Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1204: Officer's Sword Inscribed to Confederate Gen. W.H.F. Payne

Auction Date: September 11, 2021

Historic Civil War W.H. Horstmann & Sons Presentation Model 1850 Staff & Field Officer's Sword and Scabbard Inscribed to Confederate Brigadier General William H. F. Payne by Major General Thomas L. Rosser for "Distinguished Gallantry on the Field" during the Famous Raid on New Creek, West Virginia

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $50,000 - $70,000

Historic Civil War W.H. Horstmann & Sons Presentation Model 1850 Staff & Field Officer's Sword and Scabbard Inscribed to Confederate Brigadier General William H. F. Payne by Major General Thomas L. Rosser for "Distinguished Gallantry on the Field" during the Famous Raid on New Creek, West Virginia

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Catalog Page: 160
Class: Other

This is one of three swords inscribed for Confederate generals from Virginia in this sale from the same collection. Each of these swords includes a copy of the research paper "The Payne/Hunton Family Swords of Gen. William Henry Fitzhugh Payne, CSA & Gen. Eppa Hunton, CSA" by Nancy Dearing Rossbacher, the managing editor of "North South Trader's Civil War Magazine" and "The Civil War Collector's Price Guide." The paper covers all three swords and details how they are related. William Fitzhugh Payne (1830-1904) and Eppa Hunton (1822-1908) were related through the marriage of General Hunton's son Eppa Hunton Jr. (1855-1932) to first Minerva "Erva" Winston Payne (1861-1897) and later Virginia Semmes Payne (1867-1941), both daughters of General Payne. Rossbacher notes that the swords were passed down through the family. Both men were prominent Confederate generals from Virginia and saw action during the war, with Payne in particular being wounded and captured multiple times and then returning to the fight, never relenting in his dedication to the Confederate cause and his hatred of Yankees. The three would make an excellent display in a private or public Civil War collection, and this sword in particular would be a fine centerpiece both in terms of its presentation quality and fascinating history. At first glance, this is a classic and particularly attractive Union Model 1850 Staff & Field Officer's Sword. However, its Confederate history is what makes it so fascinating and valuable. It is documented as captured by the Confederate cavalry during the raid on Fort Kelley at New Creek, West Virginia, and then presented to Brigadier General William Henry Fitzhugh Payne (1830-1904), who led the raid, by Major General Thomas Lafayette "Tex" Rosser Sr. (1836-1910), his commander. Swords connected to colorful cavalry officers during the Civil War are always desirable, and Confederate presentation swords are significantly rarer than Union presentations swords making them especially highly sought after by Civil War collectors. With this sword having the distinction of being a Union officer's sword that was captured during a daring Confederate cavalry raid and then presented to a Confederate officer, it is sure to be a treasured addition to any Civil War collection. The sword itself is a presentation grade variation on the Model 1850 Staff & Field Officer's Sword. The main differences are the eagle head quillion, silvered brass grip, and more ornate embellishment. The lightly curved blade is 32 1/2 inches long and has beautiful floral, martial, and patriotic engraving that includes "E. PLURIBUS UNUM" and the Great Seal of the United States on the right, "W.H. HORSTMANN/& SONS/PHILADELPHIA" above the ricasso on the right, "IRON PROOF" on the spine, and "U.S." on the left. The hilt has the noted eagle head quillion with red stone eyes, "US" and floral designs on the guard and a brass grip with alternating patterns. The nickel-silver scabbard has gilt brass fittings with floral and shell designs. The inscription is located on the body of the scabbard between the suspension bands.The inscription reads "PRESENTED TO/Brg. Gen. Wm. H. Payne./BY/MAJ. GEN. T.L. ROSSER,/FOR/DISTINGUISHED GALLANTRY ON THE FIELD./NOV. 28TH 1864." The date commemorates Rosser's West Virginia Raid on New Creek on November 28, 1864, and the presentation of the sword is documented in "Payne's Letter of December 13, 1903 to the Alumni Association of Virginia Military Institute" reprinted in "I Am a Good Ol’ Rebel: A Biography and Civil War Account of Confederate Brigadier General William H. F. Payne" by Robert Houghtalen and in the included documentation. Payne wrote, "In the winter of 1864 I, with my brigade reduced to about five hundred, attacked the Yankee post at New Creek in Hampshire County, near Cumberland, who had superior numbers, and captured eight hundred and twenty-nine prisoners, many horses, and valuable supplies and equipments; we took the Commandant, and I now have his sword presented to me by Gen. Thomas L. Rosser, with