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EARLY SOUTH CAROLINA MILITIA OFFICER’S BRIDLE FEATURING BEAUTIFUL PALMETTO PALM ORNAMENTS, MATCHING BRASS BUCKLES & MOUNTED w/ A MODEL 1859 1ST PATTERN ARTILLERY BRASS FACED BIT – AN EXTREMELY RARE OFFERING OF A UNIQUE CONFEDERATE OFFICER’S BRIDLE:  An extremely rare set from a very old collection, this South Carolina Militia Artillery Officer’s Bridle is believed to be the only surviving specimen which features a pair of the extremely rare South Carolina Palmetto Palm bridle ornaments.   This antebellum period Bridle mounted with a 1ST Pattern Model 1859 Brass Faced Artillery Bit is definitely a show piece of exceptionally rarity and quality, and a set which could well be the only surviving specimen of its kind.  Certainly, this set could never be upgraded.


As it presents, this bridle and bit were discovered some thirty years ago at a flea market in Messena, a town in upper state New York.  That such a piece identified to a southern state’s militia, or the Confederacy in general, was found in a far northern state is not particularly unusual. I know of several identified Confederate saddles which were found in similar circumstances, the result of these special pieces being recovered as trophies of war from such battlefields as Antietam and Gettysburg and sent home where they lay protected in family estates all these years.  The majority of horse equipment which remained in the hands of the Confederate forces for the duration of the war, and made it home with the returning veterans, was prone to be used to destruction in the crushing financial conditions of the South following the war, and simply did not survive.  Most of the post war South lacked the luxury of a lifestyle which allowed for keepsakes and maintaining collectibles.  Since being acquired at the New York flea market, this piece has been in the hands of two subsequent collectors before I acquired it, making for a clear chain of province since entering the collector’s market.   

The South Carolina state emblem, the Palmetto Palm, is boldly featured in relief on both of the brass plated bridle ornaments, enhanced by hand stamped and chased details.  The ornaments feature the Palmetto Palm tree with the date “1776” on the root base of the tree – the same date of the state’s origin which appears on the South Carolina State Seal.   

The Palmetto Palm (sabal palmetto) has long been the iconic emblem for the state of South Carolina.  The first appearance in conjunction with the state dates to the American Revolutionary War in commemoration of the use of the Palmetto Palm trunks which were reportedly used to build a fort on Sullivan’s Island, located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, in defense against an attack by a British fleet on June 28, 1776.  In spite of heavy shelling from the British Men of War, the cannon fire had no effect on the sand filled palmetto log walls.  The South Carolinians held the fort and withstood the British invasion, and to commemorate this victory, the Palmetto Palm was added to the state’s flag, and it was incorporated into the state seal created in 1777.  South Carolina embraced the Palmetto Palm to the extent that it has become known as the “Palmetto State” and it is not surprising that incorporating the palm into the insignia of their militia predated the American Civil War.    

From available records, it appears that South Carolina made one of the earliest and most concerted efforts to establish very definitive regulations for her state militia.  Approved by the State Legislature and published in the 1840’s, these regulations included descriptions of the approved horse “furniture” (equipment) down to the extent and colors of ornamental trimming.  Fortunately, this information was captured by Craig Caba in his Historic Southern Saddles.   

The descriptions of approved ornamentation of the horse furniture included several references to the use of the palmetto palm for senior officers’ horse equipment.  The shabraques were described “…For the Commander-in-Chief, and Major Generals … a gold embroidered palmetto, five inches long, in each flank corner.”  Pommel holster covers for the same two senior ranks were to be adorned with “…gold embroidered palmettos, two inches and a half long….”   Saddle mountings for all general officers, and all general, division, and brigade staff officers such as stirrups, buckles and bridle bits were to be of “yellow metal or gilt.” 

For field grade officers (colonel, lieutenant colonel and major), the ornamentation was more subdued, however some of the details are interesting in how they departed from the regular army regulations and conventions, and how these details are reflected in this South Carolina bit and bridle set.  Noting that the regular army conventions called for white trim for infantry, yellow or gold for cavalry and red for artillery, the South Carolina Militia regulations called for the bullion trimming on the saddle cloths for infantry and cavalry officers to be silver, while the artillery officers’ saddle cloths were to be trimmed in gold.  The South Carolina regulations directed that the metal saddle mountings such as stirrups, buckles and bridle bits for infantry and cavalry officers were to be of “white metal or silver plated” while the same items were to be of “yellow metal or gilt” for artillery officers. 

