RARE MEXICAN WAR INSCRIBED AMES ARTILLERY OFFICER’S SABER OF MAJOR ROBERT S. BUCHANAN, BREVET MAJOR U.S.A., MAJOR D.C. BATTALION OF VOLUNTEERS, LATER BREVET MAJOR GENERAL

$25,000.00 ON HOLD

Quantity Available: 1

Item Code: 870-96

John Thillmann noted that early “Type-1” model 1840 artillery officer’s sabers like this are, “nearly non-existant on the collector’s market.” This is not only a very good example of this rare type, but also one inscribed to a West Point graduate who spent more than thirty years in the army, serving in the Black Hawk and Seminole Indian Wars, the Mexican War, and the Civil War, with numerous postings to the frontier and far west in between. In addition to making his way up the ladder with regular army ranks from lieutenant to colonel in his regiment, the 4th US Infantry, he saw action in numerous battles, receiving two brevets in the Mexican War, and two more in the Civil War, to brigadier general and to major general, along with an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers.

The 1840 artillery officer’s saber was regulation for officers of artillery and ordnance, and until 1851 also for mounted officers of infantry: majors and above, and regimental staff officers. The number of officers who might carry this pattern was thus small, accounting for its rarity. This is the “Type-1,” having a recess on the underside of the guard for the mouth of the scabbard. The brass hilt shows an mellow aged brass patina and is the regulation pattern with a smooth-domed pommel cap with leaf decoration on the edge and floral motifs cast and chased on the knuckleguard and quillon. The grip is black leather with coiled “dragoon style” binding wire. Leather and wire are complete and in place.

The blade shows bright with some gray coming up and original thin frosting in the etched panels on either side that makes the motifs very visible and terminates in a leafy, flamboyant point on either side. At the base of the blade the obverse is etched with a palmette of thin leaves, which Thillmann likens to a yucca plant, with an arched latticework above. Over that is the blade address: N.P. Ames / Cutler / Springfield, bordered top and bottom with a loose ropework scoll. Overhead a tall panoply of arms includes two cannon barrels, two flowing U.S. flags on spear-tipped poles with flag cords, and a central pole topped by a liberty cap. The uppermost panel is an American eagle with U.S. shield on its chest clutching arrows and olive branch with a ribbon, containing a dry-point engraved “E Pluribus Unum,” an arc of stars and a sunburst overhead, bordered with floral scrolls top and bottom. On the reverse, floral scrolls and vines lead into a quiver and bow, a foliate “U.S.,” and the figure of an Indian standing with raised tomahawk (Tecumseh,) with more floral scrolls to the end the panel. The spine of the blade is etched with a scrolling leaf and vine pattern as well. The blade has a good edge and point.

The scabbard is gilt brass, profusely engraved on the obverse upper two thirds and at the drag, preserving at least 90 percent of its gold wash, the few rubbed areas showing a nice patina to the brass. As is correct for the pattern, the scabbard has no throat. The ring bands swell in the middle and are edged top and bottom with a leafy-bordered triangle with other leaves curling in from the sides, the background between the two formed by long curving, incised lines. The engraving on the drag follows the same form, but is slightly longer and the central leafy triangle has an S-curve to it. Between the ring mounts is engraved a dynamic American eagle with raised wings and shield on its lower chest bearing a multi-pointed star or sunburst. From behind the shield protrude a branch and arrow-headed lightning bolts. The engraved panels are set off by semicircles of two incised lines. At the upper throat these set off the inscribed owner’s name: “MAJR. ROBT. C. BUCHANAN / U.S. ARMY.” The inscription is done in simple block letters for the name and in shaded slanted block letters for the service.

Robert Christie Buchanan (1811-1878) was a Baltimore native who served more than thirty years in the U.S. Army. Graduating from West Point in 1830, he was commissioned second lieutenant in the 4th US Infantry in 1830, was posted as regimental adjutant in 1835 and promoted to 1st lieutenant in 1836, and then to company command as captain in 1838. During this period he saw action in the Black Hawk and Seminole Indian Wars, including the Battle of Bad Axe and the Battle of Okeechobee. Some of his journal entries have been published in the Florida Historical Quarterly (1950.) In the early 1840s he was posted in Missouri and Louisiana, and was part of the military occupation of Texas 1845-46. In the Mexican War he took part in numerous battles and skirmishes. He was brevetted major to date May 9, 1846, for Palo Alto and Resaca-de-la-Palma, and to lieutenant colonel to date Sept. 8, 1847, for Molino del Rey. Other large engagements included Monterrey, Churubusco, Chapultepec, and the assault and capture of Mexico City. His appointments to regular rank in the army included promotion to major in 1855; lt. colonel in 1861; and colonel in 1864. He also accumulated brevets to colonel for Gaines Mill, brigadier general for Malvern Hill, and major general Manassas and Fredericksburg (the latter two being March 1865 brevets.) He commanded a brigade of regulars in Sykes’ Division from May 1862 to January 1863. Appointed as brigadier general of volunteers, the senate allowed the appointment to expire without confirmation, likely because of his Maryland background and associations with Fitz-John Porter. During early reconstruction he commanded the Fifth Military District, based in New Orleans, in 1868-1869. He retired in 1870 and died in 1878.

The saber would date 1846-1847 by style and by Buchanan’s service. The etching style of the blade address dates 1844 or later, and the blade address itself dates 1848 or earlier. This window perfectly fits Buchanan’s brevet to major, dating to May 1846 but actually conferred in August. Officers exercised their brevet ranks when away from their regiments and not only was Buchanan assigned to detached service in November 1846 as major in command of the Maryland and District of Columbia Battalion of Volunteers in Mexico (from November 25, 1846, to May 1847,) but Heitman records him as major in the volunteer service for that command as well. This would have been his first opportunity to serve as a mounted officer in his brevet rank and the non-regulation engraved brass scabbard certainly fits the volunteer service. By the time he received a regular army promotion to major in 1855 the 1850 staff and field pattern was in use and if obtained in late 1847 would have carried his brevet rank of lieutenant colonel. Buchanan spent more than thirty years in the army, all of it technically as a member of the 4th US Infantry, but he spent extended periods in detached posts and commands where he would have used his brevet rank and the sword likely accompanied him. This is a rare sword carried by a man with a remarkable record in the U.S. army.  [sr]

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