Missing Lincoln Documents returned to National Archives

Uploaded by usnationalarchives on 16.08.2011

This document is a letter to His Excellency Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States,
written in Hagerstown, Maryland, November 6, 1862. Signed by one, two, three surgeons,
asking President Lincoln to appoint a chaplain. My name is Bill Panagopulos, I am the president
of Alexander Autographs, Inc. and Alexander Historical Auctions. I’m an auctioneer,
I’ve been in the business for 25 years. The Battle of Antietam, known as the bloodiest
day in American history, had been fought on September 17, 1862. Because of the heavy casualties
a number of hospitals were created, including a number at Hagerstown, Maryland, nearby.
“There are at present upwards of 700 sick soldiers, many of them are in very critical
conditions such as demands the ministration of the clergyman as well as of the physicians.”
Lincoln writes, “If the Surgeon General concurs I would like to appoint Rev. Mr. Edwards
as hospital chaplain.” Signed, “A. Lincoln, November 12, 1862.” It’s a remarkable
document. A lengthy endorsement like this by Lincoln on a letter with this content?
Superb! You just don’t see them. Commission Branch files apparently at one point were
hit fairly hard, by a thief interested in Lincoln documents, perhaps while these records
were still in the custody of the War Department. This is one specific file dealing with one
specific officer named The Rev. Henry Edwards. But it’s missing two vital documents: request
to appoint him and then on the wrapper the endorsement dated November 12, 1862, by Abraham
Lincoln, the president of the United States. There is no legitimate reason why such a document
would ever leave this file. This document came to us from a consigner in Rhode Island.
The Archives saw it in another dealer’s catalogue, a dealer that we had sold the document
to. The dealer was resistant, as most dealers and auctioneers are to the National Archives
claiming their material. They’re not happy about it, “Hey! I bought this in good faith,
all right? So sue me for it!” We don’t look at it that way. So I contacted the dealer
and I said, “Send it back to me! I’ll reimburse you the money.” We then contacted
the consigner, the person who gave us the document to sell. “We’re going to ask
you to refund us what we paid you for it.” Fairly wealthy family and they agreed to do
it. I know that the family is not involved in the theft of this document and the disappearance
of it from the National Archives. It could have been stolen 50 years ago, 40 years ago,
20 years ago, ended up in the hands of a dealer somewhere. Sold by the thief it may have changed
hands five times before we got it. And now it’s coming back, much to the pleasure of
the National Archives and those who are charged with preserving the records. We said we’ll
write you a letter appraising this piece so you’ll get a nice tax deduction. I’m out
thousands of dollars because I have to give up my commission. But it’s going back where
it belongs. And that’s the right thing to do.