Confederate Modified 3rd Model Virginia Manufactory Saber
- Product Code: EWSK-1569-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
By an act of the Virginia legislature, the Virginia Manufactory of Arms was established in 1797. The goal of this armory, located along the James River in Richmond, was to supply the Virginia militia with the required arms for the defense of the Commonwealth. Over a roughly two-decade period, from 1802 through 1821, the Virginia Manufactory produced a variety of small arms, including some 58,000 flintlock muskets, 4,000 flintlock pistols, 2,000 flintlock rifles, and slightly more than 10,000 sabers. The facility also produced about 300 canons during this period. Although the facility was shut down circa 1821, primarily because arms were forthcoming from the US government under the Militia Act of 1808, it was resurrected during the Civil War period as the Richmond Manufactory. In the interim the facility served as an arsenal (storage facility), rather than an armory (manufactory). In 1860, with the clouds of war looming, the Commonwealth decided to return the facility to its prior manufacturing status. To perform this task former Harpers Ferry Master Armorer James Burton was hired to set up the facility. Burton had just returned from overseeing the set-up of the British Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) at Enfield Lock, Great Britain’s version of the “Springfield Armory” and was undertaking to receive the necessary machinery to manufacture rifle muskets in Richmond when the Civil War erupted.
The reestablishment of the Virginia Manufactory as the new Richmond Arsenal was not the only action that the Virginia government took to prepare for the coming war. In addition to trying to acquire small arms from as many vendors as possible during the year leading up to the firing on Fort Sumter, a major program of improvement was undertaken to upgrade, repair and rehabilitate existing stocks of arms. For example, flintlock firearms in stores began to be altered to percussion. This had actually been going on somewhat aggressively since about 1857, when the Commonwealth had started to turn in as many flintlock muskets as the Federal Government would allow under the Militia Act of 1808, to have them replaced by percussion altered muskets. The Commonwealth had also contacted some private vendors like Merrill, Thomas & Company prior to the war, to alter existing stocks of arms to percussion, primarily Virginia Manufactory arms that were in store. Once the war broke out the Commonwealth relied on additional contractors to continue the percussion alteration program. The primary contractors were Thomas J. Adams of Richmond, J.B. (and A.B.) Barrett & Company, William Morgan, F. Persignon, S.C. Robinson and the Union Manufacturing Company. Three smaller contractors also did alterations for the Commonwealth on a much more limited basis, including J.H. Wells, J.D. Brown and S. Holbrook. While the majority of this work was performed on flintlock muskets, many of the remaining stocks of flintlock Virginia Manufactory rifles and pistols were altered to percussion as well.
It was not just flintlock firearms that needed to be upgraded for use, many of the edged weapons in inventory needed attention as well. The Virginia Manufactory had produced a total of 8,269 Cavalry Sabers and some 2.040 Artillery Sabers while it was in operations between 1804 and 1821. Neither variant was produced the entire time, with no sabers of any sort produced in some years. The cavalry sabers had been manufactured in three “patterns’ or “model” as collectors prefer to categorize them. The First Model Cavalry Saber had been produced circa 1804-1806. It had a 40” long blade with two fullers, a deeply cut, narrow one along the spine and a wider but shallower one beneath the first. The blade was secured to the flat pommel with a square nut and a sheet iron half-basket guard with seven slots that were reminiscent of the slotted hilt cavalry sabers produced during the era of the American Revolution. The 5” hilt was grooved walnut, covered in leather and wrapped with brass wire. The hilt had a fairly straight profile with a small palm swell near the guard and a flat pommel cap against which the capstan nut was screwed. The First Model swords were produced in two sub-variants, the most common with a 1 5/16” wide, heavily curved blade and the less common one with a 1 ““ wide fairly straight blade. The two patterns may have been an attempt to create a “Light Cavalry” saber with the curved blade and a “Heavy Cavalry” saber with the straighter blade. During this period the roles of light and heavy cavalry were very different, as were their fighting styles. A look at the huge design differences between the British Pattern 1796 Light Cavalry and Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sabers quickly reveal this stark distinction. No matter what the reasoning, the production of the First Model sabers ended during 1806. Both patterns were initially carried in iron mounted leather scabbards, suspended from a cross belt via a frog hook, but after some time in the field it was determined that iron scabbards would be preferable; the leather ones simply did not hold up. In 1806 the production of the 2nd Model Virginia Manufactory Cavalry Sabers began. The primary change was the shape of the pommel, which now took on a rounded, “bird’s head” profile and replaced the squared capstan nut with simple peening to secure the tang of the blade to the pommel cap. The new profile was essentially the same as that being use on the Virginia Manufactory Artillery Sabers that had entered production during that same year. The other change adopted was the addition of a slot in the rear of the knucklebow to accommodate the use of a sword knot. In all other respects the 