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Thread: Help identifying Mole sword carried by Union Civil War officer

  1. #1
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    Help identifying Mole sword carried by Union Civil War officer

    I have a Mole sword with a "MOLE" mark on the back of the blade, a Crown B 13 mark on the blade below the guard, an inspector's mark (?) that looks like a capital "I" bisected by a thin line, and the scabbard markings "LC D 13" on the scabbard. (Pictures below)

    Note: Will Mathieson says the scabbard marking is "LO D 13", not "LC" and the "I" is actually a worn or poorly struck "B" balance mark. After a closer look, I am sure he's right on both counts.

    This sword belonged to my great great grandfather, who was Union 1st Lieutenant in the 39th U.S. Colored Troops during the American Civil War, a regiment that actively fought in several major engagements, including the Battle of the Crater in front of Petersburg. He briefly served as acting Captain for the 29th USCT after that battle. He mustered out at the end of the war from North Carolina.

    I have always assumed this was his U.S. government issue sword, but have read on this forum and elsewhere that this is more likely a Confederate sword.

    (I have also seen that the "LC" may stand for Lower Canada, suggesting it could have been from a British regular regiment in Canada. I know him to have been an active post-war member of the Fenian Brotherhood, but have papers of his suggesting he belonged to a wing that opposed the Fenian Raids. I have no evidence that he participated in the raids.)

    Can anyone help me with information about this sword and any theories on why a Union officer would be carrying a sword of this manufacture? The U.S.C.T. were established as Regular US Army regiments, but undersupplied. Would he have possibly been issued a captured Confederate sword? Or, would he have considered this make of sword superior to a U.S. army-issue sword and have exchanged the latter for the former at some point?

    I would never sell this piece of family history, but thoughts on value for insurance purposes also would be welcome. The leather grip is in good shape, the scabbard is quite rusty.

    Thanks!
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    Last edited by Tim Reason; 12-16-2012 at 11:04 AM.

  2. #2
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    Fantastic sword and history! I'll leave others to write about the US history, but in case you did not already know this is a British 1853 pattern cavalry sword, featuring Reeves' patent solid hilt, made by Robert Mole (one of the largest UK makers, based in Birmingham in the middle of England) and the B over 13 stamp shows that it passed a British Government inspection in Birmingham, as you'd expect of a Birmingham-made sword.
    From a personal point of view I would say that British swords were generally better made than US swords at this time and this pattern (along with British rifles and revolvers) were indeed sold to the Confederates (the British sold anything to anyone with money to pay, it was not political really). Even some of the Confederate ships were made in Britain! As I understand it, some Union officers did also buy British-made swords, but this is not an officer's sword really, it is a cavalry trooper's weapon, but officers all over the world at this time sometimes chose a sword for personal reasons and ignored regulations. I know of at least one British infantry officer who may have used one of these in preference to a less robust regulation sword.
    Looking forward to reading more about the US history aspect from other posters,
    Matt

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    In response to your question concerning why a Union officer MIGHT carry such a weapon, a couple of incidents come to mind. Possibly most famously, when Confederate General Lewis Addison Armistead was mortally wounded in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, his sword was taken by one of the junior Union officers as a souvenir and worn by him for the rest of the war. ( Later it was returned to the family postwar and now resides in a museum. ) But it was a U.S. regulation Sword for Foot Officers that Armistead owned from his days as a captain in the antebellum U.S. Army, so was perfectly "proper" for its new owner. That doesn't quite relate to your situation, but shows how things like it COULD happen.

    Also note that in Armistead's case, as with all Confederates, things like regulation were loosely followed; despite being now a Confederate general, Armistead continued to carry his pre-war U.S. saber, as did Stonewall Jackson and many others. Also, officers frequently owned more than one sword or saber: near where I live is the home of Confederate Brigadier General Sam Bell Maxey, where THREE of his are preserved. There is a per-war M.1850 Sword for Staff and Field Officers; a non-regulation presentation sword from around the Mexican War; and a German import enlisted man's cavalry saber of the U.S. M.1840 type. The mourning crepe from Gen Maxey's ca. early 1900's funeral ceremony was still tied to the hilt of the sword that laid on his coffin - the enlisted cavalry saber! It's my theory that this was chosen because it was probably the one he carried on an everyday basis as his "service sword" even though he was a general.

