Monumental Civil War Collection Comes to Heritage Auctions

DALLAS—The first part of the most comprehensive collection of Civil War autographs, photographs and related ephemera ever offered at auction, the Dr. Michael Stevens Collection, will make its debut on June 7 at Heritage in Dallas.

“The Stevens Collection encompasses nearly 5,000 photos and signed items, primarily related to the important generals of both sides of America’s Civil War,” said Tom Slater, Director of Americana Auctions at Heritage. “For example, there are more than 50 documents, letters, and photos bearing the signature of Ulysses S, Grant, the most famous Union general of the war and later America’s 18th president.”

Because of its volume and scope, the collection has been divided into three sections, each of which will be offered in its own catalog. After the first auction, on June 7, the others are slated for fall 2014 and spring 2015.

“While I had heard his name, I had no idea what an amazing collection Dr. Stevens had been quietly assembling,” Slater said. “There are hundreds of artifacts here I’ve never seen offered before. For collectors of important Civil War material, this is a true treasure trove.”

In addition to collecting the tangible relics of the conflict, Dr. Stevens has been active in advocating for Civil War battlefield preservation, currently serving as president of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT).

“Part of my motivation is to use a portion of the proceeds from this auction to further my efforts to preserve our remaining Civil War battlefields,” said Dr. Stevens. “Some 30 acres of battlefield land, land ‘well watered with the blood of heroes,’ is being lost daily, and I want to do all I can to slow that destruction down.”

With hundreds of highlights in this monumental collection, it’s difficult to identify the single most-important few artifacts. Two, however, have been generating a tremendous amount of pre-auction interest among collectors: A rare photograph of Robert E. Lee with his beloved horse Traveler, autographed by the general and a perhaps unique document bearing the signatures of both Grant and Abraham Lincoln, which bore safe conduct to its bearer in the last days of the war, the only document Heritage specialists have ever handled bearing the signatures of both Grant and Lincoln.  

The pass was issued to Frederick Tompkins of the National Freedman’s Aid Society, allowing him to travel cities in the South (Norfolk, Charleston and Savannah, newly under Union control) in order to assess the condition of African-Americans in those areas. With the war still raging in areas between Washington and these cities, such a journey was not without perils and Lincoln added to his endorsement that “I heartily commend Dr. Tompkins object, and bid him God speed in it.”

One of the more charming artifacts is a partially-smoked cigar from General Grant. Rarely seen without his trademark cigar, Grant would ultimately succumb to throat cancer widely believed to have been caused by his passion for tobacco.

This particular relic comes with exceptional provenance: Half-smoked, it was dropped by Grant during preparations for the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864. The cigar was retrieved by Lieut. George Clark, who preserved it and sent it home to his wife along with a letter describing how he came to have it. The original letter is included with the lot.

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