Eleven folders of old papers rescued from his parents’ closet sat in Thomas Willcox’s sport utility vehicle for months before he realized that some were signed by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The three letters written by Lee during the Civil War sold at auction for $61,000.
That was far off the record $630,000 that a Lee item sold for in 2002.
The letters were among more than 400 documents that Willcox put up for auction after a protracted fight with the state, which claimed ownership of the documents that had been in Willcox’s family for years.
The collection details life in South Carolina from 1861 to 1863. Many of the letters are correspondence between generals and the Confederate government and Govs. Francis Wilkinson Pickens and Milledge Luke Bonham.
The letters were supposed to be auctioned in 2004. But South Carolina sued, claiming that they were written as part of official state business and were government property. A federal judge ruled last year that Willcox owned the collection, which was in his family for generations before he found them in his parents’ home after they died.
The legal spat led Willcox to file for bankruptcy.