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Civil War treasures to be auctioned

By Associated Press
June 17, 2011

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RICHMOND — Confederate General Robert E. Lee characterized Virginia’s Civil War secession as a revolution and President Abraham Lincoln uncharacteristically scolded a couple for their lack of loyalty to the Union cause in letters scheduled to be sold at auction.

The letters, along with a trove of Civil War treasures that includes the opera glasses Lincoln carried into Ford’s Theatre the night of his assassination, will be up for bidding today at Sotheby’s.

The opera glasses could fetch up to $700,000. The Lincoln letter, which was never mailed, is notable for its fiery tone; Lee’s is singular because it lays bare the gravity of his decision to stand by his beloved Virginia.

Lee and Lincoln were among the defining personalities of the Civil War, which is being recalled during 150th anniversary commemorations.

“I think you have to say that Lincoln is the principal figure in the North, and I do think most people, if asked, would come up with Lee in the South,’’ said Selby Kiffer, international senior specialist in books and manuscripts for Sotheby’s.

Lee’s April 20, 1861, letter to his brother, Captain Sidney Smith Lee, was sent days after a Virginia convention to secede from the Union and the same day he resigned a commission in the US Army.

“I wished to wait until the ordinance of revolution should be acted on by the people of Virginia, but war seems to have Commenced & I am liable at any time to be ordered on duty which I Could not Conscientiously perform,’’ he wrote.

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