Major Courtenay B. Brent’s Presentation Sword
Item #: OS-6608
The sword shown here is neatly engraved "Presented to Capt. C.A. Brent by the Ladies of Staunton, April 15th, 1862”. It turns out that Captain Brent was quite a character. Prior to the War he had served five years in the U.S. Navy, where he acquired a taste for knife fighting. He was shot several times in a knife fight in his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia (Note: don’t bring a knife to a gunfight). He seemed too fond of knives, because another time he cut up a prominent citizen.
Perhaps he was just right for war. Major Brent’s career during the War was fascinating, and all the more so because there is such good documentation of it; he wrote much of it out to the Secretary of War. The letters below were taken from the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. (O.R.)
On July 3, 1863 Brent wrote the Secretary of War in Richmond:
"Hon. J.A. Seddon, Sir,
On the 24th of May, 1861, I left my home in Alexandria and joined the army as private in which position I served until the first of November/61 when I was promoted to a 1st Lieut. of artillery & ordered to the command of Col. Turner Ashby’s battery which I commanded during the battle at Harper’s Ferry. I was soon after ordered to the command of the fortifications at Winchester, where I remained until Gen. Jackson evacuated that place after which I was with him during his whole campaign in the Valley. Just previous to the battles before Richmond when I was elected Captain of a company in the 5th Va. Cavalry, which I resigned for the command of a battalion of Rangers, in which position I remained acting co-jointly with Cols Wharton & Mosby until the 1st of February 1863 when I was taken prisoner and confined in the Old Capitol (prison) from which I made my escape and went to England and was sent back by Mr. Mason as bearer of dispatches to yourself. I have been commended for promotion by every officer under whom I ever served, some of which recommendations I enclose (included in Brent’s O.R. file). The others you will no doubt find by looking over the papers in the War Department. I have been wounded five times, from the latter of which I have not entirely recovered. Last, but not least I have left everything in the hands of the enemy and am entirely dependent on the position I may occupy for the support of an invalid wife. In consideration of the above I respectfully request that I may be ordered to some command in which I can render most good service to my country.
Yours respectfully, C.B. Brent.”
From this letter, on August 11, 1863 came an appointment as a Captain of Cavalry, P.A.C.S. There is a note in his O.R. that reads:
"Hon. Jas. A. Seddon,
Yours of the 1st has been received. I should be most happy to serve under Maj. Mosby in the manner you suggest & hope you will order me to report to him immediately.
Brent was serving under Mosby when he was captured and sent to the Old Capitol Prison.
Afterwards, he was assigned command of his own Partisan Rangers and we find another letter to the Secretary of War:
"Charlottesville, Feb 15th, 1864
Hon. Jas. A. Seddon, Secretary of War,
I addressed you a communication sometime since informing you that I collected two companies Of my former command, & requesting that they might be ordered to report to me at Harrisonburg Since that time I have had agents in North Western Virginia who have recruited me upwards of two
Hundred men. These men are now lying idle awaiting your orders so that I can collect them in camp & organize them into companies. I respectively request that the orders may be forwarded to me at Harrisonburg so that I can make all arrangements for their reception before forwarding the orders.
C.B. Brent, Capt. & act Maj. P.A.C.S”
Surprisingly the "communication” he mentions in the above letter survives! It reads:
"Weston, Lewis Co. Va.
Major C.R. (sic) Brent,
I have since I left you been very busy recruiting for you command. I have now two hundred and thirty good men who are now only awaiting your orders to report at your Head Quarters. Please designate the Rendezvous by the bearer of this so that I can forward them immediately. I have every hope of getting upwards of one thousand men as the Yankee draft will soon commence here and they will leave in large numbers to evade it.”
The same letter goes on in a very intriguing direction:
"The bank here is full of revenue collected in this county, it would be a splendid operation and we could take it very easily as there is only a small
force in this county and they are composed principally of Home Guards.
Thos Litell "
So, you see these fellows were ahead of the Jesse James!
There is also an account of a fight at Flint Hill, Rappahannock County, Virginia in the Richmond Dispatch of a fight on July 4, 1862.
"We had quite an animated skirmish in our neighborhood today. While ten of the Independent Scouts under command of Captain C. B. Brent scouting near here they fell in with a party of 15 Yankees who have been pillaging here for some time past. Led by their gallant Captain they made a dashing charge upon the Hessions (German Troops) killing six and putting the rest to flight, hotly pursued by the scouts. They had not gone more than half a mile before they ran full into a camp of 200 Yankee cavalry. Seeing resistance useless they turned to retreat when they found they were surrounded by the vandals who immediately commenced firing on them. Two of the Scouts were killed and Captain Brents horse shot under him and himself wounded in the shoulder. Not withstanding he collected the remainder of his little band and jumping on a Yankee horse which happened to be near gallantly charged the enemy and succeeded in cutting his way clear leaving five of his men on the field.
Captain Brent is a native of Alexandria, and is generally known through this part of the country for his daring and successful scouts and if his wound should be serious, this section will lose its defense. Since the fight the Yankees have moved their camp- it is not known where, as they moved at night, fearful of being attacked by a superior force. They are very scary- and I think if Capt. Brent had two or more companies under his command he would soon rid us of them altogether.”
Though I have found an extraordinary amount of information, there are two things that I cannot find;
Major Brent ended the War as Lieutenant Colonel of the 4thBattalion Kentucky Cavalry, how or when he got there, I don’t know. And, for what gallant deed he was presented this imported Model 1860 Light Cavalry sword by the ladies of Staunton. Major Brent’s sword remains in incredibly good condition. It literally is not far from being in new condition. Flawless!
The sword comes with all documentation and even extensive coverage
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