Judge rules Confederate letters belong to South Carolina

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A judge has ruled that a collection of rare, Civil War-era letters belong to the state rather than the man who has had them in his family for generations. The state sued after Charleston resident Thomas Willcox tried to auction off the letters. Willcox, who is a descendant of Confederate Gen. Evander Law, filed for bankruptcy soon after. The collection includes more than 440 letters detailing life in South Carolina between 1861 and 1863.

Many letters are correspondence between generals or the Confederate government and South Carolina Govs. Francis Pickens and Milledge Bonham during the Civil War. Three are written by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Other letters are from residents asking for help defending their communities or for the return of their slaves, who were taken from plantations to help build fortifications. Some of the letters provide gory details on the realities of war.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John E. Waites issued an order Monday stating that the letters deal with the official duties of the governor and therefore are public records.

A large portion of the letters relate to the governor's military duties, Waites said in the ruling.

"These include information relating to military supplies and shortages, military preparations, the strength and condition of the military, documentation of troop movement, accounts and reports on results of certain battles, and use of funds for military purposes," Waites wrote.

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