PRESENTATION STAFF AND FIELD SWORD TO JOHN C. MERRIAM 53rd NEW YORK, D’EPINEUIL ZOUAVES, LATER CHIEF ENGINEER DEPT. OF NORTH CAROLINA

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John Clark Merriam, born in Lexington, Mass., in 1829 was educated in France, graduating as a mechanical engineer from the College Bourbon in 1847. It made sense, then, that in August 1861 he joined the 53rd New York, the “D’Epineuil Zouaves” in New York City. The regiment recruited largely among French emigres and those of French extraction, boasting a colonel and lieutenant colonel of long French military experience. To accord with their ethnic identity they adopted full zouave dress. Others made their way into the ranks, of course, including a group of Tuscarora Indians, but Merriam must have liked the unit’s generally French identity.

Merriam enrolled in the unit 8/5/1861 at New York City, mustering in as 1st Lt. Co E 9/13/61 and then as 1st Lt. and Quartermaster 10/16/61, probably an indication of his organizational ability: we find him working also as an editor and as the corresponding secretary of the American Engineers’ Association in 1860.

Merriam’s sword is a regulation U.S. 1850 pattern staff and field officer’s sword by Horstmann, with brass pommel, knucklebow, and open-work guard filled with scrolling floral motifs and a floating “U.S.” The grip is the regulation sharkskin, bound with twisted brass wire. The brass has an untouched, aged patina. The sharkskin shows some rubbing, but just light wear. The blade tang on the pommel shows a bit bright and may have been tightened at some point. The pommel shows a casting line, not uncommon on Horstmann assembled swords. The obverse ricasso bears the king’s head stamp of the Gebruder Weyersburg, German suppliers of blades and swords to Horstmann, whose company name and address are etched just above: “W.H. / Horstmann / & Sons / Philadelphia.” The etching on both sides is a mix of floral scrolls and martial elements, with a U.S. eagle on the obverse with an E Pluribus Unum banner above and a “U.S.” on the reverse. The blade is smooth metal, a steel gray color with darker gray spots so the etching is not vivid, but is visible. The edge and point are good.

The scabbard is the regulation metal scabbard for field and staff officers, who were expected to serve mounted. The brass mounts match the hilt with a nice, untouched age patina. The scabbard body shows lots of blue turned plum. There are a few dings to the drag, otherwise the scabbard is very good, with nice floral decorated ring bands and with throat, drag, and ring mounts in place. The reverse of the upper mount is nicely engraved:

Presented to John C. Merriam QM of the 53rd Regt. N.Y.V. by his Friends Oct. 1861.”

The regiment was slated to take part in Burnside’s Coastal Expedition, but only a small detachment actually went. This was likely an advance party sent ahead to make arrangement for their arrival and included their Lieutenant Colonel, who was killed at Roanoke in February 1862. As Quartermaster, Merriam was likely a member of the party as well, which might explain his later appointment as “Chief Engineer Department of North Carolina,” according to a 1906 family genealogy. The department consisted of coastal areas taken over by Burnside’s expedition.

The rest of the regiment was stationed at Fortress Monroe, Annapolis, Suffolk, and Washington. Morale and discipline, however, had sunk so low that the regiment was discharged and mustered out in March 1862. Merriam’s record indicates he mustered out on March 13 at Annapolis, perhaps indicating he had just returned from the North Carolina coast. The family genealogy says he was, “later engineer-in-chief of the Department of North Carolina, and afterward in Gen. Banks’s command in Texas, till about the close of the war.” We have not found his military records for these posts, but they could have been civilian hires in the engineering department or personal staff appointments by department commanders, neither of which would show up on rosters of regular army or volunteer officers.

Merriam settled in Boston after the war, as superintendent of Metallic Art Works and as part of Merriam & Co. with his brother Joseph H. Merriam, doing die work and casting. After his brother’s death in 1871 the company was dissolved and Merriam spent 1873 to 1880 in Italy with his second wife, Mary. We have no date of death for him, but know that he lived to apply for a military pension in 1907.

This is a very good example of a regulation field and staff officer’s sword presented to an officer of some talent in a zouave regiment. Further research may develop details of his involvement in the Department of North Carolina and General Banks’s operations in Texas. The latter included coastal offensives against Galveston and Sabine Pass, and an expedition to Brownsville, but (somewhat ironically) the mission was largely to counter support for the Confederacy from the French in Mexico.  [sr]

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