Colonel Skinner's Boyle, Gamble & MacFee Sword

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Description and Photograph

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     The sword shown here is an extremely rare pattern, it has a remarkable history, an impeccable provenance and is in excellent condition.  The sword is the Boyle, Gamble & MacFee foot officer’s sword with the firm name and address under the guard which is rare in its own right, but rarer still, it is the model with the name and address divided by the blade.  It has an extraordinary and extraordinarily well documented history. 

     This particular sword belonged to a truly extraordinary Confederate hero, and I do not use the word “hero” lightly.  The sword belonged to, and was long carried by, Colonel James H. Skinner, 52nd Virginia Infantry.

     James H. Skinner was born in Norfolk, Virginia on January 18, 1826.  He attended the University of Virginia from 1842 thru 1846 after which he moved to Staunton, Virginia and practiced law.  He was also a member of the Virginia State Legislature.  Prior to the War, he was Captain of Company B, 160th Virginia Militia.  When the War was forced upon Virginia, Skinner enlisted as Captain of Company A, 52nd Virginia Infantry in Staunton on July 9, 1861 at the age of 35.  On May 1st of 1862 he was elected Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment and commanded the left wing of the regiment under Jackson at McDowell, Virginia.  He commanded the full regiment at Jackson’s most famous battles; Cross Keys, Port Republic, Winchester, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, Cedar Run, Bristoe Station, leading somewhat of a charmed life until he was struck in the head by a shell fragment at 2nd Manassas.  The Colonel had sufficiently recovered in time to take up arms once again at Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 13, 1862.  He commanded the regiment on the ill fated field of Gettysburg, where he was blinded for several months by an explosion throwing dirt and gravel into his face.

     Though he had long been commanding the regiment he was only officially promoted to full Colonel in October of 1863.  He was back leading his regiment that fall at Mine Run.  In the spring he led his men at the Wilderness and again on the bloody field of Spotsylvania where he was shot through the left temple, the ball passing through his left eye, through the nose and passed out just below the right eye.  He did regain sight in his right eye and returned to duty as the post commander at Staunton.  He finally retired from disability on March 4, 1865.

     Despite his grievous injuries, he returned to his profession of Law at Staunton and was Colonel of the Virginia Militia in 1871.  He was president of the Augusta Memorial Association, a member of the Stonewall Jackson Confederate Veterans, Staunton, Virginia and eventually was camp commander.  He died at “Sailors Rest” Staunton Virginia May 19, 1898 and is buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Norfolk, Virginia.

     The value of a sword of such important historical significance rests wholly on how well it is documented to have belonged to Colonel Skinner, this too, like its history, is second to none.  Deeply engraved on the top scabbard mount in cross-hatch style engraving is “J H Skinner”.  There were only two officers by the name J H Skinner in the Confederate Army.  The other was in the 19th Alabama and served in the Department of Mississippi.  This would make it unlikely to be his, but to be certain, a previous owner located Colonel Skinner’s will and it is evident by comparison of the engraving and the name on the will, a facsimile of which is shown here,  that this belonged to Colonel Skinner of the 52nd Virginia.

     The sword also has a notarized letter from Mrs. William A Albaugh, III stating that this sword was part of the personal collection of her late husband and references the type of sword, the mount engraving and Colonel Skinner’s service with the 52nd Virginia.  The sword knot is not mentioned but is an original period knot and is presumed to have belonged to Colonel Skinner.

     As an added bonus to the sword’s remarkable history, it is in exceptionally good condition.  The grip and guard remain tight, the leather wrap and brass wire wrap are in perfect condition, the blade remains semi-bright and nick free with the exception of the tiniest nib broken off of the point, it even retains its original throat washer.  Its original early War scabbard is in beautiful condition though shows an extreme amount of wear at the mounts caused by long service.  The only repair is a nice, period, personal touch; a piece of wood was shoved between the drag and the scabbard to tighten it and simply broken off.  The leather remains strong, even supple and nearly all of the stitching remains tight.  Substantial amounts of gilt still remain on the sword’s guard and on the scabbard’s mounts and drag.

     For history, rarity and condition, this is the very best. 

 

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