This is the most historic and stunning Confederate sword we have ever offered at Rock Island Auction: the sword of General Paul Jones Semmes. It is the first and only sword presented to a Confederate General mortally wounded at Gettysburg to be offered at auction or private sale that we are aware of. Identified Gettysburg related arms and artifacts have long been considered the Holy Grail of Civil War Collectibles. Over 30 years ago, Norm Flayderman, undoubtedly the greatest Antique Arms and Weapons Dealer in the world, featured this sword on the front cover of his catalog #109. At the time of his death in 2013, Norm was considered the most distinguished figure in our field, authoring many books, producing over 120 editions of his now famous catalogs featuring tens of thousands of Antique Arms and Artifacts, was the Staff Arms consultant to the Springfield Armory, Arms Consultant to the U. S, Marine Corps Historical Center, Governors Appointee to the State of Connecticut weapons collection, was on the board of Overseers to the USS Constitution Museum and was bestowed many other honors too numerous to mention. Recognized as the most distinguished and knowledgeable dealer, author and historian in the field of Antique Arms in America and beyond, it is uniquely impressive that he wrote the following comments on this sword, headlining it on his front cover with photo and describing it within the catalog as follows, “This elegant, pedigreed presentation sword is the most historic Confederate weapon we have ever had the pleasure to catalog. It literally shouts out its historic usage in one of the most famous & hard fought campaigns of the Civil War at which the Confederacy reached its 'high tide.' Carried by Brig. General Paul J. Semmes...of Georgia as he led his brigade...in an assault on the Little Round Top at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, where he fell mortally wounded.” Coming from the most respected man in his field, this is a remarkable statement. He continued “Mortally wounded at Gettysburg the Confederate (Georgia) general asked for this sword and his Bible with his last breath...holding both as he died." Mr. Flayderman further explained that this sword was "obviously revered by Semmes as a true ‘sword of honor,' remaining at his side from the moment of its presentation to the moment of his death." In addition, it is most important to note that when the sword was cataloged by Flayderman, he pointed out that it was accompanied by several original documents from Semmes, including an envelope from his wife that was with him when he was wounded. On the back of the envelope, Semmes had written details of his division and brigade at Gettysburg on June 30, 1863, just days before he was shot and mortally wounded on the battlefield. This envelope and the other documents have since been lost by its previous owner and no longer accompany the sword. However, we have included two original copies of Flaydermans catalog detailing these documents that unequivocally prove this sword to be with Semmes when he died. Steve Sylvia of North South Trader's Civil War commenting on this historic sword stated, "There are few Confederate edged weapons that can compare to the silver and diamond-studded sword of Brig. Gen. Paul Jones Semmes. His treasured sword by Ames, the Rolls Royce of American sword makers, embodied all that was dear to a Southern patriotic gentleman - stature, elegance, duty, and valor. He was mortally wounded in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg while wielding it. He died grasping it. Robert E. Lee wrote that Semmes, 'died as he had lived, discharging the highest duty of a patriot with devotion that never faltered and courage that shrank from no danger.” Sword author John H. Thilmann wrote about this sword,“This sword is without question, one of the most important of all Confederate artifacts. In a letter to Samuel Rice in 1837, Nathan P. Ames relates that the best high-grade swords the company made were of the cruciform hilt with straight blade style. Presented to Paul J. Semmes in 1854, this diamond-eyed Ames sword in silver and gilt and with exceptional engraving and chasing (including the high grade blade etching) is one of the finest Ames presentation swords I have had the pleasure to examine. Its association with the great 'Battle of Gettysburg' place it among the most desirable and elite of collectible swords from any period in American History." The sword was purchased and disappeared after being pictured and described in Daniel Hartzlers’ book “Confederate Presentation & Inscribed Swords and Revolvers.” Now, after over 30 years, this wonderful artifact is again available to the collecting fraternity. Weapons of such incredible significance are typically only found in select few Civil War museums and are rarely available. Other significant Semmes artifacts have long been locked away in museum collections, such as his kepi, and the blood stained frock coat he wore at Gettysburg which are all part of the collection of The American Civil War Museum in Virginia. This highly ornate Ames militia officer’s presentation grade sword was inscribed and presented to future Confederate General Paul J. Semmes (1815-1863) in 1854. The sword scabbard has two inscriptions: “Testimonial of Esteem/the Columbus Guards/TO/Capt. Paul J. Semmes/July 1854” and on the reverse “Presented in behalf of the/Corps by John A. Johnson. This honor/having been awarded him as the best/shot in the Company at Target practice/June 14th 1854.” This elegant sword is topped with a beautifully cast and detailed, full dimension bronze eagle on its pommel, with original rough-cut diamonds set into the eyes. The rest of the hilt is composed of a most impressively sculpted cross-guard exhibiting leaf, broad twist and scroll motifs, fancy sculpted counter guard with a bold and distinctive applied eagle with shield decoration, floral and cross hatch patterns engraved on its hexagonal grip. The hilt is all silver plated and bowed with a double link chain. The overall length of the sword is 37 ¾ inches. The 31 ½ inch blade features near full etched coverage floral scroll and military/patriotic motifs and has the maker’s mark “Ames