Auction of Civil War soldier’s skull criticized

June 2

“Federal dead on the field of battle of first day, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.” (Photo by Timothy O’Sullivan/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Plans to sell the skull of a Civil War soldier by a Pennsylvania auction house on Tuesday have drawn sharp criticism from some of the country’s leading Civil War historians.

According to a news account in the York Daily Record in York, Pa., the skull and 13 other artifacts were found on a Gettysburg farm in 1949, about two miles north of a field hospital set up in a barn during the Battle of Gettysburg.

The skull and related artifacts, with accompanying handwritten and notarized documents, were given to the Estate Auction Company several months ago as a consignment for sale, according to the news story.

Harold Holzer, an expert on President Lincoln and the author or editor of more than 30 books, called the sale of the skull a desecration.

He said in an e-mail response: “I can’t think of anything more grotesque or disrespectful than auctioning off the remains of a soldier who may have been one of those, as Lincoln put it, who gave their lives that the nation might live. The skull belongs in the Gettysburg Soldiers Cemetery, not on the auction block. I have nothing against passionate collecting. But this is desecration.”

John Marszalek, Giles Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at Mississippi State University and executive director of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, said of the sale in an e-mail response, “I find this auction most distasteful. Every human being deserves a respectful burial. If we consider battlefields to be hallowed grounds, what do we believe about the individuals who died there?”

The Estate Auction Company of Pennsylvania has scheduled an auction for the skull and other unrelated items at 1 p.m. on Tuesday at the Grand Venice Hotel in Hagerstown, Md. A call to the company went to a recording that said the company was installing an answering service but was not yet ready to take calls.

 

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