The “Seago” Knife

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     The “Seago” knife may not seem like much of a title, but for everyone who collects Confederate knives, and many too in the general knife collecting world, the name Seago instantly brings this knife to mind.  For more than thirty years I have known of the “Seago” knife.  I have known about it because it is the most iconic Confederate knife in existence.  It has been published, referenced and admired more than any other Confederate knife and it will likely always remain so.  Simply put, it is the most finely finished, beautiful, historically storied, admired and desired, of all Confederate knives.  Only ten are known to exist, with nearly half of those in museums where they will never again be on the collector’s market.  Though only a few remain in private hands, occasionally one comes onto the collector’s market, and when it does it commands a premium; but, as with buying art work, furniture, rare coins etc. buying the very best one can afford is always the wisest investment and the most enjoyable to own.

     The Cooper, or Etowah (as it is sometimes called) Iron Works was founded by a remarkable man by the name of Mark Anthony Cooper.  Had the War not come along, he likely would be as familiar to the public as Samuel Colt, but providence decided otherwise.  Mark Cooper was born in Hancock County, Georgia in 1800.  By the age of 32 he had attended two colleges, opened his own law firm, had married twice due to the death of his first wife, was Solicitor General of the Ocmulgee Circuit Court, was a Major in the Georgia Militia, secured a charter for a railroad from Augusta to Eatonton and was elected to Congress.  As I said earlier, he had done all this by the age of 32.  A remarkable man he was indeed.  His creed was God, family and friends, before state and business.

     Not a man to slow down, in the following ten years he erects one of the earliest cotton mills in Georgia, commands five companies of Georgia Militia, opens and runs a very successful bank, is elected to the 26th Congress, loses the election for the 27th Congress and is reelected to the 28th Congress, but resigns to run for Governor of Georgia; a bid he loses, he then acquires 12,000 acres in Cartersville, Georgia along the Etowah River.  Here he retires from political life and settles down with his family.

     “Settled” for such a man is impossible; his acreage contained a high concentration of iron ore, was close to the railroad and had water for power and transportation.  These things were impossible for the entrepreneur to ignore.  In a few years he establishes the Etowah Iron & Manufacturing Company, better known to history as the Etowah Iron Works.  The Iron Works were close to the railroad, but still a few miles away, so naturally, Cooper founds a railroad.  It was he who financed and oversaw the construction of Tunnel Hill, a remarkable engineering feat for its time.  So only eight years after Cooper “settled down” with his family he had one of the largest forges of its day and built and owned singly the rail line connecting to the Western and Atlantic Railroad, opening rail service to Atlanta and Chattanooga.  

     Though he could see the vast opportunity just over the horizon, these ventures left Cooper in debt.  Though his assets far exceeded his debt, his cash flow could not keep up with demand and the Etowah Iron Works had to be sold at auction to pay his creditors.  Thirty-eight men of standing, who were his friends and could see his vision, loaned him the funds to buy back the Iron Works for twice the debt he owed.  It paid off and his friends were repaid early.  An excellent example of Cooper’s character stands in the Cartersville town square.  It is known as the Friendship Monument, which Cooper erected and listed the names of those thirty-eight men, in appreciation of their help.  No other such monument is known to exist in the world.

     Mark Cooper had long been a States Rights proponent and Officer in the State Militia.  Obviously a visionary, he could see that war was virtually inevitable.  He began a correspondence with Sam Colt and Eli Whitney, Jr. for the purpose of purchasing arms for Georgia.  In the fall of 1860 Cooper writes advising the Governor: “resolve on secession” and in December he requests a contract to make arms for Georgia as “they would be needed very soon”.  He also writes to the Confederate secretary of war advising him to arm all of the Southern States.  Mark Cooper could clearly see what most could not even fathom.

     Cooper’s plans extended beyond smelting iron, he had intention of producing firearms for Georgia.  Cooper was sent to the North to meet with Samuel Colt to arrange to purchase $75,000.00 worth of arms and to study Colt’s Manufactory with an eye to establishing his own arms manufactory.  Then came war.

     Cooper’s eldest son Thomas, a prominent man in his own right, was elected Captain of the Atlanta grays.  John, Cooper’s second son, who was practicing law in Rome, Georgia at the time, helped to recruit cavalrymen from Floyd County, for Forrest and Cooper’s third son, Mark, served as a private in the Floyd Infantry.

