CAPT. JAMES O. McCLURE, GENERAL BANKS’ BODY GUARD: ETCHED BLADE INSCRIBED 1850 STAFF AND FIELD OFFICER’S SWORD BY WILLARD & HAWLEY

$5,500.00

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Item Code: 846-143

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This very nice US Model 1850 Staff and Field officer’s sword by Willard and Hawley of Syracuse, NY, has great blade etching that includes an officer holding a U.S. flag aloft as he surmounts enemy battlements, among other motifs, and also the officer’s name, rank, and unit. Willard and Hawley sold military goods and advertised, “Fine Presentation Swords.” These were obtained from Collins and Company, but etched with their own firm name and address. This is a great example owned by an interesting officer.

The brass hilt follows the regulation pattern with cast and chased floral motifs, and open-work floral guard with large cut-out “U.S.” It also shows the flat tang mound on the pommel characteristic of Collins swords, along with their typical 1860-saber type grip, and long blade ricasso. Hilt and scabbard mounts have a matching aged brass patina. The sharkskin grip and wire binding are both in place and in very good condition. The scabbard is black leather, rather than blued or browned steel, with brass mounts. The color and finish of the leather is good, and it has no bends or breaks. The mounts are in place and without dents. The upper and middle mounts have bands for the carrying rings that are cast and chased with floral motifs on the obverse and plain on the back. There are just a few small traces of gilt in recesses.

The blade etching is striking. The background frosting has shifted to silvery gray, but the etched motifs are very visible. The obverse has an arabesque geometric and floral “X” pattern at the ricasso, with a long straight branch with symmetrical leaves and beaded borders jutting up. Above that a large stylized “U.S” is placed across the blade. Overhead a tall, officer mounts a stone parapet, holding a sword in his left hand while holding aloft with his right a U.S. flag on a spearpoint pike with flag cords snapping in the wind, obviously storming an enemy fortification. Above him a single five-pointed is centered on the blade with dotted spirals emanating from it. A long, narrow banner reading “VICTORY” bordered by floral scrolls runs further up the blade, the scrolls at its far end terminating the etching. The reverse has similar floral and geometric work on the ricasso, above which is the firm name: “Willard / &/ Hawley / Syracuse / N.Y.” Panels of floral scrolls at the top and bottom of the blade and along the lower edge of the fuller then frame a very long panel etched in Old English letters, reading from tip to hilt: “Capt. James O. McClure / Gen. / Banks / Body Guard.”

Banks had a well-known body guard, the Zouaves d’Afrique, a company organized under C.H.T. Collis in August 1861, but in June 1862 Collis left to raise the 114th PA, drawing off many of the guard’s members, who formed the nucleus of Company A of that regiment, and by the time of Antietam the few remaining were attached to the 2nd Mass. Infantry. When Banks was posted to New Orleans as commander of the Department and Army of the Gulf in October, he likely formed a new bodyguard, both for field service and duty in a hostile city. A distinct unit recruited for that purpose, however, seems only to have been organized starting in June 1863 when a circular of June 25 announced a headquarters unit of infantry would be recruited among nine-months troops about to be discharged who would volunteer for one or two more years’s service. (This unit eventually expanded to two companies of infantry and one of cavalry.) Before that time, different units seem to have rotated in that duty. Company B of the 2nd RI Cavalry served as Banks’s bodyguard for a time in March 1863; in April 1863 detachments from the 1st Louisiana Cavalry were assigned the post during the campaign along the Bayou Teche, and at the battle of Bisland.

McClure’s service must date before June 1863. An 1863 draft registration roster for New York’s 23rd Congressional District dated 30 June 1863 lists him as a resident of Elbridge, NY, age 35, with no profession listed, but the note: “Was Captain in the Service. Gen. Banks Body Guard.” His name does not appear on volunteer or regular army rosters, but this may be because he was a member of Banks’ personal (not general) staff, whose members were typically aides-de-camp with the temporary rank of captain. That this was his situation is supported by a by a July 6, 1864, Syracuse, NY, newspaper report of Fourth of July celebrations in Onondaga County. These included drill exhibitions by the 75th Regiment of the New York National Guard, “commanded by the veteran Col. James O. McClure, who has seen service on the staff of Gen. Banks…

Jame Otis McClure (1828-1909) was born in Jordan, NY, a village in the town of Elbridge, about twenty miles from Syracuse. He studied at an academy in Jordan and became a civil engineer, like his father, working on the canal system and living in Lockport, NY, from the early 1850s to about June 1862, when he returned to Jordan. He served in the NY State Militia as an Engineering Officer in 1857 and captain of an infantry company in the 66th NYSM in Lockport until about June 1862, when he moved back to Jordan. He there received a captain’s commission in the 49th NYNG (the new designation for New York militia after April 1862,) giving him rank from 21 June 1862. In June 1863, the same period that he is picked up in draft registration records, he was commissioned Colonel of the 75th NGSNY, with rank from 10 June 1863.

It seems likely, then, that McClure’s post on Banks’ body guard dates between June 1862, when he was back in the Syracuse area to receive the sword, and June 1863, when the draft registration records say he had already served. And, since he does not appear on the rosters of the Zouaves d’Afrique, our best guess is that he was given a posting to Banks’s personal staff to supervise the various details assigned as Banks’ guard sometime between October 1862 and June 1863.

McClure remained in New York for the rest of his life, but stayed in the New York National Guard only until August 1864 when he moved from Jordan to Warsaw, NY, to pursue the retail drug business, among other ventures, and resigned his commission. His successor as colonel of the 75th has rank from August 17, giving an approximate date for the move. He lived in Warsaw until his death in 1909. How McClure got the post with Banks is not yet clear. A Capt. John W. McClure served as A.Q.M. on Banks’ general staff, so there could be a connection there. It is also possible that McClure’s background as a civil engineer on New York’s waterways and canal system may have played a part, if Banks was thinking ahead to the problems he would face on Louisiana’s rivers and bayous. In any case, it is an intriguing blade inscription.

Willard and Hawley swords are well regarded among collectors. Kevin Hoffman’s Swords of Honor illustrates one presented to an officer of the 111th NY Vols. (Bazelon mentions another presented to an officer of the 98th NY Vols.) Most relevant, Thillmann discusses Willard and Hawley on pages 386-388 of U.S. Army Swords, picturing one inscribed to Capt. John J. Crouse NGSNY, who served with McClure in New York’s 24th Brigade. [sr]

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