    Another consideration in your particular case: Officers of the U.S.C.T. were usually former enlisted men who had gone through a special course to be comissioned officers in the new U.S.C.T. units. They frequently chose this avenue as a way to promotion and increased status ( and pay! ) as officers rather than from any real devotion to emancipation or racial equality. Since these usually middle- or lower-class men weren't from wealthy families, but as officers were still required to furnish their own uniforms and equipment, they might find it necessary to take a "cut-rate" approach whenever possible! Therefore captured or less-expensive sidearms might be acceptable if not desirable.
    Last edited by James Neel; 12-16-2012 at 10:41 AM.

  4. #4
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    Thanks so much, Matt! That's already much more than I knew from Googling about the marks. If the B over 13 stamp is the inspector's mark, do you know the significance of the "I" mark on the back of the blade?

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    An outlandish theory!!!!!!

    LC D could stand for an Officer Training Training Corps during WW1????? Loyala College and the D for DRILL Sword.

    and
    I mark on the back of the blade could mean originally the sword was ordered and passed by the India Store Depot for British Cavalry Troops in India. (British troops in India were armed via the India Store Depot in London.)
    Last edited by Robert Wilkinson-Latham; 12-16-2012 at 10:42 AM.

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    Tim, the "I" mark on the blades spine is actually a "B" with a perpendicular line through it and it denotes the swords balance point. Of the 1853p cavalry swords I know of marked B/13 are made in the 1850's.
    In the case of the "I" mark as Indian, it usually is accompanied with a broad arrow above it and is centred on the spine, I think in this case the B was struck badly or worn off the curved semi circles.

    The other mark appears to be "LO" not "LC" Canadian "C" stamps have perpendicular lines at the termination of the top and bottom part of the C
    Last edited by Will Mathieson; 12-16-2012 at 10:50 AM.

  7. #7
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    Hi Robert -- I don't have any reason to think that this sword saw service after the Civil War--my ancestor returned to his home in Weymouth, Massachusetts after the Civil War ended and as far as I know, the sword never left the state again. However, the 39th U.S.C.T. was formed in Baltimore, which is home to Loyola College. My ancestor was instrumental in equipping the regiment in Baltimore as a second lieutenant and quartermaster. Would your theory on the meaning of LC D still apply prior to WW1?

  8. #8
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    Will, thank you very much. I've obviously come to the right place with this forum! I've just inspected both marks more closely with a magnifying glass and think you are right in both cases. I'm happy to dispense with the Fenian raid idea, which seemed far fetched to me. I wonder what LO means? What do the markings on a scabbard usually indicate?

  9. #9
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    Will Mathieson points out that it says "LO D 13", not LC, which I guess eliminates both "Lower Canada" and "Loyola College".

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by James Neel View Post
    Another consideration in your particular case: Officers of the U.S.C.T. were usually former enlisted men who had gone through a special course to be comissioned officers in the new U.S.C.T. units. They frequently chose this avenue as a way to promotion and increased status ( and pay! ) as officers rather than from any real devotion to emancipation or racial equality. Since these usually middle- or lower-class men weren't from wealthy families, but as officers were still required to furnish their own uniforms and equipment, they might find it necessary to take a "cut-rate" approach whenever possible! Therefore captured or less-expensive sidearms might be acceptable if not desirable.
    James, you are correct that he was an enlisted man (12th Massachusetts) before applying to the USCT the winter following after Gettysburg. I don't know what his moral convictions were, but family lore and some surviving records suggest that supporting his wife and family were a major reason he applied for both the commission and the extra pay that came with it. I didn't realize he had to supply his own sword--that would certainly have been a major consideration for him. I assume that then, as now, it was cheaper to buy used.

