Double KIA

McElroy Sword

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Description and Photograph

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     William John McElroy was born in New York City in 1822.  It is not known when he moved to the South, but by 1845 he was in Savannah, Georgia working as a tinner and in 1850 he was a merchant in Macon, Georgia.  When the War Between the States began, he put his talents to work making war material for his adopted home.  Wm J. McElroy & Co was making war accoutrements as early as September, 1861.  During the course of the War he made swords, knives, cutlasses, spurs, belts, bits, buckles, brass crossed cannon, cap letters, gun and sword parts.  In short, he made anything and everything military that he could produce and sell.  He is best known for his beautifully made and etched swords.  

     The foregoing is merely the beginning of a sword’s remarkable history.  The sword is etched with McElroy’s name and address, a large CS and the standard McElroy patriotic designs, but its particular history can be retraced because it has its owner’s name etched into the reverse panel “J G Rogers”.

     James G. Rogers raised and was Captain of Bibb County, Georgia’s Central City Blues, which was organized June 15, 1861.  It must have been just shortly after this time that Captain Rogers acquired this fine McElroy officer’s sword with CS etched into the obverse panel, because the 12th Georgia was mustered into the Confederate Army at Richmond, Virginia less than three weeks later on July 3, 1861.  Captain Rogers was in the Battle of Williamsburg, Jackson's Shenandoah Valley campaign including the battles of Front Royal, First Winchester, Harrisonburg, Cross Keys, and Port Republic.  He participated in the Battles of Gaines’ Mill and was lightly engaged though heavily burdened the remainder of the Seven Days Battles until in the thick of the fight at Malvern Hill where his conduct was especially noted by General Ewell.  He fought at Cedar Mountain on August 9th and was in the thick of the fight on the 29th and 30th at Second Manassas.  Then on to Harper’s Ferry and the Maryland Campaign.  Captain Rogers took command of the Twelfth Georgia Regiment just a few days prior to the battle of Sharpsburg.

     Roger’s carried this sword through all of the aforementioned engagements, and on the morning of September 17, 1862 the day broke hazy and Through the haze, members of the 12th Georgia could see an enemy Regiment. (the 105th New York) Captain James G. Rogers, commander of the Twelfth, called to his men to concentrate their fire on the exposed regiment, which was done with telling effect.  Still the Union infantry came, and for nearly an hour the Twelfth Georgia, along with the remainder of Trimble’s Brigade, was pulled back from their line near the Smoketown Road and replaced by Gen. Harry T. Hays’s Louisiana brigade, which had been moved up in support to Lawton’s men.

     The Twelfth Georgia, like most Confederate units, was under strength to begin with, and suffered heavily during the hour it was engaged at Antietam.  Between daybreak and 6:45 in the morning, sixty two men, or roughly a third of its total strength, were killed or wounded.  Among the lifeless, torn bodies left sprawled in the open field where they had fought were those of its commander, Captain Rogers”. (From Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America’s Bloodiest Day)

Obit from the Macon Telegraph:

     Capt. James Gustavas Rogers was born in Darian, Georgia, April 29, 1837.  When quite a lad his parents moved to Macon, Ga, which continued to be his home till he died except a few years spent in Savannah and upper Georgia.  At the age of 15, he was converted to God and joined the M.E. Church: he was an active and zealous member, in the relations of S. S. Superintendent, Class Leader and Local Preacher- he loved “to go about doing good”.  Brother Rogers was a patriot, as well as a Christian.  Early in our national struggle he raised a Company, entered the Confederate service as Captain of the Central City Blues of the immortal 19th Georgia: and as a true soldier, he shared all the privations and hardships of his Regiment.  In their eventful history, without complaint, but with a cheerful and buoyant spirit.  He was in seventeen hard fought battles and escaped unhurt till the fatal Sharpsburg.  He commanded the Regiment in several engagements and was in command when he fell.  Wearied and fatigued with the investment of Harper’s Ferry, and the march to the battle field of Sharpsburg, his men lay on their arms for 24 hours, expecting the attack which the enemy made at day dawn of the memorable 17th of September.  The conflict was terrible, and for one hour as if regardless of danger, did Capt. Rogers pass up and down the line of his Regiment, cheering on his men.  At this stage of conflict, all fingers on his left hand were shot off.  Soon after he was shot in the thigh, and still he remained on the field till forced by exhaustion to leave” but while retiring some 150 yards from the engagement, talking cheerfully to his men that were supporting him off the field, a fatal ball struck him in the back of his head, killing him instantly.  Thus fell one of purest, bravest men of our immortalized Confederate Army. 

