SOUTH CAROLINA OFFICER’S SWORD PRESENTED BY MAJOR GENERAL GODFREY WEITZEL TO AIDE-DE-CAMP HORACE B. FITCH, WITH SEVEN BATTLE HONORS: FITCH PENNED WEITZEL’S MESSAGE ANNOUNCING THE FALL OF RICHMOND

$6,500.00 ON HOLD

Quantity Available: 1

Item Code: 870-219

This eagle-pommel sword bears an etched Palmetto tree on its blade indicating it was taken from a South Carolina officer. Its scabbard bears an inscription from Major General Godfrey Weitzel to Horace B. Fitch with the names of seven successful battles in which Fitch had served under Weitzel, first as regimental officer and then as a member of his staff.

Bvt. Col. Horace B. Fitch From Maj. Genl. G. Weitzel

Labadieville, Cotton, Bisland, Port Hudson, Fort Harrison, Chapins Bluff,  RICHMOND.

“Richmond” is given prominence by its position and the use of all capital letters. There Weitzel commanded the all-black 25th Army Corps, the first Union troops to enter the city on the morning of April 3, 1865, where Fitch took down the message, “we entered Richmond at 8 o’clock this morning,” a telegram that electrified the nation.

Second in the West Point class of 1855, Weitzel joined the Engineers and spent four years on the construction and repair of the fortifications below New Orleans. Along with his organizational talents, this enabled him to play a key part in the capture of that city and the lower reaches of the Mississippi in 1862, serving as Benjamin Butler’s chief engineer and later as a field commander. Horace Benjamin Fitch was a student at Williams College when the war broke out, but returned home to Auburn, N.Y., and helped organize company F of the 75th New York, with his brother becoming its captain and he its 2nd Lieutenant. The regiment joined Butler in May 1862 and Fitch’s association with Weitzel dates at least to September 1862 when 75th became part of Weitzel’s “Reserve Brigade” and Fitch was the regiment’s “acting adjutant,” which would have brought him frequently to brigade headquarters.

The first two battles recorded in the presentation took place during this period. Labadieville was fought in October 1862 by Weitzel, whose composite brigade included cavalry and artillery, and secured the Bayou Lafourche region and its wealth of resources. Cotton refers to a remarkable engagement on Bayou Teche in January 1863 in which Weitzel’s troops, now part of the 19th Corps, under Banks, not only engaged CS land forces, but forced the scuttling of the CS gunboat “Cotton,” which cleared the way for further operations in the region.

Fitch was promoted to 1st Lieutenant of Co. C of the 75th NY to date March 25, but Wietzel appointed him to his brigade staff as acting ordnance officer the same month and it seems Fitch remained on Weitzel’s staff for the remainder of his service. The National Archives is closed at the moment, barring access to Fitch’s compiled service records, but a regimental history of the 75th notes that when they were consolidated in late 1864 Fitch was still 1st Lieutenant of Co. C, but, “being with Weitzel on staff duty did not serve with the company in which he held rank.”

The next two battle honors also record engagements in which Weitzel’s brigade took part. Bisland, also known as “Fort Bisland,” was fought in April 1863 as a continuation of operations to secure Bayou Teche region and prepare for the attack on Port Hudson to open up the Mississippi from the south, while Grant tried to do so at Vicksburg to the north. Weitzel’s brigade took a prominent part in assaults on the city’s defenses and in the prolonged siege, which only ended after the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863.

The battle honors on the sword then jump ahead to Fort Harrison and Chapin’s Bluff (a mistake for Chaffin’s Bluff,) which took place on September 29-30, 1864, in which Weitzel took part after transferring to the Army of the James to again assist Butler in May 1864. The 75th NY was not in those engagements, but the battle honors make clear that Fitch was, as does his later brevet to Colonel, U.S. Vols., “for gallant and meritorious service in the action of 29 September 1864.” Fitch’s records will clear that up, but it seems most likely to us that Weitzel’s choice of battle honors for the inscription includes only successful engagements and campaigns in which he and Fitch took part and omits less glorious events like Sabine Pass, Drewry’s Bluff, and the attack on Fort Fisher.