  11. #11
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    Can you post a clear photo of the scabbard markings? The L and 3 look odd to me, as if someone has tried to use a different stamp to make the 3, and the L has odd lines at either end. It may be that the L is something else that might make more sense of it. The bottom part of the L , a section of it appears to be missing.

  12. #12
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    How about these?
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  13. #13
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    I see the 3 now, a ding or scratch was interfering. These may be engraved and not stamped in, but their uniformity in height and perfectly round O? The L still looks odd, I have never seen a L stamp like it, the foot is just as long as the letter is high and has a vertical tip.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Reason View Post
    I didn't realize he had to supply his own sword--that would certainly have been a major consideration for him. I assume that then, as now, it was cheaper to buy used.

    Tim,

    One reason officer's pay was quite a bit higher in proportion to enlisted was to cover expenses like these. Mounted officers had to furnish their own horses, feed, and stabling in many cases, for example. And I don't mean to denigrate his motives for serving - it's just that they can be all over the board, from altruistic to coldly opportunistic, and this can also be reflected in the attitude to their men from paternalistic to sadistic. I HIGHLY recommend to you to further your understanding of these troops and especially the officers, Joseph Glatthaar's 1990 book, Forged in Battle - The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers. I think this is the only full-length treatment of the subject, one I've been interested in ever since I had the opportunity to portray one of these officers in the 1989 movie, Glory.

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    Quote Originally Posted by James Neel View Post
    I don't mean to denigrate his motives for serving...I HIGHLY recommend to you to further your understanding of these troops and especially the officers, Joseph Glatthaar's 1990 book, Forged in Battle - The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers.
    James, no offense taken. I have often wondered about his motives, which I'm sure, like anyone's, were mixed. I own Glatthaar's book and remember flipping quickly to the endnotes after reading a racist quote attributed to a 39th USCT lieutenant to confirm that the quote wasn't from my ancestor!

    I also recommend Richard Slotkin's more recent "No Quarter" about the Battle of the Crater. I believe this sword sitting on my dining room table was carried through that battle. I wish it could speak.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by James Neel View Post
    Tim,

    One reason officer's pay was quite a bit higher in proportion to enlisted was to cover expenses like these. Mounted officers had to furnish their own horses, feed, and stabling in many cases, for example. And I don't mean to denigrate his motives for serving - it's just that they can be all over the board, from altruistic to coldly opportunistic, and this can also be reflected in the attitude to their men from paternalistic to sadistic. I HIGHLY recommend to you to further your understanding of these troops and especially the officers, Joseph Glatthaar's 1990 book, Forged in Battle - The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers. I think this is the only full-length treatment of the subject, one I've been interested in ever since I had the opportunity to portray one of these officers in the 1989 movie, Glory.
    James: My Bud from CT, William P. Max was in that movie as well...Did you encounter him??

    He lives in VA now!! Changed sides and became a Reb!!

    Dale

  17. #17
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    Hi, Dale!

    I don't remember the name, but I worked on that for 3 months from the beginning at Savannah in March to wrap in mid-May outside Atlanta. I was mainly with the "background company" as an officer for most of it, so didn't get to "visit" with everyone who worked on it. As one of my friends on it said at the time, it was like being in the "real" army, and quite an experience, not all GOOD!

  18. #18
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    I'll get a better look at home but I am pretty sure my Lower Canada (company C in my case) blade has the exact same stamp as this one. also isn't the presence of an inspector mark means that this was meant for the British arsenal and not for exportation? You could check around the tang for a broad arrow, this might settle the question. Personally I see no indication except for the provenance and family history to give it any American connection.

    Edit: As I thought they are exactly the same typography (the "C" being the same for both occurances). It seems my sword was later used by the Canadian Cavalry School Corps.
    Last edited by Max C.; 12-18-2012 at 03:35 PM.

  19. #19
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    Hi all. I'll chime in here. Family history is interesting, and it is certainly a curious oddity as to why a captain, who is a "foot officer" by in the US military at the time of the civil war, would purchase an enlisted man's cavalry sabre. The family history makes sense, though. Black soldiers were not allowed to serve as officers in the US Civil War era military. They were allowed to serve as NCOs. A white soldier could find a quick promotion by becoming an officer in a colored regiment (not politically correct, but that is what they were called). These were war time commissions, most of which expired after the war. I do believe, however, the some colored regiments were not disbanded after the war and kept as occupation troops in the south during reconstruction.

