Ellsworth?s Avengers with Imperial Albumen of 44th NY Officers at Muster-Out. An historic group with Gettysburg interest consisting of Freeman Conner?s bullet-struck 44th NY Zouave presentation sword and scabbard, his US Ordnance marked M1850 S & F sword, and framed Imperial albumen measuring 16? x 20? by Albany photographer ?Churchill & Denison? showing the 14 surviving officers at muster-out, dated October 11, 1864. Lt. Colonel Freeman Conner is seated in the first row middle and was instrumental in the epic Defense of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. Conner?s presentation foot officer?s sword is a typical example showing regulation brass 1850 guard and knuckle bow with sharkskin-wrapped grip tight and intact (one minor wear spot) and excellent triple-wire wrap. Sword retains the buff leather washer at the base of the blade. The 30.5? blade is bright with just few scattered spots of rust, no nicks or scratches, marked ?Schuyler, Hartley & Graham New York? on ricasso. Unique etching includes crossed US flags and motto Stand by the Union, entwined ?US,? eagle with ribband, floral pattern and a seldom used design by 1860?a prominent liberty cap in rays. The spine of the blade is etched with a laurel leaf pattern. There is original presentation engraving on both the scabbard and sword. Engraved on the pommel cap are Conner?s initials ?F.C.? The leather scabbard has been broken twice between the middle ring mount and drag, but the inscription on the throat and the damage to the drag more than compensate for this condition.
Beautifully inscribed on the throat of the scabbard is, ?Capt. Freeman Conner / from Company D / P.E.R / Oct. 15, 1861.? The ?P.E.R.? stands for ?People?s Ellsworth Regiment,? one early moniker of the 44th New York. The brass drag is simply remarkable. The flat side has obviously been struck with a spent musket ball, bending and deforming it, but not actually piercing the drag. A musket ball can actually be laid right into the deep dent. Interestingly, the tip of the sword blade is not damaged, indicating that the sword was drawn and out of the scabbard when the ball struck.
We have combed the Conner bibliography attempting to ascertain the circumstances and probable location of the action that caused the bullet strike and cannot definitively say, except that the damage is obviously genuine. Conner was promoted to Major in July 1862 and suffered the first of his two wounds at Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. By regulation he was then entitled to a Staff & Field pattern sword.
His second sword was made by Ames and is a rare example of US Ordnance marked specimen made in ?1862.? According to Hickox the Ordnance Department purchased only 441 of these swords throughout the entire Civil War with 162 Ames S & F swords delivered in 1862. It is likely that this sword was carried at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, Spotsylvania and other critical battles. The blade is spotless: bright and shiny with essentially perfect etching on both sides. No age darkening or nicks and just the tiniest of speckles near the tip. Included in the floral/?US? etching is, ?Ames Mfg. Co., Chicopee, Mass.? On one side of the ricasso is the date and on the other side the rare, die-stamped markings of the US Ordnance inspector ?J.H.? The brass guard and hilt are in excellent condition with much hand chasing. The guard is slightly bent-in right at the cast ?US.? The sharkskin grips are virtually mint, being tight, snug, and clean, with just the very slightest of wear. Original wire wrap is complete and tight. Some small usage dings on guard just above the ?US.? The iron scabbard retains 95% original browning with one slight ding towards the bottom. The brass top mount is stamped, ?Ames Mfg. Co., Chicopee, Mass.? Only the brass drag of the scabbard shows wear, exhibiting several small pits and dings, possibly from saddle wear and gravel. It also shows ?drag? wear from constant abrasive contact with the ground when it was worn on a sword belt.
Interestingly, a photograph in Nash?s 44th NY regimental history shows Conner in the group shot wearing a Staff & Field sword, as does the Imperial albumen which is a slightly variant view. It cannot be concluded that these are the identical same swords, but the mountings on the scabbard are roughly the same. The Imperial albumen taken four days after the regiment mustered out bears a series of hand-cancelled orange revenue stamps dated October 14, 1864 along with the ?Churchill & Denison? logo on the back of the mount. Each officer is identified in period ink written in an unknown hand. The oak frame is old, circa 1890?s, but probably not original to the albumen. This view, undoubtedly the personal copy of one of the officer?s shown, is believed to be unpublished, differing in minor details from nearly identical photographs published in Nash and also in Miller?s Photo History of the Civil War. Note that the albumen did not originate with the pair of swords but was acquired separately.
?Ellsworth?s Avengers? were an elite Zouave regiment from inception, being recruited from the state of New York at large with each original member paying a subscription fee for the privilege of joining. Assigned to the 3rd Corps, later serving with the 5th Corps, the 44th New York, also known proudly as the ?People?s Ellsworth Regiment,? saw heavy fighting from the very beginning of its honorable association with the Army of the Potomac, suffering 730 battle casualties and earning a prominent place on the list of Fox?s Fighting 300 Regiments. Exactly 111 of these casualties occurred during a single afternoon at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, during the epic defense of Little Round Top. Here, the men of Vincent?s brigade consisting of the 16th Michigan, 44th New York, 83rd Pennsylvania and 20th Maine held for 3 ? hours in the face of repeated assaults by two of General Hood?s brigades attempting to outflank and turn the Union left. One contemporary author eloquently summarized the situation, "If any one brigade can be credited for saving the Union army at Gettysburg, it was Vincent?s; and if any regiments, the honor must go to the left element of the command, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain?s 20th Maine and Lt. Colonel Freeman Conner?s 44th New York."
Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, March 2, 1836, Freeman Conner moved to Chicago in 1858 where he taught at Lake Forest Academy and began his military career as a member of the ?Cadets of the 60th Regiment.? In 1859 he became associated with Elmer Ellsworth and joined the soon-to-be famous ?United States Zouaves Cadets.? As the tallest man in the company, the diminutive Ellsworth found Conner to be physically imposing and promptly named him First Sergeant in charge of the relentless drilling that characterized the Cadets. Conner and fifty other picked men accompanied the ?Chicago Zouave Cadets? on their celebrated tour of the major Eastern cities during the summer of 1860, thrilling audiences with their precision drill and giving birth to the Zouave movement in the United States.
Conner was a Captain in the Chicago Zouave Regiment when the guns sounded on April 22, 1861. When Elmer Ellsworth went to New York City to form a regiment to be known as the 11th New York Fire Zouaves, Conner was one of four Chicagoan?s he took with him to become the officer cadre of the new regiment. As a 1st Lieutenant in the 11th New York, Conner was in the streets of Alexandria, Virginia the day Ellsworth was shot and killed trying to tear down a Confederate banner flying over the Marshall House. He later fought at Bull Run where the ?Fire Zouaves? broke and ran when charged by J.E.B. Stuart?s 1st Virginia Cavalry (see lot elsewhere in sale for Lt. Colonel John Cregier?s 11th N.Y. presentation sword).
With Ellsworth now a dead ?martyr,? the 11th New York failed to reorganize and Conner resigned his commission, quickly reenlisting as a private in the 44th New York. The elite ?Peoples Ellsworth Regiment,? another Zouave outfit, was organized in August 1861 and the experienced Conner was soon elevated to Captain of Company D. In October 1861 he was presented with this inscribed Foot Officer?s sword by the members of his company. During his service with ?Ellsworth?s Avengers,? Conner would be promoted to Major and Lt. Colonel (he was never mustered as Colonel) and sustain two serious wounds, finally being discharged with the regiment at Albany on October 11, 1864. Conner was present at every major battle fought by the Army of the Potomac: Siege of Yorktown, Hanover C.H., Gaines Mill, White Oak Swamp, Malvern Hill, 2nd Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg (severely wounded), Chancellorsville, Gettysburg (where he commanded the 44th on Little Round Top), Rappahannock Station, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania (severely wounded) and the Weldon Railroad.
After the war Conner returned to Chicago where he ultimately became a prominent member of the community and successful businessman. The comradeship that sustained him during the war carried forward in later life. He was Commander of the prestigious George H. Thomas GAR Post in 1885, a past President of the Western Society of the Army of the Potomac, and became a Companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the U.S. (MOLLUS) through the Commandery of the State of Illinois in 1895. Freeman Conner died suddenly of a heart attack on March 28, 1906, while returning from the wedding of the daughter of an army comrade in Chicago. He was buried in Graceland Cemetery (Clear View Section, Lot 135) in Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana near the farm where he had retired.
The provenance of the Freeman Conner sword pair is impeccable. Both swords surfaced in August 1995 at a house sale in Glencoe, Illinois not far from Lake Forest Academy where Freeman Conner had taught before the Civil War. The two swords were sold to different individuals that day, but were reunited by Chicago collector Richard K. Tibbals, now deceased, in September 2001. Mr. Thomas Stitely, the individual who purchased Conner?s inscribed M1850 Foot Officer?s sword in 1995, took its oral history directly from the senior citizen owner and immediately wrote it down: Sword was purchased from Robert Gielow of Glencoe, Illinois, in August 1995. He received it as a gift from a family friend, Mrs. Blanche Black of Chicago, Illinois in 1930-31 (he was 12 at the time). The sword has been stored in his attic since that date. Mrs. Black was related to Charles Bent of Chicago, whose family was well known Piano manufacturers. Mrs. Black was related to that family (relationship unknown). The Bent and Black families were of Scottish origin. The sword was a family heirloom. Family oral tradition claims that the indentation in the scabbard drag was a result of an impact of a spent minie ball.? Later in 1995, Mr. Stitely sold the sword to collector Richard K. Tibbals of Berwyn, Illinois where it resided until being offered for sale. Freeman Conner?s M1850 Staff & Field sword was purchased separately by Mr. Peter C. Kailus of Northbrook, Illinois, at the same August 1995 Gielow sale. For several years the swords remained separated in Chicago until the remarkable story came full circle in September 2001 when Mr. Kailus sold the S & F to Mr. Tibbals, reuniting the pair.
This amazing out-of-the-attic find is in original ?as found? condition except for slight preservation techniques needed to prevent further deterioration. Swords and albumen are sold with a large file of information relating to Freeman Conner including National Archives Military and Pension Records, obituary, newspapers articles, copy photographs, and historical background pertinent to the Chicago Zouave Cadets, the 11th NY and 44th NY.