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What we nowadays most often call the American Civil War went by other names 150 years ago, depending on who you were and where you were from: In the North it was called the War of the Rebellion or the War for the Union; in the South, it was the War of the Rebellion, the War of Secession or the War of Northern Aggression, and the War Between the States after the fighting ended; among Southern slaves, it was the Freedom War.
These names reflect different perspectives on the causes of the war: the clash over slavery – complete abolition, restriction to the Southern states or expansion in the West; the right of states to secede from the Union; the economic domination of the agrarian South by the industrialized North … What’s not in dispute is that the Civil War was America’s costliest military conflict in terms of human devastation – some 620,000 soldiers killed, many more wounded or maimed, and God knows how many civilian deaths from combat, disease and starvation. The echoes of that bitter struggle, though a century and a half in the past, still resound in our national psyche and continue to affect us in ways large and small. Without doubt, it always will.
Small wonder, then, that many, many people are deeply interested in the Civil War. If you are from the South, where most of the fighting took place and historical monuments are everywhere – or if you have an ancestor who fought – then discussion of the war was probably a part of your upbringing. Civil War battlefields are visited by millions each year, and dedicated reenactors not only portray military events for crowds of spectators but try to duplicate the physical realities of the era in minute detail – for example, by wearing only authentic period clothing and accoutrements.
Then, of course, there are the collectors: of weapons and uniforms; flags, medals, musical instruments and equipment; coins, stamps, bonds and currency; newspapers, maps and letters; diaries and documents; photographs and autographs … Whatever physical artifact of the Civil War you can think of, someone collects it – passionately.
Brian & Maria Green, Inc., of Kernersville, N.C., is a premier dealer in Civil War autographs and paper memorabilia; I’m a customer of theirs myself, so I can heartily recommend them. Brian’s breadth of knowledge of the war never fails to impress me; what’s more, he’s highly regarded in his field, knows a lot of people and attends a lot of shows, so if he doesn’t have what you’re looking for now, he’s bound to find it sooner or later. (My advice: Send him your want list.)
I asked Brian about collecting Civil War autographs and other material. Here’s what he told me …
[singlepic id=477 w=320 h=240 float=right]AmeriCollector: How many Civil War–related autographs do you have in stock? Do you include antebellum and Reconstruction autographs in this category?
Brian Green: Over 1,000, including both prewar (antebellum) and postwar (Reconstruction) personages, North and South, who were in the war. We also include the Indian Wars era, as many Civil War personages were participants.
AC: Do many collectors specialize in the Civil War?
Brian: It is the most collectible era in the United States, especially as it is now the 150th anniversary of the war and there will be five years of events. We have quite a few customer, with a large catalog following – we do four a year – plus many collectors who attend the various Civil War shows around the U.S.; most are east of the Mississippi (we exhibit at eight to ten a year). Our catalogs have our show schedules in them.
AC: What subjects do your customers collect (e.g., specific signers; material related to specific units, battles, military campaigns, states; etc.)?
Brian: They collect many ways, such as generals, government and civilian officials (from the president on down), states, specific units (including ones ancestors served in), battles, military campaigns, etc., in letter, cover (envelope) and document form. They also collect Confederate States of America (CSA) and U.S.A. currency, bonds and stamps, including postally used (on and off a cover). We have a mail exhibit featuring famous CSA generals that has been on display at philatelic shows throughout the U.S. and won many awards, including gold medals and one “champion of the most popular exhibits” competition in 2011.
AC: What are the rarer autographs that you have now and have handled in the past? Do you work with institutions as well?
Brian: We have had most of the rare autographs of the KIA (killed in action), MWIA (mortally wounded in action) and DOD (died of disease) generals of both sides; a signed President Lincoln document suspending the writ of habeas corpus in Maryland, which was General Winfield Scott’s personal copy; the terms of a POW exchange in Missouri between General Sterling Price (CSA) and General John C. Frémont (U.S.A.); CSA general Jubal Early’s written proclamation read on the steps of the courthouse of York, Penn., to its citizens as to why the Confederates were in Pennsylvania and that they would not harm the citizens, unlike the treatment of Confederate citizens by the Yankees; “Stonewall” Jackson’s battle report for Second Manassas (August 1862); etc.
We do work with institutions and have a number of them as clients.
[singlepic id=472 w=320 h=240 float=right]AC: What makes an autograph important?
Brian: Such things as who the personage was, what he or she did and where (e.g., major battles), whether KIA, MWIA, POW, etc. Also, how many are known to exist, especially when there are less than 10 recorded.
AC: Are ordinary soldiers’ letters much collected? What kind of content do collectors of these letters look for? What is the price range?
Brian: Yes, there are many people interested in soldiers’ letters, and many are affordable and within reach of the vast majority of collectors. Many sell for under $100. Content, especially battle descriptions, dictate the price, as well as whether a letter is from a famous unit, such as the Iron Brigade of Michigan and Wisconsin, the 69th New York, the Stonewall Brigade of Virginia and the 26th North Carolina. Collectors look for descriptions of locations, camp life, campaigns, battle action, etc. These letters can range from under $50 to thousands, depending on whether they contain accounts of major battles like Shiloh, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Franklin, etc.
AC: I have seen a lot of illustrated covers (Civil War–era envelopes) on eBay. Are they much collected?
Brian: Illustrated or patriotic covers are very much collected. They depict leaders, flags, portraits (generals and civilians), slogans, cartoons, battle scenes, ships, etc., as well as expressions of patriotism, scorn, hatred, etc. Southern (CSA) covers are much scarcer due to the lack of manufacturing processes, paper, inks, climate, the ravages of war as well as insects and rodents.
Probably more than 100 Union patriotic (covers) exist for each CSA cover, and the ratio could well be higher. For many of the CSA patriotic, only one or two are known or recorded. There are two major catalogs devoted to these patriotics: for CSA covers, “The New Dietz Confederate States Catalog and Handbook” by Hubert C. Skinner, Erin R. Gunter and Warren H. Sanders; and for USA (Union) covers, “The George Walcott Collection of Used Civil War Covers” by Robert Laurence.
AC: What other kinds of Civil War material do you sell?
Brian: We also sell CSA currency, both government and state. The states issued currency, as there was not enough government money to supply the demand, plus transportation problems as the Federals occupied Confederate territory.
In addition, we sell CSA stamps and postal history (stamps on postally used covers and envelopes). Covers include civilian, military and government. They are collected by type of stamp (14 major government issues, not including the temporary postmasters’ provisionals until the government stamps appeared in 1861), cities, states, military, homemade (including those made from wallpaper), etc. We also carry photographs (cartes de visite, or CDVs) and engravings of some of the war personages. They are often used by collectors for framing with autographs.
We also have “first day of issue” covers (first day covers, or FDCs) for stamps issued by the U.S. government pertaining to the war, beginning in 1937 (such as the Army-Navy series and the final reunion of the Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR) and continuing through 1951 (the United Confederate Veterans final reunion) and later. They usually range between $3.50 and $10.
We can be contacted by mail, phone and online (though our Web site). We advertise in all the Civil War magazines and papers. We offer an authentication service for our material as well as client material (there is a fee for this). Many dealers and auction houses use this service.
An autograph or other item from the Civil War era makes a great gift for a collector and can inspire a young person to learn more about American history.
Visit Brian & Maria Green at www.bmgcivilwar.com.
All images courtesy of Brian & Maria Green. All of the items pictured are available for sale at this writing.
Fair disclosure: Brian & Maria Green is an advertiser on AmeriCollector.com.