Comprising some of History Colorado's most treasured artifacts that offer insights on conflict, loss and reunification, E Pluribus Unum includes the priceless and rarely seen Appomattox Inkwell, which helped conclude the Civil War with a stroke of a pen.
Here's the unlikely story of how the inkwell made the trip from Virginia to Colorado, courtesy of James S. Peterson and History Colorado:
One of the most prized artifacts in the History Colorado War Relics Collection is a rather commonplace, homely little inkwell, used at the most significant event of the Civil War. The story behind this inkwell is that Generals Grant and Lee used it on the historic occasion of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865.
Originally owned by Union General Philip H. Sheridan, the inkwell came to Colorado with Philip’s brother John L. Sheridan. A clerk at the land office in Fairplay, John Sheridan met Cecil A. Deane, a state contract surveyor, and in 1874 Deane acquired the inkwell.
In 1887, Deane wrote to General Sheridan to try and confirm that he owned it and that it was in fact used by Grant and Lee at the McLean House at Appomattox. General Sheridan confirmed that his inkwell was used at Appomattox and that he took his inkwell to his home at Somerset, Ohio just after the war. He would not however confirm that the inkwell Deane had was his, given he had never seen the one in Deane’s possession.
It was Deane’s luck, however, that not long after this correspondence General Sheridan came to Denver for business related to Fort Logan. Deane, Sheridan, and another gentleman, George Ady, met to look at a large collection of war relics Deane had gathered for the Grand Army of the Republic from many of the principle battlefields of the war. That day, they also looked at the ink stand and Sheridan readily identified it as the one he first used as a cadet at West Point and later in his first active military duty in Texas in 1853. He told Deane that in 1857 while encamped near Fort Vancouver in Oregon, using a cracker box for a writing surface, he’d placed the inkwell too close to a candle causing the gutta-percha substance of which the object was manufactured to blister. This unique blemish enabled Sheridan to positively identify the inkwell as the one he carried in his pocket during his entire active military service, and the one that he placed on the table at the McLean house on the day when the articles of capitulation were written and signed by Grant and Lee.
Years later, Deane wrote a letter about the meeting that was published in the Denver Republican on June 23, 1896. In the letter, he noted that General Sheridan had taken a great interest in the war relics, describing much about the artifacts of which Deane had previously known little. He also described Sheridan identifying the inkwell, returning it to him and commenting that the inkwell was his donation to the collection of war relics. In essence he was stating that Deane could keep the item which according to Sheridan was the most interesting of Deane’s War Relics Collection because it was used during “the closing scenes of the great rebellion.”
In 1897, Cecil A. Deane donated his entire War Relic Collection to the State of Colorado, including the inkwell. This collection remains part of the History Colorado collection.
E Pluribus Unum/ Out of Many, One is included with admission to the History Colorado Center at 1200 Broadway; timed tickets are required. Get yours here.
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