     Brother Rogers was the eldest of nine children and the beloved of all, both white and colored.  But the bereaved wife, parents, and family, “weep not as those who have no hope”.  He kept “his lamp trimmed and oil in vessel”.  When he bade them farewell, he said "If we meet no more on earth, let us meet in Heaven”.  In his letter to his wife and mother, he repeatedly said, “I never go into battle without feeling prepared to meet my God.”  The morning of the battle, he made all his arrangements and the disposition of his effects as if he expected to fall.  “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when he cometh shall find watching”.

Macon, Ga, Oct. 23, 1862

     Captain Roger’s obituary places him just in front of the famed Dunker Church when he was finally fatally struck.  He was buried in an unmarked grave on the battlefield.

A Georgia Volunteer

Far up the lonely mountain side

My wandering footsteps led,

The moss lay thick, beneath my feet,

The pine sighed overhead.

 

The trace of a dismantled fort

Lay in the forest nave,

And in the shadow near my path

I saw a soldier’s grave.

 

I saw the toad and scaly snake

From tangled covert start,

And hide themselves among the weeds

Above the dead man’s heart,

 

But undisturbed, in sleep profound,

Unheeding, there he lay,

His coffin but the mountain soil,

His shroud the Confederate gray.

 

I heard the Shenandoah roll

Along the vale below,

I saw the Alleghenies rise

Toward the realms of snow.

The “Valley Campaign” rose to mind—

Its leader’s name—and then

I knew the sleeper had been one

Of Stonewall Jackson’s men.

 

Yet when he came, what lip shall say—

Whose tongue will ever tell

What desolated hearths and hearts

Have been because he fell?

 

What sad eyed maiden braids her hair,

Her hair which he held dear?

One lock of which perchance lies with

The Georgia Volunteer!

 

What fights he fought, what wounds he wore,

Are all unknown to fame,

Remember, on his holy grave

There is not e’en a name!

 

That he fought well and bravely too,

And held his country dear,

We know, else he had never been

A Georgia Volunteer.

 

Roll Shenandoah, proudly roll,

Adown the rocky glen,

Above the lies the grave of one

Of Stonewall Jackson’s men.

 

Beneath the cedar and the pine,

In solitude austere.

Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies

A Georgia Volunteer!

(Mary Townsend, 1832-1901)

Captain Roger’s story ends here, but not that of his sword. 

     There was another soldier on the field that day who was a new First Sergeant, was entitled to, and needed, a sword.  Carved into the upper mount of Captain Rogers sword is W.H. Burns, 52  William H. Burns of Company B, 52nd Virginia Infantry.

     William was a twenty year old resident of Augusta County, Virginia when he enlisted in the 25th Virginia Infantry at Staunton, Virginia on April 27, 1861.  He transferred to Company B, 52nd Virginia Infantry on May 5, 1862.  A few days later he was wounded in the thigh at the battle of McDowell, Virginia.  By the time he reached Sharpsburg he had been promoted to 1st Sergeant and was thus entitled to wear a sword.  At that ill fated battle, his regiment was fighting at the Dunker Church where Rogers fell.  Here he was given, or picked up, Captain Roger’s sword.  He at some point inscribed W.H. Burns 52 into the top scabbard mount.  He was wounded again during the battle.  Afterwards he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.  The 52nd was once again in action at Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862 and again at Chancellorsville, Virginia. 

     On June 3rd Lt. Burns began a diary relating to the Gettysburg Campaign.  Some excerpts are printed here, but a transcript of the entire diary accompanies the sword.

July 1: “Battle commenced. Rodes & a portion of ours engage the enemy who occupy the hills in front of town.  Drive them to the rear of town with immense loss to them and but slight to us. 3-or 4000 prisoners captured.  Maj. Gen Reynolds killed and Maj Gen Barlow wounded and in our hands”

July 2: “The enemy have retired to a very strong position to the rear of town”

July 3: This morning we marched by daylight to the battle field. Under a very heavy fire of Artillery and musketry for several hours.  Lt. Col. Skinner & several men slightly wounded.  Drive the enemy out of the first line of entrenchments.  AP. Hills & Longstreets corp who occupy the center & left, reported to be fighting hard with an immense loss of life.

