Auctions | December 23, 2013

James D. Julia’s February Auction to Feature an Archive of Civil War Materials from Luis Fenollosa Emilio

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Fairfield, ME, December 20, 2013—James D. Julia, Inc., one of the nation's top ten antique auction houses, is excited to present this historically important collection in association with the company's upcoming Antiques, Asian, and Fine Arts Auction to be held February 4th-7th, 2014. These materials represent one of the most significant and important Civil War archives relating to the role and importance of black soldiers in the military ever to come to auction. This collection, from Emilio family descendants, is so extensive that it will be sold in two lots—both which are certain to be of profound interest to collectors, military historians, and museums around the world.

The founding of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and their subsequent activities, occurred at an incredibly important turning point in US history. Early in the Civil War, the majority of fighting commanders from both the North and the South disregarded the potential of the black man as a combat soldier. They considered African Americans to be too difficult to train and believed they lacked the ability to fight well.

These beliefs would be put to the test just a month after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, when Massachusetts Governor John Andrew issued the Civil War’s first official call for black soldiers in February, 1863. Incredibly, over 1,000 men of color volunteered for service—including Luis Emilio, who had fought previously as a member of the 23rd Regiment. Governor Andrew appointed Robert Shaw, son of white, affluent, and well-known abolitionist parents, to lead the division. Despite their new and official status as members of the military, there were still people who only reluctantly accepted African Americans into the armed forces. It was this very unit of valiant and heroic soldiers from Massachusetts that helped to turn the tide on the erroneous assumptions of the black man’s fighting ability under fire. Their assault on Fort Wagner on July 18th, 1863 was a dramatic representation of their combat abilities and in some respects their actions can be compared to the infamous Charge of The Light Brigade immortalized by poet Alfred Lord Tennyson.

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The story of Luis Emilio is as interesting as the history behind these artifacts, and adds essential context and significance to the collection. Born in 1844 near Boston to immigrant parents, Emilio was an exceptional, insightful person who demonstrated lifelong leadership and commitment to his country and fellow man. Emilio was only 16 when the Civil War began in April, 1861. He had such patriotic fever that he convinced his father to sign a letter stating that his son was 18—the official enlistment age—in order to join the military. Once in the service, Emilio was promoted to Sergeant in less than a year. By 1863, he was a Captain of the 54th Regiment, and then became its acting Commander on July 18, 1863 when all of his ranking officers, including Shaw, were killed or wounded during the assault on Fort Wagner. He retired from the army in March, 1865, not yet 21 years old. Emilio went on to a career in real estate, and in 1891, authored Brave Black Regiment, a book documenting his experiences with the 54th Regiment. He passed away in 1918 after a long illness, and was buried in his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts.

Because of the scope and size of this archive, Emilio's materials are presented in two lots. The first lot, estimated at $40,000 to $60,000, consists of his commissions, discharges, diaries, photographs, maps, insignia, and other communications and ephemera. Highlights of this grouping are a pair of brass officer’s spurs and a hat cord, medals, and a collection of straps—including an exceptional set of Carolina basket woven "theater made" shoulder straps. This lot includes Emilio's diaries, dating from 1861 through 1866; the original “Consent to the Enlistment of a Minor” letter; and all of Emilio’s commissions in the 54th; these are signed by Massachusetts Governor John Andrew. Other important documents in this first lot include paperwork related to Emilio’s service both during wartime and after. These are his original pension; “mustering out” document; a large grouping of post-war correspondence, much of it referring to the exploits of the 54th Regiment; letters written by black enlisted men; wartime photographs; hand-drawn maps; hundreds of newspaper clippings mentioning the 54th Regiment; and letters addressed to Emilio, including 70 wartime and 375 postwar notes, most with their original envelopes. In addition, the collection includes Grand Army of the Republic items, a plaster cast of a Confederate Navy button, and a family memoir.

The second lot, estimated at $80,000 to $120,000, includes a range of Emilio family materials, as well as the letters that Emilio mailed home during his military service. This collection is housed in a trunk measuring about 15” x 9” x 5”; it was made in 1840 for Emilio's mother in Spain. The trunk holds about 50 letters in Spanish—dating from the 1830’s through the 1840’s—mostly addressed to Luis’ parents. It also houses a Civil War era album; a gold cross; various daguerreotypes and ambrotypes; school documents; a church program; a memo book; and the 128 letters that Emilio penned to his family during the war. Most are four pages; many are longer. These letters describe life in the military, battlefront updates, and news about colleagues. Much of this material was not published, even in his memoirs, as it was not considered appropriate for Victorian times. Emilio's letters are truly a first hand, intimate view of a soldier's life during the throes of the Civil War. For example, in a letter dated July 30th, 1863 he writes to his sister:

 “…it is real sad for me to receive letter to boys in the company that are dead and others missing and to have the painful duty to redirect them to their friends at home…”

According to John Saxon, the Civil War authority who cataloged the Emilio archive, "This is amongst the greatest letter groupings of a Civil War soldier ever to come to market. The letters are in overall fine condition and Luis had a beautiful script that is easily read. He writes vivid, detailed accounts of every aspect of soldier life. When you start reading these letters from day one, they read like a book and it is hard to stop." Bill Gage, James D. Julia's Head of Antiques, Asian, and Fine Arts, adds "This time capsule is perhaps the finest example of a firsthand account of one of the most important periods in US history. It's unbelievable that it originates from the perspective of someone who today would just qualify for a driver's permit. I am so proud that James D. Julia is able to help present this truly unique and historically rich content to a global audience." 

About James D. Julia, Inc.: 
James D. Julia, Inc., one of the top ten antique auction antique houses in North America, is headquartered in Fairfield, Maine. The company also has an office in Woburn, Massachusetts. In business for approximately 45 years, the company conducts high-end antique, collectible, and decorative arts auctions throughout the year. Julia's routinely establishes new world records through its sales events. The company consists of four key divisions, including rare firearms; fine and Asian art and antiques; lamps and glass; and important toy, dolls, and antique advertising. Each division is regarded for its excellence and is staffed with world-class specialists to insure fair and professional authentication, identification, and valuation services.

For more information on James D. Julia, Inc. and the company's February, 2014 Winter Antiques, Asian, And Fine Art Auction, please visit


Bill Gage

James D. Julia Department Head, Antiques, Asian, and Fine Arts 

207-453-7125 or

Images courtesy of James D. Julia.