the inscription engraved upon it, by his order, 'For distinguished gallantry and skill at New Creek.' I have another sword of another Yankee officer captured by me at the First Battle of Manassas and shall place both as relics in the Battle Abbey to be established at Richmond." Payne slightly misremembered the details of the inscription, but the first sword he mentions is clearly this sword, and the second sword has been attributed as lot 217. The sword is also discussed in "A Biographical Register of Members of Fauquier County, Virginia's 'Black Horse Cavalry' 1859-1865" by Lynn Hopefull who wrote concerning the New Creek raid, "For this daring feat, General Thomas L. Rosser presented him with a very handsome sword, for distinguished gallantry in the field 28 Nov 1864." There is also a photograph of Payne c. 1865 at the Virginia Military Institute holding what certainly appears to be this very sword. The eagle head quillion is identifiable, and the overall pattern matches. "The American Civil War: Raids and Skirmishes in 1864" describes the Confederate rate on New Creek, West Virginia, in detail. "On November 28, Brigadier General Thomas L. Rosser and his Confederate raiders headed to New Creek. New Creek was located about 22 miles southwest of Cumberland, Maryland. It was a key railroad station on the Baltimore & Orange Railroad and also an important supply depot for the Union Army. The area was guarded by two blockhouses and a 800-man garrison of Union soldiers. Rosser knew that a surprise attack was critical for a successful raid. The Confederates met a Union patrol and captured most of the Union soldiers but a few escaped. Rosser pressed his force forward before word got back to New Creek about the Confederate presence. Rosser split his force in two. Maj. E.H. McDonald and the 11th Virginia Cavalry was to approach New Creek from the east and cut the railroad and telegraph about 1/2 mile from the station. This would keep word from getting out about an attack. Rosser would take the rest of the force and make the main attack. Using captured Union uniforms, an advanced party of Confederates entered town in front of the rest of the Confederates. They got to within 1/2 mile of the forts before making a full charge. The fort's garrison was surprised and captured while another detachment of Confederates surprised the Union artillery battery and captured the garrison. Along with the Union prisoners, Rosser managed to capture 400 horses and 4 pieces of artillery." Payne and his brigade are noted as driving away the Union pickets "near Cumberland, Virginia" on November 28. Other sources explain how that in addition to the daring and deciept of the Confederates, the Union commander who owned this sword first failed to properly defend his post from possible attack and thus lost his post, his men, and his sword. Colonel George R. Latham was in charge of the Union garrison. His men had largely left the fort unguarded as they ate their lunch. Latham was later dishonorably discharged for neglect of duty for the affair. Through his political connections as a Republican congressman, he was able to get the dismissal revoked, so that he could be honorably mustered out of service. Both Payne and Rosser were Virginians. Before the war, Payne had studied at the University of Missouri, briefly attended the Virginia Military Institute, studied law at the University of Virginia, and had a law practice in Warrenton, Virginia. Rosser was a friend of George Armstrong Custer's before, during, and following the war and had dropped out of West Point to fight for the Confederacy. By the time of the New Creek raid, both men had risen in rank tremendously and had seen their fair share of bloodshed. Payne had originally enlisted as a private, served as a captain in the Black Horse Cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart, and then major in the 4th Virginia Cavalry. He led the 4th at the Battle of Williamsburg during the Peninsula Campaign and was captured by the Union for the first time after being seriously wounded. In the letter noted above, he describes the incident: "Early on the morning of the second day's battle, I was ordered to move to the field near Fort Magruder. In the engagement, I was wounded - indeed reported by Gen. Stuart as killed; and his report has never been altered...I was left between the lines, and was almost drowning in my own blood. One man remained with me- Dr. Pendleton, of Louisiana, who, when he saw me fall, immediately sprang from his horse, and, being a physician, thrust his fingers into my mouth and caught the arteries that had been broken by the ball which had torn out my right upper teeth, glancing along through my tongue and passing out over the jugular veins." When he was removed from the field, "Pendleton walked by my side with the arteries of my tongue in his hand..." He was pronounced "hors de combat" (out of action due to injury) and was paroled and allowed