July 4: Fell back to the battle field of the 1st July. Probably from 800 to 1000 dead Yankees lie on the field. 

     Lt. Burns continued to perform his duties throughout the coming fall and winter.  In the spring of ’64 William wrote his father from the Somerville Ford on March 13.  His letter ended with “I expect we will have to fight a hard battle the ensuing summer and probably more than one.  Many of us will no doubt fall in battle.  It may be one of us (he and his brother) –it may be both.  Although I would like to live to see victory perching on our banners yet if it is the will of the Most High God that we should fall we should humbly submit to His will. If we die we die in a righteous cause.  I would rather die on the altar of liberty than live despots slave.”

  On May 5th he wrote his father: he could hear much firing on his right and ended with I will write again in a few days. The following day, John Lipscomb wrote:

6 May  1864

Mr. Burns,

     It is with deep regret that I communicate the death of your son Lt. William, he fell mortally wounded about 7 o’clock this morning and died in two hours after, his remains was carefully borne to the rear, and efforts were made to have them set to Orange Court House, but in vain. He will be buried, with a view to disinterment.  Jimmie (his brother) was well under the circumstances. 

Jimmie would be killed a few months later at Winchester.

The following is taken from his brother’s memoranda book:

At the commencement of the war Lieut. Burns was among the first to volunteer for the defense of his country.  He joined in May 1861 a company called the “Augusta Lee Rifles” under the command of Capt. R.D. Lilley (now Gen. Lilley). (part of the 25th Virginia).  It was one of the first companies raised after the war broke out.  The company was very soon after being formally mustered into service ordered to the Mountains of N. W. Virginia.  W. H. Burns was elected sergeant in the company & discharged the duties of his office to the satisfaction of his officer s & men under him.  He was in the defeat & retreat at Rich Mountain.  He with a number of others made a narrow escape from capture & wandered about in the Mountains for some days with scarcely any food & exposed to drenching rains most of the time & when he reached the road some few miles from Monterey he was so perfectly exhausted that he had to be lifted into a wagon & carried to Monterey at which place the command remained for some time to recruit & gather up those who had escaped capture.  He was enabled to reach his home before becoming too ill to travel.  As soon & indeed before he was able to perform active service he returned to the Mountains & rejoined his command.  At the reorganization of the Army in April 1862 he obtained a transfer to Co. B 52 Reg. in order to be with his brother.  He was appointed Orderly sergeant in the company & on the 8th of May 1862 at the battle of McDowell he received a very severe wound through the thick part of the thigh.  He was brought home & was confined to the house for several months.  As soon as he thought his wound sufficiently healed he again returned to hi command, but the frequent hard marches he was called on to perform caused his wound to be very painful at times.  But he would not avail himself of that excuse to leave the service of his country. Soon after returning to his command there being a vacancy in his company he was elected a Lieutenant.  By his kind & courteous manner with a prompt & Conscientious discharge of every duty, he gained the confidence & admiration of his superior officer & the men under him.  He was never known to falter in his duties as a soldier & was ever among the foremost to meet the foe.  His greatest earthly desire was to see the liberty & independence of the Southern Confederacy established.  He lived a strictly moral life, was always a most dutiful son & affectionate brother, but above all as we trust, a sincere Christian.

     They are gone, but the sword that they waived over dozens of battlefields, many of them the most terrible of the War, remains as a solid surviving link to two, brave, determined, honorable men and the cause they sacrificed their lives for.

     The sword is completely original and unaltered in any way.  The blade has some carbon pitting, but the etching remains strong.  The grip wrap has some flaking and exposed wood in places which can be seen in the photographs.  The wood has aged to such a dark patina it matches the grip wrap.  The doubled, twisted copper wire wrap is complete and tight.  The guard remains tight and the throat washer in place.  The scabbard is complete and strong.  It has never been broken, but has had a weak place near the drag reinforced though it is indiscernible as shown by the pictures.  The mounts show considerable scrapes, dings and scratches as would be expected for a weapon used so hard during the War.

     I have owned many swords, but seldom that of a hard fought line officer and never have I seen a sword definitively associated with two line officers, both of whom were killed in battle while exhorting their men.

 

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