Mfg. Co./Chicopee/Mass.” Besides the noted engraved inscriptions, the heavily silver plated scabbard features deluxe applied mounts of military/patriotic decorations with sculpted carrying rings secured by a set of screws on the reverse, and raised floral scroll decoration. The drag has similar floral scroll appointments. The area below the lower carrying ring is engraved with floral scrolls and a mighty eagle. “Made by/AMES Mfg Co/Chicopee/Mass” is marked near the throat. Paul Jones Semmes was born in Wilkes County, Georgia, in 1815, attended the University of Virginia and returned to Wilkes County to become a banker and planter. In 1837, he was elected commander of the Georgia Militia, 1st Brigade of the 4th Division, a commission he held until 1840 when he moved to Columbus, Georgia. From 1846 to 1861, Semmes served as a captain in the Georgia militia. He authored an infantry tactics manual in 1855 and in 1860 was appointed quartermaster general for the state, giving him the power to handle all military related purchases. This sword was presented to Semmes while he served as a captain of the Columbus Guards, also known as the Red Jackets. The Columbus Guard served as the military honor company at the inauguration of Jefferson Davis, and, per Flayderman, "Semmes was in overall command of the military at that affair and doubtless carried this sword." At the start of the Civil War, Semmes was appointed colonel of the 2nd Georgia Infantry. On March 11, 1862, Semmes was promoted to brigadier general, and his men were assigned to Toomb's division in General Magruder’s "Army of the Peninsula", the right wing of the Army of Northern Virginia. Semmes led his brigade at Yorktown, Williamsburg and Seven Pines. His brigade was then attached to McLaw’s Division and fought at Savage Station, Malvern Hill, and Cramptons’s Gap during the Battle of South Mountain. Semmes’ brigade played a key role in General McLaws’ counterattack at Antietam and fought at the Battle of Chancellorsville where it was heavily engaged at Salem Church. Many of his regiments lost half of their men in the battle, with many of the regimental commanders wounded. At the historic Battle of Gettysburg, Semmes' brigade’s attack on July 2nd helped destroy Sickles’ Corps and advanced towards the famous Wheatfield. Major Samuel P. Hamilton wrote about Semmes and his men's ordeal: "I observed a wounded man being borne from the field in a blanket. By the number of attendants, I soon perceived that it was an officer of rank and in a moment after recognized that officer as Gen. Semmes...I saw the charge of his brigade...No ordinary ordeal as it theirs to meet: a plain swept by thirty pieces of cannon first to be passed- a precipitous mountain, jagged with rocks to be scaled in the face of brigade upon brigade of the enemy, strongly positioned on its sides...among all the brave men who there fought and there fell, I venture to assert that no more complete soldier, more faithful officer or more heroic spirit there received his doom than Paul J. Semmes." As he was leading his men's charge across the perilous battlefield, Semmes was hit in the thigh. The shot severed his femoral artery according to news reports, but a surgeon was able to quickly close the artery and prevented him from bleeding to death, and he was evacuated from the field and taken to Martinsburg, West Virginia. He telegraphed to his wife letting her know he was seriously wounded, and then wrote her a letter on July 9, 1864, that is now in the collection of The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. In it he states: "I was wounded on the 2 inst. at Gettysburg, Penn...I was wounded in the leg but stopped the flow of blood in the field by a Tournequet applied by myself and drawn by one of my men of the 10 Ga & lost but little blood." Towards the end of the letter he added, "God will fully spare my life. We all have cause to be thankful to Him." He died the following day, eight days after being shot. The same institution has the letter of condolence written by Mary Ogden to Emily J. Semmes on July 10, 1863, that was referenced by Flayderman. In it she wrote, "One little circumstance I have forgotten; a few moments before the General died, he asked for his sword, laying it across his arm, he asked again for his Testament and took it and with it in his hands expired, they would have left it so, but that he had asked that you should have it it. Oh! if all our warriors might die as he did, death would be robbed of half its sting." His body was brought back to Columbus to be buried in Linwood Cemetery and his effects were returned to his family. Reflecting on his death, General Robert E. Lee wrote Semmes "died as he had lived, discharging the highest duty of a patriot with devotion that never faltered and courage that shrank from no danger."
Exceptionally fine. The sword is absolutely untouched and of strikingly elegant colored patinas on its silver plate, consisting of brilliant blues, bronzes, silvers and gold of varying intensities and all retaining polish. The sword shows use and carry but was obviously well cared for. The blade retains almost all of its acid etch and much of its original polish mixing with stains and slight corrosion, as would be expected from a weapon that was carried in the Civil War. The hilt retains 95% original silver plating and has a very few minor dings on the grip. The engraving is crisp. The scabbard retains 95% of the original heavy silver plating. There is a crack visible in a deeply engraved flourish near the middle of the scabbard (almost unnoticeable) and a minor dent near the throat. The hilt and scabbard show numerous slight dings and scratches, again, as would be expected on a sword that was carried. The overall appearance of the sword is stunningly beautiful. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire an incredible Confederate sword carried by a general officer who fought at Gettysburg and ultimately died from his wounds received on that hallowed battlefield. If you only want the very best for your collection or one historical sword that towers over others classified as “World-Class”, this may be your opportunity.
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