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    An eyewitness account of the last days of the Civil War leading to Lee's surrender

    Wilmon W. Blackmar, Medal of Honor Recipient, Group of Documents and Photographs Relating to Events Leading to the Surrender at Appomattox. Most notably in the group is a 12-page letter (7.75" x 9.75) written from Nottoway Court House, Virginia dated April 16, 1865 to his wife "Lizzie," providing an eyewitness account of the last ten days of battle leading to Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House. In the beginning of the letter, Blackmar expressed his despair at Lincoln's tragic death. "We have just heard the bare, terrible fact, by telegraph that President Lincoln has been assassinated. A gloom is cast over the whole Army, and everyone asks sadly for the particulars which we can not know until the papers 3 days old reach us. You know of my deep and sincere respect for Mr. Lincoln. I feel his death as if he were of my own family and then the knowledge that such a crime can be committed in my own Country makes me very very sad. This has been one of the darkest days I have spent for years, but I must await particulars before I say or think too much on the subject." Blackmar then proceeded to provide a day-by-day account of events in the ten days leading up to Appomattox in which he was involved. On March 31, 1865, the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House occurred. "We were ordered to the front, as our advance had struck the enemy....It was afternoon when we reached the battle field and Gen. Custer led us up with the band playing Hail Columbia-soon we were under heavy fire-the ground was such that we had to fight dismounted . This is hard work for a cavalryman and we soon found we were no match for the Enemy, as he had two times our number of Infantry." Blackmar's brigade, led by Captain Henry Capehart, was able to halt the Confederate attack as fighting continued into the night. The next day, April 1, was the Battle of Five Forks, in which Blackmar's heroism won him the Medal of Honor. "We advanced on foot, skirmishing all the way, 10 miles here we ran on their strong works, and after waiting, fighting & holding on until 4 ½ Brigade with one other...struck them in front....At first we were repulsed and they followed us across an open field, right to the edge of a deep ditch, which they did not cross-my horse took the ditch with a bound and then I turned and had the fairest shot I ever had. I emptied 5 loads from my revolver across the ditch...our men rallied and charged again. This time they drove the Rebs. right and left....Thus we ended the Battle of Five Forks." Later in the latter, Blackmar described the actions of his brigade in the Battle of Sailer's Creek. "April 6 Marched until 3 P.M. when the advance Brigade struck the Enemy and sent back 16 cannon and 700 prisoners. Soon Ewell's Corps came up and got a position on us, and then drove us with a galling fire...we did not go far, the Rebs. halted and threw up rail breast works. The word was given and our whole line charged. One blinding volley and the infuriated Cavalry were upon them such a time was never seen. Drawers, shirts, towels or anything white or nearly so were waved in air and Surrender was the order of the hour. I saw a friend bringing in a squad of mounted men. I rode up and found he had Gen Ewell and Staff." Blackmar describes the actions on April 9, the day that ended with General Lee's surrender at Appomattox. "We were in the saddle and ready for a for the first time I saw the colored troops go in and they went in in style and just in time; soon we were on the move and dashed across the open fields between the lines of Infantry and made for the Rebel Left and Rear. They tore the ground all around us and the woods before and beyond us with their shot and shell, but Custer dashed ahead and the bugle rang out his clear commands....All knew that in less than five minutes we should have been dealing and receiving Death. But all at once there was a lull, a death like stillness was over everything, when their Reb. Officers dashed out of their lines one bearing a white towel. 'A truce' 'A truce!' was shouted along the column, and the Rebs. were passed up to Gen. Custer....'No!' said Custer 'My forces are in your Rear and nothing but unconditional Surrender will be accepted'....Soon Custer himself dashed into their lines with a white handkerchief waving over his head. He had not been gone five minutes when they opened fire and killed a Lieutenant. Trechery [sic]! and every man grasped his arms and an advance was ordered....Soon Custer came back and riding through his command shouted 'It's all right boys Lee has surrendered his whole force.' Cheer on Cheer went up. Bands played National Airs and 'Home Sweet Home.'" In his letter, Blackmar mentioned that after the surrender ceremony, Colonel Capehart was given "the chair in which Grant sat." As evidenced by other items in this grouping, Blackmar would eventually obtain the chair.

