mishoe in a post on AuctionZip.com. “Thanks for sticking with us for the past three years and for your patience.”
Mishoe has been selling antiques for 37 years, and has seen some great southern artifacts go on the block. In 2004, he scheduled a sale of the letters, worth by some estimates in the millions of dollars. Mishoe might reasonably have expected the auction to be the pinnacle of his career.
The day before the sale was to be held, South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster sued to block the auction, claiming the letters were state property.
Last October, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling that Thomas Willcox of Seabrook Island, S.C., owns the letters and could have them back. The state continued to appeal, but to no avail.
“We’re very excited that this has finally come to an end,” Mishoe said in May of this year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of South Carolina’s request to argue ownership of the letters. That cleared the way for the letters to be auctioned on June 16. However, Mishoe was again stymied.
“Unfortunately, another matter has arisen that could not be worked out in time to proceed with the (June) auction,” Mishoe wrote in a posting on his Web site, www.billmishoesauction.com. Now it appears all obstacles have been removed.
The letters include correspondence from Gen. Robert E. Lee and apparently were gathered by Confederate Maj. Gen. Evander McIver Law during the 1865 attack on Columbia. Law was Willcox’s great-great-uncle.
Selling the documents was a financial necessity for Willcox, his attorney said back in April. “Because the state tried to seize the documents, he had to file bankruptcy,” Krawcheck said. “We’re working under a bankruptcy-court-approved plan that calls for an auction once these sorts of issues have been resolved. It’s time to go do that.”
Mishoe isn’t sure if the delay, and ensuing controversy around the documents, will hurt or enhance their value. “At the time back in 2004, we had quite a few interested parties,” he told Antique Trader. “But there’s been a lot more attention now that the case has been resolved.”
Mishoe said that of the three letters written by Lee, the most significant is one in which the general outlines plans to protect Charleston, S.C. Another written by Gen. P.G.T Beauregard discusses plans for South Carolina’s coastal defense.
Beauregard is considered by many historians to be the first prominent Confederate general. He commanded the defenses of Charleston for the Battle of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and three months later, he was the victor at the First Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Va.
Mishoe said that one of the most fascinating documents is an 11-page letter written by a Sgt. Mullins, who gives an eyewitness account of a battle at Manassas, including how survivors went back across the battlefield to bury the dead. Other letters address the use of slave labor in the defense of Charleston, and ask the governor for protection from army deserters who are looting the town.
Bill Mishoe’s Auction House is located at 6412 Fairfield Road in Columbia. For more information, call 803-735-9945 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.