Lot #1156
Lot #1158

Lot 1157: Dr. Sykes' Confederate Leech & Rigdon Cavalry Officer's Saber

Auction Location: Rock Island, IL

Auction Date: December 5, 2020

Lot 1157: Dr. Sykes' Confederate Leech & Rigdon Cavalry Officer's Saber

Auction Location: Rock Island, IL

Auction Date: December 5, 2020

Estimated Price: $35,000 - $55,000
Price Realized:

Historic Confederate Leech & Rigdon Cavalry Officer's Saber with Etched Blade Inscription and Original Scabbard Owned by Dr. William E. Sykes of the 43rd Regiment of Mississippi Volunteers Whose Death Helped Inspire Memorial Day

Manufacturer: None
Model: None
Type: Other
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Item Views: 2118
Item Interest: Very Active
Catalog Page: 129
Class: Other
Description:

Leech & Rigdon swords and their famous revolvers are important pieces in any advanced collection of Confederate arms, and inscribed weapons with identified original owners are especially historically significant and valuable artifacts and worthy of inclusion in advanced private and institutional collections. There are less than 10 examples of this exact pattern of Confederate cavalary officers' sabers known. This example has the very rare combination of the full firm name etched and an inscription to a Confederate surgeon. Also etched is his regiment. The Columbus, Mississippi, address for Leech & Rigdon is extremely rare. Thomas Leech was active as early as 1857 as a weapons dealer and cotton broker, and, in September of 1861, Thomas Leech & Co. established the "Memphis Novelty Works." He was soon joined scale maker and machinist Charles Rigdon from St. Louis, Missouri, and they manufacture edged weapons and brass castings for the Confederacy. The firm evacuated twice. First, they relocated to Columbus, Mississippi, where this sword was manufactured, by May 1862, and then they relocated to Greensboro, Georgia, in late 1862. They abandoned edge weapons manufacturing to focus on their famous revolvers. The sword was owned by Dr. William E. Sykes and comes with a file of information about the doctor, including copies of original service documents such as muster rolls, pay records, and more. Dr. William E. Sykes (1835-1864) was born and later killed in Decatur, Alabama, and studied at the University of Virginia and University of Pennsylvania. He practiced medicine in 1855-1858 before being given a plantation in Tallahatchie by his father and was married in Columbus where this sword was made in 1860 on the eve of the war. He first served the Confederacy as a surgeon but then joined the cavalry as a private before transferring again to the 43rd Mississippi Infantry as a first lieutenant and adjutant. They were known as the "Camel Regiment" thanks to a camel that carried their musical instruments as well as the "Bloody 43rd." They served within the Army of the West under General Sterling Price. Sykes was captured at Vicksburg by Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863, and quickly paroled. A copy of his parole from July 7, 1863, is included. The regiment was then moved to Enterprise, Mississippi, and Dr. Sykes likely returned home until late August. He was killed in October 1864 during the defense of his hometown against advancing Union forces. He was struck in the abdomen by a shell from a 10-lbs Parrot rifle. His brother, Lt. Colonel Columbus Sykes, ran to his brother's side, but Dr. Sykes pronounced his own wound mortal. He died at 10:00 a.m. on October 27, 1864, reportedly in the very room in which he was born and was buried in Friendship Cemetery in Columbus, Mississippi. It is not clear what happened to his sword at that point, but it is known that Columbus Sykes travelled with his brother's remains to attend the funeral and then took leave to visit the family. He may have brought it home to Dr. Sykes' wife Augusta and her young children, and then it may have been passed on down to his son when he was older. Lt. Col. Sykes himself died on January 7, 1865, after being crushed by a falling tree. After the war, Augusta Sykes was one of four women in Columbus who organized the first decoration of the graves of both the Union and Confederate dead in the cemetery in Columbus out of respect on April 25, 1866. The act received national attention and is one of the events that inspired Memorial Day. It also is credited with inspiring Francis Miles Finch to write the well-known poem "The Blue and the Grey." Note the passage: "From the silence of sorrowful hours The desolate mourners go, Lovingly laden with flowers Alike for the friend and the foe..." The brass hilt has floral accents, and the designs match the drawing on page 81 of "Confederate Edged Weapons" by Albaugh. The shape of the scabbard bands matches the illustration on page 79. The grip is wire wrapped leather, and the curved blade is 32 1/2 inches long measured straight from the hilt to the tip and has broad fullers, floral and Confederate themed etching on the right flanking the etched inscription "Dr Wm E, Sykes./43rf Reg'/Mississippi Volunteers," "LEECH/&/RIGDON/Columbus,/Miss." etched on the right ricasso, and a leather washer with scalloped edge. The scabbard is the Leech & Rigdon officer's pattern and has distinctive brass mounts on an iron body.

Rating Definition:

Fine. The etched panels on the blade still display a high percentage of the original "frosty" etched background and are very distinct, a rare feature on C.S. swords. The brass on the hilt and scabbard presents attractive, natural aged patina with minor marks and scratches visible overall, consistent with its age and actual field use. The grip have moderate handling wear including some wood showing through. The iron body of the scabbard has dark brown patina and textured oxidation. The blade displays mottled gray patina, distinct etching including the inscription, and mild overall wear including some nicks at the edges of the blade. This is an incredibly rare sword. Leech & Rigdon swords are desirable Confederate and Civil War collectibles and historical relics. An inscribed sword identified as owned by a Southern officer is certainly even more desirable, and the fact that Dr. Sykes' death inspired his wife to decorate both his grave and those of his fallen Union counterparts, an act that helped inspire Memorial Day, makes this a truly historic artifact relevant to both the war itself and post-war reconciliation.



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