    The lot also includes:

    1) Affidavit of Captain Henry Capehart. Carbon typescript, one page, 7.75" x 13", Fargo, North Dakota; August 10, 1893. This copy of affidavit was sent with General Grant's chair, which Capehart presented to Blackmar. It reads in part: "That this 'Grant Chair' has been in his, Capehart's, possession ever since the said ninth day of April 1865, until the 25th day of July 1893, when it was presented by deponent to his old dear friend and gallant comrade, Gen'l Wilmon W. Blackmar of Boston, as a token of their many years of intimate and loving friendship born, nourished and cemented amid the trying and thrilling scenes incident to the battles, marches and bivouacs of Phil Sheridan's Cavalry, when they rode side by side and shared each with other, food and blanket."

    2) Cabinet photograph of the chair in which General Grant sat at Appomattox. 3.75" x 5.4" albumen print on 5.25" x 7.5" mount. Photograph by W.H. Partridge, Boston, Massachusetts, circa 1893. On verso of mount is printed copy of the August 10, 1893 affidavit of Captain Capehart.

    3) Cabinet photograph of Wilmon W. Blackmar standing next to the Grant chair, 4" x 5" albumen print on 5.25" x 8.5" mount. Photographer unidentified, but probably W. H. Partridge, Boston, Massachusetts, circa 1893.

    4) Handwritten manuscript, in the hand of Blackmar, entitled "An Eventful Day with Phil Sheridan", 9 pages (incomplete), 8" x 10" lined paper, with edits in pencil and ink for presentation and possible publication; circa 1890s. A lecture by Blackmar, in which he repeats a story previously told by a "soldier at one of our Army gatherings not long since", probably himself, due to similarities of descriptions of events related in his April 16, 1865 letter cited above, about the events of April 9, 1865, the day that ended with General Lee's surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. The incomplete manuscript ends with General Custer's engagement with Lee's troops.

    5) A handwritten manuscript, in the hand of Blackmar, entitled "The Flag of Truce at Appomattox", one page, 5.75" x 9"; undated. It reads in full: "Genl. John B. Gordon (now U.S. Senator from Georgia) morning of April 9, 1865 sent Col. R. M. Sims to our Cavalry with the flag of truce. It was an ordinary towel (sort of honey comb cloth) and was tied to the sword of Col. Sims wh[ich] he held aloft as he rode up to our column. Sheridan gave this 'towell' to George Custer and it is now in the possession of Mrs. Genl. Custer (Elizabeth B. Custer)."

    6) Autograph letter signed, two pages (on James Conaway & Company Steel Umbrella Frame Works stationary), 8.5" x 10.75", Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; April 10, 1896. Letter from John F. Conaway to Blackmar in which Conaway, a fellow Civil War veteran, informs Blackmar of a local GAR meeting in which part of his recent speech concerning Lee's surrender at Appomattox (possibly item 4 listed above) was read. Also included is a canceled postal cover (a James Conaway & Company envelope).

    Condition: Overall good condition. April 16, 1865 letter has usual folds with separations along center horizontal fold; upper right hand corner of page 3 missing and lower right hand has a 2.5" tear. The first page manuscript titled "An Eventful day with Phil Sheridan" has lower left hand corner missing (with no loss of text); bottom of page 1 has several small tears; browning down center of page 1.

    More Information:

    Wilmon W. Blackmar (1841-1905) was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania. In August 1861, while attending Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, he returned home to Pennsylvania and in August 1862 enlisted in the Anderson Troop, afterwards known as the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, participating in various engagements with Company H and later Company K in the Western Theater and with the Army of the Potomac, including the Battle of Antietam, and was subsequently promoted to corporal, sergeant, 1st sergeant, and then to first lieutenant in charge of Company H of the 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry, to which he had been transferred. For his heroism at the Battle of Five Forks in Virginia on 1 April 1865, in which he formed a line and charged into Confederate forces, causing them to disperse, Blackmar was promoted to the rank of captain by General George Custer and subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest and most prestigious personal military decoration bestowed for acts of valor in service of their country. He later served as Provost Marshal and Assistant Adjutant General to Colonel Henry Capehart of General Custer's Third Division of General Phil Sheridan's Cavalry before Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Blackmar mustered out of the army at the conclusion of the war, graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, studied law at the Harvard Law School, and married Helen Brewer in 1880, living in both Boston and Hingham, Massachusetts, until his death. He served as a lawyer and then, upon retirement, as judge advocate to several Massachusetts governors. Blackmar was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1904.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2018
    25th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 731

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