Sunday, May 3, 2020

An Appeal to Civil War Dealers/Collectors

I've added a couple additional thoughts to this post.  Perhaps it would be more properly directed to dealers in artifacts than collectors. ––May 5, 2020

I'm reluctant to post this in some respects because so many people have been so generous to me in sharing their collections that I in no way intend to disparage any one.  But I get frustrated sometimes at good source material that briefly appears at dealer sites, and offered for sale, and then just as quickly disappears.

I have received over the years a great deal of source material from generous collectors & dealers of Civil War artifacts and letters.   The information these relics hold, even if trivial, is often valuable in some other way to a researcher/historian.  Letters are especially important to my endeavor to present to the public at large, the 3 year history of the soldiers of the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers ––through their own writings.  To this end, unpublished materials that have been shared with me by descendants and collectors is extremely important.

Pictured a number of personal artifacts that belonged to 13th MA soldier Melvin Smith, shared with me recently by his descendant.

 I would ask any dealers/collectors who have this kind of material to be aware that the contents of the artifacts and letters that they prize so much, is invaluable to researchers.  In my case, it would be collectors or dealers with 13th Massachusetts documents.

I’m saying this because there is a lack of source material for the regiment between the battle of Gettysburg and July, 1864.  There just weren’t many soldiers left in the regiment after Gettysburg.   The number dwindled to a few.   This isn’t a problem for the early days, when 1,000 men were sending letters home, to family, the newspapers or the Governor’s office.  Where so much information is at hand its possible to create a daily record of events within the regiment.   Not so for late 1863 - early 1864.  To be fair, some sellers have gone out of their way to share what they have with me, and it has helped tremendously with my project.   Very recently, a dealer contacted me with a detailed diary from 1863.  I helped with the transcription.  I was thrilled to get the snippets, but the dealer very generously decided to share the whole document with me!  I cannot praise him enough because these short diary entries add a whole new dimension to my website.  I have already posted several entries.  But, at least twice in the past few years, I was unable to obtain transcriptions of numerous letters written during this time period, that came up for sale, and then disappeared. 

I’ve been able to utilize some of the snippet summaries of these letters which were offered by the sellers, but its a poor substitute for the whole thing.  Snippets don’t capture the diarist or letter writer’s personality, or details that might be insignificant to a seller, but have great interest to a researcher. 

If you have in your possession letters of a particular unit, whether to cherish or to sell, consider sharing the contents with  researchers.  Reach out to someone else who would value and appreciate your collection as much as you do.  Its the information that we need, not the item itself.  In my case, I have been unsuccessful following the trail of these particular items that quickly disappeared into obscurity.

Its pretty darn easy to know there is a detailed website chronicling the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers.   I’ve even seen information from my website used to advertise the sale of artifacts.  Just know, that I’m interested and would appreciate whatever lights you care to shine into the history of these men.  I will be thankful, and the many descendants I have helped will be grateful too. 

When I began my web history, there was a question as to whether or not I should share everything I found.  I decided to share, because in the end these aren’t my stories.  They belong to the soldiers’ themselves.  This policy brought many happy results, beyond monetary considerations.

So thats my pitch.  Please help if you can by sharing/linking this post with your friends.

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