Civil War documents stolen
Civil War documents stolen from library case
A thief snatched two rare Civil War documents from a public library exhibit last weekend, an unusual theft that librarians said could force them to limit future exhibits.
The documents, on loan to the library, were taken from a sealed display case in the main branch on North Tryon Street.
Library officials and Walt Hilderman, the owner of the documents, say they believe the theft was planned. Police are investigating.
So is someone trying to profit from a growing collectors' market for Civil War documents? Or is this the latest salvo in a battle over the legacy of the Civil War?
"I can only say that maybe (the documents) offended someone, or maybe they thought they were worth a whole lot of money," said Shelia Bumgarner, the librarian who curated the exhibit.
Bumgarner said the theft is the first time the library has had such a rare document -- or one on loan -- stolen.
The library has sent descriptions of the papers to historical groups and museums, warning them to keep an eye out for the stolen documents. Library officials said the documents were worth a combined $400.
Hilderman, a retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg police captain, has been tied to controversy before and says his recent book on soldiers drafted into the Confederate Army has only generated more of it in the form of nasty e-mails.Hilderman split from the Sons of Confederate Veterans a few years ago and said that controversy could have motivated the theft, though he isn't accusing anyone.
"Those documents were specifically targeted for theft for a reason," he said. "Whether there was some political threat involved ... is all a possibility."
Hilderman said he's working on his own list of suspects, and has "put out a feeler in a certain community ... with folks who are very influential in these matters. I have told them I would appreciate it if those documents came back my way."
Hilderman loaned the documents to the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County in April, for an exhibit about North Carolina during the Civil War. The exhibit included information about conscription, and featured Hilderman's book on the subject, "They Went into the Fight Cheering: Confederate Conscription in North Carolina."
The two missing documents -- a hand-written furlough for a Confederate soldier and a certificate of medical examination of a slave -- were both cited in the book.
The medical examination certificate is especially rare, Bumgarner said. According to the library, the two documents are worth about $400; Hilderman said they may be worth more.
Jim Hogue, a professor of American history at UNC Charlotte, said that theft of Civil War documents is a growing problem for archives.
"It's true of virtually everything ... that's connected to the Civil War," he said. "Discharge documents, parole documents, all kinds of things. There's a collector's market for that."
But Hogue also said that conscription during the Civil War is still a divisive subject that contrasts with some heritage groups' view of the Confederacy.
"If this was a libertarian and volunteerist government, why were they instituting possibly the most draconian government measure you could think of?" he said.
Steve Blankenship, commander of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans post, said the group doesn't have a stand on conscription.
"The Sons of Confederate Veterans does not have any particular stands on things like that," he said. "We are honoring our heritage and our ancestors who fought in the war."
The two documents, along with several other items, some of which were more valuable, were in a display case near the elevator bank on the third floor.
The display case there was meant to draw visitors into the Carolina Room and the rest of the exhibit, Bumgarner said.
The top of the case dropped into a stand, and was screwed into place with a screwdriver. Loosening the screws and lifting the top of the 2 feet by 3 feet case would have taken time, Bumgarner said.
But the library administration offices -- which share the third floor with the Carolina Room -- were closed on Sunday. Two staff members in the Carolina Room could see the display from a desk, but were often helping customers out of sight, Bumgarner and Carolina Room Manager Joyce Reimann said.
Bumgarner said that early Monday morning, librarians noticed the documents were missing.
There were no cameras near the display case, and Bumgarner said she knows of no witnesses. Police have checked the display for fingerprints.
The library has removed the display case, and Bumgarner said the theft will probably stop her from putting items outside the Carolina Room.
"I just wanted to cry because I've always been able to assure people that nothing like this would happen, and I would take care" of items they loaned the library, Bumgarner said.
No Questions Asked
Have the documents?
The library wants the documents back, no questions asked.
Librarians are asking whoever has them to put them in an envelope addressed to the Carolina Room and drop them at any branch.
"First at Bethel, farthest at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, last at Appomattox"