Artifact of the Month Collections

January 2017 Artifact of the Month | Stolen Snuffbox


By Robert Hancock
Senior Curator and Director of Collections

Author of Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, John Overton Casler, a self-described “high private in the rear ranks,” served with the 33rd Virginia Infantry during the war.

Casler described the grisly habit of plundering the dead after a battle: “Sam Nunnelly came to me and said we would get over in front of our works that night and plunder the dead….I told him I would not do it, as we would be in danger of being shot by our own men as well as the enemy. But he said he would go by himself and crawl around and ‘play off’ wounded. So, he went, and was gone all night, coming back at daylight. He got three watches, some money, knives, and other things. He would risk his life anytime for plunder.”

According to Casler, soldiers soon lost any qualms over the moral dilemma associated with robbing the dead. “It was difficult for a soldier to figure out why a gold watch or money in the pocket of a dead soldier, who had been trying to kill him all day, did not belong to the man who found it as much as it did to anyone else.”

Casler also learned to “liberate” items from the enemy that he needed or might find useful, so long as it involved little to no risk to himself. In the case of the snuffbox, he took the inscription “Help Yourself” literally.