HARRISBURG Pa. (Reuters) - The skull of a Civil War soldier and military relics found near the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, battlefield are scheduled to be sold at auction on Tuesday, to the dismay of some historians.
Estate Auction Company is hoping to sell the skull at a price of $50,000 to $250,000 to a private collector or museum, said auctioneer Thomas Taylor.
The skull was found in 1949 on private land near Benner’s Farm, site of a Confederate field hospital, by someone tilling a garden, he said. A breastplate found nearby came from a Louisiana unit of the Confederate Army, he said.
The seller, who made the find, is remaining anonymous, Taylor said. He said the skull was deemed authentic because of where it was found and the relics discovered around it.
The Battle of Gettysburg, which lasted three days in 1863, is often described as the turning point of the Civil War. Some 164,000 troops from both sides participated, and some 45,000 were left dead, wounded or missing.
The most recent discovery of Civil War soldier remains was in 1996. Those were interred with full military honors in Soldiers National Cemetery, which President Abraham Lincoln dedicated with his famous Gettysburg Address.
That cemetery is where Katie Lawhon, spokeswoman for Gettysburg National Military Park, would like to see the skull placed. She called the auction "very unfortunate."
“Our mission at Gettysburg is to respect the memory of those who fought and died," she said. "This is a spectacle.”
U.S. National Park Service officials believe there are still undiscovered soldier remains at Gettysburg and treat the entire battlefield as a sacred burial ground, Lawhon said.
The sale probably does not violate federal law, provided the skull was found outside the 1949 boundaries of the park, she said.
Neither Lawhon nor officials at two Civil War museums said they had heard of any similar auction of a Civil War soldier’s remains, and each of them said they would not participate.
"No sir, we would not," said Wayne Motts, chief executive of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. "It is not appropriate."
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Bill Trott