History in the hand: US Civil War Sword

An Australian with a legit American Civil War word? It makes more sense than you might think. Read up. Mad Duo

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As some of you might have noticed, swords are a big part of my life. I have sixteen years of kendo under my belt, which gave me a good appreciation for swordplay (and much-needed discipline). More came later, but I’m going to keep the personal stuff in the bedroom!

The main reason I got so into swords was that my family always had swords. Traveling all over the world we collected them, as well as knives and the like, from markets and antique shops. No sword in the collection was as important or special as the one I’m going to show you.

Whilst I was born here in the Land Downunder, my father was American, from a proud military family, dating back pretty much all the way back to the Continental Army if family legend is to be believed. His family was from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and one of our ancestors was an Officer during the Civil War. This was their sword.


My family heirloom is an M1850 Foot Officer Sword made by Schuyler, Hartley, and Graham in New York, and was forged somewhere between 1861-65. (Thanks http://www.civilwarpreservations.com for the info).


The brass guard still shows signs of what is probably gold leaf in its etchings and has a real elegance to its shape, as well as being solid enough to not only keep your fingers intact but also make friends and influence people who get inside your sword-swing range. The grip is twisted wire wrapped gutta-percha which is a natural latex-based material, cutting edge for the time. It shows signs of age, with some of the wood handle peeking through.


Both sides of the 29.5″ blade are covered in amazing engraving panels, US Eagle and foliate (that’s leaves and such) on one side, with the Eagle carrying the “E_pluribus_unum” motto of the United States.


The reverse of the blade is etched with more foliate, swords, spears, axe and a shield with a clear message for the wielder: “Stand by the Union”. So it was pretty clear which side of that conflict my ancestor was on. The etching is beautiful, but in no way diminishes the efficacy of this sword. I’m always amazed at how well it’s held up being over 150 years old.


The Model 1850 Army Staff and Field Officer’s Sword was carried by all members of staff departments, Field Grade officers of Artillery and Infantry, Company Grade Officers of Light Artillery, Staff Officers and Aides-de-Camp between 1850 and 1872. I have no idea what rank and position my ancestor served in, but with my experience with swords, having this one in-hand gave me a good feel.

At 1.6 kg (3.7lbs) I’ve held far less wieldy blades. Somewhere in its history, its taken some heavy hits to the cutting edge. Whether in combat, or overzealous teenage uncles and great-grandfathers, I couldn’t say. It wasn’t me. At least, not THIS sword, anyway. It’s not kitchen-knife sharp, nor dagger pointy either, but even 150 years on this would ruin your day if introduced into your person with any intent.



Based on a French pattern, even though other swords were allowed by regulation, this model was by far the most popular sword carried by officers during the Civil War (thanks http://www.regtqm.com/). The brazed steel scabbard has kept it well protected, and I have given it some pretty good sword-care (like here) over the years since it came into my personal care, when I turned thirty, as I did for the other swords in the family collection from my late teens. I keep it wrapped in silk when it’s not posing for photos, and hopefully, it will keep being passed down through my family over the generations to come.
I’m proud to have this piece of American history in my collection, doubly so because it’s my family’s honor sword.
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Apocalypse Josh

Josh Orth is a second generation expat currently dwelling in the arguably civilized outskirts of Melbourne, Australia. He's lived in deserts, jungles and urban sprawls around the world and traveled/adventured into assorted inhospitable places around the world and has a keen sense of the speed with which the trappings of 'civilized Western life' can disappear. This has led him to begin writing about his interests and observations when it comes to the gear, skills and other necessities of self reliance of being equipped for whatever a capricious, occasionally indurate life might throw at him. This isn't by any means to say our eccentric friend actually longs for life in dystopia, but if he had to he might not complain. Read more by Josh at Apocalypse Equipped.

Apocalypse Josh has 61 posts and counting. See all posts by Apocalypse Josh

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