"LEFT ON THE FIELD TO BE TAKEN PRISONER OR KILLED THERE": EXTRAORDINARY ARCHIVE RELATED TO MAJOR GENERAL JAMES RICKETTS AND HIS EXPERIENCES IN LIBBY PRISON, INCLUDING AN EIGHT-PAGE MANUSCRIPT AND THREE-PAGE SIGNED AUTOGRAPH LETTER WRITTEN BY HIS WIFE; THREE AUTOGRAPH LETTERS BY JAMES RICKETTS; A TELEGRAM FORM FILLED OUT AND SIGNED BY RICKETTS; A CABINET CARD PHOTOGRAPH SIGNED BY RICKETTS; A FRAMED FRAGMENT OF THE LAST UNITED STATES FLAG TO FLY OVER RICHMOND PRIOR TO THE CIVIL WAR, AND MORE
RICKETTS, James Brewerton and RICKETTS, Fanny. Civil War archive. No place, 1861-86. Archive, comprising eight-page autograph manuscript by Fanny Ricketts; a three-page autograph letter by Fanny Rickets; one-, two-, and three-page autograph letters by James Ricketts, autograph telegram from James Ricketts; signed cabinet card; four-page autograph letter from naval Rear Admiral John Almy to Fanny Ricketts; three pages of mounted newspaper clippings (all housed together in a binder); and framed flag fragment. $15,000.
Fascinating archive pertaining to Major General (then Captain) James Ricketts' experiences as a Union POW in Libby Prison, including a lengthy manuscript written by his wife, Fanny Ricketts, who accompanied him there as a nurse; a signed autograph letter by Fanny Ricketts to the sister of a slain soldier recounting the circumstances of his death; three autograph letters written and signed by James Ricketts; a telegram form filled out and signed by Ricketts; a signed cabinet card photograph of Ricketts; a framed and captioned fragment of the last United States flag to fly over Richmond until the end of the Civil War; and assorted ephemera including a letter to Fanny Ricketts from Rear Admiral John Almy.
This fascinating archive contains items pertaining to one of the Civil War's most prominent officers, Major General (then Captain) James B. Ricketts, who was shot four times and captured at the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) on July 21, 1861. "During the Civil War, Frances 'Fanny' Ricketts achieved a respectable notoriety for her dedicated nursing of her critically wounded husband after the Battle of Manassas… On July 21, 1861, James was severely wounded while commanding his battery at the Battle of Manassas. Fanny was determined to find him and nurse him back to health. To pass through Confederate lines, she drew upon her relationships with Confederate officers whom she had favorably impressed before the war. Colonel J.E.B. Stuart issued her a pass to travel through the Confederate lines, and General Joseph Johnston granted her permission to reach the battlefield. On July 26, Fanny located her gravely wounded husband at a makeshift hospital. In her diary she recorded the horrible conditions she encountered. Amputated limbs littered the floor and gangrene ran rampant. Surgeons planned to amputate James' leg, but Fanny refused to allow it. For one week, she nursed him and other wounded captives. In August, James was transferred to a Richmond hospital. When prison officials attempted to prevent Fanny from accompanying her husband, she appealed to General Johnston. In Richmond, the couple encountered grim conditions at the hospital. Fanny continued to nurse her husband, once even opening an infected abscess… In November, the Ricketts were transferred to Libby Prison where Fanny learned her husband had been selected as a hostage for captured Confederate privateersmen. Because the Federal government viewed the Confederate captives as traitors subject to execution, Confederate authorities threatened selected captives with the same fate. Fanny appealed to the wife of the Confederate adjutant and inspector general; her intervention played a role in the commutation of her husband's sentence. Fanny's imprisonment ended when her husband was released" (Kinsey, Women in the American Civil War I:479). Fanny and Major General Ricketts were freed on December 18, 1861 and welcome home as heroes. After two months at home without responsibility for Union soldiers, Fanny returned to the lines and spent four years in camps and battlefields, opening her Washington home as a hospital for her wounded officer friends. According to his wife, Major General Ricketts participated in 27 battles with a destroyed knee bandaged to permit riding on horseback, but Ricketts eventually died in 1887 due to a wound incurred 20 years prior at the Battle of Winchester. It was a slow death due to infection and hemorrhages in a previously lacerated lung.