2nd Model sabers was essentially the same as the earlier 1st Model sabers, with a slotted, sheet iron half-basket guard, a 1 5/16” wide, heavily curved 40” blade and an iron scabbard suspended from a cross belt by a frog hook. Both patterns of saber proved to be less than popular with the men who carried them. The 40” long, heavily curved blade that brought to mind the hacking sabers of Hussars or even Middle Eastern scimitars was heavy, cumbersome and simply unwieldy to use. The end result was that by the end of 1808, a concerted effort was being made to come up with a new saber pattern that would be more universally accepted. The newly designed saber would become known to collectors as the 3rd Model Virginia Manufactory Saber. These swords would go into production before the end of 1808 and would remain in production through 1814, when their manufacture would take a hiatus until 1821, when they were produced again until the closure of the manufactory that year. The new 3rd Model Cavalry Saber was identical to the previous 2nd Model from the pommel cap to the guard, with the only real change being in the blade design. The blade was shortened from 40” to 36” and added a rather prominent clipped point to the tip. The curvature of the blade was greatly reduced as well, making it straighter and much more controllable. As with the earlier pattern sabers, the spines of the blades were typically marked with region to which the saber was initially issued. While the earliest swords often bore actual county markings, the later swords were numbered from 1 to 4, indicating the military district to which they were issued.
The new pattern sabers were an instant success and proved popular with the Virginia cavalry. The earlier, long sabers were universally returned to storage in the arsenal in exchange for the new pattern of sword. By April of 1809 the arsenal’s inventory included 1,590 “Curved Cavalry Swords” indicating just how quickly after production of the 3rd Model saber that the earlier patterns started to be returned. While exact production records for the various models are not available, yearend production numbers for “Cavalry Sabers’ are. Between 1804 and 1808 some 4,266 cavalry sabers were produced. Based upon a letter from Virginia’s Governor Barbour during the War of 1812, in response to a request from cavalry sabers, we know that there were approximately “3,000 Turkish Scimieters (sic)” in storage at the manufactory and these were the only sabers available for issue. The pressing need for sabers during the War of 1812 resulted in the decision to alter the existing stocks of 1st and 2nd Model sabers to make them more usable and acceptable to the troops. The order was given to alter the sabers and scabbards in 1813 and as of August of 1814 some 2,000 sabers had been shortened with the manufactory noting that another 2,000 could be shortened fairly soon for issue as well. It seems unlikely that more than a few of these other sabers were shortened during this time frame, as the project was still on-going some three decades later, when it was reported that 674 sabers had been cut down that year. In all cases the scabbards were appropriately shortened as well, although due to the exigencies of the war some of the shortened sabers initially went into the field in their original, full-length scabbards. Before the close of the Virginia Manufactory at least 4,003 3rd Model Cavalry sabers were produced, which includes all of the production between 1809 and 1814, as well as the brief run of 60 manufactured in 1821. It is likely that at least part of the 1808 production was of 3rd Model sabers as well, but exact numbers will never be known. Based upon period correspondence, between 3,000 and 4,000 of the earlier 40” curved bladed swords were produced, which means that the 1808 production of 3rd Model sabers would add between 266 and 1,266 to the overall total of 3rd Model Cavalry Sabers. With the War of 1812 over, and the pressing need for sabers temporarily relieved, production of the swords ended, with the exception of the small number produced the year the manufactory was closed. Over the next four decades, leading up to the Civil War, many of these sabers simply remained in storage, although as noted some of the earlier ones were shortened during the period of the Mexican American War, and other correspondence suggests that other maintenance, including the browning of scabbards, took place during the 1850s. In 1860, no doubt in preparation for the coming war, the state of Virginia contracted with the Ames Sword Company to alter 1,000 of the 3rd Model Cavalry Sabers and replace their scabbards. The alteration process involved shortening the blade by about 2”, essentially removing the clip point, and slimming the blade width to one similar to the current pattern M1860 sabers. The scabbards that were added were iron with brass mounts and suspension rings and would become the archetypical “Confederate scabbard” for the Civil War period. As the war erupted and the need for cavalry sabers blossomed exponentially, many more 3rd Model sabers were similarly shortened and slimmed and were given new brass mounted iron scabbards. The pressing need even resulted in some of the older 1st and 2nd Model sabers being further altered for field use, again slimming the blades and adding new scabbards. It is worth noting that in the absence of a Confederate brass mounted iron scabbard, the only somewhat definitive method of determining if a Virginia Manufactory Saber is Confederate altered is to look at the width of the blade. If it retains its original width as manufactured, but is shortened, the sword may only be a War of 1812 alteration and not a Civil War alteration. That does not mean it did not seen Civil War service, but it does mean that it was not Confederate modified.
