Paris, Il – The bold autographs of the bold men caught up in America’s most turbulent era leap from the pages of an autograph book assembled at the time.
Standing in mute testimony, these autographs are a direct link to the great historical events these men not only witnessed but helped shape. Those who understand how the Civil War changed the United States will be amazed at the depth of this collection.
The autographs were compiled by Joseph Richards. Little is known about Richards except he was a Union soldier from Wisconsin. His collection was passed down through his descendants until 1992 when it sold at auction.
The current owner of the book is again offering it for sale through Hall’s Auction Company of Paris, Illinois via a timed auction to starting June 12. For details visit their website www.hallsauctioncompany.com.
Joseph Richards lived during a period of political upheaval. The largely unexplored trans-Mississippi west held great promise for expansion and settlement but the political question for the nation was if the eventual new states would come into the Union as free or slave states.
It was a deeply divisive issue that pitted northern and southern interests. While some sought compromise to move the nation’s business forward, others were adamant in their position to either expand slavery or to contain it where it already existed.
A section of Richards’ book is devoted to the 35th Congress and the signatures appearing in this portion are from the men who heard these debates on the Senate floor and discussed the issues with their fellow politicians in the hallways and offices of the Capitol.
A small listing of the political signatures includes: Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, a strong advocate for compromise; Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull, a staunch abolitionist; Alabama Senator Benjamin Fitzpatrick, a voice for the state’s rights position; Mississippi Senator Albert Gallatin Brown, another state’s rights advocate; and Kentucky Senator John Crittendon, a Union Democrat.
The 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln brought the issue to a full boil and prompted the southern states to secede from the Union — an action Lincoln, declared illegal. Hope for a peaceful solution to the impasse disappeared in a billowing cloud of gun smoke when South Carolina forces started the cannonade of Ft. Sumpter in Charleston Harbor.
The autograph of Robert Anderson, Ft. Sumpter’s commander is part of Richards’ collection.
Civil war was upon the nation and both sides raised troops for what many mistakenly believed would be a short conflict. The autograph of Winfield Scott is in the collection. Scott, a septuagenarian and hero of the 1848 War with Mexico, commanded the Union Army at the onset of the Civil War, but he soon proved incapable of the burden, and Lincoln went through a series of commanders until he finally made Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Armies.
Grant’s signature is in the book and so is the signature of his immediate predecessor as commander, Henry Wager Halleck.
The 90-day war predicted at the start of hostilities dragged into four years of the deadliest fighting in U.S. history. The autographs of Union generals such as L. Fitzjohn Porter, W.S. Rosecrans, Thomas Francis Meagher and Benjamin Butler invoke the creaking harness leather, thundering hoofs and lumbering wagon wheels as Northern forces moved against their rebel counterparts. Soldiers dressed in the woolen blue uniforms endured the heat and cold, walked through thick clouds of dust or slogged through deep mud on dirt roads carrying their heavy, muzzle-loading 50-caliber Springfields. They hastily making earthen breastworks, fought and died for their cause — all on a diet consisting too often of rancid salt pork and wormy hard tack.
General William Tecumseh Sherman’s signature represents a change in military thinking. During the early stages of the war, the rules of engagement meant large armies maneuvering in the field against other large armies, with minimal damage to the civilian population. Sherman realized the civilian infrastructure made it possible for an army to fight. His burning of Atlanta, followed by the March to the Sea, created the concept of total war by making civilians legitimate military targets.
Richards’ autograph collecting was not confined to the Union side. Among the notable Confederate signatures are Generals William Smith, Humphrey Marshall, Lawrence O’Bryan Branch and John Bullock Clark Jr. C.S.A. cabinet members included in the book are Judah P. Benjamin, John Henninger Reagan and Robert M. T. Hunter. Another Confederate notable who signed is John Slidell, whose seizure by the U.S. Navy from a British ship provoked an international crisis.
The book also includes the signatures of prominent men in Lincoln’s government: Hannibal Hamlin, vice president during Lincoln’s first term; William H. Seward, Secretary of State and Andrew Johnson, who became president upon Lincoln’s assassination.
Baseball fans will appreciate the signature of General Abner Doubleday, and the flamboyant signature of Sam Houston attests to the vital role he played in Texas history.