MEDICAL STAFF SWORD OF SURGEON ROBERT BROWNE, 31st NEW JERSEY AND U.S. VOLS BREVETED MAJOR AND LT. COLONEL

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Robert Bethel Browne did two tours of duty as an army surgeon in the Civil War: the first as the Surgeon of the 31st New Jersey, when he acquired this sword, and then as an Assistant Surgeon in the U.S. Volunteer forces of the U.S. Army, when he likely carried it as well. The sword is a pattern 1840 Medical Staff Officer’s sword with cast and chased gilt brass hilt professionally engraved with his name and unit, etched blade, and metal scabbard with cast and chased mounts, all in very good condition.

The hilt is regulation, with pineapple shaped finial, and feathered and floral grip extending upward from a flowering bud, with an eagle in oval cartouche at the top on the obverse and the owner’s name engraved in the corresponding oval on the reverse. The crossguard consists of two feathered and floral scrolling branches coming off scrolls with rosettes, on either side of shield-shaped langets. The reverse langet is blank. The obverse is cast and chased with an Old English “M.S.” over thirteen stars, all within a wreath border.

The blade is oval in cross-section with a narrow central fuller and etched with floral motifs and an upright U.S. eagle on one side and “Medical Staff” on the other. The blade form and etching are akin to Roby products, but the hilt has differences in the shape of finial and eagle and we hesitate to make a firm maker attribution since there are similarities to Schuyler, Hartley and Graham as well in the hilt and scabbard mounts. The blade is bright and the etching is visible. The scabbard is steel, with smooth surface and no dents, blued originally but rubbed to a steel gray with some blue showing in protected areas near the mounts. The mounts are deeply cast and chased on the obverse with oak leaves and eight-pointed star rosettes. All mounts and rings are in place. The brass matches the medium patina of the hilt.

The reverse oval on the upper grip is professionally engraved, “ROBT. B. BROWNE” in block letters over “31st N.J.M.” in script. The “M” is an engraver’s error. The regiment was actually called up under a draft call of August 1862 for some 10,000 troops from New Jersey for nine month’s U.S. service and was a volunteer regiment rather than militia. The regiment recruited in Warren and Hunterdon counties and mustered into service at Flemington on 9/17/62. The regiment was dispatched to Washington, first camped on Capitol Hill, and was then moved to Tennallytown as part of the Provisional Brigade of Casey’s Division: the first posting for most volunteer regiments to get them acclimated, fully equipped, and somewhat disciplined. About December 1 they were ordered to Acquia Creek where they were assigned to Patrick’s brigade of the Provost Guard, Army of the Potomac, sent to Belle Plain for guard and provost duty. In early January they were assigned to Paul’s brigade, Wadsworth’s division, Reynold’s First Army Corps and joined the main army. They took part in the Chancellorsville campaign, but the corps was not seriously engaged and the regiment suffered no loss. They returned to New Jersey to be mustered out at Flemington 6/24/63.

Robert B. Browne was officially enlisted on 9/15/62 and was mustered into service with the regiment as surgeon 9/17/62. Born in Easton, Pa., in 1824, he attended Lafayette College, though we have not yet found where he studied medicine. He spent most of his life in the area of Easton and in Phillipsburg, NJ, directly across the river. He mustered out with 31st New Jersey in June 1863, but enlisted again, this time in the U.S. Volunteer forces as an assistant surgeon on 7/5/1864. He was brevetted major as of March 13, 1865, “for faithful and meritorious service,” and spent at least some of his time posted to Texas, for he was also brevetted to Lt. Colonel as of October 25, 1866, “for faithful and meritorious service at Galveston, Texas, during the prevalence of the cholera at that place.” He was honorably mustered out 11/1/66. We find him in Jeansville, Luzerne County, Pa., in 1872, but he was back across the river from Easton in Phillipsburg practicing as a physician shortly after and married a girl from that town in 1875. In 1900 we find him widowed and living with a daughter in Lopatcong, NJ, adjacent to Phillipsburg, and he dies there November 13, 1900. He is buried in Easton.

This is a nicely inscribed and fully identified regulation medical staff officer’s that would display well in a medical or New Jersey collection and has room for further research on Browne’s military activities from 1864 to 1866.  [sr]

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