Offered here is a very nice example of a Confederate Modified 3rd Model Virginia Manufactory Cavalry Saber. The saber has been shortened from its original 36” blade length to 34 ““ and the blade has been slimmed from 1 5/16” width along its entire length (except for the very tip) to only remaining that width for the first 8” or so from the ricasso, thinning to 1 ““ at that point, narrowing to 1 1/8” about 18” from the ricasso and finally about 1” wide about 28” from the ricasso. The last 3” of the blade taper to a spear point, with no vestiges remaining of the original clip point remaining. The original, shallow median fuller remains intact, measuring about 31” from the ricasso, with narrower, deeper fuller measuring about 28” in length along the spine. The 5” iron bird’s head hilt has the usual half-basket sheet iron guard, which is perforated with 7 slots in its face, arranged in two rows, four on the outer edge and three on the interior. The sword knot slot remains in place at the rear of the knuckle guard as well. The guard extends 2” above the spine of the saber, with a gently forward swept quillon that terminates in a slightly bird’s head shaped flat quillon. The leather wrapped wood grip has 7 grooves in it and is wrapped with 7 wraps of plain, double strand brass wire. The obverse ricasso of the saber is numbered 22, and the spine is marked
4, V,A REG,T
This indicates that the saber was issued to the 4th military division of the state, where the 4th Division of Infantry and the 4th Regiments of Cavalry and Artillery were based. This region is along the eastern coast of Virginia, comprising most of what is today known at the Tidewater and Coastal Region of the state. The saber is contained within its Confederate period scabbard. The scabbard is a 36 ““ curved sheet iron scabbard with a pronounced lap seam along its bottom that is brazed with brass solder. The throat and drag are of iron as well. A pair of .4” wide brass mounts are located on the upper portion of the scabbard, located 2 7/8” and 11 3/8” from the throat respectively. The mounts are both equipped with brass suspension rings measuring 1.2” in diameter on their exterior and .9” in diameter on their interior, with the rings measuring about .16” in thickness. The saber fits the scabbard perfectly.
The saber and its accompanying scabbard remain in about VERY GOOD condition. The blade of the saber has been lightly cleaned, leaving a sort of medium pewter patina over most of its surfaces. The blade does show scattered areas of minor surface discoloration and light oxidation, most notably at the ricasso and near the tip. However, the darkened areas are not as pronounced as the photos make them appear, as the reflective areas of the blade and the slightly under-lit tip mad the photos come out somewhat uneven in appearance. The edge of the blade shows a number of nicks and dings along its length, mostly located in the last 19” of the blade closest to the tip. The deepest nick is located about 13” from the tip and the widest nick is about 16” from the tip. The iron guard has a deeply oxidized brown patina, showing scattered moderate surface oxidation and evenly distributed light pitting. The grip retains nearly all of what appears to be the period leather wrap, which shows some light surface loss and thinning and the expected scuffing and wear appropriate to a saber’s grip wrap. While these sabers are usually encountered with either single plain brass wire or twisted brass wire wraps, this one has double plain wire wrapping that appears to be 100% original and correct. The peen on the hilt is undisturbed and there is no indication that the saber was re-wrapped or restored in any way, with both the leather and wire appearing to be completely original and correct. The scabbard has a similarly deeply oxidized brown patina, matching the hilt of the saber wonderfully. It shows moderate pitting over all of its surfaces, a not uncommon situation for these iron scabbards. The brass mounts have a medium golden patina and were probably lightly cleaned at some point in the past. The rings have a deeper, ocher patina with more typical “red brass’ appearance, suggesting higher copper content. The mounts and rings shows some minor dings from carry and use, but the amazingly the scabbard has escaped without any major dings or dents.
Overall this is a really nice example of Confederate Modified 3rd Model Virginia Manufactory Cavalry Saber both the saber and scabbard appear to be completely correct and original in every way. Both the hilt and scabbard have a wonderful untouched and deeply oxidized patina that is truly attractive, with the brighter blade showing a nice contrast to the hilt. The markings all remain crisp and clear and the grip wrap remains in wonderful condition. These are scarce and desirable sabers that have a wonderful history that starts with the War of 1812 era, continues through the Mexican American War and finally culminates with the American Civil War. This would be a fine addition to any collection of Confederate sabers, especially one that concentrates on Virginia made and used arms.SOLD