Local NewsSpringfield Armory to regain lost marksmanship medals won in...

Springfield Armory to regain lost marksmanship medals won in the late 1800s by Massachusetts Volunteer Militia members

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In the late 19th century, the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia had at least two world-class crack shot members — brothers Milan Bull and Freeman Bull — whose marksmanship medals disappeared from The Springfield Armory sometime in the 1990s. Now the feds have seized them back.

“Massachusetts is the birthplace of the American Revolution, a war that gained our nation’s independence. Protecting and preserving artifacts of our Commonwealth’s history is of fundamental importance to this,” said Rachael Rollins, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. “The recovery of these important artifacts is the result of the excellent collaborative work between my office’s Asset Recovery Unit, the FBI, and the National Park Service.”

In 1944, Freeman Bull’s daughter — by then married and going by Nellie Bowers — donated boxes of medals earned by her father and uncle in the 1880s and 1890s, according to a court filing in the case. The commander of the Armory, Col. G.A. Woody, wrote that they will make “a fine addition to our exhibits” in a letter addressed to Bowers, of Springfield, on Feb. 26, 1944.

“On behalf of the Armory, I wish to express my sincere appreciation for your donation of the many medals won by your late father and uncle,” he wrote in the letter attached to a court filing, “when they were employed at the Armory and were classed as two of the finest marksmen in the world.”

Somehow, 24 of those medals went missing from the Armory and wound up in the hands of a private collector in Tennessee identified in court documents as T.M. who purchased them “at great expense” and wrote a letter to the Armory in 2021 to find out more about his recent purchase, according to a court filing.

He told the Armory — which is a National Historic Landmark and has been under the control of the National Park Service since 1974, nearly 200 years after it opened as a federal arsenal to the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War — that he had read of similar medals in their collection and wanted to know if they had information.

The Armory checked its records and they didn’t have similar medals — but should have had the very same 24 medals he photographed and sent to them in their own collection. The feds say the Armory “has no records of the artifacts being deaccessioned or lawfully removed from its collection.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine A Robertson issued a seizure warrant for the medals on Feb. 9 and they were seized one week later, according to court records.

“These stolen medals that once belonged to world class marksmen and have been missing for almost 30 years are now one step closer to being returned to their rightful owner,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office. “Their absence represented not just a physical and financial loss, but a loss to every visitor who missed out on viewing these significant artifacts of military history.”

  • Medals earned by brothers Milan and Freeman Bull in the...

    U.S. District Court filing

    Medals earned by brothers Milan and Freeman Bull in the late 1800s that went missing from the collection of the Springfield Armory. The feds have located and seized the medals back. (U.S. District Court filing)

  • Medals earned by brothers Milan and Freeman Bull in the...

    U.S. District Court filing

    Medals earned by brothers Milan and Freeman Bull in the late 1800s that went missing from the collection of the Springfield Armory. The feds have located and seized the medals back. (U.S. District Court filing)

  • Medals earned by brothers Milan and Freeman Bull in the...

    U.S. District Court filing

    Medals earned by brothers Milan and Freeman Bull in the late 1800s that went missing from the collection of the Springfield Armory. The feds have located and seized the medals back. (U.S. District Court filing)

  • Medals earned by brothers Milan and Freeman Bull in the...

    U.S. District Court filing

    Medals earned by brothers Milan and Freeman Bull in the late 1800s that went missing from the collection of the Springfield Armory. The feds have located and seized the medals back. (U.S. District Court filing)

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