The taking of Fort Harrison and Weitzel’s successful defense of it the next day as commander of the 18th Army Corps were among the few successes of the Army of the James. When the army was reorganized and placed under the command of General Ord, Weitzel was given command of its 25th Army Corps in early December. He choice of staff members at that point is in the Official Records and includes Fitch as an aide-de-camp. Fitch had been promoted to Captain by that time with a commission in the 139th N.Y., but like his service with Co. C of the 75th NY, it is unclear if he spent any time in the unit. He is shown in two period photographs of Weitzel with his staff: once as a first lieutenant and once as a captain.

Weitzel had been alerted by Grant to the possibility of taking Richmond as Lee’s lines grew thinner and thinner. On the morning of April 3, 1865, he pushed a cavalry detachment into the city and followed at the head of elements of the 25th and 24th Corps: “I first ordered my aide, Captain Horace B. Fitch, of Auburn, N.Y., to write a dispatch to General Grant announcing my entrance into Richmond. This was the dispatch which was taken off the wires at City Point and sent to the country via Washington.” Weitzel then directed his troops to put out fires that had started when government warehouses and supplies had been torched to keep them out of Union hands and accepted the surrender of the city by the mayor. He also received President Lincoln, who came to see the city, a suitable book-end to Weitzel’s role as commander of the Engineer detachment in Washington who had helped protect Lincoln at his inauguration in 1861.

The sword itself dates 1840 to 1860, with a straight, double-edged spearpoint blade with a narrow central fuller on the 1834 pattern. The brass hilt retains about 25 percent of its gilt and has an eagle-pommel with a chain knuckleguard. The bone grip is incised with checkering and a sunburst design. The crossguard is straight with central shield-shaped langets and flat down-turned disk finials, but the quillon block is cast with deep foliate designs and a raised shell on the upper portion of the langets. The blade has a good edge and point. Cleaning over a long period of time has rendered most of the etching very light, but among the standard floral sprays and martial motifs, is a broad Palmetto tree that marks the sword as South Carolina officer’s sword. The scabbard is a typical brass scabbard with carrying rings and frog stud. It bears standard floral engraving and a few dents from use, along with its remarkable inscription on the reverse.

The sword has a lot of potential for further research. We do not yet know the circumstances of its capture and there is more to learn about Fitch’s relationship with Weitzel. Fitch did not leave the army until November 1865 and it seems likely he accompanied Weitzel to his posting in Texas, and may been involved in some of the political difficulties in which Weitzel was embroiled as he tried to follow Lincoln’s advice how to handle the former Confederates: “Let ‘em up easy.” At the same time, there is room for some investigation of Fitch’s attitude toward abolition. He was from Auburn, NY, the home of William Seward and other prominent leaders of the movement and served under Weitzel, who made a stirring declaration to the 25th Corps when he chose the square for their emblem (with allusions to equality and a “square deal,”) ending with: “Let history record that on the banks of the James 30,000 freemen not only gained their own liberty, but shattered the prejudice of the world, and gave to the land of their birth peace, union and glory.”

This is remarkably interesting sword.  [sr]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THIS ITEM, AS WITH ALL OTHER ITEMS AVAILABLE ON OUR WEB SITE,

MAY BE PURCHASED THROUGH OUR LAYAWAY PROGRAM.

FOR OUR POLICIES AND TERMS,

CLICK ON ‘CONTACT US’ AT THE TOP OF ANY PAGE ON THE SITE,

THEN ON ‘LAYAWAY POLICY’.

THANK YOU!

Inquire About SOUTH CAROLINA OFFICER’S SWORD PRESENTED BY MAJOR GENERAL GODFREY WEITZEL TO AIDE-DE-CAMP HORACE B. FITCH, WITH SEVEN BATTLE HONORS: FITCH PENNED WEITZEL’S MESSAGE ANNOUNCING THE FALL OF RICHMOND

should be empty