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    The Confederacy Takes Control

    [Confederate Seizure of the Harpers Ferry Armory]. Confederate Colonel Oliver R. Funsten Autograph Letter Signed. Two pages, 4.5" x 7", Manassas Junction [Virginia], April 17, 1861. Since February 13, 1861, 152 delegates, mostly Unionists, had been meeting in convention to discuss the question of secession. With the fall of Fort Sumter on April 13 and President Abraham Lincoln's call for 75,000 troops two days later, the momentum of the convention veered toward secession. Unbeknownst to the other delegates, however, former Virginia governor Henry A. Wise, a fellow delegate and an ardent secessionist, was devising a plan to secretly seize the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

    Wise arranged a secret meeting with several prominent militia commanders on April 16. The meeting, which included Captains Oliver R. Funsten, John Imboden, Turner Ashby, Richard Ashby, John A. Harman, and the Arsenal's superintendent, Alfred Barbour, met at the Exchange Hotel in Richmond. Virginia's governor, John Letcher, was apprised of the scheme and he agreed, but on the condition that the act not be carried out until Virginia passed the Ordinance of Secession the following morning.

    The Ordinance did indeed pass on the morning of the 17th and Capt. Oliver Funsten sent this letter to fellow militia commander, Capt. William N. Nelson of the Nelson Rifles, apprising him of the upcoming raid, in part: "Gov. Wise received a telegraphic dispatch at a late hour last night, from a reliable source in Washington, that Lincoln has ordered a regiment of Rhode Island troops to Harpers Ferry, and it was determined that the armory should at once be seized by the troops of this state. Several hundred troops will pass over the Manassas road to night to Strasburg, and from thence to Winchester, where they will arrive about 10 o'clock tomorrow, and will be speedily sent down the road towards Harpers Ferry. . . . I give you this information, on my own responsibility, and you will of course act on it, as you may think proper. I will only suggest that if you determine to march your company to the Ferry, Charleston [modern West Virginia] would be the most convenient point to unite with the troops which will come from Strasburg." The raid went off as planned despite the burning of the facility by Union troops. The rebels were able to salvage 4,000 muskets and all the tools necessary for rifle production.

    With the original transmittal envelope. Smoothed folds; areas of very light staining and foxing are scattered throughout. The text is bright. Material dealing with the seizure of the Federal Arsenal is scarce and makes the letter particularly attractive.

    It is not for certain when Oliver R. Funsten (1817-1871) enlisted in the Confederate Army, but by July 1861 he held a major's commission. On June 1, 1862, he was commissioned into the field and staff of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, but was discharged for promotion to lieutenant colonel four months later and transferred to the 17th Battalion Virginia Cavalry. He was transferred again in February 1863, this time to the 11th Virginia Cavalry and received a promotion to colonel in July of that year. He was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864 and resigned from the army in January 1865.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2015
    12th-13th Friday-Saturday
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