PERRYVILLE, Ky. (AP) — James Carlos "Cotton" Reynolds began collecting Civil War artifacts from a very early age as he scoured the fields surrounding his Perryville home.
What began as a simple hobby with boyhood friends soon became a passion Reynolds would pursue for rest of his life.
Reynolds died in April at the age of 84, leaving behind a "massive" collection that is being touted as "one of the finest in the country that is not already in a Museum."
On Aug. 19, the collection will be auctioned at Johnson Properties Auction Facility in Algier, North Carolina, near where one of Reynolds' daughters lives.
"We are just honored to help the family out," said Jimmy Johnson, owner of Johnson Properties, on Thursday. "It is so rare to see such a collection, and we have had an overwhelming response already for the items. We've had calls from around the country for some of these artifacts that are just impossible to reproduce, and we have a large group of more than 30 re-enactors coming in tonight to preview the collection."
Johnson said bids are currently being accepted online and will continue up until the time an item is sold during the live auction, which begins 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. He could not estimate the worth of the collection.
"We will have a live feed for those who would like to bid online. When the auctioneer says sold, no further bids will be accepted online," said Johnson.
Reynolds was known in the region and throughout the Southeastern United States as being a premiere collector of Civil War artifacts, John Primble knives and other fine cutlery.
Representing more than 50 years of gathering, the collection is the life's work of a man known as a "walking encyclopedia" of historical knowledge, particularly of history surrounding the Perryville Battlefield.
A plumber by trade, Reynolds was renowned for his knowledge and expertise on Civil War artifacts, his story-telling and his love for everything Perryville.
Bill Baas of Danville, an avid Civil War re-enactor himself, knew Reynolds for more than 30 years.
Baas' face lit up as he recounted stories of the man he considers his mentor, fellow historian and friend.
"We talk about people being characters, and if ever there was a character of local color, he would be it," said Baas. "He was very much a Perryvillian. Not that he was that local a person — he was well-traveled and well-experienced — but his world revolved around Perryville — the town, the battle, Civil War history and collecting."
Baas first encountered Reynolds in the early 1980s at an organizational meeting to discuss the possibility of having a Perryville Battlefield Association, comprised of city, county and state volunteers working together to preserve and honor the battlefield.
Baas said the collector was sitting at a table behind him in the now-closed Battlefield Restaurant. When the presentation was finished, Baas said Reynolds made his opinion on the matter very clear.
"I heard this voice say, 'Well, we don't need no fuh-reigners telling us what to do,'" said Baas. "Here was this fellow sitting in the booth, waving his cane. I turned around and was then introduced to Cotton Reynolds."
Baas said Reynolds initially didn't like the idea of out-of-towners meddling in Perryville's business. When Baas asked Reynolds if he was considered a foreigner since he lived in Danville, Reynolds asked him where he was from originally. Baas responded, "Louisville," to which Reynolds quickly retorted, "Yep!"
As Baas recalls, one didn't really sit down and chat with Reynolds.
"It was more like you sought an audience with him, at least in the Civil War collector's audience," said Baas. "If there was a question about something, like, 'Is this a button from the Louisiana infantry or is it Louisiana artillery?', someone would say, 'Go ask Cotton.'"
Baas said Reynolds attended nearly every collector's show in the region, and his table was always surrounded by people asking advice, which, as Bass recalls, was "usually spot-on."
Baas, a retired ophthalmologist, said whenever Reynolds would come in for an appointment, he would ask his receptionist to block off a generous amount of time so he could catch up on relevant news surrounding Civil War "goings-on."
Described by Baas as cantankerous at times, Reynolds could be very opinionated, a quality Baas says he misses.
"Saying cantankerous could get me in trouble. He could be cantankerous if you were not genuine or truly interested. If the conversation was not worthwhile, he was cantankerous," said Baas. "We didn't always share the same opinion. But, I have to admit, when it came to Civil War history, and Perryville, Kentucky, arms and equipment in particular, he was always correct."
According to Baas, visiting Reynolds' home was more along the lines of visiting a museum.
"You didn't just stop by and say, 'I want to see your stuff,'" said Baas. "You scheduled weeks in advance. His house was a museum — every corner, every room was full of artifacts. But, you have to remember, he began this as a child, his backyard was the battlefield. He grew up finding these things in the fields, in the stone walls, and not that long after the battle. His family was right there during the war."
Despite the enormity of his collection, with pieces numbering in the thousands, Baas said Reynolds could recall precisely where he found a particular artifact like it was yesterday.
"He would pick up something and say, 'Oh yeah, I remember when I found this when I was 14,' or 'I found that stand of grapeshot right over in Terrell's Battery,'" said Baas.
"He was a real wealth of information," he recalled. "I miss his expertise; I miss his animated conversations, and I miss his opinions. He was a character of local color, and Perryville — and the battlefield — was his life."
The auction will begin 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, and will include both onsite and live online bidding.
For more information and to see the collection, visit www.johnsonproperties.com/auction-detail.cfm?auctionid=870 .
Information from: The (Danville, Ky.) Advocate-Messenger, http://www.centralkynews.com/amnews
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