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Two Historic Lots Relating to Gen. George Armstrong Custer to Cross the Block

by Special to WorthPoint (03/04/13).

A collection of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Michigan Cavalry Civil War materials is expected to draw the interest of military and Custer historians when it goes up for auction on March 11-12 in the Outstanding March Firearms Auction, to be hosted by James D. Julia, Inc. It carries a presale estimate of $45,000 to $65,000.

FAIRFIELD, Maine — Two lots related to Gen. George A. Custer and featuring historically important and museum quality materials, including wartime documents, letters, photographs, medals and a sample of the Confederate Appomattox surrender flag, will be sold on in the Outstanding March Firearms Auction, to be hosted by James D. Julia, Inc., on March 11-12, 2013.

These items—literally time capsules of America’s 19th century domestic wars—are certain to be of great interest to military and Custer historians.

The first lot, #1480, which carries a presale estimate of $45,000 to $65,000, is a truly one of a kind collection of Custer’s 7th Michigan Cavalry Civil War materials. These items came to Julia’s through a New England family who were direct descendants of Col. George G. Briggs, the last commander of the 7th Michigan Cavalry. The collection has two spectacular highlights. The first is a framed letter written by Custer’s wife to Briggs featuring a snippet of the actual Confederate “flag of truce” from the Appomattox Courthouse, a chip of wood from the desk that Generals Lee and Grant signed the surrender document on that ended the war, and a piece of the red bandana Custer famously wore at the surrender.

The second highlight of this this collection is a gold Tiffany-made Custer Valor Medal, a private military award authorized by Custer and awarded only to heroic and favored members of the 7th Michigan Cavalry. It is inscribed “Geo. G. Briggs 7th Regt. Michigan Cavalry” and consists of a pair of gold crossed sabers on a ribbon supporting a Maltese Cross which has its top quadrant as a five-pointed star. There are probably no more than four or five of these Custer gold medals in existence today, and this is the first gold medal presented to an officer of this type known to ever come to auction. It is interesting to note that a smaller medal with pearls, made for Custer’s wife, sold at auction in 2012 for $46,000.

The collection also includes: wartime documents concerning Briggs; numerous cabinet photographs of Briggs; additional badges, including Briggs’ gold and silver enameled Sheridan Cavalry Corp badge and MOLLUS Membership Badge; a reunion-era hand-carved souvenir Gettysburg presentation polychrome cane and wooden gavel; a six-foot foot section of Col. Briggs’ silk sash; and other military memorabilia.

The second lot is a rare and historic letter book from Custer’s Company L, Seventh U.S. Cavalry, containing file copies of approximately 175 letters sent by various division commanders from May 1872 through January 1875. It is estimated to sell for between $30,000 and $40,000.

The second lot, #1481 is a profoundly rare and historic letter book from Custer’s Company L, Seventh U.S. Cavalry. This hard cover, ledger-sized book contains file copies of approximately 175 letters sent by various division commanders from May 1872 through January 1875. It is estimated to sell for between $30,000 and $40,000.

“Over the years, we have sold a great number of Lt. Col. George A. Custer and 7th Calvary related lots,” said James Julia, the company’s president and world-recognized authority on firearms and military history. James D. Julia, Inc., holds the record for the most expensive Little Bighorn item sold at public auction—a remarkable Winchester rifle used during the battle, which brought $684,000. “While neither the Briggs Collection or the letter book will break that record, they are—for historic reasons—two of the more exciting Custer lots we had the honor of handling.”

Company L was among the five troops personally commanded by Lt. Col. George A. Custer and was decimated at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Prior to the advent of the typewriter, company clerks made duplicate copies of all correspondence by hand, entering them in chronological order in bound volumes such as this one, forming the unit’s permanent file. The letters concern non-commissioned officer promotions, enlistments in the company, pay, deserters, disciplinary actions, supplies, arrests, duty assignments and deaths. According to noted Civil War authority and scholar Doug McChristian, who cataloged this item for Julia’s, this may be the only Civil War letter book of its type in private hands. As such, this is an unparalleled opportunity to own a truly significant piece of Indian Wars history directly associated with the legendary Seventh Cavalry Regiment during its days on the western frontier.

Revealing the human aspect of the Seventh Cavalry, about a dozen of the letters name soldiers who later accompanied the regiment on the ill-fated 1876 campaign. Most of these men, including First Sergeant James Butler, were killed in action when the company was overrun by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. In a letter dated in 1872, Blacksmith Edmund H. Burke requested and received a transfer to Company K, therefore he did not share the fate of his former comrades.

For more information about these items, or the Outstanding March Firearms Auction, please visit James D. Julia, Inc., website.

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