     On May 23rd the Atlanta Grays were presented with a flag during a fitting ceremony filled with speeches of gratitude, honour, sacrifice and duty.  Mark Cooper also presented the Officer’s with Bibles and the finest D-Guard knives produced in the South.  A few months later he traveled to Virginia where he presented every member of the Atlanta Greys with a fine bowie knife of his own make.  Of the knives he presented only five of the officer’s presentation models and five of the enlisted models are known to exist today.[1]

     As I stated earlier, Mark Cooper was a strong States Rights man, and so were his sons.  Though he naturally had a father’s fear of sending his sons to war, and he had such influence he could easily have had them excused, there was no doubt as to their duty and men of such stock could not shirk that duty.  Heartbreak was not long in coming.  John was mortally wounded July 21, 1861 at Manassas.  Thomas was killed on Christmas Eve in an accident.  It had been only seven months since Mark Cooper watched his sons march away and two were already dead.  Cooper took a month to reflect and then wrote Jefferson Davis, “I had three sons, they all volunteered to serve the country and formed a part of the 8th Regt. Ga. Volunteers.  The events of the campaign of the Potomac have taken two, on whom my hopes mainly rested.” (These two had been prominent businessmen and entered service as officers, the surviving son entered as a private)  Cooper was now 61 years old and needed his remaining son’s help and no doubt needed to save him from his brother’s fate.  Children were the antebellum Social Security. 

     The five surviving presentation Etowah Iron Work’s D-Guards are believed to be the ones that Mark Cooper himself presented to the officers on the fateful day in May 1861.  Each has an officer’s name in the guard: Seago, Clark, Hayes, Bell and W. Mims.

     Mark Cooper produced shot, shell and a myriad of iron implements needed for the War until 1865 when Sherman’s devils destroyed it.  Cooper lived the life of a farmer for the next twenty years before passing in 1885.  Thus ended the life of one of the most remarkable men in America’s history.  We will never know what more his fertile mind and active constitution would have produced for the good of mankind had not that awful, unnecessary War not destroyed his family, his business interests and his ambition.  What advances would have been made had not that totally unnecessary War taken 600,000 Americans.  The foolish Booth did the best possible thing for the Tyrant Lincoln, because had he not been martyred he would have eventually been judged for the crimes he committed against humanity.

     The particular knife shown here was presented by Mark Cooper to forty-three year old Captain Eli M. Seago.  The fair skinned, blue eyed and brown haired Seago stood 5’9” when he enlisted at Atlanta “for the war” on June 18, 1861, and as his record will show, he meant it.  No doubt Captain Seago highly valued the knife the esteemed Georgian had presented to him, both as a memento, and as a useful tool.  The knife’s wear clearly shows it saw much use in the following years. 

     As Captain of the Confederate Continentals he took his men into the Confederate service as Company F, 20th Georgia Infantry on July 20, 1861.  The 20th Georgia Infantry had begun their organization at Columbus in May of 1861 and soon moved to Virginia where it was assigned to the Virginia Army under Brigadier General Jubal Early.  Sometime in the fall of 1861, Captain Seago took command of Company F, 20th Georgia.  Between June 1861 and May 29, 1863, Captain Seago would serve as a combat line officer in one of the hardest fought regiments under Longstreet in the Army of Northern Virginia.  The 20th had 560 effectives in April 1862 and fought with Longstreet from the Seven Days Battles to Cold Harbor.  The 20th sustained 76 casualties during the Seven Days Battles and 152 casualties at Second Manassas.  Of the 350 engaged at Gettysburg, more than 35% were disabled.  On July 2, 1863, on the field of Gettysburg, Captain Seago would be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Georgia.

     The brigade went with General Longstreet to fight at Suffolk, Virginia and the Battle of Chickamauga, September 19-20, 1863.  At this terrible battle the 20th fought as valiantly and as doggedly as any regiment during the War.  The Georgian’s commander, General H.L. Benning wrote:

”The brigade was hotly engaged both days.  The first day the number of officer’s and men was about 850. The loss this day was very heavy... Next day the loss was again heavy, for both days it amounted to about 510… seventeen officers out of twenty-two in the 20th Georgia were killed and wounded…Lieutenant Colonel Seago, Twentieth Georgia, shot through the lungs… The conduct of the brigade was most excellent.  The second day it captured two batteries of four guns each, one with its flag, and held them after a desperate struggle by the enemy to retake them”.[2]

     Despite this terrible wound, Lt. Colonel Seago would return to duty in time for the spring campaign, only to be shot down again.  In 1864 (date unknown) Seago was elected full Colonel and was in command of the Regiment as early as April, 1864.[3]  On May 6, 1864 Colonel Seago suffered a severe thigh wound in the Wilderness and was sent to the Lynchburg, Virginia Hospital.  After his convalescence, he returned to the Army, and was again in command of the 20th Georgia by November 8, 1864.[4]

     After months of fighting in the lines around the capitol, on April 2, 1865 he was admitted to Stuart Hospital in Richmond.  He had fought a long war, suffered much and acquired much acclaim, but his most famous service was yet to be.  Upon the collapse of Lee’s Army at Petersburg that same day, he rose from the sick bed and left Richmond with Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet.  The group spent the next week in Danville hoping Lee's Army could yet salvage the army and rendezvous with General Johnston’s Army.

