Civil War relics of Gen. William T. Sherman are up for auction; bidding begins Tuesday

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Some 500 pieces of American history, unseen even by scholars, are coming to light through an auction taking place through Fleischer’s Auctions of Columbus.

The two-day auction, “Civil War & African American History: Wm. T. Sherman Collection,” which goes live at 9 a.m. Tuesday, features personal effects of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman ranging from his wartime sword and uniform rank insignia to a family Bible and a copy of Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs, both with notes meticulously written by Sherman.

The collection was consigned directly to Sherman’s descendants after generations of careful preservation.

“None of these have ever been seen before. They were passed directly from Gen. Sherman to his son, Philemon. He passed them on to the family of his older sister (Minnie Fitch),” said Danielle Linn, senior specialist with Fleischer’s.

“These items are not known to scholars. They give a rare and unprecedented glimpse into the life of one of the most important figures of the 19th century.”

The Sherman artifacts are part of a larger auction, lots 78 through 128 in Fleischer’s spring sale. Also included are Revolutionary War and Wild West items and a collection of African American relics, including rare photographs of Sojourner Truth, the scrapbook and effects of a Tuskegee Airman killed during World War II, and a recruitment broadside written by Frederick Douglass urging black men to enlist during the Civil War.

The “Civil War & African American History: Wm. T. Sherman Collection" being auctioned off Tuesday and Wednesday by Fleischer's Auctions includes this broadside written by Frederick Douglass to recruit Black men to during the Civil War.

Linn said many of the Sherman items were collected by the general after the Civil War.

“He was such a public figure, so he had copies of biographies about him and his role in the war sent to him by the authors. In a few, he’s offered his own edits and annotations,” she said.

A staunch defender of Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman amassed a series of journal articles about the general who led the Union armies to victory over the Confederacy. One such article maligning Grant sparked what Linn called “the first Twitter war before the internet.”

“The article essentially said that Grant would have disappeared from history had it not been for the untimely death of Charles (Ferguson) Smith. It implied that Grant’s rise was serendipitous instead of based on his skill and leadership,” she said.

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Sherman, who Linn said viewed his role as “a defender of the Civil War’s legacy as well as Grant’s legacy,” was infuriated by the article. “It’s striking to me how Sherman was so adamant and passionate about his defense of Grant,” she said.

A biography that Grant never saw to publication is among Sherman’s possessions. “This copy is incredible and super rare,” Linn said.

“To have (Sherman’s) notes reflecting on the Civil War was a remarkable piece of history and shows the relationship between the two men. Sherman was not known as a man of letters, but he inscribed his books with when and from whom he received them.”

The general also kept a copy of “Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign,” George Barnard’s photographic record of Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman owned this copy of "Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign," George Barnard’s photographic record of the general’s March to the Sea. It is included in Fleischer's William T. Sherman Collection auction taking place Tuesday and Wednesday.

“It’s an incredible piece of photographic history. Barnard had an incredible eye and was in the right place at the right time. It’s very highly regarded in its own right,” Linn said.

“Many attribute Sherman’s victory with the Atlantic campaign and March to the Sea with allowing President Lincoln to win the election and securing the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Linn emphasized that the African American collection also holds an important place in American history.

“There are a lot of pieces of African American history, an area of history that a lot of places are realizing is underrepresented. There are a lot of pieces coming out of the woodwork of this robust and complex history,” she said.

One of the highlights for Linn is a photograph of Mat Bransford, an enslaved man who was leased to Franklin Gorin, who was the owner and manager of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, the world’s longest-known cave system.

“Mat Bransford was originally enslaved, but after emancipation, he chose to stay and live out his life as a tour guide. His story is really incredible. He mapped a lot of early Mammoth Cave,” she said.

Included in the lots in the “Civil War & African American History: Wm. T. Sherman Collection" is this portrait of enslaved Mammoth Cave tour guide Mat Bransford. It is one of hundreds of items in Fleischer's spring auction, which takes place Tuesday and Wednesday.

Another meaningful item is an unpublished portrait of abolitionist Charles Sumner, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1851.

“He was a very passionate speaker about what he believed. In the 1850s, he gave a speech condemning slavery that so enraged (South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks), who beat Sumner almost to death in the halls of Congress,” Linn said.

To sum up the significance of the Sherman and African American collection, Linn said simply, “You can’t overstate its importance.”

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There already has been “very strong interest” in the auction, especially the Sherman collection, she said.

“In general, we have heavy institutional interest, museums have interest, rare book libraries have interest; and private collectors.”

Bids for the “Civil War & African American History: Wm. T. Sherman Collection” auction, which runs Tuesday and Wednesday, are to be taken both in-person and in advance. To bid in advance, register at fleischersauctions.com.

Bids by proxy are also to be taken by phone. In a proxy bid, Fleischer’s job is to record what items the bidder is interested in and on the day of the auction, the bidder should receive a phone call before their lot comes up and the phone proxy can bid for them.