Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 170: Ames 1852 Officer's Sword of Jame R. Wheeler of the Kearsarge

Auction Date: May 3, 2019

National Treasure Worthy Documented Historic Cased Bespoke Ames Mfg. Co. Presentation Grade Model 1852 Officer’s Sword with Dress and Regulation Scabbards Presented to Acting Master James R. Wheeler of the U.S.S. Kearsarge for Service in the Capturing of the C.S.S. Alabama

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $75,000 - $125,000

National Treasure Worthy Documented Historic Cased Bespoke Ames Mfg. Co. Presentation Grade Model 1852 Officer’s Sword with Dress and Regulation Scabbards Presented to Acting Master James R. Wheeler of the U.S.S. Kearsarge for Service in the Capturing of the C.S.S. Alabama

Manufacturer: None
Model: None
Type: Other
Item Views: 2052
Item Interest: Very Active
Catalog Page: 96
Class: Other

This extraordinary "National Treasure" sword is photographed and discussed in both "U.S. Naval Officers: Their Swords and Dirks" by Peter Tuite and "Small Arms of the Sea Service" by Colonel Robert H. Rankin. The presentation of the sword set is also documented in the "National Republican" on Dec. 9, 1864, which states: "An elegant silver handled sword, subscribed for by a number of gentlemen in State Street, Boston, has been presented to Acting Master James R. Wheeler, of the Kearsarge, who was officer of the day at the time of the memorable engagement with the Alabama. The inscription on the dress scabbard is as follows: "James R. Wheeler/Acting Master of U.S. Ship Kearsarge/as a testimonial for his Services in the her/engagement with Alabama June 19, 1864." This sword set is arguably the finest known Ames naval presentation sword extant both in terms of period ornamentation and current condition. The fact that it is also tied to one of the most famous naval engagements of the Civil War makes it truly extraordinary. The 28 3/4 inch slightly curved blade has detailed etching running from above the ricasso to 6 inches from the point. The etching also extends down the spine. The patterns are a mix of U.S. Navy and floral patterns, including a bald eagle perched on a naval carronade. The right side above the ricasso has the etched "Ames Mfg. Co./Chicopee/Mass" maker's mark. The hilt is gilded and has a sea serpent/dolphin head finial and knuckle guard accents, winged stand of arms on the scrollwork guard, oak leaves and acorns at the base of the pommel, and a bald eagle and anchor surrounded by "E PLURIBUS UNUM" on the pommel cap. The silver grip is extensively engraved with acanthus scrollwork throughout and a naval themed stand of arms that includes a trident on the right. It has both regulation style sharkskin and gilded brass scabbard and an all gilded metal dress scabbard. Both have hand engraved maker's marks. The dress scabbard includes a mythical beast on the drag that may represent a sea-wyvern and/or the Leviathan of the Torah/Old Testament, a woman's face surrounded by floral work over a panoply of arms (likely Amphitrite, goddess of the sea and wife of Poseidon), Poseidon holding a trident and laurel of victory surrounded by scrollwork engraved on the body, a bearded male face and a female face flanking the designs on both suspension bands (also likely representing Poseidon and Amphitrite), a group of naval ships conducting a fort bombardment on the lower band, a pair of fouled anchors on the upper band, "Made by Ames Mfg. Co. Chicopee, Mass." engraved in a banner on the reverse below the mouthpiece, and scrollwork surrounding the following presentation inscription between the bands: "James R. Wheeler/Acting Master of U.S. Ship Kearsarge/as a testimonial for his Services in her/engagement with the Alabama June 19th 1864." The lead ship depicted in the suspension band scene was identified as the U.S.S. Kearsarge by both Rankin and Tuite, but the battle shown appears to be the Battle of Port Royal in 1861. The sword and two scabbards are contained within a presentation case with silver fittings. James R. Wheeler (1825-1870) was a Massachusetts resident and was appointed on October 29, 1861, and served as the acting master of the First Division aboard the U.S.S. Kearsarge during its famous victory over the C.S.S. Alabama off of the coast of Cherbourg, France, on June 19th, 1864. The Alabama had been successfully raiding Union merchant ships and was thus called a pirate by Union officials. Before being cornered at Cherbourg by the U.S.S. Kearsarge, Captain Raphael Semmes and his crew is recorded as boarding nearly 450 vessels, capturing and/or burning some 65 Union merchant ships, and taking over 2,000 prisoners. Semmes knew he would have to fight the Kearsarge when he left Cherbourg Harbor and drilled his men in preparation. The turning battle just off the coast of France lasted an hour but was the result of the Kearsarge's crew stalking the Alabama for two years. During the battle, Semmes' men fired approximately 370 shots