Skip to main content
Go to accessibility options


    [Libby Prison]. Louis Palma Di Cesnola. Five Extraordinary Autograph Letters Signed, Four From Libby Prison.
    Five letters written by the Italian-American Medal of Honor recipient who fought in the Civil War, serving as a colonel in the 4th New York Cavalry Regiment. In June 17, 1863, at the Battle of Aldie, di Cesnola's horse was shot dead under him and he was wounded on the head as the result of a saber cut and shot in the left arm. He was taken prisoner and sent to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, where he spent nine months. Four of his five letters written to his wife Mary offered here are from Libby Prison. 1) ALS. "Luigi." Four pages, Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia; December 25, 1863. Writing to his wife on Christmas day, 1863, di Cesnola asks rhetorically "Among so many enemies how can we have a merry Christmas? The last appeared here and the most formidable just now is the u small pox /u . Hundredth of our brave boys have been already swept away from this world....This morning as a Christmas present the adjutant of the 5th Maryland was found with the small pox in my own room. God forbid that it spreads in these overcrowded rooms....The death of Genl. Buford leaving me the senior Colonel in his division would entitle me to his position as Brig. Genl. In every other army in the world but in this ours from an Italian paper received by an Italian (Garibaldian) officer here speaking about me says this: 'We see that our young countryman Cesnola is praised up by all the American papers as a brave courageous & efficient cavalry officer; we do not wonder at it as he belongs to an old chain of that profession; we only wonder that a professional military man with acknowledged merits should not be promoted and we see a professional dancing master (Ferrero) making quick steps to the rank of General.'" 2) ALS. "Luigi." Four pages, Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia; January 11-12, 1864. In this letter to his wife, di Cesnola writes, "Today is the 16th day that no flag of truce boat has come to City Point therefore I have received no letters from you nor have been able to send any of mine...please send me a sketch book with some pencils, an album unto which I will get the autographs of the most prominent officers here." 3) ALS. "Luigi." Four pages, Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia; January 19, 1864. In this letter, di Cesnola bemoans, "My life here becomes more and more insupportable not on account of the forces of conformity but of the forced associations witch are demoralizing to me! How good a place in this to study human nature! I know now to weigh every character which has been in contact with me and I am sorry to say that of the several hundreds not one I can truly say I respect no one is pure and highly honorable. This is indeed terrible....The Richmond papers say that the Government here will never allow an exchange to be affected through Butler; so whatever you see in the northern papers about exchange etc. do not pay any attention to them." 4) ALS. "Luigi." Four pages, Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia; January 24, 1864. In this letter from prison, di Cesnola writes, "I begin to believe that we are here until the end of the war, or until such a time when the Confederates shall hold as many prisoners as we do....An officer died yesterday here with small pox....Genl. Butler now is agreeing with the policy of Secrty. Stanton and we may be sure that not any exchange or efforts to make it will be attempted on our side, and from what I see from papers of Richmond the government here does not seem much disposed to do any more in regard of it....Do they not know that by refusing to exchange on both sides the authorities are guilty of willful murder of thousands of men whose only crime has been to serve their country according to their political views." 5) ALS. "Luigi." Two pages, U.S. General Hospital, Annapolis, Maryland; March 24, 1864. This letter was written after di Cesnola was exchanged. It is written from U.S. hospital in Annapolis. "So after having been ten months in prison when we arrive in our line instead of allowing us to visit our long distressed families peremptory orders come to stay here in this Secesh town until further orders from the War Department....I have been most luck to find Dr. Vanderkieelf who is an old friend of mine here in charge of all the hospitals otherwise I do not know what I would have done to clean myself of the vermin I got in Libby."

    A remarkable group of letters by a Medal of Honor winner that provide insight to life inside Libby Prison.

    More Information: Luigi Palma di Cesnola (1832-1904), an Italian-American soldier, diplomat and amateur archaeologist. Since 1862, he served as a colonel of the 4th New York Cavalry Regiment, serving under the name Louis P. di Cesnola. At the Battle of Aldie (June 1863), Colonel di Cesnola was wounded and taken prisoner. He received a Medal of Honor for his efforts during the battle. He was released from Libby Prison after nearly ten months in early in 1864 when the Union Agent for Prisoner Exchange offered a personal friend of Jefferson Davis as barter. After the war, di Cesnola served as United States consul at Larnaca in Cyprus (1865–1877) and first Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1879–1904).

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2019
    2nd Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 8
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 234

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $300,000 (minimum $49), plus 20% of any amount between $300,000 and $3,000,000, plus 12.5% of any amount over $3,000,000 per lot.

    Sold on Nov 2, 2019 for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2022 June 11 - 12 Americana & Political Signature® Auction .

    Learn about consigning with us

    Thanks a million for getting approval to sell my Civil War Hospital Death Ledger! You made them AND ME , a nice profit. You are the best!
    Ed W.,
    Mount Vernon, OH
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search