Sale of Civil War soldier's skull abandoned after outcry

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Louisiana,History,Pennsylvania,Veterans,National Park Service,American Civil War

An auction house's plan to put the skull of an unknown Civil War-era soldier up for sale Tuesday was abandoned after it drew criticism from Gettysburg National Military Park officials. The skull will instead be donated to the National Park Service.

Estate Auction Company had initially hoped to get between $50,000 to $250,000 from a private collector or a museum for the item, according to a Reuters report.

The skull was reportedly discovered on private land in 1949 near Brenner Farm in Gettysburg, Pa. Other items recovered at the time indicated the skull was that of a Confederate soldier from Louisiana.

The farm was used as a hospital during the 1863 Civil War battle, one of the conflict's largest and most significant clashes. Much of the town of Gettysburg is now a national park commemorating the 164,000 soldiers who fought there. An estimated 45,000 soldiers from both sides were killed, wounded or missing.

The auction controversy comes amid the recent talk of "leaving no man behind" raised by the return of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl five years after being captured in Afghanistan. But though openly selling human remains from the battle of Gettysburg is unheard of, assuming the skull had really been found on private property the sale itself would have been legal, according to experts consulted by the York (Pa.) Daily Record.

The National Park Service considers the battlefield to be a cemetery for the fallen soldiers and therefore does not allow archeological digs that would disturb the remains. Reports of the planned sale drew sharp criticism from park officials.

"Our mission at Gettysburg is to respect the memory of those who fought and died. This is a spectacle," said park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon.

Civil War museum officials told Reuters that they would have not have participated in any sale. "No sir, we would not. It is not appropriate," said Wayne Motts, chief executive of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa.

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner