DescriptionMajor General William Mahone's Presentation Sword The Last CSA Sword A magnificently detailed presentation sword, historically important in every way, Major General William Mahone received this sword from the grateful citizenry of Petersburg, Virginia for saving their city during the six-month siege of their city. This Boyle and Gamble sword was made especially for General Mahone in Richmond, Virginia and is like no other produced by this famous manufacturer. With elaborate etching on the blade as well as the scabbard, the people of Petersburg spared no expense in honoring their great defender. It is noteworthy that this sword was likely the last truly Confederate-made sword, making it the rarest Confederate presentation sword existent.
William Mahone was a true son of the South. Born in Southampton County, Virginia in 1826, he was educated at the Virginia Military Institute and was a quick study in engineering, a career he would follow before and after the war, serving him well during the conflict as he resigned the presidency of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad to serve the Confederacy. While physically lacking in stature, Mahone's talents were immediately recognized as he was appointed to Brigadier General on November 16, 1861. He served throughout the war with the Army of Northern Virginia in all the major campaigns except for Antietam as he was recovering from wounds he suffered at Second Manassas.
But it was for the Siege of Petersburg that he was awarded this war trophy that has no comparison in the annals of history. Union General Ambrose Burnside had laid siege to the Virginia town and had grown tired of the ten-month ordeal that was General Mahone's bitter defense of the city. A seemingly nonsensical scheme was hatched by a regiment of Pennsylvania former coal miners that involved digging a tunnel under the Confederate trenches with the idea of exploding a cache of gunpowder right beneath them, breaking the stalemate and winning the battle. The plan proved disastrous.
Early on the morning of July 30, 1864, fully one month after the Union engineers and coal miners had dug their tunnel under the Confederate trenches, filling their subterranean earthworks with gunpowder,the Union troops lit the fuse. Nine companies of the 19th and 22nd South Carolina were rocketed into the air with the dead and dying falling into a 170 feet long crater created by the blast. Had the Union forces been satisfied with the disaster of the devastation created by their subterfuge, the battle may have been won. After the dust had settled, the Union forces rushed into the crater going after what was left of the Confederates, a grievous tactical error by Union General James Ledlie's division. Instead of waiting at the rim of the crater, the Union troops poured into the crater itself making them easy targets for General Mahone's men. When the shooting was over, "like shooting ducks", as the Confederates would later remark, General Mahone's troops had pushed the Union forces back inflicting 3,798 losses compared to the Confederates' nearly 1,500 men.
The ten-month siege of their hometown had taken its toll on the people of Petersburg. In the twilight of the war they looked to honor the man that had led the defense of their city and, for that one day, had repulsed the Union forces that had a stranglehold on the city, the second largest city in Virginia with a population of around 20,000 people in 1865. Their appreciation came in the form of this ornate Boyle and Gamble presentation sword commissioned by the grateful citizenry. The actual presentation was reported that March day in 1865 by the Richmond Daily Dispatch as follows: "The presentation took place in the presence of a large assemblage of officers, soldiers, citizens, and ladies, who gathered together to witness the pleasing event." By then Mahone had been promoted to Major General. He took the sword in its black walnut presentation case with the red sash and general officer's sword belt with the interlocking Virginia buckle as his memento of his service to his beloved Virginia and the Confederacy, cherishing it for the rest of his life.
The Boyle and Gamble sword is truly one-of-a-kind, but the scabbard within which it is encased is remarkable in itself. Slightly curved and 35" in length, the scabbard's steel body is brazed along the lower reverse side. Complemented by a gilded throat, top mount (with ring), center mount and drag, these features are all gently scalloped. The throat of the scabbard shows a 'C' scroll and floral motif engraving with the top featuring a rendering of the seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia above a sword and wreath device. Such subtle touches as the richer, more deep copper content of the top mount make this Boyle and Gamble stand out from their standard sword line, ensuring that the viewer would know it was made for a very special soldier.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the scabbard is the center mount which is emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag within a wreath above a bugle and bayonet crossed in front of a drum. Leaving no detail on the scabbard to chance, Boyle and Gamble engraved the drag of the scabbard featuring a plumed, helmeted knight amid an array of lances and trophy flags above a quiver of arrows and a mace. This design surmounts an intricately scrolled motif which finishes out the scabbard.
After seeing the scabbard, the viewer is only given a taste of what is to follow, concealed within being the Boyle and Gamble presentation sword itself. The regulation, slightly curved 33 ¾" blade bears the maker's name 'BOYLE AND GAMBLE/RICHMOND VA', appearing proudly as their signature on the ricasso of the reverse. The eye is drawn to the fact that the fuller of the blade is stopped rather than tapered, unlike other Boyle and Gamble swords. Intricate engraving filling the length of the blade includes ornate floral motifs, a shield, drums, a quiver of arrows, a crossbow, a highly-stylized Confederate flag and a pennant on a staff. Further up the blade is the eagle-ensconced presentation as follows:
MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM MAHONE
BY THE CITIZENS OF PETERSBURG VA
IN APPRECIATION OF HIS SKILL ENERGY
IN DEFENSE OF THEIR CITY DURING THE CAMPAIGN OF 1864
The obverse of the sword is equally delightful with the sword maker using all the tools, imagination and skill to the fullest advantage. The hilt-most end of the obverse incorporates a beautifully etched floral design and cross-hatching similar to an effect used on the reverse of the blade. A standing figure of the goddess Liberty carrying a dagger in her right hand while holding an unfurled Confederate flag in her left surmounts the letters 'CS' at the hilt of the blade. Elaborate floral etched designs flow up the blade terminating in a symbol of the rising sun of the Confederacy motif that echoes the drag of the scabbard.
The hilt of the sword measures 6" and is of the staff officer's style bearing one more branch than the foot officer's hilt. Within the upper branches is the openwork large 'CS' with surrounding open branches on either side and below. The quillon terminates with additional scrollwork and the knuckle bow at the rear of the hilt at the pommel cap, which is domed to receive the tang of the blade. Wrapped with black leather, the grip has a fine grade twisted brass wire on either side. Still in its elaborate walnut case lined with blue velvet and brass furniture hinges, Boyle and Gamble would have utilized the wood and hinges from furniture to make this presentation box as supplies were scarce during the last days of the Confederacy. Original 'homespun shammy' dyed light blue is still inside the case.
As history was made at Petersburg, the war would end shortly after the presentation of this wartime work of art, the last of its kind ever to be made in the Confederacy. General William Mahone returned to his railroad and later entered politics rising to a United States Senate seat serving his beloved Virginia. Although honored during and after the war for his service, this incredible presentation sword, a reminder of a grateful city for saving their home and families, was perhaps his and now our greatest treasure - "The Last Sword of the Confederacy".
Historical Perspective of the Mahone sword delivered in a speech by Donald Tharpe before the American Arms Collector's Society
On Wednesday, March 22, 1865, the Richmond [Va.] Daily Dispatch reported the presentation of a sword, belt, and sash to Maj. Gen. William Mahone by the citizens of Petersburg. "The presentation," the paper reported, "took place in the presence of a large assemblage of officers, soldiers, citizens and ladies, who gathered together to witness the pleasing event."
Those embattled witnesses at Petersburg, a city under siege for ten months, would likely see little else that was pleasing in the next several weeks. On March 25th, just two days later, the final campaign of the Army of Northern Virginia began when Gen. Lee attempted to break Gen. Grant's tightening deathgrip on Petersburg by taking the Federal-held Fort Stedman, just east of the city. They initially met with success, but the relentless Federals retook the fort. The Confederates ultimately lost the strategic position as well as the lives of 3,500 of their already tragically depleted troops. Petersburg fell just one week later.
It was the twilight of the Confederacy; it was also the twilight of Richmond, Virginia manufacturer Boyle & Gamble, military contractors to the Confederate government and makers of Mahone's presentation sword. Originally makers of circular saws for sawmills, Boyle & Gamble was first mentioned in an 1860 newspaper article in which reporters told of going into their extensive saw factory near the Shockoe Warehouse. Their work as sword makers for the Confederacy clearly began early in the conflict; a May 27, 1861, article in the Daily Missouri Republican ran under the headline "Attack on a Secession Sword Factory." The story related that the factory of Boyle & Gamble had been set aflame the day before; perpetrators and extent of damages are unknown.
The firm's relationship with the new Southern government continued. On September 2, 1861, Boyle, Gamble & Macfee+ were granted a patent (No. 18) by the Confederate States Patent Office to make a sword bayonets that attached to shoulder arms. Further, the April 17, 1862 Daily Enquirer reported that Boyle, Gamble & Co was making a large supply of swords for the establishment of Mitchell & Tyler, which was under contract with the Confederate States government. The following September, a contract was made between Boyle, Gamble & Co. and Maj. Stansbury, commander of the Richmond Armory and Arsenal for the production of sword-sabre bayonets.
The firm's products during the war years were not limited to edged weaponry. They also made axes, curry combs, shoe hammers, and - in a magnificent leap from the utilitarian to the unique - the handle of the seal used by the Confederate States Treasury Department. Still, they were known then and are known now for their high-grade swords. Of these, the most beautiful are the handsomely etched presentation swords bestowed upon Maj. Gen William Mahone and other such personages as Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Harris, Gen. John McCausland, and Maj. J. Thompson Brown.
On April 9, 1862, the Daily Dispatch reported having seen Maj. Brown's ornate sword and closed with: "The best of it is, that it was all made in the Southern Confederacy, and intended as an instrument to punish the enemies of that Confederacy." It is quite likely that Maj. Gen. Mahone's sword is the last Boyle & Gamble blade of which that could be said. Presented as it was just weeks before the fall of Richmond, the flight of Jefferson Davis, and the surrender at Appomattox, it likely represents our last glimpse of the true Confederate-made swords of the war. Further, of the scored of blades of this type this author examined, it is without equal in workmanship. It is not without irony that the Confederacy should reach its apex in sword-making as the government reached its nadir.
William Mahone, recipient of the sword, was a true son of the Old Dominion. Born in Southhampton County, Virginia, on December 1, 1826, and educated at Virginia Military Institute, he studied engineering while a teacher at Rappahannock Military Academy. He went on to engineer several Virginia railroads, and at the outbreak of war was president and superintendent of the Norfolk & Petersburg Railroad. When Virginia seceded, he was quick to cast his lot with the fledgling Confederacy and was almost immediately appointed colonel of the 6th Virginia Infantry, in which capacity he commanded at the capture of Norfolk.
Promoted to brigadier general on November 16, 1861, he served continuously with the Army of Northern Virginia throughout the rest of the war, from Seven Pines to the Crater. The only battle missing on his impressive wartime resume is Antietam, at which time Mahone was recovering from wounds suffered at the Battle of Second Manassas. White physically small of stature, being referred to as "Little Billy Mahone," he seemed to grow with his responsibilities. By war's end, he had risen to the rank of major general and was one of only three division commanders till alive at Appomattox, by which time he had become one of Lee's most trusted lieutenants. In the years after the war, Lee is said to have felt that of the surviving leaders in the army, Mahone made the largest contribution to organization and command.
In fact, Mahone's contribution to the Cause did not precisely end with the surrender: a surviving manuscript he wrote between 1890 and 1894 sheds much light on the waning days of the war. Writing first in pencil, then in pen, on stationery from the Hotel Chamberlin on McPherson Square in Washington, Mahone began. "In compliance with your request I give you an account of what I saw and heard from Gen Lee's lines covering Richmond and Petersburg to the close of his army's career at Appomattox."
This document - in all, 73 pages of painstaking longhand script - has come down to us as a model of recollective powers and careful description. It also reveals the scrappy attitude and dogged determination that made Mahone a valued fighter, a successful commander, and ultimately a survivor in the War Between the States. The document offers us the single best account of the Appomattox as witness by a high-ranking officer of the Third Corps. It is, by tunes, poignant and pugnacious:
"After the completion of the details of surrender, which were my part, I went over to Gen Lee's Headquarters to bid him good bye [April 10]. I sat with him in the front part of his tent. He was obviously full of grief - offering however no out [ward] signed beyond the watering eye.... Gen. Lee observed that he had advised the Confederate authorities at the start - that the contest on which we had entered could not be over estimated and our chance to win was to be found by throwing the whole military or fighting power of the Confederacy vigorously into the struggle - which while not saying so, he manifestly thought had not been done."
"In the winter preceding the evacuation he [Lee] said that he advised Mr. Davis to come to terms - that it would be impossible from him when spring came and the campaign opened, for him to get away. Roads bad and transportation poor, while the army confronting him was full handed and fresh with every means of earnest pursuit at hand: and Mr. Davis he replied no you must fight. I stated to Gen. Lee that just then he had made a mistake. That he was in fact the Confederacy - enjoying the affectionate confidence of all that there was of it - and he should have taken matters in [his] own hands-held a conference with his officers - told them the situation and they would have commissioned him in behalf of the army to see Grant and effect a settlement. He replied, but there was the government at Richmond and I said yes, and I would have taken my division down and dispersed it.
Mahone's reminiscence of Lee in those last days is plain-spoken yet eloquent:
"He was the most [hansom] specimen and proudest man I ever saw. He had no appreciation of a joke. Polite, but stern and matter of fact in all things. His long service in the regular army had [left] him with a reverence for authority and a rigid respect for rules and regulation which were unfortunate and hurt full for one in command of [an] army of revolution. He should have gone to the field unfettered and his mere [wish] should have been the law.
The manuscript contains a host of such gems, not the least of which is a suggestion that Lee may have had a premonition of his own death, a notion that more than one contemporary write has made much of: At Amelia Co Ho early next morning [April 5] ... He wore all his best clothes - including his gold spurs and magnificent sword and belt. It impressed me that he anticipated some accident to himself and desired to be found in that dress.
Mahone himself likely had no premonition whatsoever of the events that occurred the previous summer at Petersburg, Virginia - events unlike any other in the war, events that helped endear him to Lee, events that led the grateful people of the beleaguered town of Petersburg to present him with the Boyle & Gamble sword. One June 25, 1864, a Union regiment made up of pre-war coal mines from Schuykill County, Pennsylvania, took shovels in hand and began to dig in the red clay of Virginia. They dug for nearly a month, completing a 586' tunnel that was 5' in height and had two lateral galleries totaling 75' - right under the Confederate trenches at Petersburg. "Clap-trap nonsense," the Union engineers had initially said of the plan to blast the Confederate lines from beneath. Nevertheless, for the next four days the subterranean chambers were filled with 320 kegs of powder. Union Maj. Gen Ambrose Burnside had three division commanders draw straws for who would spearhead the assault after the explosion. Brig. Gen James H. Ledlie, perhaps the worst general ever don a blue uniform, picked the short one.
At 4:45 on the morning of July 30, over a month after the first earth was turned for the tunnel, four tons of powder exploded, tossing nine companies of the 19th and 22nd South Carolina into the air. The crater that resulted from the blast measured 170' long and 30' deep. The shocked Confederates on either side fled in panic.
Into the valley of death rushed Ledlie's division - a grievous tactical error. Had they formed around the crater instead of rushing into it, the outcome might have been different. The Confederates regrouped, and soon Southern artillery was raking the Federals trapped in the hollowed-out bowl of earth. It was rather like shooting ducks in a barrel when, by 8:00 that morning, Mahone's seasoned men had sealed the breach in the Confederate lines and surrounded the crater, which was becoming a gaping grave. By 1:00 PM, the Confederates had successfully pushed the surviving Yankees back to their lines. The Union forms suffered 3,798 losses; the Confederacy, some 1,500.
The Crater was only one - if inarguably the loudest - action in the ten-month siege that was the Petersburg Campaign, the longest sustained operation of the war. As the war drew close, the grateful citizenry of Petersburg responded to Mahone's consistent displays of leadership in the campaign by commissioning the Boyle & Gamble sword, appropriately etched:
MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM MAHONE
BY THE CITIZENS OF PETERSBURG, VA
IN APPRECIATION OF HIS SKILL ENERGY
IN DEFENSE OF THEIR CITY DURING THE CAMPAIGN OF
The sword was presented in a black walnut box lined in blue fabric, and it was accompanied by a red sash and generals officer's sword belt replete with an interlocking Virginia buckle. The sword was wrapped in a green wool casing with a drawstring top.
The slightly curved scabbard measure 35" and has a steel body brazed along the lower reverse side. It is complemented by a glided throat, top mount (with ring), center mount (with ring), and drag. All of these are gently scalloped.
The throat shows a "C"- scroll and floral motif engraving, and the top mount of the sword bears a rendition of the state seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia and a sword-and-wreath motif. This coppery hue of the top mount gives ample evidence that it possesses a greater copper content than the other mountings. (Copper was in relatively good supply in the South and was put to uses both practical and decorative.)
The center mount is emblazoned atop with the Confederate battle flag within a wreath; the lower motif is a bugle and bayonet crossed in front of a drum.