This archive includes a compelling eight-page summary, written entirely in Fanny Ricketts' hand detailing her time caring for her wounded husband and the machinations that allowed both of them to survive imprisonment. Notable quotations include: "Commanding officer Genl. Jeb Stuart, a former friend last seen in my Texas tent begged me to turn back… For protection Genl. Stuart ordered the same Cavalry to escort me at a wild gallop toward Genl. Johnston's headquarters in a deserted house… Genl. Ricketts alone was on a stretcher wrapped in one of his own red artillery blankets, his Army hat bandaging his cut forehead and generally unconscious from this wound not having spoken that day… I cannot describe the horrors of those weeks beginning with my first night when the startling nearness of broken cries for water shrieks for help, curses and prayers from the opposite room, when a stream of blood flowed into ours… The Communion table was used for amputations… My clothes dried under my shuck bed with many unmentionable privations which demanded fortitude to maintain cheerfulness by distraction from self in caring not only for my own, but for the many who with delirious dreamy voices murmured the loved names of mother and wife… My life was eventful throughout the war from the fortuitous circumstances of my Washington home, but my personal narrative of the first years of that unforgotten cruel strife ends with thanks for your courteous attention today!"'
This archive also has a draft/retained copy in Fanny Ricketts' hand of a letter she sent to a Miss Flagg, who was enquiring as the the fate of her missing brother after First Manassas/Bull Run. The letter reads, in small part: "I left Washington the third morning after the fatal battle, accompanied by a driver and found my wounded husband, Capt. Ricketts, in a stone house near the battle field where over a hundred of our badly wounded brave soldiers had been taken, among them your brother who was shot through the body and one leg." Ricketts notes the condition of the wounded and the horror of their transportation on hot open boxcars. She continues: "Soon after leaving Gordonsville & perhaps a mile from the station, your husband died. The person in charge of the prisoners removed him from the cars which ran slowly while his body wrapped in a blue Army blanket fell to the side of the track. Never can I forget the horror & bitterness of feeling with which I gazed at my poor wounded husband's face to that of your brave brother, our companion in misery & thus left!" Richetts then apologizes for offering such "distressing intelligence" and expresses her hopes of visiting the family in Providence.
The telegram in the archive, filled out by hand and signed by Ricketts on July 23, 1861, two days after his wound at Manassas, reads: "Not dangerously wounded. Left on the field to be taken prisoner or killed there. J. Ricketts." It offers a stark summary of the affairs of not just Ricketts but of many soldiers whose wounds failed to kill them and so faced an uncertain future at the hands of the enemy. While the telegram may seem unusual, the Union—unlike the Confederacy—actively used the telegraph for the purpose of battlefield communication. During the war, nearly 6.5 million messages were sent, many in real time sharing strategic and operational information.
The archive also contains three signed autograph letters written by Major General Ricketts, including a September 1866 letter accepting the rank of Brevet Major General from the Andrew Johnson and the Adjutant General of the Army; a May 1886 letter to his daughter thanking her for her "charming account of [her] country surroundings," a fundraising garden party for the Garfield Hospital (memorializing the assassinated president) involving his wife, and (falsely) reassuring his daughter that he is "growing stronger" and taking daily walks; and an undated letter, written very warmly, to his daughter about family affairs and promising to send on her "sweet note" to his wife.
Also present is an autograph letter, with hand-addressed envelope, from Rear Admiral John Jay Almy to Fanny Ricketts, dated December 31, 1893. The letter thanks Fanny for sending a paper cutter, which he notes "will be used only to separate leaves of reading matter which contains pure, elevated, and instructive thoughts."
Accompanied by a signed cabinet card of Ricketts in military attire, as well as a number of newspaper clippings about the release of the Rickettses, including one containing Fanny Ricketts lengthy account (different from the one included here) of her imprisonment.
The final piece of this archive is a framed fragment (including a star and a section of striping) of a flag captioned by hand: "Pieces of the last United States Flag which waved over the capitol at Richmond Va. in 1861, given me while in prison there in August 1861" and also framed with General Ricketts' printed calling card. The contents of this archive were passed down through Ricketts' family for many years.
A fascinating archive in exceptional condition.