John Whittier Messer Appleton (1832-1913) was one of the white officers of the legendary 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the historic second regiment of African-American soldiers raised during the Civil War and commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. They are most famous for their brave frontal night assault at the Second Battle of Fort Wagner in July of 1863 where Shaw and many of the men were killed and many others wounded. The unit proved the valor of the African-American soldiers to the nation. Their story was captured in the popular Civil War film "Glory" starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and others which ends shortly after the battle. However, Appleton and the other survivors continued to fight on, including at the Battle of Olustee in Florida. Appleton first served in the war as a private in the Independent Corps of Cadets/Boston Cadets prior to being discharged in July 1862. He actively sought out an appointment to a unit with African-American soldiers to help them win their freedom and prove their abilities. After lobbying to join, he became a second lieutenant of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry on February 7, 1863, and helped recruit the unit. He was promoted to Captain of Company A on April 14, 1863, and led them during the Second Battle of Fort Wagner in the attack on the left. Per "The Boston Globe" on May 30, 1897, in an extensive article on the 54th and Fort Wagner, "Capt J. W. M. Appleton distinguished himself before the curtain. He crawled into an embrasure and with his pistol prevented two artillery men from serving the gun...Capt Appleton was finally badly wounded and made his way out with great difficulty, to report the situation in the bastion." Appleton was wounded twice during the attack (hurt in the hand while firing his revolver and struck by a piece of a shell in the chest fracturing his ribs) but appears to have killed and wounded several Confederate soldiers using his revolver during the battle. He was sent home to recover and then returned to the regiment well-enough to serve in South Carolina and Florida before being resigning and returning home to recover from heat stroke in July 1864. He returned to service before the end of the war as a major with the 1st Battalion of Massachusetts Heavy Artillery and the commander of Fort Warren. He resigned on August 5, 1865. During Reconstruction, he moved to Charleston, West Virginia, where he was living when he received the second presentation sword. He worked as a manager for the Mill Creek Cannel Coal & Oil Co., the operator of the Salt Sulphur Springs Resort, had his own farm, was active in local civic life, and also served as adjutant general for the West Virginia National Guard during the Spanish-American War. During the latter is when he would have been presented the dress sword. He also helped organize the Kanawha Rifles and served as a captain and then a major for the battalion before being discharged in 1887. In 1897, he was promoted to brigadier general and appointed adjutant general for West Virginia and held the position for four years. The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer on March 2, 1897, noted that he was "an expert swordsman." He provided testimony in support of William Carney's Medal of Honor nomination. Carney became the first African-American Medal of Honor recipient in 1900. Carney was with Appleton at the Battle of Fort Wagner and grabbed the flag as the flag bearer fell mortally wounded and planted it at the base of the fort and then carried it back to the Union barracks. Appleton later served as quartermaster general of the West Virginia National Guard until 1905. He was killed by a bull at his farm at Salt Sulphur Springs when it charged him while he was attempting to get control of the animal. It threw him into the air and trampled him. The first sword is an Ames Mfg. Co. Model 1850 Foot Officer's Sword with a 29 1/2 inch blade with patriotic and scroll etching, "Ames Mfg./Chicopee/Mass." etched on the right above the ricasso, gilt brass hilt with floral designs, twisted wire and shagreen wrapped grip, and a browned iron scabbard with gilt brass fittings, including the upper suspension band which is inscribed "J.W.M. Appleton./Feb.. 7 1863." and marked "AMES MFG. CO./CHICOPEE/MASS." There is a portrait of him holding a sword of this pattern during the Civil War shown in the included copy of "America's Civil War" from November 2021 in the article "True to the Cause: 54th Massachusetts Officer's Unpublished Account Provides a New Look at the Regiment's Heroic Assault on Fort Wagner" by Jewell and Van Sickle which focuses on Appleton's account of the battle and his eagerness to served with a colored unit. The second sword is a stunning late 19th century Pettibone Bros. Mfg. Co. dress sword. General Appleton is shown holding this sword in an included c. 1897 portrait from A.P. Gates of Charleston, West Virginia. The sword has a 31 3/4 inch straight blade with gold and niter blue highlighted etching including "GENL. J.W.M Appleton, W.VA." on the reverse and "THE PETT BONE [sic]/BROS/MFG. Co/CINTI.O." on the obverse ricasso. The gilt brass hilt has floral and patriotic patterns, a silver and brass grip with martial trophy patterns, and an enameled eagle and shield pommel cap. A gilt sword knot is fitted to the guard. The scabbard is also gilt brass and features extensive floral and scroll designs on the fittings. Also included is a copy of "Lexicon Graeco-Latinum in Novum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Tetamentum" (The New Testament) from 1654 with Appleton's name signed inside, wine line and staff officer's sash, set of captain's shoulder boards labeled as from Appleton's uniform "when he was wounded in 1861" (year an error), several buttons (many marked "JUNE/20/1863"), a "hard nut which Appleton always had in his mouth," Civil War brass stencil reading "John W.M. Appleton/54th Reg. Mass. Vols." that would have been used to mark Appleton's personal belongings during the war, and file of documents of relating to Appleton and the 54th Massachusetts, including National Archives records.
The Model 1850 Foot Officer's sword is fine and has smooth gray patina on the blade, faded but visible etching, some nicks along the edges of the blade, aged patina on the hilt, minor separation on the seam of the grip, and mild age and storage related wear. The dress sword is very fine and has minor age and storage related wear including some fading of the gilt finish on the hilt and attractive natural aged patinas on the brass and silver. The blade remains bright and retains the vast majority of its original gilt and niter blue finish and has some minimal staining. The folding languet will not lock in place as it comes into contact with the crossguard before locking. The sword knot has mild wear. The other accessories are generally very fine with fairly minor age and storage related wear. This is an incredible set from an officer of one of the most famous Union regiments of the Civil War, a leader of the men that showed the nation the tenacity of African-American soldiers and helped secure freedom for millions of their fellow Americans.
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