Civil War prisoner’s mail from Congressman Alfred Ely while held prisoner at Ligon’s Prison in Richmond following his capture while observing the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas). Alfred Ely.

Civil War prisoner’s mail from Congressman Alfred Ely while held prisoner at Ligon’s Prison in Richmond following his capture while observing the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas)

[Ligon’s Tobacco Warehouse Prison, Richmond}: November 17, 1861. Envelope or Cover. The cover (no content) is free-franked “Alfred Ely”, a Congressman from New York and postmarked with Washington D.C. Nov. 17, 1861 circular date stamp. It is addressed to General Wm E. Lathrop, a Brigadier General in the New York National Guard. It is docketed, presumably by Lathrop, “Com. On the death of Bro. Huson”. In nice shape. Light edge-wear with tiny chip at top.

Congressman Ely—along with other civilians—decided to observe the first major battle of the Civil War. He packed a lunch, climbed into his carriage, and rode out to the expected battlefield to enjoy the afternoon. Unfortunately, as noted by Galen Harrison in Prisoner’s Mail from the American Civil War, after the Confederates had routed the Union Army and “the dust of the battle had settled, Congressman Ely had lost his carriage, his picnic lunch, and his freedom.”

Ely was taken to Ligon’s Tobacco Warehouse in Richmond, which had become a makeshift prison to hold Union soldiers captured in the battle. There he “roomed” with Calvin Huson, a New York politician, who also was captured while watching the battle.

As docketing on this cover indicates, its letter contained details of Huson’s death that Ely provided General Lathrop. Huson contracted typhoid while at Ligon’s, and after pleading by Ely, was released into the care of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Northern sympathizer (and future Union spy) where despite receiving care, he died in her home.

Lathrop's docketing reference to “Bro.” Huson, suggests he and Hyuson were Masons as on-line sources identify Huson as such, and Lathrop was the Commander of the Grand Commandery of the United States.

The cover’s Washington postmark indicates that it did not travel via the normal route of prisoner mail from Richmond, i.e., through Old Point Comfort and Norfolk. Although some have suggested Ely may have had this cover smuggled out of the prison to be mailed in Washington, Harrison believes that was not likely. A more plausible explanation is found in Walske and Trepel’s Special Mail Routes of the Civil War, “Prior to formal flag-of-truce mail exchanges . . . a few letters were sent in the care of released POWs, who would mail them during their return journey, so no CSA postal markings appear on them.”. Very good. Item #009466

An exceptionally scarce Civil War cover. Harrison reports only seven Ely prisoner covers are known to exist, and examples only occasionally come up for sale. One sold at auction for $850 in 2006 by Schuyler Rumsey and one sold for $2,000 in 2010 by Siegel.

Price: $1,500.00

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