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Item Code: 870-300

This beautiful and unique sword belonging to William Feay Shellman of the Oglethorp Light Infantry and 8th Georgia Volunteers is pictured on p. 151 of The Ames Sword Company by Hamilton, and in “Civil War Relics of Georgia.” It is the only one of the pattern known and was also for some time on exhibit in the old Factor’s Walk Military Museum in Savannah, run by Col. L.B. Henderson, who obtained it from a granddaughter of William Shellman. Shellman served from May 1861 to May 1865 in the Confederate service and was wounded three times, including at Gettsysburg while Adjutant of the 8th Georgia, Anderson’s Brigade.

The gilt brass hilt is a unique variation on the 1833 Dragoon Officer’s pattern saber, showing a typical stepped pommel and backstrap, and leather wrapped, wire bound grip. The guard, however, is in the “gothic” form with branches forming arches and incorporates an open-work circular medallion with an eagle in the center, canted to one side with raised wings, rather in the form of cockade eagle circa 1800. The brass has a medium tone with no damage, dark spots or bends. The leather grip has good color, blackish-brown, and good surface. The wire is tight. The blade pad is in place on the underside of the guard.

The 30-inch etched blade and the scabbard reflect 1850 patterns. The blade is curved, single-edged, with one wide fuller. The scabbard is browned metal with brass mounts. The blade etching is quite visible and incorporates U.S. and state motifs. There is a little gray spotting at the bottom on either side, but the etching is quite vivid all along the frosted panels and the blade above the frosting is bright as well. The flat back of the blade is etched with a series of petals. The obverse is etched with the Ames address in a circular cartouche with a floral base: “AMES MFG. CO. / CHICOPEE / MASS.” Over that are floral scrolls from which long tendrils and leafy stems emerge, leading up to the figure of an American Indian with feathered headress acting as an armorial supporter of the Georgia “pillars and arches” state seal with “Constitution” visible on the upper arch, with foliage in the background. More leafy vines and floral scrolls above that entwine a trophy of arms with shield, pikes, etc., and a liberty cap on a pole emerging at the top. The panel finishes with another floral section, bound at bottom with a knotted ribbon, and the frosting ends with flame terminals.

The etching on the reverse begins at the bottom with the same sort of leafy tendrils reaching upward, followed by a bold U.S. eagle clutching arrows and olive branch in its talons and long, upward flowing “E Pluribus Unum” banner scroll in its beak, all beneath an arc of stars and sunburst of rays, and two more floral panels, the upper with a knotted ribbon at its base, as on the obverse, and the frosting also ends in flame terminals.

The metal scabbard is browned and shows nice plum tones with just slight freckling lower down. The gilt brass mounts have a medium patina. The combination shows the influence of the 1850 patterns. The throat is short with straight lower edge, mirrored by the upper edge of the top ring mount, which has a scroll at bottom, picked up on both ends of the middle mount an upper end of the drag. The mounts are geometrically engraved with lines and chevrons. The carrying rings are in place. The upper mount has a frog stud as well.

The sword obviously predates the war and Shellman may have acquired it as a purchase or gift when he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant on 17 December 1861 or, perhaps more likely, when he was appointed 1st Lieutenant and Regimental Adjutant on 30 April 1862. The latter post required he serve mounted and swords with metal scabbards were both regulation and practical.

Shellman, was born in 1840 and in 1850 was living in Chatham County (Savannah and environs) with his father (a lawyer,) mother, sister, and two brothers. By 1860, however, they were in Richmond County (Augusta and surroundings,) but the household consisted of just the father, who was then listed as a “Teacher of Lang[uages,] and the three boys, with William listed as railroad clerk.

At the outbreak of the war, William belonged to the Oglethorpe Light Infantry, a prominent Savannah militia company formed in January 1856. How early he joined it is unclear, but a history of the company lists him as 4th Sergeant in 1861, indicating he may have been a member for a time and may have been among a detachment led by its commander, Capt. Francis Bartow, in the occupation of Fort Pulaski in January 1861. Muster rolls, however, indicate that when the company joined Confederate service on 21 May 1861 Shellman mustered in as a private. The muster rolls are incomplete, but with the exception of detached service in November 1861, perhaps as an assistant to the commissary, he was present in the company throughout their service until he was wounded for the third time in June 1864. Furloughs or hospitalizations for his previous wounds are not recorded.

