Item: Original Manuscript, Army Letters By Oliver Norton – Civil War Classic, 1903
Sold For: $6,400.00
Date: Jul 05, 2012
Description and Image By: cgbooks
This auction is for the original manuscript of ARMY LETTERS a collection of US Civil War correspondence written by Oliver W. Norton, who served as a private in the 83rd Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers and a first lieutenant in the 8th US Colored Troups; he saw action at Gettysburg and elsewhere. The book printed from this manuscript was first published privately in 1903; copies from that edition are very scarce and usually sell on-line for $2,000 or more. This manuscript is in the form of a large leatherbound ledger, about 11.25″ X 11.75″ and weighing over seven pounds. The text of the ledger consists of an unused alphabetized section (for addresses?), followed by 452 numbered pages. Norton hand-copied his original letters (in chronological order, May 1861 – Sept. 1865) on 326 pages of this ledger. Following a break of several pages two other hands (see the last photo) copy an undated additional letter apparently overlooked earlier; this runs for 28 pages. The covers of the ledger are somewhat worn, with evidence of repair along one edge of the spine; however, the binding is still firm and the interior is in remarkably good shape.
On the spine, printed in gold, appear the words “Army Letters” and below that “”O.W. Norton”; I assume that these words were added after the letters were copied into the ledger.
Oliver Willcox Norton served in the 83rd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, part of the brigade commanded by Col. Strong Vincent. He was the brigade bugler and color-bearer on Little Round Top at Gettysburg. Norton wrote two additional books, both on Strong Vincent and the famous battle (The Attack and Defense of Little Round Top is considered a classic). Norton was later commissioned as a first lieutenant and attached to the 8th US Colored Troops.
I have browsed through this manuscript but cannot claim to be familiar with the majority of its contents. However, at one point Norton lists sixteen different battles in which he has fought thus far or at least witnessed first-hand. These include famous names such as Gettysburg, 2nd Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Antietam. The author traveled with the army extensively, and letters are addressed from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., New York, Delaware, Florida, and Texas. Most of the letters are written to Norton’s beloved sister, Libbie, but there are also letters to his father, mother, brother, a female cousin, and perhaps others. Several drawings such as the one in the photo appear in the text, including one in which he illustrates how a bullet passed through his hat. Norton was wounded more than once during his long service.
As for the style of the writing, Norton comes across as an intelligent and observant witness. He is thoroughly sane and sober and not without a sense of humor. His dedication to the Union cause is absolute, although he does not seem the least bit bloodthirsty or vindictive. He is a practical man yet not incapable of an occasional artful turn of phrase. Some of his battle descriptions are spectacular.
This manuscript was obtained from James R. Wright, an amateur Civil War scholar who conducted extensive research on Norton and Strong Vincent. He wrote the introduction to a republication of Army Letters issued by the publisher Morningside about twenty years ago. Laid into the ledger is a signed two-page letter (see photo) in which Wright tells of his research and also relates how he was presented with this manuscript by Norton’s granddaughter in 1990. This is obviously a unique and very valuable piece of American Civil War history.