Cowans News

Sword of First Union Officer Killed in the Civil War to Hit the Auction Block

CINCINNATI Having objects of great significance from events that still resonate around the world, the American History sale at Cowan's Auctions on June 10 offers an intriguing selection of memorabilia. Topics range from the Revolutionary War to the sinking of the Titanic, and from the White House to the California gold rush.

 Headlining the auction is the presentation sword of Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, the first Union officer killed in the Civil War. Part of a 52-piece archive estimated at $100,000 to $200,000, the Model 1850 officer's sword is inscribed, "Presented by Infantry Corps Duquesne Greys, Pittsburg, Pa. To Col. E.E. Ellsworth of the U.S. Zouave Cadets, Chicago, Ills., Aug 5th 1860" and "Testimonial for Matchless Proficiency in Military Science."

 A personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, Ellsworth led a small detachment on May 24, 1861, after Southern secessionists raised the Rebel flag over the Marshall House in Alexandria, Va. After taking down the enemy colors, Ellsworth was fatally shot by the hotel's owner, James Jackson, who was immediately killed by Corporal Francis E. Brownell, one of the Union soldiers. Both Ellsworth and Jackson became martyrs for their respective causes.

 "The sword is very well documented," said Katie Horstman, Cowan's director of American History. "It's definitely a centerpiece of the auction."

 Almost as a sidebar to the archive is a diary belonging to Brownell. It includes an 1863 entry when, as a second lieutenant, he wrote, "Went to Albany and gave the gun that Col. Ellsworth was killed with..." The diary is expected to bring $6,000 to $7,000.

 Also connected to the Civil War is the archive of Brevet Brigadier General James H. Kidd of the 6th Michigan Cavalry. Included is a Custer valor medal in 14k gold and blue enamel. The badge was designed by General George Armstrong Custer while in the field in 1864 and produced by Tiffany. Custer was the sole arbiter of who should receive the awards, which were individually commissioned at his own expense. Also in the 23-item archive is Kidd's sword and a 14k gold GAR badge having a 6th Cavalry hanger. The grouping is valued at $80,000 to $100,000.

 From the end of the war are framed souvenirs from Appomattox Court House, given to Kidd by Custer's widow, Elizabeth "Libbie" Bacon Custer. The display consists of three fragments wood from the desk on which the South surrendered, a swatch from a Confederate flag of truce and a piece of Gen. Custer's distinctive red necktie he wore throughout the war. They are grouped with a signed 1908 letter from Mrs. Custer to Kidd. The lot is expected to realize $20,000 to $30,000.

 Other Civil War items include an oil painting of the Confederate blockade runner CSS Colonel Lamb by Samuel Walters (British, 1811-1882), dated 1864, estimated at $60,000 to $80,000; a "Stainless Banner" Confederate second national flag captured from Battery Bee at Charleston, S.C., in February 1865, one of only a few such examples known to have survived, $50,000 to $75,000; and 18 signed CDVs picturing members of Morgan's Raiders, photographed while the men were held as prisoners of war, $6,000 to $8,000.

 A whole plate tintype of the steamer Sultana, taken at Helena, Ark., on April 26, 1865, a day before the ship was destroyed when a boiler exploded, is estimated at $5,000 to $7,000. The view captures a crowd of 2,300 recently released Union prisoners of war, plus crew and civilian passengers six times the ship's legal limit. The boiler explosion spread fire throughout the vessel, sending passengers into the icy Mississippi River. Some 1,700 people died, making it the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.

 Another highlight of the auction involves six lots associated with the sinking of the Titanic. The material was consigned by a direct descendent of Augusta and Louis Ogden, who were on the Carpathia when it responded to the Titanic's distress calls in April 1912.

 An Ogden family photograph album that includes approximately 30 original snapshots of the rescue of survivors who spent the night in lifeboats is estimated at $5,000 to $7,000. A rectangular piece of cork from a Titanic life jacket is expected to bring $7,000 to $9,000. Two bronze medals presented to the Ogdens for helping with rescue efforts, along with a letter of signed by Carpathia Captain Arthur H. Rostron, should sell for $4,000 to $6,000. Additional items include a Carpathia trophy, as well as newspapers, books and ephemera.

 "It's all from a local man whose ancestors were on the Carpathia when they came upon the survivors," noted Horstman. "That group overall is one major standout."

 From tragedy to romance, a cased tintype showing a full-length portrait of Wild Bill Hickok, having a handwritten love poem discovered under the image and signed by Hickok, is expected to sell for $20,000 to $30,000. "It's a scarce find," said Horstman. "And, it fits perfectly with the idea of Wild Bill being a ladies' man."

 Items pertaining to the American West continue to draw steady interest. A rare 1859 broadside advertising the United States Mail Steamship Co.'s passage of the Moses Taylor from New York to California is estimated at $10,000 to $15,000.

 "The steamship broadside is large, impressive and talks about going to California. That's everything collectors want," said Horstman.

 Morley's Map of New Mexico, 1873, generally acknowledged as the first privately published separate map of what would become the 47th state, showing Indian reservations, military posts, private land grants and proposed railroads, is expected to bring $10,000 to $15,000. A Topographical Map of the Road from Missouri to Oregon, 1846, should realize $5,000 to $7,000.

 An archive of more than 800 letters and documents related to Civil War veteran Isaac d'Isay of the 14th Ohio Infantry, is estimated at $8,000 to $10,000. A witness to the Fort Laramie Treaty, d'Isay wrote extensively of the Indian Wars.

 Some items in the auction have only recently come to light. A sixth plate daguerreotype portrait of future First Lady Julia Dent Grant with her eldest children, Frederic Dent Grant and Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., taken by an unknown St. Louis photographer in late spring or early summer 1854, is expected to bring $10,000 to $15,000. The image, which was likely made for Mrs. Grant's husband, Ulysses, prior to his return from military duty in California, surfaced at an Ohio estate auction last year.

 "The consignor found it among other photos, and it wasn't identified," said Horstman. "We get contacts about a lot of these high-profile pictures, and this is the real deal."

 Another familiar figure represented in the auction is Paul Revere. A pledge he drafted, promising to aid Boston during the War of 1812, is signed by the Revere and 120 others. It is estimated to sell for $10,000 to $15,000.

 An Empire desk purportedly used by Abraham Lincoln either at his Springfield firm or while partnered with John Todd Stuart, along with an 1848 legal document written entirely in Lincoln's hand, is expected to sell for $4,000 to $6,000.

 A grouping of approximately 100 items related to the John F. Kennedy administration, featuring more than 50 photographs of the president, his family and administration, is expected to bring $1,000 to $1,500. The material was collected by Lucille Tutt, a White House administration employee from 1945 to 1965, who also served under Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson. Also in the collection is a World War II victory proclamation signed by Truman and estimated at $2,000 to $4,000.

 The sale also includes many interesting lots of an affordable nature. Among them are photographs related to the Canadian Pacific Railway, as well as railroad images by C.R. Savage and stereoviews by Alfred A. Hart.

 The sale will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, June 10, at Cowan's Auctions, 6270 Este Ave., Cincinnati. Public previews are noon to 5 p.m. Thursday, June 9, and 8 to 10 a.m. the day of the auction. Bidding is available in person, by phone, absentee and live online through

 For more information, phone Katie Horstman at Cowan's Auctions at (513) 871-1670 or visit


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