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    Union Signal Corps Letter by Elisha N. Peirce with Contraband Content. Ten pages, 5" x 8", with the original transmittal envelope. "Pine Tree Signal Station Out Post Line Defences of Newbern North Carolina / Jan. 3d. 1864." A great narrative letter to his wife, including lyrics of a song heard from a recently escaped contraband. In part: "... last evening... a sergeant of cavalry knocked at my tent... I expected it was a dispatch... and I dreaded leaving the cheerful fire... but my fear soon turned to rejoicing for he reported two contrabands coming into the lines. As soon as they made their appearance I had them brought into my tent and the furniture... moved into a corner and room made for a dance. All darkies can dance, but these were professional characters... Ned is a dancer & Jerry is a songster, makes up songs about everything of interest that happens in Dukeling County. They belonged to Mrs. Betsy Sulervan and Jerry sang a song about his escape...
    Poor old Betsy. gone away
    Had two niggers gone away
    Betsy's groaning. Gone away
    Niggers happy. Gone away
    Free darkies gone away
    Independent darkies - gone away
    Taking his enjoyment - gone away
    Betsy split her own wood - gone away
    Skin her own steers - gone away
    Salt her three hogs - gone away
    Free man dancing - gone away
    Betsy mourning - gone away
    Don't grieve Betsy - by and by
    Dukeling gentlm'n - by and by
    Call you a visit - by and by
    Coming with the Yankees - by and by
    Fighting for Lincum - by and by
    Shoot massa Leisha - by and by
    Shoot massa Charlie - by and by
    Good by Betsy - gone away & c...

    For half an hour, keeping us in a row of laughter all the time. When any part of the son please Ned... he would cut a pigeon wing that would give Morris, Pell & Brothers Ethiopia Minstrels the blues for a week..."

    Peirce gives a quick account of how Ned and Jerry made their escape, attributing their success to "the Jack", a divining rod of sorts: "The Jack is a very wonderful thing to a darkie. It is composed of a thunderbolt and found near the foot of a tree struck by lightning, it is soaked in vinegar for 24 hours exactly. Then taken out and filed with a new file, put in a little bag, together with salt and brimstone & sewed up tightly with a string attached to it... Their belief in the Jack is as firm as their faith in God..." Peirce then describes how Ned had used "the Jack" to discover his wife's (she live on a plantation five miles away) infidelity.

    Peirce reports that Ned & Jerry have enlisted: "They wish to go right back where they came from and show their old Misses their new clothes and fight the rebels. They say they are willing to fight though they say they will be burned if they get taken prisoners. Great business going on in North Carolina enlisting Vetran [sic] Volunteers, Rebel deserters and darkies..." A lengthy letter, with almost all black content.

    Condition: Very clean, with light wear and spots of foxing at exterior folds. Transmittal envelope has been neatly torn open at right, with chips and small tears at edges. An almost complete typed transcript of the letter is included.


    More Information: Elisha Nye Peirce enlisted on April 16, 1861 as a Private and was mustered into E company, Massachusetts 5th Infantry. The following year he was commissioned into Company F of the same infanty and tranferred into the US Army Signal Corps on November 11, 1862. He was wounded at Bull Run on July 21, 1861.

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    Auction Dates
    May, 2017
    11th Thursday
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    We had a wonderful time in New York during the October 2013 Historical Manuscripts auction that featured my mother’s papers collected during her tenure as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s secretary. In fact, the entire experience from beginning to end has been a pleasure.
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