36th Alabama Colonel’s Sword


Description and Photograph




     The Infantry Officer’s Sword shown here was made in England expressly for the Confederate States of America.  The firm name and address of S. Isaac, Campbell & Co., is etched onto the ricasso.  After its arrival in Mobile the presentation panel just above the ricasso that reads:  “Col L.T. Woodruff  36th Ala Reg’t” above “MOBILE” was etched onto the blade.  This etched panel starts us on a journey to rediscover a generous, accomplished, patriotic and brave man who should not be forgotten.

     Lewis Thompson Woodruff had been born in Hartford, Connecticut on March 5, 1816, yet the declaration of War by the Lincoln administration found him a longstanding, well respected member of the Mobile, Alabama business community.  He was also Captain of the “Mobile Rifles”, a local militia company.[1]  Notwithstanding his age and substantial business interests, the 45 year old rushed to the defense of his adopted home with as much alacrity as any native son.   He entered Alabama state service on April 24, 1861 as Captain of the “Mobile Rifles”, which was designated Company K, 3rd Alabama Infantry.  Though only a Captain, Woodruff was so well thought of that an offshoot of his company took his name, and the “Woodruff Rifles” fought nobly in the 21st Alabama Infantry.[2]  The 3rd Alabama was organized at Montgomery, Alabama and was the first Alabama regiment to make the trek to the seat of war in Virginia, where it mustered into Confederate service at Lynchburg on May 4th.[3]

     Woodruff served faithfully and well in his role as Captain in the 3rd Alabama for a year.  The 3rd was brigaded with the 1st and 12th Virginia at Norfolk, on the Peninsula, first under Colonel Jones M. Withers and then under Colonel William Mahone.  An interesting account of the “Mobile Rifles” equipment in February of 1862 appears in the March 19th edition of the Mobile Register: “Discipline- excellent; instruction- accurate; military appearance- very good; arms-Mississippi Rifles, with bayonets, in good order; accoutrements-complete; clothing-very good. The corps have in possession 101 Mississippi rifles with bayonets, 101 cartridge boxes, belts, caps and pouches, 6000 ball cartridges, 10,000 caps, 101 knapsacks, 16 wall tents”

     Woodruff’s qualities as a soldier and a gentleman were much respected from the beginning as attested by the April 30th edition of the Mobile Register: “There is a report in camp that we are to lose one of our finest officers.  It is said that Captain Woodruff of the Mobile Rifles, will be called to take position in Col. Smith’s Regiment.  If so, I congratulate Col Smith and his regiment on having an officer they may well be proud of.  All will regret to part with him here, and more especially his company, whose wants and interests he has watched over with care which men never fail to appreciate.  Captain W., besides possessing those practical qualities so essential, is a splendid drill officer and has the confidence of all around him.”

     Dame Rumor was partially correct; on May 12, 1862, Woodruff was elected Lieutenant Colonel of the newly formed 36th Alabama Infantry without even running for the post.[4]  The Thirty-sixth was organized at Mount Vernon Arsenal, in Mount Vernon, Alabama on May 12, 1862.  It remained there a month, then aided in the construction of the defenses at Oven Bluff shipyard on the Tombigbee River and at Choctaw Point and was then stationed in Mobile.[5]  On March 14, 1863 Woodruff was promoted to full Colonel of the 36th.[4] Without a doubt it was at this time that Woodruff was presented with this sword.  

     The Colonel’s sword is an English Model 1827 Infantry Officer’s Sword with a crown over horn device and having a shagreen grip, wound by a twisted brass wire that is flanked by single brass wire on either side.  The highly polished blade is etched with “S. ISAAC CAMPBELL & Co 71 JERMYN St LONDON”.  S. Isaac, Campbell & Co. supplied numerous articles of war to the fledgling Confederacy; they were in fact the Confederacy’s largest supplier.  Working through Major Caleb Huse, Samuel Isaac provided millions of dollars’ worth of arms including knapsacks, cartridge boxes, belts, cap boxes, swords, buttons, firearms, cloth, shoes and a myriad of other supplies of English manufacture.  Occasionally, as here shown, examples of these arms and accoutrements are found bearing the company’s maker mark.

     Isaac has long been considered a New Yorker, but new research has definitively shown that to be incorrect.  Recent research demonstrates beyond a doubt that Samuel Isaac was a British subject and that he had for years been a well-established military outfitter prior to 1861.  Fortunately, his firm name and address changed just as the War Between the States started, allowing us, even in the absence of additional Confederate markings, to positively identify some of the arms he supplied the Confederacy. 

     The following month, April 1863, Colonel Woodruff and his regiment were sent to the winter camps at Tullahoma, Tennessee.  There it was placed in a brigade with the 18th, 32nd, 38th, and 58th Alabama regiments under Brigadier General Henry Clayton, in Alexander Stewart's division.

