National Archives Recovers Lincoln Documents
Press Release · Thursday, August 18, 2011
Washington, DC…Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero announced today that the National Archives has recovered two documents apparently removed at some unknown time in the past from Civil War-era Commission Branch records. One of the documents includes a lengthy, hand-written endorsement by President Abraham Lincoln of the Rev. Henry Edwards as chaplain of a military hospital in Hagerstown, Maryland in 1862.
Joining Mr. Ferriero for the announcement was Bill Panagopulos of Alexander Autographs, Inc. and Alexander Historical Auctions, of Stamford, Connecticut, who returned the documents to the National Archives. The National Archives has produced a brief video about the documents’ return, which can be viewed online [http://youtu.be/YrSipnppEI8]. The video is free of restrictions and the National Archives encourages its distribution.
Early in 2009 investigative archivist Mitchell Yockelson saw documents in the catalogue of a New York autograph dealer that appeared to belong in a Civil War-era commission branch file held by the National Archives. The documents were from the file of Rev. Henry Edwards, who served as chaplain at a military hospital in Hagerstown, Maryland.
There were two items in the catalogue: a letter to President Lincoln, dated November 6, 1862, from three military surgeons requesting that the President appoint a chaplain to serve in hospitals treating the wounded from the Battle of Antietam; and the wrapper, or cover sheet, of Edwards’ military file, on which President Lincoln had endorsed the appointment. The president’s signature was dated November 12, 1862.
The New York dealer had purchased the documents from Mr. Panagopulos, who had received them on consignment from a family in Rhode Island. Upon learning of the rightful provenance of the documents, Mr. Panagopulos refunded the dealer’s purchase price and the items were returned to him. The original consigners agreed to refund to Mr. Panagopulos what he had paid for the documents and to allow him to return the items to the National Archives.
Retired National Archives Civil War archivist Michael Musick said the Commission Branch files of the Adjutant General’s Office “apparently at one point were hit rather hard, by a thief interested in Lincoln documents, perhaps when these records were still in the custody of the War Department,” before the National Archives was created in 1934. Mr. Musick says there is no way to determine when or by whom these documents were removed from the Edwards file.
The National Archives and its Office of the Inspector General are committed to identifying documents that belong in its custody and arranging for their return. In 2007, the National Archives honored two brothers who recognized several Civil War documents offered for sale on eBay that they had used at a National Archives facility. Their cooperation eventually led to the arrest of a former National Archives intern and the return of more than 160 stolen items.
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