- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2007

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Eleven folders of old papers rescued from his parents’ closet sat in Thomas Willcox’s sport utility vehicle for months before he realized some were signed by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and might be valuable.

Yesterday, the three letters written by Lee during the Civil War sold at auction for $61,000.

That was far off the record $630,000 a Lee item sold for in 2002, but it was an improvement from last year, when two letters from the general who surrendered in 1865 sold for $5,000 and $1,900, said Patrick Scott, director of rare books and special collections at the University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Library.

The letters were among more than 400 documents Mr. Willcox put up for auction after a protracted fight with the state, which claimed ownership of the documents that had been in Mr. Willcox’s family for years.

The collection details life in South Carolina from 1861 to 1863. Many of the letters are correspondence between generals and the Confederate government and Govs. Francis Wilkinson Pickens and Milledge Luke Bonham.

“The strength of the enemy, as far as I am able to judge, exceeds the whole force that we have in the state,” Lee wrote to Pickens on Dec. 27, 1861. “It can be thrown with great celerity against any point, and far outnumbers any force we can bring against it in the field.”

Other letters are from residents asking for help defending their communities or for the return of slaves taken from plantations to help build fortifications. Some document the grisly details of war.

Fewer than 50 people gathered yesterday for the auction of old correspondence, telegrams, bills and receipts.

The issues addressed in the letters ranged from defense to the mundane. A $75 bid bought a bill of sale for bags of flour.

Mr. Willcox’s letters were supposed to be auctioned in 2004. But South Carolina sued, claiming they were written as part of official state business and were government property. A federal judge ruled last year that Mr. Willcox owned the collection, which were in his family for generations before he discovered them in his parents’ home after they died.

The legal spat led Mr. Willcox to file for bankruptcy.

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