Civil War letter an original? - Philadelphia News

August 7, 2008 3:29:01 PM PDT
A local Civil War museum knew they had a copy of one of the most significant documents in U.S. history - signed by Confederate general Robert E. Lee. But they didn't know it was the real thing, until now. A local Civil War museum knew they had a copy of one of the most significant documents in U.S. history - signed by Confederate general Robert E. Lee. But they didn't know it was the real thing, until now.

The document is worn and fragile - what you would expect out of something that could be more than 143 years old.

It appears to be the third missing copy of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army, made at Appomattox Court House, Virginia in 1865. "The end, literally of one chapter of history and the beginning of another. The closing of the war itself and the beginning of the reconstruction period bringing the nation back together," said Civil War Museum curator Andrew Coldren. An archivist at the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum in Center City found it while preparing to move to another location.

Workers noticed there were indentations in the writing - suggesting it was hand-scribed.

Suddenly, the date on top: April 10th, 1865, and the signatures of three representatives from the Union and Confederate sides, began to look more significant.

"The text of it is known and one of the things that is important right off the bat is, is the text what it's supposed to be, and it is?it is word-for-word."

Museum officials are cautiously optimistic that this document is what they think it is. But the first priority is preserving it and making sure it is not damaged any further. Then, they will start examining the ink, the paper, and the paper trail.

Document detectives will build a circumstantial case for, or against its authenticity.

"You have to think about it almost in a negative way?how am I going to prove what this is, cause you know we don't want to make any assumptions about the provenance of this until we have some evidence," said Coldren.

What they do know is that the document will be on display, when the museum opens its new location at 3rd and Chestnut Streets in 2010.

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