History going private?

24 March 2006

I know this kind of thing goes on every day, but I’m struck by it this evening – there’s something not-quite-right.

There’s a letter for sale on an upcoming eBay live auction. Written by a soldier of the 90th (later 11th) Pennsylvania Infantry, Nathaniel B. Dilhorn.

I can make out the first page, but that’s all that’s posted …

Camp 1 1/2 miles from Sharpsburg, Md.
Sep 26th 1862

Dear Victoria,

I received your letter with one from your Mother yesterday. I’m glad after so long a time to hear from you and Isabella & Watty [?]. You do not say a word about your Father. I suppose he is several years beyond the claim of a draft. In Virginia men have been drafted up to the age of 60. I am glad your Father is not included. It would be felt very much by you should such be the case. As it is I think you do not feel the sad effects of this War as many have. Albert is safe & I trust will go safely through it but how many have suffered and fallen & brought sadness to the door of their dwellings. We trust the Angel of of [sic] Death will pass by your door post. You speak of Bell and Watty going to market and will soon be home with good things for their dinners – how I wish I could sit down by them once more. What [a] glorious meal it would be & how grateful we would be at the thought – but we have much to go through yet. Perhaps a long tramp over Old Virginia again. But I hope not, I have seen as much of it as I desire to see. Mr. Duff gave me a cann [sic] of Tomatoes (a Quart Cann) – I found them very good indeed. I promised to Mr. D a Rebels Gun, but I find those who have them are not disposed to keep them. By & bye I will get one for him. Some one will drop a gun on a march then it will not cost much to pick it up. Another Battle may throw many into our hands and then perhaps I can have a choice … [page ends]

I’d love to read the whole letter, but can’t buy it.

I’ve no experience in the trafficking in ephemera. What’s the etiquette here? Would it be a naive and futile gesture to ask the seller to post a high resolution (readable) scan of the whole letter? Ask that a request be left with the buyer to share the contents after the deal? Is there value in the letter here that would be lost if its content was freely available (have I just posted part of someone’s “investment”)?

Shouldn’t this piece of history be in a public archive or museum collection, anyway? Who sells these in the first place? Who’s buying?


Dilhorn’s Veteran’s Card File shows:

Enlisted Co. H, 90th Pennsylvania Infantry at Philadelphia on 11/26/1861, at age 38, as Private.
From Chester County, PA, and in the Gas business. 5′ – 6 1/4″ tall, brown hair, blue eyes, medium complexion.
Promoted to Corporal and Sergeant (dates unknown).

The 90th was in Christian’s Brigade, I Corps, at Antietam. They fought in the East Woods and Cornfield on September 17th.

He re-enlisted at Mitchell’s Station, Va, 1/5/1864, and transferred to Co. A, 11th Pennsylvania Infantry on 11/26/1864.
He was promoted to Commissary Sergeant on Christmas Eve, 12/24/1864. He mustered into Company H on 5/19/1865 at Balls Crossroads, Va (about three miles from this keyboard) and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant the next day.
Mustered out of service 7/1/1865.

3 Responses to “History going private?”

  1. Brian Downey says:

    This letter went to an unnamed bidder on 30 March for US $210.00. I’ll send a note off to the auctioneer to see if he’ll put me in touch.

  2. Andy says:

    I have always had trouble with these pieces of history being sold off. What really gets me is when collections of letters are broken up and sold. I would love to see sellers provide good photocopies or better yet electronic scans so that content and context of these items is perserved.


  3. Brian Downey says:

    Thanks Andy,

    As I recall from your blog, you’ve made major purchases to support your Maine Heavy habit. Good on you. I wish we could catch all the material going by in the marketplace, but it’s just not possible. Have to do what we can, case-by-case, I guess.

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