Artifacts that tell military family’s story will be auctioned in Statesville

Lewis Alexander, chairman of Iredell Historic Properties Commission displays military service ribbons and metal of Admiral Charles Lee Andrew Jr.
Lewis Alexander, chairman of Iredell Historic Properties Commission displays military service ribbons and metal of Admiral Charles Lee Andrew Jr. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

All told, the collection knits together seven generations of a military family of generals, many pieces telling the stories of members going off to American conflicts as far back as 1832.

The collection includes three unpublished manuscripts written by Brig. Gen. Armistead L. Long (near the top of the family’s tree), who served as Robert E. Lee’s secretary during the Civil War and authored a respected memoir about the general in 1886. There are piles of photos, several by pioneering Civil War photographer Matthew Brady. There are war letters, citations with presidential signatures, dog and sailing trophies, books, documents and antique firearms.

And to think it all nearly ended up in the trash heap – or at Goodwill.

Instead, on Monday, the collection last kept by Charles Andrews III of Statesville will be auctioned by Muscarelli Auction Co. in Statesville. They are calling the auction a “Memorial Day Salute to the Generals.”

After Charles III died in 2009 and his second wife, Cindy, a year later, the collection stored in four trunks went to Cindy’s family.

Stacked inside those trunks were the stories of Sumners, Kings, Longs and Andrews, families that spawned nearly a dozen generals and top Naval officers. The patriarch, Edwin Vose “Bull Head” Sumner Sr., fought in the brief Black Hawk War of 1832, where a young captain named Abraham Lincoln saw his only service. Sumner’s descendants by marriage and birth served in all major wars through World War II.

“I’ve never seen a collection so tightly woven together,” said Ted Muscarelli, an antiques auctioneer for eight years who’s been around the antiques business since he was a boy. “It has the kind of provenance that you know everything is tied, there’s no question about the origin of each piece. It all came in those four trunks and it all tells the story of this family.”

From father to son

The four trunks probably got to Statesville in the late 1970s, when Charles III’s father, Admiral Charles Andrews Jr., died and made his son guardian of the family’s past.

The son moved to Statesville in 1954, after serving in the Navy during World War II and earning two engineering degrees at Tufts University in Boston. He came to work at the Rubbermaid plant as a product development engineer, said Lewis Alexander, a local historian who spent two months scouring the collection and researching the family. Charles III continued to serve in the Navy Reserves.

The Andrews were living in a house in the old Country Club section of Statesville when his father died and the trunks arrived. They went into the attic and basement, Alexander said. When the two died, Charles III’s two children apparently didn’t want the trunks, he said. So they went to his wife’s family.

That family, he said, wants to remain anonymous.

‘Not about the money’

In 2011, they were cleaning out the Andrews’ house when a relative began sifting through the trunks.

“He knew enough about history to say: ‘Hey, you may want to put the brakes on throwing this stuff away,’” Alexander said. “They didn’t realize what they had.”

Alexander saw one of the trunks two years ago. When the family took him to a storage unit to show him the other three trunks two months ago, a Brady photograph was on the floor. He began stitching together the family lineage through the artifacts and helping appraiser Don Schweikert catalog more than 500 pieces for Monday’s auction.

They thought about trying to sell them without breaking up the collection, but instead split it up in lots. They don’t know what it will bring – maybe $50,000 to $70,000.

“It’s not about the money for this family, but putting this stuff out there so other people can appreciate what’s here,” Alexander said. “They felt it wasn’t doing any good sitting in trunks.”

Manuscripts ‘wild cards’

The family’s story starts with “Bull Head” Sumner, the patriarch who fought in the Black Hawk War and Mexican-American War and had served for 42 years when he led men into the Civil War. He had two sons, including Edwin Jr., a brigadier general who fought for the Union. Armistead Long, a Virginian, served under Sumner – and married his daughter, Mary – until the start of the Civil War, when Long became Robert E. Lee’s secretary.

Long wrote his unpublished manuscripts in the last years of his life. When he died in 1891, his wife turned them over to her brother Edwin Jr. Eventually they made their way to Charles Andrews Jr., then to Statesville, Alexander said.

On the auction block Monday will be Long’s “Recollections of a Lieutenant: 1850-1860,” “Old Hickory (Andrew Jackson) and Stonewall Jackson – A Biographical Contrast” and “The First Century of America.”

“Those manuscripts are the wild cards,” Schweikert said.

There are others, including a 1943 photo of then-Capt. Charles Andrews Jr. with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (the actor) and New York Herald Tribune war correspondent John Steinbeck (of “Grapes of Wrath” fame). They are on board Andrews’ ship, displaying a Nazi flag that Steinbeck had just snagged from a sinking German E-boat. They were part of a secret commando unit called the Beach Jumpers – the idea of Fairbanks – that created diversions for larger invasions.

Andrews’ ship sunk the German boat off the Italian coast and the flag was believed to the first “German Naval Ensign” captured during World War II, Andrews Jr. wrote in a letter. The collection holds a photo of the flag hanging on a wall of Andrews Jr.’s Newport, R.I., home – but no flag.

Last week, the trunks’ owners got a look at all the contents at Muscarelli Auction.

“That I think is when it began to hit them how significant this collection is,” Alexander said. “They left and a couple hours later, we got call from one of them, who said: ‘You’re going to kill us, but we’ve found more things to bring you.’ In they walked with boxes of medals.’”

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061

3 family artifacts for auction

Lot 243: Matthew Brady albumen photograph of Maj. Gen. Edwin Vose “Bull Head” Sumner with his staff that included his son, Edwin Jr. They stand in front of St. Peter’s Church near New Kent Court House, Va. Sumner was the oldest field commander on either side during the Civil War. The church was where George Washington had worshiped and many believe was married to the country’s first First Lady.

Lot 287: Includes citation for Nancy Sumner King, daughter of Maj. Gen. Edward L. King, who during the Spanish-American War was sent to the Philippines as part of the occupation forces. In 1899, after a treaty was signed, daughter Nancy was born “the first white American child” in the Philippines under American occupation. It was Nancy King who gave the family collection to Charles Andrews Jr.

Lot 327: Large photo of USS Yankee, staffed by the First Naval Battalion of New York churning toward Cuba for blockade duty. On board was Ensign Charles Andrews Sr., father of Charles Jr., the admiral, and grandfather of Charles III of Statesville, keeper of the family’s past that is being auctioned on Monday. David Perlmutt

Want to go?

The auction of the Charles Andrews III family collection starts at 9 a.m. Monday at Muscarelli Auction Co., 245 S. Oakland St., Statesville. Details: 704-872-3900 or www.muscarelliauctions.com.

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