Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1117: George McClellan's Presentation Model 1840 Officer's Sword

Auction Date: May 15, 2021

Historic, Documented Ames Gilt and Silver Mounted Model 1840 Foot Infantry Officer's Sword and Scabbard with Presentation Inscription to George B. McClellan, Later General-in-Chief of the Union Armies, Citing His Leadership in the Mexican-American War

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $75,000 - $150,000

Historic, Documented Ames Gilt and Silver Mounted Model 1840 Foot Infantry Officer's Sword and Scabbard with Presentation Inscription to George B. McClellan, Later General-in-Chief of the Union Armies, Citing His Leadership in the Mexican-American War

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Model: None
Type: Other
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Catalog Page: 84
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This historic sword was presented to George B. McClellan before his rise to General-in-Chief of the United States Army. He is one of only four men to serve as General-in-Chief, alongside Winfield Scott, Henry Halleck, and Ulysses S. Grant. All of these men were appointed by President Abraham Lincoln. Like many of the leading officers of the Civil War, he first saw battle in the Mexican-American War, and this sword was presented in recognition of his contributions during that war. The gilt metal scabbard has the inscription "Presented to "Lieut Geo B. Mc Clellan of the Corps of/Sappers & Miners U.S.A. by a Number of Gentlemen/as a testimonial of their high admiration for his gallantry during the war with MEXICO. 1st at the Siege of/VERA CRUZ, 2d Battle of CERO GORDO, 3d Battle of CONTRERAS/4th Battle of CHURUBUSCO, 5th CHAPULTEPEC, 6th Capture of/the City of MEXICO." between the ornate wreath and acanthus leaf pattern suspension bands. The scabbard also has scroll engraving, a complex design that includes arms, a liberty pole, and a large arrow on the lower section of the body; oak leaves and acorns near the tip, and a floral pattern drag. The reverse of the scabbard is signed "Bailey & Co/Phila/BY/Ames Mfg Co/Chicopee/Mass." The gilded brass hilt has a special silver plated copper plate with a bald eagle and panoply of arms on the obverse languet, folding reverse languet, scroll and floral patterns, a amethyst stone in the pommel cap, and a silver grip with a liberty pole and arms engraved on the obverse and a bald eagle, fasces, and leaf pattern on the reverse. The 32 1/4 inch straight blade has long single fullers, elaborate etching on the lower 18 3/4 inches of the blade consisting of floral, martial, and patriotic motifs; "Ames Mfg Co/Chicopee/Mass." etched above the obverse ricasso, and floral etched spine. Retailer Bailey & Co. later became the famous as the jewelers Bailey, Biddle & Banks and were tasked with updating the Great Seal of the United States. The presentation of this sword is documented in the New Orleans Crescent on May 10, 1849, in a brief article which states: "SWORD PRESENTED.- A handsome sword has been presented to Lieut. G. B. McClellan, of the Sappers and Miners, for his gallant conduct in Mexico, by a number of his friends in Philadelphia." The order for the sword is also listed on page 127 of "The Ames Sword Company, 1829-1935" by Hamilton where it is shown as ordered on December 20, 1848, by "B. & Co. Phila" (Bailey & Co.) for $110 for "Captain McClellan." Bailey & Co. dates back to 1832 when the firm was founded by Joseph Trowbridge Bailey and Andrew B. Kitchen at 136 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. They were jewelers and importers and dealers in silver and other fancy goods. McClellan famously received several very fine presentation swords during his military career, but few of McClellan's presentation swords remain in private hands. Some have long been retained by the most prestigious American museums. Nine swords were given to the National Museum of American History by George B. McClellan Jr. in 1917. One of those is another Bailey & Co. marked sword presented to McClellan in 1861 by the City of Philadelphia (accession #: 65865) and another was presented to McClellan on February 5, 1863, by the citizens of Boston (accession #: 61384). These remain in the museum collection. The current sword is referenced in the articles from 1917 about McClellan's swords being donated to the Smithsonian: "The other swords in the collection commemorate his Mexican war service, one dress sword having been presented to him by 'a number of gentlemen as a testimonial of their high admiration for his gallantry during the war with Mexico. First at the siege of Vera Cruz; second, the battle of Cero Gordo; third, battle of Contreras; fourth, battle of Churubusco; fifth, Chapultepec; sixth, capture of the City of Mexico.'" The sword appears to have had something fitted over top of the original