The Oglethorp Light Infantry enlisted for the duration of the war in the Confederate service to the consternation of Governor Brown, who wished to keep them under state control. Recruitment was so successful that a second company was formed, which later saw service as Co. H 1st Georgia. William Shellman’s younger brothers both saw service as enlisted men in this second company: John H. from September 1861 and Albert L. from March 1863. Both survived to surrender at Greensboro 26 April 1865. The original company in the meantime, having mustered in with 4 officers and 97 men, joined other Georgia companies in Virginia to form the 8th Georgia, where it was designated Company B. Captain Bartow was promoted to Colonel of the regiment and while in command of the brigade was killed at First Bull Run, where Shellman suffered his first wound. The regiment had been ordered to attack Sherman’s artillery battery and became engaged with several Union regiments, taking fire from three sides, but refused to withdraw, losing 41 killed and 159 wounded. Their bravery was reported in several newspapers, and was the subject of at least one poem. The Richmond Dispatch carried the following account:

“Of all the companies of the regiment, the Oglethorpe Light Infantry suffered most. They were on the extreme right nearest the enemy, and this were more exposed. Composed of the first young gentlemen of Savannah, their terrible loss will throw a gloom over their whole city. An organization of five or six years’ standing, they were the favorite corps of Savannah. Colonel Bartow had long been Captain and was idolized by them, while he had a band of sons in them. It is supposed that his deep grief at the mutilation of his boys caused him to expose his life more recklessly than was necessary. He wished to die with them, if he could not take them back home. They fought with heroic desperation. All young, all unmarried, all gentlemen, there was not one of the killed who was not an ornament to his community and freighted with brilliant promise. In sending them to Virginia, Savannah sent her best to represent her, and their loss proves how well they stood up, ho well that city was represented upon a field where all were brave…”

A member of the company wrote home, “We took 78 men into the fight (the O.L.I.) To show how terrible was the firing: six were killed, twenty were wounded, twenty-nine struck but not hurt, leaving only sixteen untouched…” (We are aware the math does not quite add up.) Gen. Beauregard is cited in several sources as saluting the regiment as it marched off the field after the battle.

On 17 December 1861, Shellman was elected 2nd Lieutenant of the company and four months later was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and Regimental Adjutant on 30 April 1862, about the time the regiment joined Anderson’s brigade, with which it served throughout the war. While Shellman was Adjutant the regiment saw action in the Peninsular Campaign (losing 28 killed and 65 wounded in the Seven Days,) at Rappahannock Bridge, Salem, Thoroughfare Gap, 2nd Manassas(8 killed and 54 wounded,) Chantilly, South Mountain (where he is mentioned in passing in the Official Records during the fighting at Turner’s Gap,)  Antietam, Fredericksburg, Suffolk, and Gettysburg.

At Gettysburg the regiment was heavily engaged on July 2 as part of Longstreet’s attack on the Union left, fighting in the Rose Woods and attacking the southern wall of the wheatfield, facing De Trobriand, Cross, Brooke, and other Union brigades. The regiment took 312 men into action, losing 172, including 30 of 36 officers. Shellman is listed as wounded on July 3, which could be an error of date, but would mean that he came through the worst of the fighting, only to be hit the next day, when the brigade was sent down the Emmitsburg Road to fend off Union cavalry threatening the division’s flank. There is no indication of the seriousness of the wound and muster rolls are incomplete, but he was likely with the regiment when it went west with Longstreet in Fall 1863. It was not engaged at Chickamauga, but did see action at Knoxville in late November.

The regiment returned to the Army of Northern Virginia for the 1864 campaigns as part of Fields’ division, losing 38 men at the Wilderness according to CWData, 8 at Spottsylvania, and at Cold Harbor on June 1 another 8, including Shellman, who suffered a severe wound to his right arm, requiring amputation at the shoulder. An entry in records from C.S. General Hospital No. 4 says he was admitted there on June 15 and returned to duty July 9, but muster rolls indicate he received a furlough at General Lee’s order for sixty days from  6/27/64. The muster rolls also make clear that he was on furlough from the regiment into October, when he went before a medical examining board and was “retired” to the Invalid Corps, which meant that although not on active service with the regiment he was kept on the regimental rosters and would be reviewed for service or discharge every six months (Act of 17 February 1864.)

Some records list his “retirement” to the Invalid Corps as dating to October 15 and others to November 15, but in either case he continued to serve, joining local defense troops in Savannah: Georgia records list him as elected major of “Shellman’s Local Defense Battalion” in 1864. This may have been sometime in September or October, for another entry in his service says he was assigned to General Kemper (in charge of reserves in Virginia) 29 November 1864. He finished his war service, however, with Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones, head of the Dept. of South Georgia and Florida, for he surrendered with that command at Tallahasse FL, on 5/10/65, and was paroled at Thomasville, GA, 5/11/65. When he surrendered, he listed himself as 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant P.A.C.S., the proper designation for an officer “retired to the Invalid Corps.”

After the war Shellman returned to Savannah and to railroad work, becoming a Traffic Manager for the Central Georgia Railroad. He died of Bright’s disease in Savannah on 7 February 1897.

Accompanying the sword is a letter of provenance dated 1996 by Col. L.P. Henderson of Savannah to Bruce Jackson of Tennessee recounting his receipt of the sword as a gift from one of Shellman’s granddaughters. When received it was accompanied by a pistol and the photograph in Hamilton shows it once had a somewhat frayed bullion sword knot on it. This is wonderful sword in a unique configuration from Ames, the premier American sword manufacturer, carried by a Confederate officer who, though grievously wounded, remained in service for almost literally every day of the war.  [sr]









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