    Thousands of British 1853's were imported by both the US and CS during the war. CS 1853's are going to be marked by a British firm that sold to the CS, such as Isaac & Co. Mole did sell directly to the CS, but interestingly the swords that Mole sold directly to the CS have brass hilts.

    In my opinion, the markings on this sword are British. It certainly is possible that it was sold to the US government as surplus. The US government did not issue swords to officer's during the Civil War with a small exception. I seem to recall that the US government purchased from Ames some 1850 foot swords and they were issued. Outside of that, Civil War era officers, north and south, purchased their own weapons. It is certainly possible that an officer could purchase a sword such as this, but it is not the norm. I don't know enough about British Victorian markngs to date the sword, but the family history is certainly plausible. It would be a complete "bitch" to run into the crater carrying that sword. I wouldn't be surprised if you ancestor left the sword in his tent and just went in with a couple of revolvers.
    Andre F. Ducote
    Mississippi

  20. #20
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    Max, can you post a picture of your sword marking? I would be very interested to see it.
    The C on the sword discussed is completely round , ones I have seen marked LC (Upper Canada were not marked) the letters are oval. Of course not all swords were marked by the same punches or engraved by the same hand.

  21. #21
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    I always find the possibilities and researches fascinating but the bottom line on acquisition and carry can only be verified with a period diary, newspaper article, or personal correspondence. The sword could have been acquired at any time from the family history. So, the sword could as easily have been a trophy pick up during the war or even later. This is not to denigrate a family history but written vs verbal histories being passed down are a really important verification.

    Cheers

    Glen Cleeton

    Hotspur; http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers...s-database.htm

  22. #22
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    I must agree with Glen, more often than not, a sword found in the family, ownership is attached to known family history.
    In many cases the swords manufacture post dates the history.
    With the British inspection mark the sword was destined for gov't use. Many collectible British and Canadian used swords are found in the US.
    Bannerman was famous for importation of obsolete arms and literally tons of swords were sold in the early 1900's, so they can be in a family for generations without having any direct history to a family.
    An old photo of a known family member wearing the sword is about the best evidence you can have. Written is also good.
    As Glen suggests, verbal history is most often embellished over many years as each person that passes the story wishes to make it more appealing.
    The story can still be true, collectors look for hard facts for verification, as it can elevate the value of any sword.

  23. #23
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    I've been conducting a review of the State of Mississippi's extensive sword collection. Alot of what they have was donated in teh 1890-1930 period. Every sword seems to be have carried by a Confederate office or soldier. Almost anything is plausible during that time period. I tend to give family histories that are that close in proximity to the war, and before there was any monetary benefit due to CS affilitation of a sword, more providence than the current day variety.
    Andre F. Ducote
    Mississippi

  24. #24
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    Andre that is very true regarding provenance. I think the mystery for me is the regimental mark, is it American or British/Canadian?
    If Canadian mark (more likely due to the inspection mark) it is Lower Canada, D troop #13 but which cavalry regiment in Quebec?
    Against my better judgement I'm inclined to think it's an American marking which once decyphered can possibly answer alot especially if LC or LO corresponds to an American regiment.
    I would like Max to post the markings on his sword for comparison.
    A good reference for these Canadian swords is in the Military Collectors Club of Canada, edition 224- spring 2006. a good article by Hamilton May describes the 1853p and others. noted is that no UC mark was used, only LC.
    Last edited by Will Mathieson; 12-21-2012 at 04:29 PM. Reason: corr spelling

  25. #25
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    Here is the scabbard. Name:  223539_10150584471570643_3764802_n.jpg
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    There also used to be pictures of a Lower Canada sword on this website, I don't know if we could retrace the pictures.
    http://www.joesalter.com/detail.php?f_qryitem=15931

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