|These Custer items are held by a gallery in Idaho (Courtesy of Cisco's Gallery)|
|Clump of Custer's hair sold on June 9 (Courtesy of Heritage Auctions)|
The men of brevet Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer's Michigan cavalry brigade ran into a swarm of Confederate troopers at the June 1864 Battle of Trevilian Station in Virginia.
The slightly wounded Union legend barely avoided capture while his brigade suffered 416 casualties in an all-cavalry clash that lasted six hours. Among the casualties was a trove of personal items that the dashing Custer, who was only age 24, kept in his headquarters wagon.
Rebel Lt. Frank Blair -- a member of 36th Texas Cavalry briefly deployed to Virginia, where he fought under Thomas Rosser -- made off with the dress uniform Custer wore at his wedding, a Tiffany sword presented to Custer by the 5th Michigan Cavalry in late June 1863, letters, a fine rosewood case, a field writing desk and a valise.
|Custer, circa 1865|
On Saturday, more than 50 strands of that hair, each up to 3 inches long, sold at auction for $12,500, six times the preauction estimate. The hair was in the collection of retired filmmaker Glen Swanson.
About 260 Swanson-owned items associated with Custer (Civil War and Indian Wars), the doomed 7th Cavalry Regiment and Native American warriors sold for $1.43 million in the Heritage Auctions sale.
|Custer's Tiffany sword (Cisco's Gallery)|
About 15 years ago, he was asked by the current owner of the Custer uniform and sword to help verify their authenticity.
“When going through items, he opened a writer’s valise that had, among other things, a small envelope of hair that had not been previously noticed. Upon concluding that it had, in fact, come from Custer, the owner was so grateful to Swanson for the discovery and for his effort verifying items that he allowed Swanson to take the sample that was sold Saturday," said Heritage Auctions spokesman Steve Lansdale.
The businessman who contacted Swanson has the so-called "Trevilian Collection" up for sale at his gallery in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Sam Kennedy's website calls it "the most historic and important group of Civil War items to surface this century."
Collection kept under a bed
Kennedy, owner of Cisco Gallery, told the Picket he laid out an amount in "the seven figures" to a Dallas man for the collection in 2000. While there currently is no sales tag on the collection, "We are probably in the $10 million plus." He said advertising for the collection will begin later this summer.
"We had goose bumps when we first picked up the sword," said Kennedy, adding he worked with five experts over six months to authentic the Custer items. “The two most valuable (Civil War) swords would be General (Robert E.) Lee’s and Custer’s.”
|Custer's dress coat and chapeau (Cisco's Gallery)|
Kennedy has previously loaned out the collection, which includes a diary kept by a Civil War officer who helped retrieve love letters exchanged between the Custers. The correspondence had made its away across the South after they were taken at Trevilian Station. Many of the letters survive. (Military correspondence seized at Trevilian had been sent to Richmond.)
Libbie Custer routinely asked for George to send locks of hair from the front so that she could make a wig. She used it for theatrical productions, but it was destroyed at Fort Abraham Lincoln in North Dakota.
The Trevilian Collection has changed hands about five times, Kennedy said. He learned about it over dinner with someone who told him: "They are under a bed down in Texas. It will cost you a lot of money to find out."
More about the June 9 auction
|Gen. Sherman's uniform|
“We have Gen. [William Tecumseh] Sherman’s uniform – that really is a one-of-a-kind item. He and his son always were at it – they didn’t like each other at all,” Swanson told the magazine. “His son sold just about everything, so about 90 percent of it was lost. But I ran across his tunic, his hat, his sash and belt, his epaulets – which were totally unique.”
The dress uniform belonging to Sherman, a Civil War hero and general of the Army when Custer and more than 200 cavalry troopers were killed at Little Bighorn in June 1876, sold for $62,500, over a $50,000 pre-auction estimate, according to Heritage Auctions. It’s believed to be from the 1872-1883 period.
|Courtesy of Heritage Auctions|
“The hat shows the effects of perspiration and dust, but otherwise it is in very good shape,” the catalog says.
|Courtesy of Heritage Auctions|
“It was undoubtedly presented by his men when he received a field commission as brigadier general from Gen. Alfred Pleasonton and given command of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, 3rd Division, Army of the Potomac," the auction house said. "It comes with its original custom thermoplastic case with a patriotic motif on the lid.”
|Photos courtesy of Heritage Auctions|
Also sold at the auction (above) were a flintlock carbine belonging to Indian chief Sitting Bull and a statue depicting him ($162,500, with an estimate of $50,000-plus before the sale) and three Sioux arrows from the Battle of Little Bighorn ($93,750, with a $10,000-plus estimate).