One of the most prized artifacts in History Colorado's War Relics Collection is a rather commonplace, homely little inkstand, used at the most significant event of the Civil War. The story behind this inkstand 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.
The inkstand was first exhibited in the museum room at the Chamber of Commerce building between 1886 and 1887. Originally owned by Union General Philip H. Sheridan, the inkstand 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 inkstand.
In 1887, Deane wrote to General Sheridan to try to confirm that Sheridan had owned the inkstand and that it was in fact used by Grant and Lee at the McLean House at Appomattox. General Sheridan confirmed that his inkstand was used at Appomattox and that he took his inkstand to his home at Somerset, Ohio just after the war. However, he would not confirm that the inkstand Deane had was his, since he had not 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 inkstand 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 had placed the inkstand 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 inkstand 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 inkstand, returning it to him and commenting that the inkstand 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 Relics Collection to the State of Colorado, including the inkstand. This collection remains part of the History Colorado collection.
James S. Peterson, Curatorial Assistant
History Colorado, May 2013
Images: History Colorado, H.E.188.8.131.52
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