Quite by accident I ran across a newspaper article which led me to a testament in our holdings. The testament belonged to H.A. Sledge and was taken as a war-trophy in the aftermath of the battle of Fort Fisher on January 16th, 1865. New Yorker J.E. Reid wrote Governor Robert Glenn in 1905 trying to locate Sledge or his family in order to return the testament. We did not know if their attempt to contact the Sledges was successful, however, regardless of that, and for whatever reason, the testament was now in the possession of the State Archives.
The State Archives’ accession records might hold a further clue as to how and when we received the testament. A diligent search finally turned up an accession record in the 1914 “Guide to the Hall of History” produced by the early North Carolina Historical Commission. In that guide listed under the items from the Civil War period was the Sledge testament. My colleague Mary found the entry and read it aloud to Debbi and me – “Testament in inlaid wooden box made by James E. Reid, New York. The book was taken from the body of H.A. Sledge, C.S.A., at the capture of Fort Fisher, N.C., January 15, 1865. Presented by James E. Reid through Governor Robert B. Glenn.”
Mary had barely finished when I had two quick comments. First, they were mistaken regarding the death of Sledge – as noted in a previous post he survived the war. Second, Reid gave it to Glenn who gave it to the History Commission – so that was probably sometime in 1905 (maybe). No sooner had I stated those two things than I was struck by the first part of the description. I asked Mary to read that again. “Testament in inlaid wooden box…” she began and stopped. We all looked at each other and then someone verbalized our common thought – “what happened to that inlaid box?” Now we were cooking with gas, as they say.
I telephoned over to the Museum of History and spoke with my colleague Katherine Berry, curator. I quickly explained the nature of my call and she checked her collections database to see if they had the inlaid box. She confirmed that there was something in their holdings but wanted to check the shelf before confirming. If it was indeed there, I asked, could we get a look at the inlaid box? “Sure,” she replied, “if its there.” In the mean time she told me how to get to the listing on their online database. I did as she told me and in short order was looking at black and white photos of the box. Katherine then said she would contact me when they had the box ready for me to see.
The next day, Friday, I got an email from Katherine telling me the box was available if I wanted to come and see it. Alas, Mary and Debbi were off on Friday so I had to soldier on without them! As soon as I saw Katherine’s email I left to go to the museum to see the box. Katherine greeted me in the lobby and told me she had just left a phone message for me because she knew I was interested in seeing the box. We went down to see the box.
It was actually not a box but rather a pedestal. It was covered in inlaid wood and was much richer in color than the black and white photos suggested. The top of the pedestal included a paragraph of text under glass. This paragraph completed the story of how the Archives came to own the testament. Reid, with the help of the State of North Carolina, found the Sledge family in Tarboro, North Carolina. He met with the family and Governor Glenn in Tarboro and returned the testament at that time. The family then gifted the testament to Governor Glenn to display in the Museum of History. I took some photos with my digital camera and Katherine told me they would get some production quality photos soon. The North Carolina State Archives and Museum of History are working together to unite the two items for display – testament and pedestal together again. How cool is that? And all because I was trolling an old newspaper on my lunch hour for a research project…