North Carolina Copy of Bill of Rights

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General Sherman and the North Carolina Bill of Rights

"Sherman’s March to the Sea and North Carolina’s Copy of the Bill of Rights "
American Civil War, North Carolina, and the Bill of Rights

The U.S. Marshals Service Takes Possession of North Carolina's Copy of the Bill of Rights.
At times, the U.S. Marshals Service is entrusted with objects of national and historic importance. Agency personnel transported numerous artifacts of national importance during our Bicentennial exhibit, including Belle Starr's saddle and Geronimo's Arrest Warrant. The U.S. Marshals' Office of Asset Forfeiture had custody of Muhammad Ali's World Boxing Championship Rings. In the past year, the agency's involvement in the secure transport of important historical documents has increased. The Northern District of Illinois ensured the safe transfer of rare letters from President Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth from the National Archives to the Newberry Library in Chicago. The U.S. Marshals are given a unique opportunity to safeguard national treasures and have flawlessly committed themselves. There is no greater example of this commitment than the recent seizure of North Carolina's copy of the Bill of Rights.

U.S. Marshal Charles Reavis of the Eastern District of North Carolina applied for a Application and Affidavit For Seizure Warrant to U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle on March 13, 2003. Under a violation of Title 23 of the United States Code, Section 15, Marshal Reavis was to retrieve some stolen items. This, however, was not any typical seizure. The property was one of the rarest documents in American history: North Carolina's copy of the Bill of Rights, only one of fourteen handwritten original documents that define the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The document was identified by specific markings on the back of the parchment. According to the Charlotte Observer, three secretaries wrote the fourteen copies of the historic document on a large page measuring 34 by 28 inches. Once finished, George Washington sent a copy to each of the original thirteen colonies and one to Congress. Also seized were two related letters from George Washington to North Carolina Governor Samuel Johnson. According to the affidavit accompanying the warrant, the handwritten document was being sold by a New York collector through an auction gallery. Both Federal and North Carolina officials were determined to retrieve it, and Judge Boyle agreed that "the document belonged to the people of North Carolina."

The astounding story of the missing copy of the Bill of Rights started in April 1865 during Sherman's March to the Sea. When General William Tecumseh Sherman's army marched through North Carolina battling General Joseph Johnston's Confederate army, Johnston's men fell back beyond the state capitol of Raleigh, and Sherman's men quickly seized the city. An unnamed Ohio soldier posted at the North Carolina Office of the Secretary of State in Raleigh took the valuable parchment home at the close of the Civil War. Similar confiscations by souvenir-seeking soldiers took place throughout the final months of the conflict, but few were of this national magnitude. The soldier returned to his home in Ohio and sold it the following year for five dollars to a gentleman named Charles A. Shotwell. In 1876, North Carolina officials traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana as they believed the copy of the Bill of Rights found its way there. They returned empty-handed. In 1897, state officials discovered that Shotwell had possession of the document. He refused to return it, and nothing more was heard until 1925.

"It was like a kidnapping," Marshal Reavis said.

For fifty-nine years, Charles Shotwell preserved the document in his home. When the old gentleman finally decided to part with it, a colleague named Charles I. Reid contacted the North Carolina Historical Commission to offer it for sale. No monetary amount was discussed in the March 25, 1925 letter. The possessor wished "any reasonable honorarium." However, it was clear that North Carolinian officials felt it was stolen property subject to return, and the offer was rejected. One state official remarked that the missing document represented a "memorial of individual theft" from the people of North Carolina.

The North Carolina copy of the Bill of Rights resurfaced again in 1995 when a Washington, D.C. attorney, representing several unnamed individuals, contacted the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. The individuals claimed the document had a worth between 3 and 10 million dollars. As tempting the offer may have been, state officials could not use North Carolina tax dollars to buy it. The Charlotte Observer reported that New York collector Wayne E. Pratt contacted a Philadelphia museum and tried to sell the copy to them. The collector asked for four million dollars, and the offer was relayed to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. In turn, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley was notified.

