Confederate D-Guard Bowie Knife by M.L. Ferguson
- Product Code: EWSK-1357-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
There is probably no more iconic Civil War image than that of the young Confederate soldier, heading off to war with an absurdly large fighting knife in his hand or on his belt. Early war southern ambrotypes and tintypes provide us a dizzying array of large, wicked, and sometimes comical fighting knives of all descriptions, usually made by local blacksmiths for the southern boys of 1861 to take to war. Over the years, the majority of these local knife makers have remained anonymous, although sometimes certain traits and characteristics of surviving knives can help us to make general statements about the likely region or state that an unmarked knife may have originated in. More recent scholarship has allowed us to identify some knives as to their maker, even though they bear no markings. The classic southern fighting knife was usually overly large and robust, with an overall length that was typically between 12” and 24” and with blades that varied from about 8” to over 18”!
This knife is one of those rarely encountered examples of a locally made, and yet maker marked Confederate fighting knife. The bottom of the knuckle bow of this massive D-Guard knife is clearly stamped with a single die stamp M.L. FERGUSON. The use of an actual gang stamp suggests that Ferguson was a blacksmith or metalworker in business prior to the Civil War, who produced metal items that he would find necessary to mark. Research into the 1860 Census, the Confederate Citizen Files and Confederate Service Records reveal that the most likely identity for M.L. Ferguson was a blacksmith in Mississippi. Listed only as “M. L. Ferguson” in the 1860 Census, Mr. Ferguson was a blacksmith, working in Richland Beat (now simply Richland), Holmes County, Mississippi. Richland is just a few miles south of Jackson, MS. Mr. Ferguson was listed as having been born around 1826 in Maryland, and was 34 years old when the census was taken. He was listed has owning real estate valued at $700.00 and having a personal estate valued at $15,575.00. He is listed as living with A.J. Knapp, a 27 year old carriage maker, born in New York, who owned real estate valued at $600.00 and had a personal estate valued at $3,425.00. As they lived in the same household, it is reasonable to assume that Ferguson & Knapp operated a carriage making and blacksmithing business together, or at the very least shared shop and manufacturing space. One other M.L. Ferguson marked fighting knife is known to exist, and it bears similar features. The survival of two identifiable knives from a small blacksmith maker, suggests that Mr. Ferguson manufactured at least a handful, if not more of his knives. Both of the known examples utilize grooved wood grips with iron hilts, guards and backstraps. The hilt design is clearly similar to that of the Starr M-1818 contract NCO saber, and noted Confederate knife researcher, historian and author Josh Phillips feels that both of the extant examples use modified Starr hilts with shortened guards, rather than newly made copies of the hilts. M.L. Ferguson was apparently a patriotic southerner, and although he was a very middle aged 35 when the war broke out, he joined a local cavalry battalion, raised in Holmes County. The battalion was never mustered into Confederate service, and is listed in Confederate service records as a Rebel Troop of Independent Cavalry. The cavalry troop was variously known as the Holmes County Independent Battalion, Capt. Davis’ Company of Independent Cavalry and later Red’s Company of Independent Cavalry. Ferguson served in Company C of this organization. The reality is that Ferguson served in a Partisan Ranger cavalry battalion of irregulars, and they were probably just as ruthless as some of the more famous partisan ranger companies that were commanded by William Quantrill and “Bloody Bill” Anderson in Missouri and Champ Ferguson in Tennessee. It is possible that the knives he made were made for use by that partisan ranger organization, and the use of old Starr saber hilts may have been a way to re-use old and obsolete arms that were in the possession of the rangers, or that had been damaged in use by the rangers. Very little is known of Ferguson’s service, as records for partisan ranger battalions were rarely maintained. Only two pages of service records for Ferguson are available, which provide almost no additional information beyond the fact that he served with the organization.
This example of the M. L. Ferguson Confederate Fighting Knife is truly massive and could almost be called a short sword as much as a knife. The knife is somewhat crudely made and assembled, suggesting that the Ferguson was truly a blacksmith and no cutler. The knife is 21 3/8” in overall length, with a heavy 16 3/8” long spear point blade with a median reinforcement ridge that runs the length the blade. The ridge makes the center of the blade rather thick, measuring slightly less than 3/8”. The blade measures about 1 13/16” wide at its widest point, and is secured to the hilt via its iron tang, which terminates at a round, knurled, capstan nut at the pommel cap. The reverse of the blade is stamped with M. L. FERGUSON below the medial ridge, near the ricasso. The mark is well worn and barely legible, but is present and can be seen in good light if viewed from the correct angle, unfortunately the mark proved very difficult to photograph well. As previously noted, the hilt appears to be a re-worked Starr NCO saber hilt. It consists of a rudimentarily D-shaped guard made of one-piece of iron, which runs from a forward swept quillon at the front and terminates at the pommel cap, under the iron backstrap at the rear. As previously noted, the outer face of the knuckle guard is crisply stamped M. L. Ferguson. The backstrap is also a single piece of iron, which runs from the upper rear of the guard to the pommel cap. The backstrap is retained by a ““ wide iron ferrule behind the guard and the capstan nut at the pommel cap. The massive knife weighs in at slightly more than 2 pounds, 1 ounce, and despite the large, thick blade and significant weight, the knife is relatively well balanced. The wooden grip is has a moderate palm swell and has 9 grooves, and may have had a wire wrap at some point in time to enhance the grip. The knife is in untouched, attic condition, and the blade and iron hilt mountings all have a thick, chocolate brown patina. The blade shows scattered patches of moderate pitting along its length, as well as a handful of small kicks and dings along its edge. There is scattered roughness on all of the iron surfaces from surface oxidation. The iron guard shows old tool and file marks, especially on the forward side of the quillon. The iron ferrule is somewhat loose due to the shrinkage of the wood grip. The grip shows significant wear and use. It remains solid, with an old coat of protective varnish, but also shows some chipping and wood loss, most of which is located at the lower rear of the grip, near the pommel cap. The grip also shows some with the grain drying cracks, all of which appear solid and stable, and appear to be the result of shrinkage. The wood grip remains solidly attached to the blade and tang, with no looseness.
Overall this is simply a really impressive, completely correct and authentic named maker Confederate Fighting Knife. The knife is in untouched attic condition, and while hardly “mint”, shows fantastic wear, use and age, and has a really appealing look to it. Rarely can a locally made “blacksmith” D-guard be identified, but this one can. The fact that at least one other example exists means that he probably made at least a few dozen knives, if not more. Extant examples of Confederate made arms typically survive at about the rate of 1% of production, suggesting that Ferguson may have manufactured as many as a couple hundred knives. The knife is accompanied by the research that I have been able to do on Ferguson, including his 1860 Census record page, and the two pages of available Confederate service records. Every collection of Civil War era arms needs at least one Confederate fighting knife in it, and there is nothing better to fill this void than a massive Confederate D-Guard. This is a great looking knife that displays wonderfully and will certainly be a great centerpiece to any advanced Civil War collection or display. Further research may reveal documents that establish how many knives Ferguson produced (and for whom) during the American Civil War.SOLD