Friday, April 1, 2016

'Saving my soul': Bullet-struck Bible's poignant story will be told at Monocacy battlefield

(Courtesy of Perry Adams Antiques)

On a hot summer day in 1864, Pvt. Thomas Cox, hospitalized in Baltimore, Maryland, with a grievous chest wound, asked a fellow prisoner to inscribe a message in his battered Bible.

“The ball that struck this book entered my left brest (sic) and came out of right – it saved instant death & will be the means of saving my soul. Thomas Cox,” reads the penciled writing on the margins of a few pages. On succeeding pages is written: “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.”

Cox, a member of the Red House Volunteers, Company A, 21st Virginia Infantry, would not live to return home to his family.

Cox, 33, died on or about Aug. 15, 1864, and was buried in Baltimore, home to the gloomy and unventilated hospital where he languished after suffering the wound five weeks earlier at the Battle of Monocacy near Frederick, Md.

The rare, bullet-struck Bible that belonged to the Confederate soldier is now at Monocacy National Battlefield, where officials have big plans to eventually display it in a special exhibit. (The site last month displayed the artifact for a day.)

(Perry Adams Antiques)

“We overwhelmingly have Union artifacts. We would like to have a more balanced nature to our artifacts,” said Tracy Evans, acting chief of education and visitor services at the National Park Service site. “It is a very personal artifact and belonged to a man who sacrificed his life fighting for his company here. We want to do it justice.”

Before then, Evans plans to conduct extensive genealogical research about Cox (or Cock or Cocke, according to various regimental and other spellings), the hospital and the 21st Virginia.

The NPS last summer purchased the Bible for $12,500 from brokers in Petersburg, Virginia.

Monocacy got a tip from Emmanuel Dabney, a curator with Petersburg National Battlefield, who saw the “unique” item advertised online by Perry Adams Antiques.

“There are many Bibles that belonged to soldiers but there was only one of this particular soldier,” Dabney told the Picket. “This one has been struck by a bullet on a field that the nation has preserved at Monocacy National Battlefield. This man believed that he would be preserved on Earth and took the time to write that in his Bible, only to not survive in the end. To me it exemplified the concern with the ‘Good Death’ by so many soldiers in Union and Confederate armies who were Christian as they went to war.”

Binding shows damage from bullet
(Courtesy of Perry Adams Antiques)

Officials currently know very little about Cox. The cover of the Confederate Bible, which was printed in Atlanta in 1862, indicates he was from Morris Church, in southwest Virginia’s Carroll County. He is believed to have enlisted in June or July 1861.

The 21st Virginia counted Jackson, Lee and Early among its commanders, and saw action in many engagements, including Cold Harbor, Chancellorsville, Cedar Mountain and Seven Days’.

Cox was wounded and captured on July 9, 1864, at Monocacy Junction, where his unit served under Brig. Gen. William Terry.

Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s Confederates were menacing Washington, D.C., and were met at Monocacy by a makeshift Union force led by Maj. Gen. Lewis Wallace. Early prevailed over stiff resistance, but Grant rushed Federal troops to the capital’s defense.

According to an NPS battle summary: “Wallace’s defeat at Monocacy bought time for these veteran troops to arrive to bolster the defenses of Washington. Early’s advance reached the outskirts of Washington on the afternoon of July 11, and the remaining divisions of the VI Corps began disembarking that evening. Monocacy was called the ‘Battle that Saved Washington.’”

Evans said she has not opened the fragile New Testament since the purchase. The item will need care from a conservator before it is permanently displayed.

Perry Adams photos show a gaping hole in the center of the book.

“We are thinking it must have gone in sideways,” said Evans, adding that is perhaps the reason Cox was not killed outright.

(Photos courtesy of  Joe Canner)

The soldier presumably died from his Monocacy wound. Another prisoner who was treated at West Building’s Hospital, located near a Baltimore dock, described it as unhygienic, with poor food and water.

Cox got the writing assistance from Pvt. H.S. Shepherd, a Confederate who was captured at Gettysburg in July 1863 and assisted sick comrades while serving as a ward master at the Baltimore hospital.

“I was with Thos. Cox when he died,” Shepherd wrote in the Bible. “He was willing … & appear ready to leave this world for a better one to come."

Another inscription indicates Cox asked that his ring be sent to his wife in Virginia. The soldier was buried at Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore. A Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter in recent years raised money for new gravestones, replacing a Cox marker that had become unreadable.

Interestingly, Shepherd by early 1865 had taken an oath of allegiance to the United States, saying he had become “heartily disgusted with the Confederacy.” President Abraham Lincoln approved the request.

Ben Greenbaum, co-owner of Perry Adams Antiques, said his firm brokered the Bible for a reputable collector.

“We had it for about a year or two and took it to a number of shows,” he said.

Greenbaum said there are multiple elements that made the Bible and its poignant messages attractive to buyers.

“Not only could you make conclusions from the shape of the hole in the Bible, this was a Confederate imprint, which is rare … in addition, there were all the annotations and the period writing.”

The appraiser said bullet-struck items always have an appeal. But he noted that buyers should be cautious. “When you get into certain hard items, buckles or buttons, they can be forged or faked.”

Greenbaum said, “I absolutely had no concern whatsoever” about the Cox Bible’s authenticity.

(Courtesy of Perry Adams Antiques)

Evans, with Monocacy National Battlefield, said the park did its due diligence. She asked a few experts to take a look at the artifact.

“Normally, it is hard to get quality artifacts at a premium like that,” she said. “Everything came together that we had the funding to be able to purchase it. It is the first Confederate-identified artifact we have.”

The Bible is believed to have been in the family for many years before it was sold to an individual in 1995.

Evans said the Monocacy museum needs a revamp and she hopes the Cox Bible will be the centerpiece of an exhibit, perhaps to open in mid-2017.

Petersburg’s Dabney, who engineered the acquisition by Monocacy, said it is “extremely rare” for Confederate objects to turn up, given so many have been donated to museums, historical societies or university research libraries.

“This Bible can connect with people who can view it in an exhibition and then go see where Cocke was wounded and captured,” he said.

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