inscription at one time, possibly for McClellan later presenting to sword to a member of his staff, but it was returned to McClellan's family before at least 1917 based on the articles discussing the swords put on display at the National Museum of American History. The precise duration of its time on display at the museum and when it was removed and reentered private hands is not known. Major General George Brinton McClellan (1826-1885) was born in Philadelphia and was one of the most significant leaders during the Civil War as one of just four men to serve as General-in-Chief of the Union Armies. His military career began nearly two decades earlier when he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1842. McClellan showed great promise and graduated second in his class in 1846. Many of his classmates also went on to become generals, many on the Confederate side during the Civil War, including Major General George Pickett who finished last in his class. McClellan joined the Corps of Engineers as a brevet second lieutenant in during the Mexican-American War and served under General Winfield Scott. He was described as being fearless and gallant under fire and received brevet promotions to first lieutenant and captain. He returned to West Point as an instructor and was also assigned to explore potential routes for the transcontinental railroad and went abroad as an observer during the Crimean War before resigning in 1857 in order to work for the Illinois Central Railroad, the same railroad Abraham Lincoln represented during his law career. He responded to the call to arms when the Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter and the Civil War began and placed as a major general directly under General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, his commander in the previous war. He took command of the Army of the Potomac after the Union's humiliating defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run and reshaped the army into a serious fighting force. When General Scott retired in November 1861, McClellan became General-in-Chief of the Union Armies, and the Union's future was far from certain with Confederate forces lurking on the doorsteps of the nation's capital and poised to take it. He clashed with Lincoln who demanded McClellan crush the Confederate forces as quickly as possible. McClellan later wrote, “It has always been my opinion that the true course in conducting military operations, is to make no movement until the preparations are as complete as circumstances permit, and never to fight a battle without some definite object worth the probable loss.” With such a view, it is easy to see why the men he sent into battle loved him, but it is also easy to see why Lincoln and others who wanted a quick and resounding victory were frustrated by his cautious action. Like General George Washington in the American Revolution, McClellan recognized that he could not win the war if he lost his army. McClellan's attacks on Lee's forces near Sharpsburg, Maryland, could hardly be said to have lacked aggression. Less than 65 miles from the nation's capital, on the single bloodiest day in American history at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, McClellan ordered massive assaults on the Confederates who were in superior defensive positions along Antietam Creek. These assaults led to the loss of 25% of his army but also led to the loss 31% of Lee's forces and succeeded in driving Lee back into Virginia. Instead of regrouping and pursuing Lee, McClellan held back despite Lincoln personally pressuring him to give chase. McClellan was arguably justly cautious given his men had just been through hell and were not prepared to begin an arduous pursuit that would culminate in another massive battle. Lee himself later said McClellan was the ablest general of the entire war. Had the Confederates managed to secure more victories in the late summer and early fall of 1864, McClellan very well could have become president. Even with the Union victories in the Atlanta campaign, McClellan still secured 45% of the popular vote against Lincoln.

Rating Definition:

Very fine. 85% of the original gold remains on the guard and pommel. The languet plate has traces of silver and otherwise attractive natural aged patina. The silver grip has crisp engraving and attractive natural aged patina. 90% of the period replaced gold finish remains on the scabbard. The exposed brass where the finish has worn at the edges shows deep aged patina. There are some scratches and traces of what appear to be solder at the inscription on the scabbard suggesting something was once fitted over top of the original inscription, and there are some additional minor scratches and dings further down. The blade has a mix of bright surfaces and mottled gray patina and retains distinct etching.

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