The drag features a plumed helmet as the centerpiece in panoply of symbols: an array of lances and trophy flags, a shield bearing the sign of the rising sun of the Confederacy, a quiver of arrows, and a mace. Below this intricate assemblage is yet another highly decorative design that terminates the engraved beauty of the scabbard.
The regulation slightly curved blade measure 33 ¾", and the maker's name - "BOYLE & GAMBLE / RICHMOND VA" - appears proudly on the ricasso of the reverse. Unlike most other Boyle & Gamble blades, the fuller is stopped rather than tapered. Continuing toward its point, the ornately etched blade bears a floral motif, a border of cross-hatching, and a depiction of various military symbols that include a shield, drums, a quiver of arrows, a crossbow, a highly stylized furled Confederate flag, and a pennant on a staff. Further up is the aforementioned presentation panel. Decorative diagonal etching appears on the back of blade along its length.
On the hiltmost end of the blade's obverse there is a floral design and cross-hatching that echoes that one the reverse. The letters "CS" are topped by a standing figure described as the Goddess of Liberty, who carries a drawn dagger in her right hand and hold an unfurled Confederate flag in her left. Flowing up from that design is more floral work, which terminates in the symbol of the rising sun of the Confederacy, much as it appeared on the aforementioned drag of the scabbard. It is worthy of note here that an 1863 Richmond Enquirer article concerning the presentation of a Boyle & Gamble sword to Col. R.W. Martin, 53rd Virginia Regiment, carries the following description: "The scabbard is of steel, and the tail bands and bars plated with gold and carved with ingenious devices on either side, such as the Goddess of Liberty with drawn dagger, the rising sun of the Confederacy, together with the Confederate flag and battle flag crossed..." The similarities in motif are striking.
The hilt, which measures 6", is of the staff officer's style, which boasts one more branch than that of a foot officer's sword. Within the upper branches is the openwork CS; floral openwork appears between both branches. (These sword hilts echo those of the regulation Union staff officer's swords - with, of course, the substitution of "CS" for the Federal "US.") The quillion terminates with a scroll of motif, and knuckle bow terminates at the rear of the hilt at the pommel cap, which displays a floral motif along its from edge. The pommel cap is domed to receive the tang of the blade, which was peened over to seat it. The grip is wrapped with black leather and has a fine-grade twisted wire bordered by a single strand of wire on either side.
Having done his part for his home state when it was part of the short-lived Confederacy, Mahone went on to serve Virginia after the war as well. He returned to his railroad, which is today known as the Norfolk & Western system, and became active in politics. Although defeated several times in his bid for office, he characteristically preserved and in 1880 was elected senator on the Readjuster ticket, which was essentially the Virginia version of Republican. He was active in Virginia political affairs until his death in Washington, D.C., on October 8, 1895. Little Billy Mahone was laid to rest at Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia.
Boyle & Gamble continued to operate after the war, as they are present in the Tredegar Company's business records of 1866 and in post-war Richmond business directories, but their products after Appomattox cannot, of course, be called Confederate.
Just as William Mahone was a survivor, several of his possessions survive. Among these are his copies of Scott's Infantry Tactics, Vol. I, inscribed "William Mahone, V.M.I."; his New York- manufactured boots; his gold suspender clasps with his name engraved; and a gold watch marked Richmond & Tyler, Virginia. But it is his presentation sword that is the finest of these artifacts. The exceptionally fine workmanship alone puts it without peer, and the sterling reputation of its original owner adds extra luster. Even so, its greatest significance lies in the fact that it is likely the last truly Confederate-made sword, skillfully fashioned of enduring metal even as the Confederacy itself dissolved.
Presentation of a sword to Major Gen. Mahone - The sword, belt and sash, ordered by the citizens of Petersburg for Maj. Gen. W.M. Mahone, was presented to that brave and veteran officer on Saturday afternoon near his headquarters in Chesterfield Co. The presentation took place in the presence of a large assemblage of officer's, soldiers, citizens and ladies, who gathers together to witness the pleasing event.
Following official reports of campaign of 1864 ending October 27, 1864. Captured 6,704 prisoners, 15 pieces of artillery, 42 colors, 4,867 small arms, 235 horses, 49 wagons & ambulances, 537 slaves.
Inflicted a loss of 17,704 men. His own loss was 5,248.
Provenance: The Tharpe Collection of American Military History
Published: The American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin - Number 72. North South Trader's Civil War - Volume XXIV, Number 6.
Exhibited: The Liberty Heritage Society Museum
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