Louis B. Froelich was born in Bavaria in 1817. Little is known about his early life, but based upon his activities in later life, he was likely apprenticed to a talented metal worker or mechanic and learned his trade well. By the early 1850s he had become a skilled machinist and mechanic. In 1852, Froelich married and the following year moved to England. There he found work at the famous Liverpool shipyard of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel was a major figure in the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. His engineering marvels included a series of bridges and tunnels, as well as the first propeller driven ship to make the transatlantic voyage. Froelich apparently blossomed under Brunel’s tutelage and worked on the production of the steamship Great Eastern, which had originally been named Leviathan, as it was the largest steamship to be produced up to that point in time. In 1860, the Great Eastern made a transatlantic voyage to New York and Froelich and his family were on board. By April or May of 1861, the Froelich family had found a new home in the Wilmington, NC area, where an enclave of some 500 German immigrants lived. Froelich quickly found work at the newly established Wilmington Button Manufactory, owned by two other German immigrants, Jacob Loeb and Lewis Swarzman. Froelich was listed as the “director” of the company, which hoped to receive contracts to produce buttons for the new Confederacy. Period advertisements not only listed buttons as their manufactured goods, but also brass cannonball molds that were noted as being “warranted to be mathematically correct.” For whatever reasons, the expected contracts and orders for buttons and molds were not forthcoming and by the summer of 1861 the venture was no longer in business. At this time Froelich partnered with Hungarian immigrant Bela Estvan and by September of 1861 had established the Wilmington Sword Works. The duo rented space at the sawmill of Christopher Dudley, which was located near the Clarendon Iron Works. From their new premises the partners intended produce a wide variety of edged weapons, ranging from swords to bayonets and lances. They also proposed to manufacture accouterments to accompany the weapons, including scabbards and knapsacks, and also intended to manufacture muskets. To this end the duo employed a wide variety of craftsmen ranging from blacksmiths and machinists to brass molders, tinsmiths, leather workers and saddlers. They also employed a variety of less skilled laborers including “strikers” to assist the blacksmiths and “polishers” to finish rough metal items.
In the fall of 1861, the company was renamed from the Wilmington Sword Works to the C.S.A. Arms Factory, which was also referred to as the Confederate States Arms Factory. On November 8, 1861 the vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, visited the Froelich and Estvan factory while passing through Wilmington. Based upon period accounts, the vice-president was clearly impressed with what he saw. Whether Stephens’ visit had any direct impact of receiving contracts from the Confederacy is unclear, but only eight days later the pair received a contract from the Confederate Ordnance Department to manufacture 128 lances at $7 each and 220 lance “boots” at $0.72 each. The following month they received their first state contract to produce edged weapons for North Carolina troops. By the middle of the month they had delivered 232 brass handled saber bayonets with leather scabbards to North Carolina’s ordnance department. Orders continued to come into the factory and by the end of 1861 the company was regularly shipping cavalry sabers with scabbards and buff leather saber belts with buckles to Confederate Ordnance Department at the princely sum of $24.50 per set.
As production and orders in increased, the partners hired more and more help. By the spring of 1862, Froelich and Estvan were employing more than seventy workmen. At about the same time, Froelich and his partner had a falling out, with Froelich officially separating from Estvan in mid-March of that year. The real issue is not clear, but apparently some of the early orders of saber bayonets and sabers had reported rejection rates as high as 18%, and possibly higher. As Froelich felt that the quality of his arms could not be the issue, he turned his ire on his partner, accusing him of not correctly representing the goods they were offering.
During the summer of 1862 a yellow fever epidemic swept through the Wilmington and Cape Fear area, forcing Froelich to release his workforce and close his armory, leaving it dormant until November of that year; when the epidemic had finally passed. During his time away from the factory, Froelich purchased land in Kenansville, NC about sixty miles north of Wilmington along the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. It is likely that he acquired the property in case the epidemic did not pass, and his workforce was unable to return to Wilmington. This purchase was somewhat providential, as Froelich’s Wilmington factory was destroyed by fire early on the morning of February 20, 1863. The result was a complete loss and rebuilding at the original site was impractical, so Froelich decided to move the operation and rebuild on the land he had purchased the previous September in Kenansville.
Froelich apparently worked with amazing dispatch, as slightly more than thirty days after the fire, the new Froelich factory was “again in full operation” in Kenansville. However, Froelich’s bad run of luck continued. On July 4, 1863 a troop of Union cavalry, detached from a larger group that was operating against the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, temporarily captured the town of Kenansville and burned the Froelich factory. The after-action report regarding the raid claimed that in addition to destroying the factory itself, the fire also destroyed “some 2,500 sabers and large quantities of saber bayonets, bowie knives, and other small arms.” As before, Froelich rebuilt the factory and returned to work. However, as the war progressed, he faced the same troubles as all of the other Confederate arsenals and arms contractors. A lack of available raw materials within the south made it more difficult to manufacture finished goods. A more effective Union blockage made the importation of raw materials more difficult, despite the close proximity of Kenansville to Wilmington, which remained one of the few ports still open in the south as the war progressed. Finally, rampant inflation and the collapse of Confederate currency made the acquisition of raw materials even more difficult when they were actually available for purchase. To this end, Froelich sought a new partner to provide the needed capital to keep the factory operational and partnered with H.N. Cornehlson in January of 1864. Despite all of the factors operating against him, Froelich managed to keep the factory operational and turning out arms and accouterments until March of 1865, when this region of North Carolina was finally occupied permanently by Union forces.
