MAGNIFICENT SET OF SILVER GAMECOCK HEAD SPURS PRESENTED BY THE OFFICERS OF THE FIRST DELAWARE TO MAJOR GENERAL W.H. FRENCH

$15,000.00

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Item Code: 766-1029

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Unique in our experience, these impressive silver spurs are cast and chased in the form of a fighting rooster or gamecock. Intricately worked feathers spread back on the sidebars from the neck of each spur as they might on a pair of their far more common eagle head cousins, and the necks are likewise worked to show fine neck feathers, but the prominent comb and waffles of the head make it absolutely clear we are dealing with a fighting gamecock. Clutched in the beak of each gamecock is a rowel made with a sunburst pattern of rays with points. The spurs also come with their original brown spur straps. Beautifully engraved on one side bar of each spur is, “Presented to / Major General French / by the / Officers of the / 1st Regt. / Del. Vols.”

The First Delaware had its roots in a three-month regiment that answered Lincoln’s first call for troops and served from May though August 1861. Immediately after muster out, officers and men began forming a new organization for three years’ service, that eventually reenlisted as a veteran regiment and served the entire war, first in the Department of Virginia, and then from September 1862 to July 1865 in the Second Corps, Army of the Potomac. They lost 12 officers and 146 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded, and saw heavy action in such battles as Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg.

The association of Delaware soldiers with gamecocks dates back to the American Revolution. Explanations vary. Some think Captain Jonathan Caldwell of the Delaware Continentals actually had a pair of fierce gamecocks in camp that were off-spring of a “blue hen,” itself an old expression for someone with a high opinion of themselves or a quick temper. Americans of the 1700s and 1800s, however, were no strangers to cockfighting and it is just as likely the Delaware troops picked up or adopted the nickname from stubborn and aggressive behavior on the battlefield. Their descendants preserved the association in the Civil War (as did some other regiments: see the rooster badge of the 7th Ohio) and in addition to referring to givers of the spurs it was obviously meant as a compliment to General French as well. He probably appreciated the fact that fighting roosters were often equipped with curved silver spurs for combat as well.

The specific date of the presentation is not given. The First Delaware was under French’s command in the Second Corps from just before Antietam, his promotion to Major General of Volunteers dates to Nov. 29, 1862, giving the earliest possible date for the gift. The latest date likely is May/June 1863, when French was assigned to command Harpers Ferry. By that time the regiment would have gotten an idea of his fighting abilities from Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and might have intended them as a farewell gift.

French did return to the Army of the Potomac to command the Third Corps after Gettysburg, and he did have overall command of the Second Corps along with the First and Third Corps at Mine Run. But, that campaign so damaged his reputation and career that such a gift seems unlikely, unless it was meant to be a renewed expression of confidence. In fact, French did have some connections with Delaware. At the June 1864 Great Sanitary Fair in Philadelphia both French and his wife were members of the Executive Committee of The Delaware Department and were credited to Wilmington. Wilmington is also the burial site of their son Frank S. French, who had served on the General’s staff and died of tuberculosis in 1865. Further, in September 1867 the Adjutant General’s Office ordered French from the Military District of the Pacific to Wilmington, from where he was supposed to report by letter.

Whatever French’s specific relationship to the state, these spurs stand as a remarkable artistic and historic token of esteem from one of the war’s fighting regiments to a general officer who saw extensive action with the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsular Campaign until the reorganization of the army in 1864. In wonderful condition, they could be the centerpiece of any collection.  [SR]

 

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