Prominent General’s Sword


Description and Photograph




 I believe this is the third most historically important Confederate Sword ever on the Collector’s Market; Jeb Stuart and Nathan Bedford Forrest’s being the first two.

     Shown here is a Confederate presentation sword produced by Wilkinson that was presented to "William Porcher Miles, Esq." by Charlestonian Patriot, Benjamin F. Evans.  Miles was a member of the United States Senate, the South Carolina Secession Committee and signor of the Articles of Secession.  He was a General of South Carolina’s State Troops, served as a General and Aide to Gen. Beauregard at Charleston.  It was Miles who rowed out to Major Anderson at Fort Sumter to accept surrender of the Fort.  He served as a General and aide to Beauregard at First Manassas.  As head of the committee to select what became the First National Flag pattern and the Seal of the Provisional Confederate Congress in Montgomery, Alabama, and later submitted the accepted Battle Flag, as well as being Chair of the Confederate Military Affairs Committee.

     His one of a kind, General Officer’s Sword is identified by name and serial number, still extant in the files of the Wilkinson Sword Company, and is included with the sword.

     General Miles was born in Walterboro, Colleton County, South Carolina, in 1822, and at a young age pursued his studies in Charleston (SC) College.  He graduated as valedictorian of his class at only eighteen years old.  Immediately succeeding this, he began the study of law in Charleston, and while thus engaged was elected tutor of mathematics in his alma mater, and later became assistant professor, discharging the duties of each position with ability and ease and winning golden opinions for himself as an educator in the estimation of the citizens of Charleston.

     In the summer of 1855 a yellow fever epidemic hit the coast of Virginia.  Eventually 2,000 people would die as well as half of the doctors who attempted to treat it.  Virginia called for volunteers from the lower South where the disease was more common and residents had developed some natural immunity.  Miles responded by serving for several weeks in Norfolk as a nurse.  His heroic activities were reported back to Charleston, and his friends used the popularity generated by his activities to draft him as a candidate for mayor.  His popularity won for him the position of mayor of that city, in which capacity he served from 1855 to 1857, and during the latter part of his term he was chosen a United States Congressman from his district and served on the committees of commerce and foreign affairs.

     Miles was an ardent States' Rights advocate, a “fire eater” and a secessionist.  While serving in Congress, in July 1859, Miles stated: "Above all, I am weary of these eternal attempts to hold out the olive branch, when we ought to be preparing to grasp the sword.”  He believed that the South had "all the elements of wealth, prosperity and strength, to make her a first-class power among the nations of the world" and would "lose so little and gain so much” with secession."  Miles believed that the abolitionists in Congress were “deliberately, intentionally, and advisedly aiming a deadly blow at the South.  It is intended as a blow.  It is intended to repress her energies -- to check her development -- to diminish and eventually destroy her political weight and influence in this confederacy.”(United States)

     He was elected as a delegate to the Secession Convention and voted for secession, as did every South Carolina delegate.  Miles resigned his seat in Congress upon the secession of South Carolina in December of 1860. 

     Porcher Miles was then appointed to the First Provisional Congress in Montgomery where he was head of the Committee to design the flag for the Confederate States.  The “Stars and Bars” they designed was accepted as the National Confederate Flag.  That first Confederate flag was hoisted March 4, 1861, upon the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.  However Miles voted against this version because of its similarity to the flag of the Union, writing at the time, “There is no propriety in retaining the ensign of a government which, in the opinion of the States composing this Confederacy, had become so oppressive and injurious to their interests as to require their separation from it.  It is idle to talk of "keeping" the flag of the United States when we have voluntarily seceded from them.”

     General Miles was back in Charleston serving as a staff officer for General P.G.T. Beauregard during the buildup leading to, and the battle of, Fort Sumter, April 12-14, 1861.  He then moved to Richmond, Virginia and served in the First and Second Confederate Congress.  Miles fought his first battle at First Manassas as Aid de Camp to Beauregard, serving credibly in this capacity.  Due to his own lack of formal military training, he thought it best to devote himself to the pressing congressional duties where he chaired the Committee on Military Affairs.  In this position he was once again thrust into the forefront in selecting the new flag.  At the First Battle of Manassas, it became apparent that the similarity between the "Stars and Bars" and the "Stars and Stripes" would cause problems.  From far off it was difficult to distinguish one from the other.  Following the battle General P.G.T. Beauregard wrote that he was resolved then to have the First National changed or replaced with a dissimilar flag.  Beauregard’s aid, William Porcher Miles, the former chairman of the Confederate Congress' Committee on the Flag and Seal described his rejected national flag design to Beauregard.  Miles also told the Committee on the Flag and Seal about the general's complaints and request for the national flag to be changed, but the idea was rejected in a four to one vote.  Beauregard then suggested having two flags in pitching Miles’ design to commanding General Joseph E. Johnston he explained: "I wrote to [Miles] that we should have "two" flags—a peace or parade flag, and a war flag to be used only on the field of battle—but congress having adjourned no action will be taken on the matter—How would it do us to address the War Dept. on the subject of Regimental or badge flags made of red with two blue bars crossing each other diagonally on which shall be introduced the stars”.

     Miles wrote that the diagonal cross was preferable to a vertical or horizontal cross because "it avoided the religious objection about the cross”.  He also argued that the diagonal cross was a “saltire of Heraldry, and significant of strength and progress".

     His design was to become the Confederate Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.  Due to the fighting prowess of the army it represented, Miles’ flag would become one of the most recognized flags in world history.

     Miles’, one of a kind, Infantry Officer’s Sword was purchased from Wilkinson Sword Company by Miles’ friend and fellow Confederate Benjamin F. Evans, Esq. on May 17, 1862 while in England on special service.  It is not known whether Evans presented the sword, or acquired it for presentation by others.  A copy of Evan’s original receipt from the Wilkinson Sword Factory is included.

     After the War, Miles eschewed politics.  Observing how other southerners dealt with defeat greatly upset the highly principled Miles. “When we see the most ardent Secessionists and ‘Fire eaters’ now eagerly denying that they ever did more than ‘yield their convictions to the voice of their State,’” and call secession a heresy and slavery a curse, Miles concluded, “it is plain that Politics must be more a trade and less a pursuit for an honourable man than it ever was before.”  For any secessionist to return to public office in a reconstructed Union, Miles believed, entailed a forfeiture of self-respect, consistency, and honor.  For himself and other secessionists, he said, politics “for a time cannot be a path which any high-toned and sensitive -- not to say honest and conscientious -- can possibly tread.”

     Miles had married Bettie Beirne in 1863, the daughter of a wealthy Virginia planter.  For a few years after the war he worked for his father-in-law as a factor in New Orleans.  In 1867 Miles took over management of Oak Ridge Plantation in Nelson County, Virginia.  He was not a very successful farmer but he remained on the farm and helped friends like Beauregard and former fire-eater Robert Rhett gather materials for their own histories of the Confederacy.

     In 1880 Miles was appointed president of the newly reopened South Carolina College.  After his father-in-law's death in 1882, Miles took over the family business interests and relocated to Houmas House in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, where he managed a dozen sugar plantations; an endeavor in which he was highly successful.  In 1892, with his son, he formed Miles Planting and Manufacturing Company of Louisiana.  The Miles Planting and Manufacturing Company was the largest and most efficient in the nation at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

     Miles died on May 13, 1899 at age 76 and he was interred at Union Cemetery in Union, Monroe County, West Virginia with his wife’s family.   

     The sword is in perfect condition, even retaining its original sword knot.                                                   




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