Civil War letter sells for $32,000
Local group pulled out of bidding at $19,000
Friday, March 22, 2013 11:00 AM
A letter written by a black Civil War soldier from Madison sold at auction Thursday for $32,000 to an unidentified buyer.
The letter, handled by Swann Auction Galleries in New York City, sold for nearly five times what it was estimated to bring.
In the letter written in December 1864, Sgt. Morgan W. Carter describes the Battle of the Crater during the Siege of Petersburg and gives an impassioned description of his willingness to fight and die for emancipation.
Carter, who fought with the U.S. Colored Troops, was the son of John Carter, a prosperous Madison grocer and conductor on the Underground Railroad.
Before arriving at the gallery, the letter spent 50 years in a private collection.
Local historians had set up a fundraiser hoping to bring the letter home - getting about $20,000 in pledges in less than a week - but they dropped out of the bidding early.
The plan was to create a permanent display at the Jefferson County Historical Society.
"We had to step out at $19,000," said Camille Fife, the city's preservation planner.
Fife said the Indiana Historical Society bid on the document as well but also dropped out before the final gavel.
Most Madison residents first heard about the letter earlier this month, and Fife said the group collected the $20,000 in pledges over the span of just a few days.
The donations, which were made to the Morgan W. Carter Letter Fund, will be returned.
Fife said about 60 donors contributed to help bring the document to Madison.
"This community is unbelievably amazing," she said.
Fife said the experience has helped local historians learn more about a relatively unknown figure in Madison's Civil War history, as well as his family.
"It has been such an exciting adventure," she said.
Already, they have uncovered another letter written from Morgan W. Carter - and later published in The Madison Daily Evening Courier on July 14, 1864 - describing a rebel attack that occurred before Petersburg.
Fife expects the research to continue. In fact, she said one of the curators at the auction told her it is not uncommon for more information to surface about an item following a public sale.
"The whole Carter family is starting to be revealed to us," she said. "It's a story we're going to keep on developing."