A button from the uniform of Robert E Lee sold for $27,000 (£21,600) at Fleischer’s Auctions.

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A total of 189 bidders were ‘watching’ it on the bidding platform LiveAuctioneers in the run-up to the sale. And at $27,000 (£21,600), one of them won it.

The headline lot at Fleischer’s Auctions(plus 23% buyer’s premium) Civil War & African American History sale in Columbus, Ohio on August 5 was a button from the uniform of General Robert E Lee.

Offered at auction for the very first time in its history, the convex brass Virginia staff frock coat button came with a cast-iron provenance.

In the weeks after the final surrender at Appomattox, Lee had returned to his Franklin Street townhouse in the Confederate capital in Richmond, spending time with his friend and assistant secretary of the Confederate Treasury, Judge William Crump (1819-97).

Lee gave the button to Crump’s 16-year-old daughter Fanny Booth Crump (1849-1937).

Writing in 1933, her elder sister Emmeline recalled the general’s regular visits to the family home with his own daughters.

“We were very anxious to have one of the buttons from the uniform he had worn in the war, and he promised to bring them himself. He did so; one for my sister, my cousin and myself, putting them into my hand with a gallant little speech…”

Lee gifted a number of his uniform buttons in the immediate post-war period but abruptly stopped after a Union order was issued requiring all Confederate buttons be covered or removed.

He did want any of the recipients to get into trouble on his account.

This button had been later mounted in gold as a brooch and engraved RE Lee to FB Crump, May 1865. Purportedly a lock of Lee’s hair was enclosed inside. It came for sale with a guide of $25,000-50,000.

John Brown bullet


‘The John Brown bullet’, $9000 ($7200) at Fleischer’s Auctions.

Another small but profound relic from the earliest days of the Civil War era was a single .52 calibre Sharps cartridge connected with John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859.

Housed in an old Pride of Virginia tobacco tin, it is accompanied by a note written 30 years later by Benjamin H Ticknor, a veteran of the 45th Massachusetts Infantry and 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, documenting its chain of ownership.

It reads: “This bullet was carried on the John Brown raid by Francis Jackson Merriam and was by him given to Dr David Thayer by whom he was secreted after his escape. Given by Dr T to me today, August 31st, 1889, BHT.”

Francis J Meriam (1837-65) was an ardent abolitionist who had penned a letter to Brown a year earlier asking to participate in a project he called “the whole present business of my life”.

On Brown’s orders, his role at Harpers Ferry on October 16-18, 1859, was to guard the Kennedy Farm where arms and ammunition for the promised revolt against the institution of slavery had been hidden.

When the gambit failed, he fled first to Canada before shouldering a musket as a captain in the Union Army.

According to the consignor, the John Brown bullet had been sold with other relics collected by Ticknor at an estate sale of one of his descendants who lived near Cincinnati in 2006.

It was guided at $2500-5000 but sold for $9000 (£7200).