INSCRIBED SWORD OF LT. WILLIAM L. FOULKE, 79th ILLINOIS, WOUNDED IN ACTION AT LIBERTY GAP, TN, AND SAW ACTION AT STONES RIVER, MISSIONARY RIDGE, ATLANTA CAMPAIGN, FRANKLIN AND NASHVILLE

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Item Code: 172-5481

William L. Foulke received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant of Co. C in the 79th Infantry on May 11, 1863, was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, and served as acting regimental adjutant from January 1, 1865, mustering out with the regiment that June. His records mention his participation in the battles at Stones River, Liberty Gap (where he was wounded,) Missionary Ridge, the Atlanta Campaign, and the battles of Franklin and Nashville against Hood.

The sword is a non-regulation, robust, steel hilted and steel-scabbarded sword often preferred by officers for field use. In absolutely period engraving, in two lines just below the throat, is: “Lt. Foulke / Co. G 79th Ill. Vols..” Modeled on the British 1822 cavalry officer’s saber, these swords have straighter and shorter blades, making them suitable for infantry officers and this is one of two such patterns produced by the Solingen firm of W. Walscheid, who seem to have been in business only during the war and catered specifically to the U.S. market (Thillmann.) The firm name and address are on the reverse of the long ricasso, with an inset copper disk reading “proved” on the obverse, imitating the British pattern it copied.

The hilt has a birdshead pommel, knuckleguard with two branches on the obverse and a small branch and counterguard loop on reverse. The grip is sharkskin wrapped, with triple-strand twisted gilt copper wire, showing some wear spots commensurate with field use, but not excessive. The blade is very good, smooth metal, plain (unetched) and light, steel gray with good edge and point. The scabbard has the carrying rings, drag and throat in place, with a gray/brown patina matching the hilt. Between the lower mount and drag there is a dark band that might indicate an old repair, but could be a stain from something wrapped around it.

Born in 1840 or 1841 (sources give conflicting dates,) William Foulke was studying law in Paris, Illinois, the seat of Edgar County, when war broke out and immediately enlisted, enrolling 4/18/61 and mustering into the 12th Illinois on 5/2/61. The regiment was a three-month unit that did guard duty and constructed defenses at Cairo, and briefly chased Jeff Thompson, the “Missouri Swamp Fox,” before mustering out 8/1/61.

This service probably helped Foulke get his sergeant’s rank when he enlisted again 7/19/62, and mustered on 8/28/62 in Co. C of the 79th Illinois for three years service. The company descriptive book lists him as 22, 5’7” in height, dark complexion and eyes, and brown hair. The regiment served in the 14th Corps from November 1862 through January 1863, the 20th Corps, and lastly in the 4th Army Corps. They lost 4 officers and 81 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded, plus scores who were wounded, in battles such as Stones River, Liberty Gap,  Chickamauga , Missionary Ridge, Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, Dallas, Kennesaw, Peach Tree Creek, Atlanta, Jonesboro, Lovejoy Station, Franklin, and Nashville. They mustered out 6/12/65.

Foulke’s records specifically mention his participation at Stones River and indicate he was promoted to First Sergeant some time before 5/11/63, when he received a commission as 2nd Lieutenant when the regiment was at Murfreesboro. When Rosecrans advanced from Murfreesboro Foulke suffered a gunshot wound to the hip (left buttock) during a charge at Liberty Gap on 6/25/63. The wound was a flesh wound that sidelined him for several months, enabling him to miss Chickamauga, but had caused nerve damage and pained him for the rest of his life. He returned to the regiment 10/17/63, received a commission as first lieutenant on 10/24/63, and was finally able to have his army records brought up to date at the end of the month to enable him to receive his increased pay for serving as an officer since the preceding May. The whole process is recorded in his service and pension records: a testimony to his talent and service, as well as to army paperwork.

An affidavit in his pension file indicates that although still suffering pain from his wound, he “took a gallant part” in the November charge up Missionary Ridge, during which the regiment captured two cannon, “literally punching the cannoneers from their guns.” (OR.) Rations in Chattanooga, however, had been poor and Foulke briefly remained in Chattanooga when the regiment moved on 11/28/63, hospitalized for rheumatism and scurvy. He caught up with them shortly after “at Strawberry Plains,” when they went to relieve Burnside at Knoxville, and was present on the company rolls again by January 1863 and for the rest of war, taking part in the Atlanta Campaign, and being credited with participation at Buzzard Roost Gap, Dalton, Resaca, Kennesaw, Ruff Station, Atlanta, Jonesboro, Lovejoy Station, New Hope, Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville, where the regiment saw heavy fighting. He must have been well respected as an officer: after doing a brief bit of courtmartial duty in December 1864, he was appointed acting regimental adjutant 1/1/65 and served in that capacity at least until May.

He mustered out with the regiment 6/12/65 and returned to Paris. He applied for, and received a disability pension for rheumatism from his wound and the effects of scurvy. At some point in the late 1880s he moved to Washington, DC, and worked in the Pension Bureau. He married there late in life, in 1898. He died in 1906 and was buried at Arlington. He wife died in 1939.

This is an excellent example of a combat sword, identified, inscribed, and carried by a very active officer who served in major campaigns and battles in the western theatre.  [SR]

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