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CIVIL WAR FIELD OFFICERS SWORD – IRON HILT VARIANT WITH A PATRIOTIC MOTIF ON THE GUARD AND THE BEAUTIFULLY ETCHED BLADE – IDENTIFIED TO MAJOR SENECA G. WILLAUER, 116TH PENNSYLVANIA INFANTRY, AND THE VETERANS RESERVE CORPS:  This Civil War Iron Hilt Field Officer’s Sword has survived in very nice condition.  Obtained years ago from the family descendants, this sword belonged to Major Seneca Grubb Willauer of the 116TH Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and later, after recovering from his severe wounds suffered at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, he served in the 6TH  and 11TH Regiments, Veterans Reserve Corps.  Stationed in Maryland at the end of the war, Willauer was involved in the capture of John Wilkes Booth, the infamous assassin.   

This sabre was recently purchased from a very large, old Eastern collection and that collector purchased this sabre from an antique dealer who was a descendant of Major Willauer.  As is so often the case, the surviving descendants no longer had an interest in keeping the sabre within the family and the collector just happened to be in the right place at the right time to acquire it.  While the sabre is not engraved with the major’s name, an early biography of his service dating back to 1892 accompanied the sabre, supplied by the family member.

Major Willauer (b.11-24-1833, d. 11-25-1916) left quite a record, and with a minimal amount of effort some highlights of his military service was found.  The 116TH Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment was formed during the summer of 1862 and by September had moved to Washington, D.C. and then south into Virginia.  The regiment participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 12-15, and it was during this battle when Willauer was severely wounded on the 13TH.  Leading his company as they assaulted Marye’s Heights, Willauer was “hit by a shell that tore all the flesh from his thigh, exposing the bone.”  Willauer’s reaction to the wound was so notable that his utterance has been recorded in several histories of the regiment and the battle.  In spite of  the seriousness of the wound, Willauer reportedly sought out the regiment’s colonel and asked, “Do you think I should go on with my company or go to the hospital?”  Such presence of mind under fire and while coping with what anyone would reasonably assume to be a debilitating injury is the stuff from which legends are born and history is written, and it continues to serve as a testament of the caliber and character of the soldier to who it is attributed.  He was cited for gallantry at Fredericksburg and promoted to captain upon the recommendation of his regiment’s colonel and with the endorsement of General Hancock. 

From available information, Willauer apparently recovered sufficiently from his wound to return to and remain with the 116TH .  He was recommended for the lieutenant-colonelcy of the regiment, but the ranks of the regiment were so depleted due to losses at Fredericksburg that the regiment could not be mustered.  While new recruits were sought to replenish the ranks, the regiment remained in northern Virginia and Willauer served as the regiment commander until February of 1864.  At that time he was promoted to captain, and then brevetted to the rank of major in conjunction with his transfer in April to the 6TH Regiment of the Veteran Reserve Corps (VRC), and in December to the 11TH Regiment, VRC.  

While in command of a significant detachment of the 11TH Regiment, VRC stationed in Leonardtown, Maryland, Willauer actively participated in the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth and David Herold, two of the Lincoln conspirators. 

Willauer remained on active duty after the war, serving in a variety of posts, to include an assignment in Alexandria, Louisiana where he was credited with a considerable effort in establishing schools for the freed slave children.  He retired from active duty in 1868 and returned to Pennsylvania.  In 1869 he was elected as the chief court clerk of Chester County, during the 1870’s and 1880’s he was the owner of the Kaolin Mine and Mill in Caln Township, and as late as the 1900 US Census he was listed as an inspector of the Pennsylvania Soldiers’ Orphan Schools. 

The Willauer family did not entirely escape the tragedy of the Civil War, and in fact, the war service of Seneca’s immediate family illustrates the cost of the war on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.  On the same day Seneca was wounded on Marye’s Heights, his younger brother Sam, a corporal in the same Company C of the 116TH , sustained wounds from which he eventually died.  A second brother, Jonathan, had visited their sister in Texas during the 1850’s and stayed to establish a ranch.  When the war broke out, Jonathan joined the 21ST Texas Cavalry and was killed in 1864 in Louisiana while serving the Confederacy. 

The pre-war 1850 regulations called for company grade officers to carry the Foot Officers Sword and staff and field grade officers were to carry the aptly named Staff and Field Officers sword.  As with all of the other pieces of uniform, equipment, and weapons, the officers were expected to outfit themselves at their own expense.  While the regulations applied to regular and state militia officers alike, a considerable amount of latitude was afforded the officer, with his preferences and financial situation dictating his choices as much (if not more so) as the regulations. 