     In order to be more secure from Federal cavalry, Davis and those members of his cabinet who had followed him to Danville set out again.  Leaving on April 10th, this time for Greensboro, North Carolina on board another slow moving train, Davis and his party arrive in Greensboro the next day.  Here they learned that General R.E. Lee had surrendered his army at Appomattox on the 9th.  Although most in the leadership of the Confederacy knew that the end was near, Davis would not yet give up hope.  He believed the fight could be continued.  Generals Beauregard and Johnston did not, and thought a meeting should be arranged with Sherman to discuss terms of surrender.  Davis reluctantly agreed to the meeting.  On the 14th, the same day the tyrant Lincoln was assassinated, Secretary of War issues special order Number 86 from the Greensboro Government Headquarters (the original copy of the order, not a facsimile, comes with the knife) in which several officers are detailed to continue on to Georgia, Seago among them, others were to report to Kirby Smith in the Trans-Mississippi Department, where the whole cavalcade was eventually headed.

     Davis and the remainder of his men left Greensboro, North Carolina on horseback April 15th and continue south.  According to Colonel William Preston Johnston: “When Davis and Johnston turned their discussion to their escape route, the colonel “distinctly understood that we were going to Texas.”  Davis never made it, having been captured on May 10th, in Irwinville, GeorgiaDavis had disbanded his men all along the route, and it is unknown precisely when Seago left him, but rather than give up the fight and return to Georgia, the valiant patriot continued all the way to Texas to continue the fight as originally planned.  However when there was no hope of Davis rejoining the Confederacy and not a straw left to grasp at, he surrendered on May 22, 1865 in Upshur County, Texas.  Little can be found of him after the War; perhaps his wounds disabled him for life.  He never married, left no issue, and seems to have disappeared.  But for his knife, he would have no legacy, however because of his knife, he will be remembered always.  I believe a fine blade is a fitting tribute to a warrior.

     That the Etowah Iron Works knives have traditionally been the most desirable of all Confederate knives, that this is the most famous of the Etowah knives (in fact of all Confederate knives) and the most historically significant, mark this as one of the very best Confederate Knives in existence.  I cannot claim the best, as there is no such thing as “the best” when so many variables such as design, history and condition figure into it, but this knife is identified as to maker and it is a work of art as well as utility.  Its presentation is recorded; the name of the recipient is stamped into it.  The recipient was a line officer in the glorious Army of Northern Virginia.  In that Army of heroes, his record of bravery and service is second to none.  It remarkably remains in fine condition.  It is the most widely known Confederate knife in existence, having been published numerous times between the 1950s when Robert Abels published Bowie Knives and Josh Phillips’ 2012 publication of Confederate Bowie Knives.  No other knife can be recognized by collectors throughout the length and breadth of this country by one word “Seago”. The knife has an extraordinarily long, unbroken chain of recorded ownership, beginning with Robert Abels in the 1950s and progressing over the following 60 years through seven collectors.  In 2003-2004 the knife would be displayed, along with the plaque shown in the images at the Southern Museum of the Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia.  At that time the knife was valued at $85,000.00.    Documentation of the collection and museum history will accompany the knife.

     The knife measures 14 7/8 inches from pommel to point with a nearly 9 7/8 inch blade.  It is in virtually perfect, unaltered condition.  The blade’s original luster remains and shows numerous sharpening marks near the edge.  Seago kept the knife razor sharp and it remains razor sharp.  That the knife would take such a sharp edge is a testament to Cooper’s workmanship, as only the very best knives of today will take such a fine edge.

     If you admire and desire the very best in life, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to own “the very best”.


[1] Confederate Bowie Knives, Phillips, Melton and Sexton, Mowbray Publishing

[2]  Offical Records (Supplement) Serial 5, Page 698

[3] Roster of Confederate Soldiers of Georgia, Volume II.  Appears to never have been officially confirmed.   Letter dated April 18, 1864

[4] Offical Records (Supplement) Serial 18, Page 480

   

 

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