     When General Braxton Bragg was maneuvered out of middle Tennessee during the Tullahoma Campaign, the Thirty-sixth fell back with the army.  Their first major engagement in which Woodruff commanded the regiment was at Chickamauga.  In an after action report Colonel Woodruff reported that his regiment went in at 1:30 and fought till out of ammunition, then they were withdrawn to resupply.  After resupplying they went back into action as Colonel Woodruff reports: “At 5 p. m. we were again ordered to the front and passed Gen. Bate's brigade, which was halted in line of battle. Charging at double-quick time over a hill and across a road, we entered a cornfield, to the left of which, in the woods, a battery of the enemy was posted. Lieut. Gladden, of Company H, and Lieut. Meek, of Company A, both passed within a few yards of this battery with their companies, and went through the corn-field and into a wheat or sedge field fully one-half mile in front of this battery. Lieut. Meek saw the enemy's flag not 200 yards distant and ordered Private Baily to fire upon it. Both officers (Lieut. G [ladden] and M[eek]) desired rather to obtain the flag than capture the battery. Lieut. Britton, of Company C, who passed by the battery, corroborates the statements of Lieut. Meek and Gladden. Lieut. Smith, of Company I, was in front and saw only two companies, except those from Clayton's brigade, in the field beyond the road. Lieut. Walker, of Company D, not regarding the battery, continued to fire upon the retreating enemy and pursue his flag. All concur in saying that the greater portion of my regiment was in the corn-field and that it first reached the battery. Thence it pursued the enemy and his flag for more than one half mile to the front. During the absence of my regiment other troops coming up removed the battery.”[4] The 36th was awarded credit for   for capturing the battery and the crossed cannon honors were born upon their flag.

     Loses for the regiment was light at Lookout Mountain, November 24, 1863 but they suffered severely at Missionary Ridge the following day.  Thus began a series of reverses that did not stop until the army went into winter quarters in and around Dalton, Georgia. 

     After a cold, hungry winter the Colonel led his men into battle at Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca and the sanguinary conflict at New Hope Church, Georgia.  In the later battle Colonel Woodruff was thought mortally wounded.  So severe were the losses that when it was over the 36th Alabama was being commanded by a Captain.  The Captain wrote of the latter battle: “New Hope Church, where we went into line of battle from the march on the 25th of May, at 11 o'clock. Stacking arms, hastily threw up log breast-works; were charged by heavy lines of the enemy at 3 o'clock, and were hotly engaged until after dark, repulsing three heavy lines in as many assaults with heavy loss to the enemy. At night strengthened our works under a desultory fire of the enemy; our works were closely watched, our vedettes in front thirty to fifty paces, capturing prisoners and horses.

     At daylight on the 26th of May our whole front swarmed with the enemy's sharpshooters, and confronted by a heavy line of skirmishers, whose fire was a great annoyance, preventing our regiment from being relieved; too much danger, consequently eighty men were kept with the Sixteenth Louisiana Regiment, who came to relieve us to defend the works, thus doing ten hours constant duty.

     Our casualties were important. Our colonel (L. T. Woodruff) was seriously wounded on the 25th of May, at 4 o'clock, the ball entering his thigh near the leading artery. He was carried from the field, believed to be mortally wounded.”[6] 

     As he was carried from the field to die, someone had the presence of mind to carry his sword with him, as subsequent events will show.  He survived.  Upon surviving, Colonel Woodruff was recommended for promotion to Brigadier General[4] but his leg was so badly damaged that he could not walk fifty yards even with crutches, so the medical board recommended his retirement.  On December 13, 1864 he retired from the Confederate Army and made his way back to Mobile in early 1865.

     After the War, with his broken body he began to pick up the pieces of his life.  On May 25, 1869 “forgetting his own safety he rushed into a burning building to save the property of a fellow citizen” his skull was crushed by the falling of a wall.[7]

     On May 27th under the heading “Imposing Ceremonies” the Mobile Register paid tribute the man: “It is seldom, if ever, that Mobile has paid such a tribute to her deceased citizens as was evidenced yesterday by the universal respect which was shown to the memory of the late Col. Woodruff, the funeral cortege following his remains to the grave being the largest which has been witnessed in this city for many years… In the morning the remains were brought to the rooms of the Board of Trade and exposed in state, and several thousand people, including many ladies, visited the room during the day to take a last look upon the honoured dead.  The body was shrouded in the Confederate uniform in which Col. Woodruff had rendered such gallant service, it being his wish, expressed many months previous to his death, that he should be buried in it. The rooms were draped in mourning-the chandeliers in black, desks & etc. in white- and upon the coffin were placed the sabre of the deceased.”

     The sword is virtually perfect!

     A more historical sword could hardly be had at any price.

[1] Mobile Register 7/1/58

[2] Mobile Register 6/1/69

[3] Confederate regimental history files, 3rd Alabama Infantry

[4] Official Records

[5] Crute, Joseph Jr., Units of the Confederate States Army

[6] Official Report, Captain J. A. Wemyss

[7] June 6, 1869 Mobile Register




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