BOCA RATON, FLA. -- Four scrapbooks of memorabilia chronicling the hard times and last words of the men who fought for the Confederate States of America were discovered last month on a dusty library shelf at Florida Atlantic University.
The collection, estimated by a professional appraiser to be worth as much as $100,000, was hailed by archivists and historians last week as an important addition to the lore surrounding the nation's bloodiest war.
Civil War historian Shelby Foote called the find "tremendous ... It sounds like there are things of really large value there, things none of us knew."
The four leather-bound volumes are crammed with letters and personal papers of Confederate generals and soldiers, currency and war bonds, pictures, deeds, stamps, newspaper clippings and political cartoons.
The collection includes:
A surgeon's eyewitness account of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson's final days. The four-page letter describes Jackson's hopes of moving to Richmond to get well as his condition worsened before the eyes of his wife Anna.
A piece of the gray uniform Jackson was wearing when he was accidentally shot in the left arm May 2, 1863, by one of his own pickets after the rebel triumph at the battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia. The swatch of cloth is the size of a matchbook cover.
A plea from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to Union Gen. George McClellan for an exchange of war prisoners, dated July 14, 1862.
A letter written by Jefferson Davis 20 days before his inauguration as the Confederacy's first and only president. "The post of president of the provisional Government is one of great responsibility and difficulty," Davis wrote to a friend in a letter from Jackson, Miss., on Jan. 30, 1861. "I have no confidence in my capacity to meet its requirements."
A letter from Judah Benjamin, who would become the Confederacy's secretary of state, secretary of war and attorney general, dated June 11, 1854: "A gulf wide, deep and, I fear, impassable is already opened between the Northern and Southern Whigs ... If I be right in this prediction, God knows what awaits us. The future looks full of gloom to me."
The university initially announced that the collection had come from an anonymous benefactor. The school's files contain no record of the donor's identity.
But after the cache became publicized, James Cross, a retired college research associate, telephoned the FAU library to say he had donated the material to the university in 1973. Cross said he made the gift in memory of his father, Eliot Cross, who collected historical documents from 1920 until his death in 1949.
"He was a fan of the Confederacy," Cross said.
FAU's archivist, John Hillis, the great-grandson of a Union general, said he knew the volumes were on the library's second floor but never realized their historical or monetary value.
Scholar-in-residence Otto Bettmann pulled the volumes, marked with Confederate flags on the maroon bindings, off the shelf Jan. 4.
"I knew immediately this was something very valuable," said Bettmann, 84, the founder of Bettmann Archives, a pictorial library in New York.
Bettmann furiously flipped through the pages -- past the insignificant Currier & Ives Civil War prints -- to find letters signed by the Confederacy's legends: Lee, Jackson, Davis.
On Jan. 27, Bettmann asked professional appraiser Herman Herst Jr. of Boca Raton to look at the contents. Herst said it took him three minutes to determine that the papers were important.
"This is a tremendous find," Herst said. "These are unique materials, and so much of it has never been seen by professors or students."
The materials are mounted on faded Confederate-gray construction paper. The documents include typed highlights and lot numbers, apparently culled from auction guides, circa 1925.
The letters from Lee and the account of Jackson's death are the most important pieces of the collection, Herst said. Last week, Herst, Bettmann and Hillis scrutinized the letter written by surgeon Sam Morisson on May 13, 1863 -- three days after Jackson died.
Morisson described Jackson's bout with pneumonia, following the amputation of his left arm. Absent in the doctor's account is any reference to Jackson's legendary last words: "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."
"This letter defies his famous last words!" Bettmann declared. "There is no mention of it!"
But Foote, author of a three-volume history of the Civil War, insisted that Jackson uttered the words, even if Morisson failed to mention them.
Several witnesses heard the words, Foote said by telephone from his home in Memphis, and scholars still debate whether the general said rest "under" or "in" the shade of the trees.