This non-regulation Staff and Field Officer’s Sword was assembled and sold by the firm of George W. Simons Brothers & Company of Philadelphia, and so marked on the ricasso of the blade with a legible etched panel as clear as the day it was applied, “GEV. W. SIMONS, BROS PHILADELPHIA”.  That Major Willauer would purchase his sword from a retailer located in Pennsylvania comes as no surprise, and Simons was a well established firm, dating from the 1840’s, and by 1861 the company was offering swords.  It is believed this company “assembled” swords and sabres, rather than “manufacturing” them - the distinction being that Simons purchased the components from various sources and assembled the parts into complete swords and sabres for sale. 

This particular style of sword is well documented in Peterson’s The American Sword on pages 83-84, and pictured on pages 74-75 of Echoes of Glory, Arms and Equipment of the Union from the Time-Life series. 

The iron guard is full form with no misshaping or breaks, and has an overall bright surface with only minimal spots of darkening, and no severe pitting.  The grip is surmounted by a checkered backstrap which expands to form a bird’s head pommel cap decorated with concentric rings, and at the grip base is a ferrule with matching concentric rings.  The ribbed grip retains the full pebbled ray skin covering and the correct wrapping of three strands of twisted wire is tight and fully intact, and shows very minimal evidence of use or wear.  

The sheet iron guard features three branches and the counter guard is highlighted with an impressive cut out decoration which features the Federal eagle perched on the bundle of arrows and olive branches laid across the letters “U.S.”.  The eagle is surmounted by a ribbon scroll bearing the motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM”.  The cut out is very well executed and the figure of the eagle, central shield, and the bundles of arrows and branches are all chased with fine engraved details.  

This sword retains what appears to be the original black leather sword knot which has survived in remarkable condition.  While showing some signs of age and use, the doubled braided wrist strap is full length with only minor wear and no breaks.  The strap has a single overhand knot which has been in place for a very long time, and was probably applied by Willauer in order to adjust the length of the strap to suit his use.  The sliding braided leather keeper is present, and the terminal braided and fringed acorn or knot is present.  The terminal knot still retains most of the jagged-edged fringe pieces and the braided band around the top of the knot is fully intact.  Sword knots were not particularly durable and that this knot survived in place and intact is remarkable in and of itself, and it is a very nice added value feature of this sword. 

The blade surface is very smooth and overall bright.  The edge is smooth with no nicks and no sign of heavy sharpening.  The tip of the blade has retained the original profile and length.  The obverse side of the blade has an etched panel framed in a floral pattern with a central design of the federal eagle surmounted by the “E Pluribus Unum” ribbon scroll perched the bundles of arrows and olive branches. The reverse side of the blade has an etched panel framed in a floral pattern with a centrally positioned bold “US” with floral highlights around the letters.  The etching on both sides is very bright and legible with no darkening or frosting.  The back of the blade, immediately adjacent to the ricasso, is etched “IRON PROOF” within a panel.  The ricasso is marked on the obverse as stated above, with the maker’s name etched in a panel.  That same panel also includes a stamped recess which is gilded and bears the stamp “PROVED” surmounting a Maltese cross. The reverse ricasso bears an etched panel stamped with a figure of an armored knight and “W. CLAUBERG” above the figure and “SOLINGEN” below, indicating the blade’s maker. 

The scabbard is full form, with a complete throat, both carrying rings, a solid seam with no splits, a drag in the original shape with no excessive wear, and has an overall bright surface with minimal scattered spots of darkening, with no severe pitting.  

The sale of this sword is accompanied by a body of biographical material documenting Major Willauer’s life, to include copies of the original letter documenting his Civil War service; copies of photographs of the major beginning with a portrait taken during the war and two images taken later in life; copies of original documents written by or to the major; and a collection of biographical material gleaned from various sources.  

This is not only an excellent example of the iron guard, non-regulation Staff and Field Officers Sword, but it enjoys the additional value that attaches from the identification to a Pennsylvania officer who served, and was severely wounded, in one of the most famous engagements of the Civil War.  Major Willauer’s service both during war and to his community upon his return to civilian life will make this sword a pleasure to own.  These identified sabres do not surface often, and once retired from the market into a collection, it will lie quietly for many years to come.  (0219)  $2275

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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