This bridle features brass buckles and the brow band still retains some of its yellow enameled finish.  Drawing from the regulations, the combination of the brass plated (“yellow metal”) bridle ornaments, the brass buckles, and the brass faced 1ST Pattern Model 1859 Artillery Bit all argue for this set having belonged to a South Carolina Militia artillery officer.  While the regulations do not specifically call for the Palmetto Palm bridle ornaments, as is so well documented in Ken Knopp’s Made in the “C.S.A.” - Saddle Makers of the Confederacy, the south in general, and South Carolina in particular, had well established saddleries and foundries, any one of which could have produced this bridle and the ornaments on a special order paid for with the private funds of the officer.   

The headstall is in excellent condition, complete with all the billets and the throat latch, and with no weak points or broken straps.  The bridle was made in substantial proportions with stout leather, obviously intended to survive the rigors of field use.  The equally strong crown and cheek pieces are full length, the billets have not been trimmed as is commonly seen on early headstalls, and the standing loops are all intact.  The brow band is trimmed with a saw tooth edged leather binding and the face of the band retains much of the original yellow enameled finish.  The straps are fitted with cast brass “crown top” buckles with iron tongues, and all the buckles retain a nice naturally aged patina.  These uniquely shaped “crown top, sunk bar” buckles have been documented by the well known and well published Confederate horse equipment authority, Ken Knopp, as having been manufactured and available on the market in the Antebellum south.  The leather is overall strong and pliable, the leather surface is overall smooth with no crazing or flaking and retaining a nice finish, and this bridle will display well if handled and supported properly.  

This bridle is mounted with one of the rarest of the Civil War Bits, a 1ST Pattern Model 1859 Brass Faced Artillery Bit.  These bits were introduced just prior to the Civil War with the newly adopted Horse Equipments which included the Model 1859 McClellan Saddle.  Manufactured in relatively small numbers, the Model 1859 Artillery Bit was soon replaced by the far more common Model 1863 Artillery Bit.  Probably due to the attractive brass facing, this bit was also popular with mounted officers who chose it over the bits with unadorned iron side bars.  Originally designed and manufactured to be used in the context of an artillery team with two sets of reins per horse, the upper rein rings which were set at the round bosses at the ends of the mouth piece and the ring mounting swell which was set on the rear edge of the side bar have been removed from both sides of the bit, and it was ultimately used with one set of reins buckled into the rein slots at the lower ends of the side bars.   

This bit shows considerable use in the field – not abused, but commensurate with prolonged use before, and during, the Civil War.  Despite this field use, much of the brass facing is still intact – more on the upper half of the side bars than on the lower half as would be expected as the lower reaches of the side bars are more exposed when the bridle is on the horse.  The brass has a wonderful naturally aged patina overall which matches the patina on the Palmetto bridle ornaments and the buckles.  The bit is very solid with both the mouth bar and lower bar intact, and the bit shows no damage or bending out of its original shape.  The exposed steel on the inside faces of the branches and the mouthpiece has aged to brown in some areas, but there is no pitting to the surfaces – they are smooth overall.  The reverse side of the mouth piece is stamped “WROUGHT”, a statement of quality applied by the maker indicating the steel used in the manufacture of the bit was hammered out of wrought iron and advertising its inherent strength, as opposed to cast iron which normally produced a weaker product.   

As provided by the Militia Act of 1808, the federal government provided funding as well as quantities of regular army arms and equipment on an annual basis for the purposes of equipping the state militias.  This supply system explains how this Model 1859 Artillery Bit, approved and manufactured before the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, would have been available to a South Carolina militia officer by the beginning of the Civil War.  The pairing of the brass ornamented bridle and this brass faced bit makes for a very handsome combination, and no doubt presents exactly as the officer who owned this set intended.  The matching condition of the bridle and bit, and color of the patina on the brass buckles on the bridle and the brass facing on the bit, gives every indication that these two pieces are original to each other and have been together since their period of manufacture and use.   

This rare South Carolina Bridle and Bit set is the type of special item that seldom comes along, and when it does, it threatens to turn me into my own best customer, requiring a certain amount of discipline to remember that I cannot keep it all.  The limited number of South Carolina militia officers prior to the Civil War would have determined that these bridles were manufactured in proportionately low numbers.  This small original number, further restricted after the onset of the war as brass became a critical commodity which could no longer be used for unnecessary ornamentation, and considering the generally low survival rate of Confederate horse equipment, the rarity of this set cannot be overstated.  That this specimen survived at all, much less fully intact, is nothing short of amazing.  This unique set, as it presents in excellent condition, would stand alone as a star addition to any Civil War collection, and it would considerably enhance a display of a Civil War officer's saddle.  This offering is a rare opportunity to acquire a very special piece for your collection.  (0904)  $7500



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