to go home to recover. He said he only weighed 100 pounds and had to wear a rubber mask that a Union surgeon had made him to hold his jaw together and could only consume liquids when he was exchanged. Given this, its amazing that Payne returned to the fight, but he did and said he captured two videttes shortly after being exchanged. After the affair, he fainted and fell from his horse having overtaxed himself while he was still recovering from his wound. Apparently with a name like Payne, he couldn't let a bullet to the face slow him down. While still unable to eat, he was in command at Lynchburg and then returned to the 4th Virginia Cavalry as their commander. He fought in hand-to-hand combat with a Union officer at the Battle of Kelly's Ford. This is both noted in Payne's letter and in General Fitz Lee's reports. Payne then took command of the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry and led it through the Gettysburg Campaign and suffered tremendously. His horse was shot out from under him and suffered a saber wound and fell into a vat of tanning liquid at the battle of Hanover and was captured a second time. This time, he was not paroled and sent home. He was sent to Johnson's Island. Once exchanged, he returned to command of his regiment in time for General Early's Valley Campaign in the fall of 1864 and fought at Third Battle of Winchester (September 19), Fisher's Hill (Sept. 21-22), and Cedar Creek (Oct. 19). This was followed by the raid noted above in which this sword was captured, and Payne was shot and severely wounded again at the Battle of Five Forks (April 1, 1865), but he was able to return to lead a cavalry brigade at the end of the war near Richmond. He claims he was arrested in relation to the assassination attempted of Secretary of State William H. Seward as part of the grand plot that included Booth's assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Lewis Powell had operated under the alias Lewis Payne, and that had apparently led to suspicion that General Payne had been involved, but he was paroled after being held at Johnson's Island until June of 1865. Both Payne and Rosser returned to civilian life and worked for railroads following the war and wrote to each other. Writing to Rosser, Payne said, "I always see you, figure you, ready to push into battle. Cheerful, darling, full of expedience, knowing no difficulties, arbitrary and despotic too. . . Restless, ambitious, but on the battlefield with more of the 'Guadi certaminus [joy of the fight] than any man I ever knew." Rosser's fighting spirit led him back to the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War, bringing him in a sense full-circle from when he had left West Point to fight for the Confederacy, but Payne remained a hardened "reb." In his letter to the Virginia Military Institute, Payne wrote, "I am as true a Confederate to-day as when I first rode from Warrenton to Manassas. I have never ceased to regret the loss of the cause; I have never sought any favors for myself; I think that the greatest calamity that has ever befallen the country is the wreck of the Confederacy." The millions of men, women, and children freed from bondage by the "Yankee" victory no doubt saw things differently, but Payne was clearly a dedicated supporter of the "Lost Cause" into his old age. A poem in the biography of Payne noted above is listed as found among Payne's records and written in his hand and expresses his thoughts after the "Yankee" victory more fiercely: "Oh I am a good ole Rebel. Now that's just what I am. For this 'fair land of freedom' I do not care a damn...And I don't want no pardon For anything I've done. I hate the Constitution, The great republic too. I hates the Freedman's buro An' uniforms in blue... I hates the Declaration of Independence too. I hates the Glorious Union...tis drippin' with our blood. And I hates their striped banner, and I fit it all I could... I killed a chance o' Yankees, and I'd liked to kill so' mo'. Three hundred thousand Yankees is stiff in Southern dust. We got three hundred thousand before they conquered us. They died of Southern fever and Southern steel and shot, But I wish we'd got three million instead of what we got...I do not want no pardon for what I was and am. And I wont be reconstructed, and I don't care a damn."

Rating Definition:

Fine with very bright blade displaying distinct etching, a few small spots of staining, and minimal wear; traces of gilt finish on the hilt and otherwise attractive aged patina that is also on the grip and brass fittings of the scabbard, somewhat aged coloration on the scabbard body along with a few dents, and the crisp historical inscription. This is an incredible Civil War sword captured from a blundering Union officer during a daring Confederate raid fairly late in the war and clearly proudly owned by a hardened Confederate into his later years.

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