After the war Froelich changed occupations and used his property for agricultural purposes. He and his family established a successful business growing grapes and a variety of fruit and nut trees. The family eventually moved to Halifax County, NC sometime around 1870 and Froelich died of tuberculosis on October 27, 1873. Despite all of his setbacks and two major fires, Froelich managed to keep his manufactory in business through most of the war and was likely the most successful of the Confederate edged weapons makers of the American Civil War.
One of the most important products of Froelich’s Confederate States Arms Factory was the Enlisted Cavalry Saber. By some estimations Froelich produced some 12,000 of these swords during the course of the war. The sabers were generally considered well made, at least those produced after the spring of 1862, when the early production and rejection issues were resolved. The saber was modeled on the US Model 1840 Heavy Cavalry saber, which itself was based upon the French Pattern 1822 Cavalry Saber. The Froelich saber had a slightly curved steel blade that typically measured between 34 ½” and 35” in length, was roughly 1 3/16” wide at the ricasso, had a rounded spine and a wide central fuller. Like many southern made blades, the fuller was unstopped and typically measured between 26 and 27” in length. Fluctuating quality of available steel, as well as the varying quality of workmanship resulted in some blades showing obvious flaws. The overall length of the saber was typically between 40 ½” and 41”. The brass guard was sandcast with the knucklebow splitting into two branches at two different points, rather than the more common single point. As sources for the brass components varied, the color of the guard is not consistent between extant examples, ranging from a deep coppery red to more golden color. The pommel cap was plain and slightly rounded at the end. Flaws were often present in the cast guard and the face of the guard was typically left unpolished, showing the grain of the sand casting mold. The wood grip had between ten and twelve grooves and was covered in thin dark brown or black leather and was wrapped with a single strand of iron or brass wire. The sheet iron scabbards were lap seamed and brazed along their lower edges. Mounting were either iron or brass, including the throat, drag and ring mounts, while the suspension rings themselves were of iron. The upper right edge of the wide pointed quillon of the saber’s guard was sometimes marked with Roman numeral style bench or mating marks, as were some of the riveted scabbard throats, although these marks often do not match when encountered. The scabbards were often jappaned black or browned with a lacquered finish that often appears to be more red than brown. An unreliable supply of available raw materials certainly affected the overall construction of the sabers and scabbards, leading to variations in the type of wire used on the grips, the mountings on the scabbards and the scabbard’s overall finish.
The Kenansville produced Confederate States Arms Factory Enlisted Cavalry Saber offered here is a VERY GOODcondition example of Louis Froelich’s edged weapon output. The saber is complete and original throughout with an original brass mounted sheet iron scabbard with iron drag. The saber’s blade measures 35 1/8” in length and is 1 3/16” wide at the ricasso. The unstopped fuller measures about 27” in length. The overall length of the saber is about 40 ¾”, including the 5 ½” hilt. The wood grip is grooved with eleven grooves, is covered in thin brown leather seamed along the lower reverse edge and wrapped with single strand brass wire. The upper edge of the obverse quillon is bench marked XLVI. The sheet iron scabbard is brass mounted with an iron drag and has the bench mark XV (or possibly XVX) on the top of the riveted brass throat. The suspension ring mounts are of brass as well, with 1 ¼” iron rings.
As noted, the saber remains in about VERY GOOD condition. The blade shows some good flaws and inconsistent production and has been lightly cleaned. There are some scattered light polishing and tool marks here and there, where some areas of the blade were probably cleaned more aggressively to remove surface rust. The blade has a mostly dull pewter gray patina and there are scattered areas of light surface oxidation and discoloration along the blade. The brass guard has a rich, uncleaned ocher patina as does the pommel cap. The face of the guard shows the stippled patterning typical of sandcast brass. Both the guard and pommel cap show some scattered casting flaws, as would be expected. The wood grip is solid and retains most of the original leather covering, with some scattered wear and minor leather loss, most notably on the reverse near the pommel cap. The grip retains its original single wire wrap, which also had a dark ocher patina with a reddish hue that almost looks more copper than brass; typical of Confederate “red brass” with a high copper content. The grip to blade junction is solid and the peen at the rear of the pommel cap is undisturbed. The brass guard is slightly loose on the blade and does exhibit some minor wobble, although all of the construction remains extremely solid. The scabbard is full-length and shows the typical crudely brazed lap seam along the lower reverse edge. The scabbard shows no cracks or repairs but does have a couple of minor dings and dents in its body. The scabbard had a thickly oxidized dark brown patina and it is hard to know if it was originally a black or reddish-brown finished scabbard, although the patina suggests the latter. The iron has some evenly distributed surface roughness and shows scattered flecks of paint here and there. This suggests the saber may have spent part of its post-war life in barn or shed. The brass throat and suspension mounts have the same uncleaned, dark ocher patina as the hilt of the saber and are extremely attractive. The original iron suspension rings are in place in the brass mounts.
Overall this is an extremely attractive example of a scarce and desirable Confederate produced Kenansville Cavalry Saber. The products of Louis Froelich’s Confederate States Arms Factory are always very desirable additions to any collection of Confederate edges weapons. This would be a fine addition to any collection of Confederate swords, a Confederate cavalry collection or a collection that centers on North Carolina produced arms. This is an example that you have to make no apologies for, is entirely complete and correct and displays like a Confederate saber twice the price.