Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rare relic of amazing Civil War coincidence

As I mentioned last time, I'm working through a large lifetime collection of fiscal paper (checks, stocks, bonds, etc.) and historical ephemera owned by my former boss, helping him sell the accumulation on eBay.

An interesting item popped up that relates to an amazing coincidence of the Civil War.

The item is a receipt issued by the Confederate States of America in April, 1864, for $300 worth of CSA 4% bonds. The receipt is a temporary certificate, which would have been traded in at the treasurer's office at a later date for the actual bonds.

In my earlier career of collecting and writing about paper money and editing Bank Note Reporter for collectors of fiscal paper, I'd seen plenty of Confederate bonds, but never such a temporary receipt.

But what's really fascinating about this certificate is that it is issued to Wilmer McLean, who was present at Appomattox Court House when Lee surrendered to Grant, effectively ending the Civil War. McLean is said to have noted at the time, "The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor."

And therein lies the tale . . . 

When the war broke out, McLean lived on a farm at Manassas, Virginia, on a main road about halfway between the capitals of Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va.

He was a retired colonel in the Virginia militia and made a living selling sugar to the Confederate Army.
Wilmer McLean

In mid-July, as U.S. General Irvin McDowell marshaled his forces for the first Federal invasion of the Confederacy, rebel General P.G.T. Beauregard set up opposition on McLean's farm, commandeering McLean's house for his headquarters.

When the shot began to fly on July 21, kicking off the First Battle of Bull Run, a federal shell struck the chimney of the house, falling into a stewpot on the hearth and exploding. Beauregard wrote after the battle, "A comical effect of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House."

A year later, the war again came knocking at McLean's door when the Second Battle of Bull Run was fought in his front yard Aug. 28-30.

After witnessing the slaughter of more than 10,000 men, McLean determined to relocate. He moved about 120 miles south to Virginia Hill, Va. The name was later changed to Appomattox Court House.

It was in the parlor of McLean's new home on April 9, 1865, that U.S. Grant accepted the surrender of R.E. Lee. 

When the paperwork was concluded McLean's parlor was stripped of tables, chairs and other furnishings by souvenir-seeking Yankee officers. It was reported that Gen. George A. Custer wound up with the table on which the surrender was actually penned.

Unable to meet his mortgage payments, McLean sold the house in 1867 and returned to his farm at Manassas. He died there in 1882.

From a collector's standpoint, it is a shame that the appearance of this historic item is marred by considerable bleed through to the front of the ink used for the several endorsements on the back. 

We'll see how collectors value this item when it is put up for sale on eBay in early October.

Oct. 2 UPDATE: This bond receipt sold for $213.50 on eBay on Oct. 1, 2012.

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