without inflicting significant damage in part due to poor munitions. The slower, more deliberate, and therefore more accurate gunnery of the crew of the Kearsarge, including in particular the powerful starboard 11-inch Dahlgren gun manned by Master Wheeler's command, and better munitions disabled and ultimately sunk the Alabama. The Kearsarge's crew lost one man to his wounds the following day while the Confederate's suffered 19 dead and 70 captured. Captain Semmes and approximately 40 others escaped when they were rescued by the British yacht Deerhound which Captain Winslow had signaled to aid his defeated adversary. The Kearsarge's crew was justly incensed that the British yacht did not deliver Semmes and the others to them as prisoners but Winslow prevented the crew from firing upon the yacht. Semmes eventually made his way back to the Confederate States and was placed on the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia II and in command of the James River Squadron after receiving a promotion to rear admiral. In his after-action report as acting master of the First Division, Wheeler wrote: "In obedience to your order I respectfully report that during the recent engagement with the Alabama the men of the first division, comprising the 11-inch forward pivot gun and rifle upon forecastle, without a single exception, displayed coolness and fortitude to a degree not anticipated under the excitement of receiving an enemy's fire. Indeed, I cannot sufficiently express my commendation of their performance of duty. While I render to every man a praise so justly merited, I would make especial mention of James Haley, captain, John F. Bickford, first loader, Charles A. Read, first sponger, Edward Wilt, second sponger, of pivot gun, for their deliberation and coolness during the discharge of their respective duties. The marine guard, stationed at the rifle gun openly exposed to the fire of the Alabama, showed great coolness and efficiency in the discharge of their respective duties." Haley, Bickford, and Read were among the 17 sailors who received the Medal of Honor for their actions on the Kearsarge that day. Likewise, Captain John A. Winslow of the Kearsarge wrote to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles commending his men, particularly Wheeler, writing: "The divisions commanded by Acting Masters James R. Wheeler, Eben. M. Stoddard, and David H. Sumner were all well served, the officers in command setting an example of coolness and zeal worthy of commendation. And I beg to refer particularly to the services of Acting Master James R. Wheeler, who, in connection with the action, has been otherwise active in command of the Annette, and on other duty in the [English] Channel during the past severe winter; and his efficiency as an officer being of the highest standard, I deem a special mention in his cases should be made." As a result of their service, the crew of the Kearsarge received the official "Thanks of Congress" on December 20, 1864. After attempting to locate the C.S.S. Florida, the Kearsarge headed to the Caribbean and from there to Boston. She was decommissioned for repairs at Boston on November 26, 1864, a couple of weeks before the sword presentation was reported. By July of 1865, Wheeler was promoted to acting volunteer lieutenant and was placed in command of the U.S.S. Preston in recognition for his role in sinking the Alabama. The Preston served in the Gulf of Mexico in the West Gulf Blockading Squadron from February until the ship was recalled to Philadelphia on July 25, 1865, after the conclusion of the war. Wheeler was later granted an invalid pension for a hernia received during the battle with the Alabama. He held multiple government positions and was appointed as consul of the United States at Kingston, Jamaica, by President Grant on December 6, 1869, and died while serving there on April 8, 1870. Provenance: Previously in the collections of Norm Flayderman, John Rhinaldi, and Bill Koch.

Rating Definition:

Excellent overall. The sword and accessories have clearly been taken care of throughout its life and retain nearly all of the original bright gold exterior, distinct etching and other designs, mild storage wear, bright non-etched portions of the blade with some expected light scratches and marks, limited surface oxidation concentrated mostly by the maker's mark on the right side of the otherwise excellent blade, attractive aged patina on the silver grip, and slight handling and storage marks. The case is fine and has a few storage marks and scratches throughout the exterior, a chip on the lower left edge, deep aged patina on the silver, a few tears in the lining mainly at the hilt and drag points, and the expected wear of the fabric for its age. This is an absolutely outstanding and historic sword connected to one of the most famous Union naval victories of the Civil War.

Customer Product Questions

There are currently no customer product questions on this lot