Working through U.S. Attorney Roy Cooper, state officials decided to seize the document through a federal sting operation. Then, the copies were examined by the First Federal Congress Project in Washington, D.C., a part of the George Washington University, and found to be authentic. The collector signed official contracts at the Philadelphia museum. (During this process, it was discovered that Mr. Pratt had offered the documents to North Carolina in 1995.) Once the document returned to North Carolina, it was entrusted to the custody of Marshal Reavis. In the subsequent Civil Action No. 5:03-CV-204-BO, "Verified Statement of Interest of State of North Carolina," it was determined that "North Carolina had no knowledge of, and did not consent to, any acts subjecting the property to forfeiture and is therefore an innocent owner."  Marshal Reavis and his deputies in the Eastern District of North Carolina are proud to be entrusted with an object of such historic importance.

"To be holding a piece of the fabric of the formation of this country ... and to be charged with the protection of it ... it's sacred."

Source: U.S. Marshals Service

Recommended Reading: North Carolinians in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction (The University of North Carolina Press). Description: Although North Carolina was a "home front" state rather than a battlefield state for most of the Civil War, it was heavily involved in the Confederate war effort and experienced many conflicts as a result. North Carolinians were divided over the issue of secession, and changes in race and gender relations brought new controversy. Blacks fought for freedom, women sought greater independence, and their aspirations for change stimulated fierce resistance from more privileged groups. Republicans and Democrats fought over power during Reconstruction and for decades thereafter disagreed over the meaning of the war and Reconstruction. Continued below...

With contributions by well-known historians as well as talented younger scholars, this volume offers new insights into all the key issues of the Civil War era that played out in pronounced ways in the Tar Heel State. In nine fascinating essays composed specifically for this volume, contributors address themes such as ambivalent whites, freed blacks, the political establishment, racial hopes and fears, postwar ideology, and North Carolina women. These issues of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras were so powerful that they continue to agitate North Carolinians today.

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Recommended Reading: The Civil War in North Carolina. Description: Numerous battles and skirmishes were fought in North Carolina during the Civil War, and the campaigns and battles themselves were crucial in the grand strategy of the conflict and involved some of the most famous generals of the war. Continued below...

John Barrett presents the complete story of military engagements and battles across the state, including the classical pitched battle of Bentonville--involving Generals Joe Johnston and William Sherman--the siege of Fort Fisher, the amphibious campaigns on the coast, and cavalry sweeps such as General George Stoneman's Raid. "Includes cavalry battles, Union Navy operations, Confederate Navy expeditions, Naval bombardments, the land battles... [A]n indispensable edition." Also available in hardcover: The Civil War in North Carolina.


Recommended Reading:  Bluecoats and Tar Heels: Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina (New Directions in Southern History) (Hardcover). Description: In Bluecoats and Tar Heels: Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina, Mark L. Bradley examines the complex relationship between U.S. Army soldiers and North Carolina civilians after the Civil War. Continued below...

Postwar violence and political instability led the federal government to deploy elements of the U.S. Army in the Tar Heel State, but their twelve-year occupation was marked by uneven success: it proved more adept at conciliating white ex-Confederates than at protecting the civil and political rights of black Carolinians. Bluecoats and Tar Heels is the first book to focus on the army’s role as post-bellum conciliator, providing readers the opportunity to discover a rich but neglected chapter in Reconstruction history.

Recommended Viewing: The History Channel Presents Sherman's March (2007). Description: “The story of General William Tecumseh Sherman who helped devastate the South's army at the end of the Civil War is told here via vivid reconstructions of his actions.” This is a great reenactment, presentation. It's not dull like some documentaries that just continually talk with the same guy for an hour. Continued below...

This includes several individuals that are extremely knowledgeable in their respective fields--be it civilian or military historian. Also, it includes many re-enactors that portray “Sherman as well as his entire command.” It literally takes the viewer back to 1864 to experience it firsthand.
Recommended Reading: Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865. Description: The author, Prof. D. H. Hill, Jr., was the son of Lieutenant General Daniel Harvey Hill (North Carolina produced only two lieutenant generals and it was the second highest rank in the army) and his mother was General “Stonewall” Jackson’s wife's sister. In Confederate Military History Of North Carolina, Hill discusses North Carolina’s massive task of preparing and mobilizing for the conflict; the many regiments and battalions recruited from the Old North State; as well as the state's numerous contributions during the war. Continued below...
During Hill's Tar Heel State study, the reader begins with interesting and thought-provoking statistical data regarding the 125,000 "Old North State" soldiers that fought during the course of the war and the 40,000 that perished. Hill advances with the Fighting Tar Heels to the first battle at Bethel, through numerous bloody campaigns and battles--including North Carolina’s contributions at the "High Watermark" at Gettysburg--and concludes with Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Highly recommended!

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