Saturday, September 29, 2007

Long-Disputed Civil War Letters to be Auctioned

The Associated Press reports that a collection of 444 letters between Confederate military and political officials will be sold at auction today in South Carolina. The letters have been the subject of a long legal battle between their owner and the state of South Carolina: "Willcox's letters were supposed to be auctioned in 2004. But the state stepped in and sued, claiming they were written as part of official state business and were the property of South Carolina. A federal judge ruled last year that Willcox owned the collection, which were in his family for generations before he discovered them in his parents' home after they died."

Each letter will be sold separately, so the collection is likely to be effectively destroyed by today's sale. "One entity that won't be trying to get the documents is the state. Officials from several agencies have told The Associated Press that South Carolina won't be bidding - in part because they have been recorded on microfilm. 'To spend the state's money on something we believe already belongs to the state goes against principle,' said Charles Lesser, senior archivist for the Department of Archives and History."

While it's good that the collection has been microfilmed and so is (presumably) available for research purposes, it's a shame to see such an interesting group of documents separated. An institutional home for them would have been most appropriate.