PRESENTATION 1850 STAFF AND FIELD SWORD OF CAPT. JOHN W. GREGG, ADC TO GEN. JOHN MCARTHUR, POW SHILOH, MENTIONED IN OR'S FOR NASHVILLE

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John W. Gregg was Aide-de-Camp to General McArthur when the latter launched a devasting attack on the left flank of Hood’s line in front of Nashville on December 16, 1864, destroying half of Hood’s army and all that was left of his military career. McArthur mentions Gregg in his official report and the two men had a long connection in the military, as eventual brothers-in-law, and apparently in their postwar careers. Gregg served in McArthur’s 12th Illinois as private and sergeant, was captured at Shiloh while a lieutenant in the 58th Illinois, was later promoted to captain, and was posted as Aide-de-Camp to McArthur as general.

The sword is an 1850 Staff and Field Officer’s sword in very good condition with regulation metal scabbard and U.S. in the openwork guard, etched blade, and the extra touch of red gemstone eyes set in an eaglehead quillon. The brass hilt and scabbard mounts have a matching mellow age patina. The sharkskin grip wrap and triple wire binding are in place, with just minor wear along the seam line at bottom where one’s fingers would hold it. The openwork guard is regulation, with a U.S. amid floral scrolls. The quillon is cast and chased as an eagle’shead and has inset red eyes, looking like rubies, of course, but likely less expensive gemstones.

The point and edge of the blade are good and the etching is very visible, with the thin frosting shifting slightly toward gray. Both sides bear scrolling vines and floral motifs. The reverse also has a small trophy of arms at bottom with vines, scrolls, and a long latticework with stars at the intersections of crossing lines. The obverse uses some of the same motifs, with vines and a shorter starred latticework at bottom, followed by the motto, “VIRTUE, LIBERTY AND INDEPENDENCE” in a scrolled banner, and a wide U.S. eagle with arrows and olive branch.

The scabbard still has loads of blue (shading toward purple as usual,) with just some small dings to the brass drag from use. The middle mounts with ring bands and the throat are also in place. The upper ring mount on the reverse has an old ink museum style accession number starting “1924,” likely the date it was acquired. The obverse bears a professionally done inscription in script and block lettering reading:

“Presented to / CAPT. J.W. GREGG / aide to / Maj. Gen. / John McArthur / by / Katherine Weir.”

John W. Gregg was born in Rock Island, Illinois in 1841, and was reading law there when the war broke out. He joined Co. D of Col. McArthur’s 12th Illinois infantry, enlisting and mustering in on 7/23/61. Records indicate he enlisted aas a private, but he was a sergeant by the time he was discharged in December to take a commission in the 58th Illinois. There he became 2nd Lieutenant of Company K, commanded by his father, Capt. Patrick Gregg, mustering in on 12/31/61. At least one secondary refers to him as “drill master,” so his previous experience may have come in handy. The regiment mustered into U.S. service 2/11/62 at Camp Douglas, Chicago, and was immediately sent to Fort Donelson, where two of its companies found themselves under fire just three days later, on the afternoon of 2/14/62.

At Shiloh the regiment was part of W.H.L. Wallace’s Division. In the fighting of April 6 they suffered some 450 casualties (according to their summary history in the “Union Army”) out of 613 engaged including both Gregg father and son, who were among some 200-300 captured and sent south. While prisoner, the elder Gregg was one of three officers given a 40-parole to negotiate an exchange of prisoners that would include Confederate General Buckner, who was at some risk of a trial for treason. The mission was unsuccessful, and the officers, true to their word, returned to Confederate captivity, but exchanges took place later in the year and John W. Gregg was released 10/12/62.

Gregg returned to the regiment, where he was promoted 1st Lieutenant 12/15/62. The regiment did duty guarding prisoners in 1863, but returned to the field in January 1864 and took part in the Meridian Expedition and Red River Campaign, seeing action at Fort De Russy, Pleasant Hill, Yellow Bayou, and other engagements. Gregg was promoted to Captain during the campaign, on 4/9/64. The outfit later in the year took part in fighting Price in Missouri and was then part of the two divisions of the 16th Army Corps detachment (“Detachment- Army of the Tennessee”) sent to protect Sherman’s lines of communication, which headed to join Thomas at Nashville in November.

Exactly when Gregg found a place on McArthur’s staff is unclear. He was definitely there by November 2, 1864, General McArthur takes command of the 4th Division and lists Gregg as an ADC on his staff (OR 1/41.4.402.) One biography, however, says that he was appointed to McArthur’s staff in April 1863. This could be mistaken, but if true, would place him with McArthur during the Vicksburg Campaign and later occupation of the city. In any case, Gregg was certainly on McArthur’s staff and in the thick of things on December 16, when he saw other generals faltering in launching planned attacks, sent word to his superiors that unless ordered otherwise he was going forward, and launched an assault that took Shy’s Hill and rolled up the Confederate line. McArthur received a brevet to Major General for his actions and mentions Gregg in his official report of the battle as an aide-de-camp.

Gregg remained in service until mustering out 1/15/66. How much of that time was on McArthur’s staff and how much with the regiment is unclear. The division went on to serve under General Canby in the campaign against Mobile, taking part in the battle of Fort Blakely in April 1865, regarded by some as the last large battle of the war. We find Gregg, though, mentioned as one of the speakers at a Chicago celebration of the fall of Richmond just a few days later.

We have not identified Katherine Weir, the presenter of the sword. She may have been a relative, or possibly a romantic interest before Gregg became attached to Margaret McArthur, whom he married in December 1865. Even after the war, Gregg and McArthur thus remained connected. They also seem to have had some postwar career connections. Gregg was a clerk in the Chicago Dept. of Public Works for six years and McArthur was its commissioner. Gregg then worked another six years in the post office and McArthur was postmaster. Gregg was convicted of embezzling money from the post office in 1879; McArthur was tried and convicted in a case stemming from a loss of Federal funds in a bank failure; Both men received pardons from Rutherford B. Hayes. At this point Gregg apparently realized a little distance might be in order and moved west, settling in North Dakota and acting as a book-keeper for several different firms. He suffered partial paralysis from an accident about 1900 and moved to California for his health in early 1904, where he died in Pasadena in September 16, 1904.

This is a very nice sword carried by an officer with active service who was involved in a critical attack in a very important battle. There is likely a lot more interesting history yet to be filled in as well.  [sr]

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