Old South Military Antiques

Forrest’s Texans Cavalry Belt
Item #: OS-7393

The linen belt shown here was worn by Russell L. Ward, 23rd Texas Cavalry/Forrest’s 3rd Cavalry!

To tell this story I will need to back up a long way in the belt’s provenance. The belt surfaced at Bannerman’s in New York City where it was purchased by well known buckle author Syd Kerksis. Then in 1958, he sold it to Russ Pritchard (No relation to me) who kept it till 1982. While Russ Pritchard owned it, it was photographed and published on page 228 of "THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF AMERICAN CIVIL WAR RELICS” by Stephen W. Sylvia and Michael J. O’Donnell in 1978. In the summer of 1982, it was sold at the annual Gettysburg show. A letter from Mr. Pritchard giving its history comes with the belt. After passing through several collections, the belt resurfaced for sale at the Horse Soldier in Gettysburg.

Previous research had identified the belt to a Confederate soldier named Rudy Ward who served in an Alabama regiment and later, after the war, moved to Texas. However, none of the supporting documentation showed Rudy Ward’s middle initial. After being consigned to The Horse Soldier in Gettysburg, they found Rudy Ward’s middle initial was an "R”. The document providing this information was Mr. Ward’s death certificate. This proved that it was not Rudy Ward’s belt. The guys at the Horse Soldier being honest fellows, they disclosed that the identification was incorrect, thus seriously reducing the belt’s value. However, the consignor still wanted to get his initial investment out of the sale and did not want to reduce the price.

Consequently, the Horse Soldier posted it on their site at the original price, but did disclose that the identification was no good and offered four possibilities:

Rus Ward 23rd Texas Cavalry

Ruffin Ward 20th Texas Infantry

Robert Ward 22nd Texas Infantry

R. Ward 9th Texas Infantry.

Unfortunately for the consignor, four possible identifications, add up to no identification, even without new math. I always loved the belt and there was no doubt that it was an extraordinary original piece of Texas Confederate history, but I was unwilling to pay the price for an identified belt, only to receive an unidentified belt. I tried to buy the belt for its proper value as an unidentified Confederate belt, but the consignor would not budge on the price.

Fast forward a couple of years; I still loved the belt, so I made the same offer a second time. This time the consignor accepted the reality that the unidentified belt was not going to sell for what he paid for it, when it was thought to be identified.

I had the belt, but I wanted to know who R.L. Ward was. After my research was done, I found that the Horse Soldier had been very close, it was one of the four, in fact the very first one. Russell L. Ward, 23rdTexas Cavalry/Forrest’s 3rd Cavalry.

Russell L. Ward was born January 31st, 1837 in Franklin County, Arkansas. In 1860 "Rus” Ward lived in Red River County, Texas, and enlisted at the camp of the Texas Volunteers at the County Seat in Clarkesville, Texas. On September 13th, 1861, he enlisted in N. C. Gould’s Mounted Texas Volunteers as a private. This company became 1st, Company D, Forrest’s Regiment Tennessee Cavalry. Eventually this would be changed to the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, but was commonly known as "Forrest’s Old Regiment, Tennessee Cavalry”.

His records do not show his promotion date, but by November of 1863 he was sergeant and had probably reached this rank long before, because he was elected 2nd Lt, of Company H, on December 3rd, 1863. He remained present and active with his regiment for the remainder of the War, with the exception of a short furlough for illness. His last roll shows him present in March, 1865.

As "Forrest’s Old Regiment, Tennessee Cavalry” needs no introduction, I will not detail his service here. What is important at the moment is the identification of R. L. Ward.

I found a Russell Ward in Clarksville in 1860 and traced him through his years in Clarksville i.e., his 1867 voter registration, his 1870 census, his 1871 marriage to Sarah Elizabeth Delavan and a bunch of other census records spanning his life, but none showed his middle initial until I came to his tombstone, a photo of which is included here. It was Russell L. Ward, known as "Rus”. Later, when his son James Henry Ward filed for social security, he too listed his father as Russell L. Ward and his mother as Sara (sic) Delavan.

After surviving a terrible war, siring seven children and living the peaceful life of a farmer, Rus died of natural causes on April 21st, 1920 in Llano County, Texas and was laid with his wife in Oxford Cemetery, Llano.

So, finally and once and for all, "Rus” Ward’s belt, which he wore when riding with Forrest is positively identified. His belt is made of woven cotton/flax with leather reinforcements at the ends. One section of leather is square and is used to anchor an upside-down oval "US” plate. The opposite edge has a rectangular strip of leather with four adjustment holes to accommodate the plates tongue.

We have long known from period photographs that Confederates used captured US plates, worn upside down to represent "Southern Nation” in lieu of Confederate buckles, simply because there were not nearly enough CS buckles to supply the need. Occasionally belts with US plates are seen represented as CS belts for sale, but you can never really tell if they were worn upside down, or whether someone merely put the accoutrements on upside down and claimed a US belt as a CS belt for the purpose of fraud. This belt is a rare exception; the owner himself wrotein period ink on the face of the belt,"R L WARD. TEXAS.” The name shows unequivocally which way the belt was worn.

The belt meas. Approx. two by 30 inches. The surface has light dirt but is otherwise in outstanding condition. There are no rips or tears, only natural age. It remains strong enough to wear. The oval "US” plate was originally a box plate that out of necessity was converted to a belt plate by adding brass or copper "puppy-paw” hooks and a tongue.