August 1, 2013

FOUND: Col. Hambright's 1863 Presentation Sword

Location: Phillips Museum of Art, 700 College Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17603, USA
This post is written with a special thanks to Maureen Lane and Maddie Frye of the Phillips Museum of Art for their kind help in allowing me to visit the archives to see the sword and to Rick Abel for the clues that he dug up from over twenty years ago.   

Presentation Sword, Sash, and Belt of Col. Henry A. Hambright
Phillips Museum of Art, Franklin and Marshall College

It's hard to think of an artifact that better facilitates telling the story of Lancaster and the Civil War than a presentation sword that the non-commissioned men and officers of the 79th Pennsylvania purchased and presented to Col. Henry A. Hambright in May 1863.  As far as I'm aware, that sword has never been displayed publicly since it left Hambright's possession.  On Monday morning, I got to see that sword for my first time when local collector Rick Abel and I visited the Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin and Marshall College.

Col. Henry A. Hambright
(No Backmark)
Richard Abel Collection
I had actually known of the sword's existence for a while due to its being mentioned in a law journal summary of a dispute over Hambright's estate and money for his wife, who was declared a lunatic in the days after her husband's death [PA State Reports, v. 169, p. 57].  Specifically, his presentation sword was left to the Lancaster Linnaean Society, whose collection became part of Franklin and Marshall College (and largely ended up as the North Museum).  The sword's fate was unclear, however, through the institutional transitions over the twentieth century.  When I met with Rick Abel in December 2011, he mentioned that he had seen it in the basement of one of F&M's buildings under an inch of dust in the early 1990s.  I sent emails out to various people at F&M who I thought might know something about the sword, and Maureen Lane, curator of the Phillips Museum of Art, responded saying she might know something about it.  We set up an appointment, and the sword and case were out and waiting for Rick and me when we arrived!  (I wish all historical mysteries were this easy to solve and all museums were this helpful.) 

Going back to 1863, the sword's story begins with widespread acclaim for Col. Hambright's leadership of the regiment through its first battles at Perryville and Stones River.  It is unknown when the effort to purchase a presentation sword for Hambright began, but his two-week furlough in April 1863 visit to Lancaster certainly would have provided a convenient time for the effort to get underway.  The non-commissioned officers and men of the 79th Pennsylvania pooled together money to buy the sword as a testament of respect for their colonel.  The sword arrived in camp and was presented to Hambright in a special ceremony on May 27, 1863.  Sergt. Sigmund E. Wisner described the sword and accompanying items in a letter to the Weekly Mariettian [6/13/1863]:
The non-commissioned officers and privates of the 79th have purchased a magnificent sword, accompanied with a belt, sash, set of spurs, and a pair of gauntlets, for Col. Hambright. The whole is enclosed in a rose-wood box, and is valued at nearly $400. The blade of the sword is composed of Demascus steel, and is slightly ornamented in gold and bears the inscription "God and my Country;" the hilt is set with rubies and a silver goddess of liberty with a rubic clasping a mantle over his breast, forms the gripe. The scabbard is heavily plated with gold, finely chasted, and and has inscribed on it, `"Presented to Col. H. A. Hambright, by the non-commissioned officers and privates of his regiment as a testimonial of their esteem for gallant conduct at the battles of Chaplin Hills, Ky., October 8, 1862, and Stone river, January 2, and 3, 1863."
The sword was sent back to Lancaster shortly thereafter and displayed in the window of one of the stores on Centre Square.  In my next post, I'll examine the speeches made during the presentation, as well as Hambright's relationship with the Lancaster community, especially the families of his soldiers, around this time  In the meantime, enjoy the pictures of a beautiful set of artifacts. Hopefully, they'll have a chance to once again be put on display in Lancaster for the community to appreciate.

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