(Corrects sixth paragraph to show last find of Civil War dead at Gettysburg, not nationally, in 1996)
By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pa., June 2 (Reuters) - Facing wide criticism, including from the National Parks Service, an auction house has canceled plans to sell the skull of a Civil War soldier and military relics found near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Estate Auction Company had hoped the auction, by an anonymous seller, would raise between $50,000 to $250,000 from a private collector or museum.
But late on Monday, auctioneer Thomas Taylor of the Hagerstown, Maryland-based company said the skull would be handed over to the National Park Service at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
The park service had earlier called for the skull to be donated for burial in the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg, alongside the bones of other unknown soldiers.
The Battle of Gettysburg, which lasted three days in 1863, is often described as the turning point of the Civil War. Some 164,000 troops from both sides participated, and some 45,000 were left dead, wounded or missing.
The most recent discovery of Civil War soldier remains at Gettysburg was in 1996. Those were interred with full military honors in the national cemetery there, which President Abraham Lincoln dedicated with his famous Gettysburg Address.
The skull was found in 1949 on private land near Benner's Farm, site of a Confederate field hospital, by someone tilling a garden. A breastplate found nearby came from a Louisiana unit of the Confederate Army, the auction house said.
Katie Lawhon, spokeswoman for Gettysburg National Military Park, had described the proposed sale as "very unfortunate."
U.S. National Park Service officials believe there are still undiscovered soldier remains at Gettysburg and treat the entire battlefield as a sacred burial ground, she said. (Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Bill Trott, Daniel Wallis and Ken Wills)