Friday, December 3, 2010

Discovery of Fitz John Porter USA Sword!

While tracking down the two swords mentioned in Porter's 1901 will, I found his US Army sword available for purchase. It is almost certainly one of the swords he leaves to his sons. This is a highly significant acquisition for SBM and for Portsmouth, akin to bringing Leonard Cotton's firebuckets back to SBM. With the assistance of the FJP team and colleagues, SBM has now purchased this fine, rare and highly significant "talisman" of Porter's life.

Please follow these pages for further information.

Kimberly Alexander, PhD.
Chief Curator
Strawbery Banke Museum

Information kindly supplied by arms expert and auctioneer, Michael Simens:

Every once in a while we get lucky. I found this little beauty being ignored at a recent auction over the summer. Sometimes it pays to know of little variations of things, or at least the people that know them. This particular sword is extremely rare. It is a first pattern, Regulation 1860 Staff & Field Officers sword. These were listed in the regulations as to be made with a polished wood grip. Only 500 or so were made and they are quite rare today. In addition, it is inscribed "F. J. Porter, USA" on its counterguard. For those not in the know, "USA" did not stand for "United States of America" at the time, it stood for "United States Army". This was a no-brainer as our Porter was the only officer of that name in the US Army at the time these swords were initially produced. In a nutshell, Porter, who was a graduate of West Point and a decorated hero in the Mexican War was recognized as one of the finest Union Generals who served in the early part of the Civil War. After it's start, Porter became chief of staff and assistant adjutant general for the Department of Pennsylvania, but he was almost immediately promoted to colonel of the 15th Infantry on May 14, 1861. In August, he was promoted to brigadier general, backdated to May 17 so he would be senior enough to receive division command in the Army of the Potomac, newly formed under Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. Soon Porter became a trusted adviser and loyal friend to McClellan, but this association with the soon-to-be-controversial commanding general would prove to be disastrous for Porter's military career. Porter led his division at the beginning of the Peninsula Campaign, seeing action at the Siege of Yorktown. McClellan created two provisional corps and Porter was assigned to command the V Corps. During the Seven Days Battles, and particularly at the Battle of Gaines' Mill, he displayed a talent for defensive fighting. At the Battle of Malvern Hill he also played a leading role cementing his reputation as a superb commander on the battlefield. For his successful performance on the Peninsula he was promoted to major general of volunteers on July 4, 1862. In one of the biggest controversies of the War, he was basically kicked out of the Army based on the testimony of political enemies of General George B. McClellan in January 1863. After years of struggle, a bill passed the Congress to restore Porter to his regular army rank of Colonel, dated to May, 1863. These historical facts can be studied on the net. The sword is in very fine condition. When I bought it, it was missing its drag from its scabbard. I had the same pattern of sword (but from the 1870's) in terrible, rusted condition and transferred the drag to this sword. It matches perfectly, but should be replaced with an earlier type.

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