Lot 170    

Non-Regulation Foot Officer's Sword Identified to William H. Lewis, USA
10/25/2011 - Historic Firearms & Historic Militaria
A typical Civil War era import having 33" blade with single fuller, marked at ricasso, W. Walscheid/Solingen with "proved" disc on opposite. Shagreen and twisted brass wire wrapped handle. Iron pommel, backstrap, knuckle bow with three branches. Metal scabbard with two carrying rings. Top of metal scabbard near the throat engraved, W.H. Lewis USA with tiny scrolls around the engraving.

William Henry Lewis (1829-1878) was a 1849 West Point graduate and career army officer who had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel, 19th Infantry when he was mortally wounded in action against a Cheyenne band at Punished Woman’s Fork, Kansas on September 27 ,1878. Following the Mexican War, Lewis was commissioned in the 4th Infantry in July 1849 before transferring to the 5th Infantry in August 1850 where he spent the next 14 years as a company grade officer earning two brevets for gallantry in the distant Southwest during the Civil War. In 1856-57 Lieutenant Lewis was in action against the Seminoles and in 1857-59 marched with Johnston to repress the Mormon Rebellion. In May 1861 Lewis was promoted to captain, 5th Infantry while stationed at Fort Fauntleroy, N.M. He was engaged against Sibley’s Confederate Army at the battle of Glorieta Pass (Apache Canyon) on March 28, 1862 and was brevetted major “for gallant and meritorious” service while in command of a company that charged and captured a Confederate field piece. Captain Lewis bore a flag of truce within the enemy’s lines while attempting to secure a Confederate surrender.

Lewis won a second brevet to lieutenant colonel during the relatively minor engagement at Peralta, New Mexico on April 15, 1862 where Canby’s Federal cavalry captured a Confederate supply train but unwilling to assault the enemy held adobe town, the small Confederate force escaped during a dust storm. Lewis was promoted to major, 18th Infantry in July 1864, but remained in the New Mexico Territory for the duration of the war and did not join the regiment until June 1865.

This style of imported sword came into use during the later half of the Civil War and being a robust field service weapon could very likely have been carried by Lewis during his later Indian War service.

Post-war, Major Lewis served with the short-lived 36th Infantry before transferring to the 7th Infantry in March 1869. Duty posts included Ft. Steele, Wyoming and Ft. Benton, Montana as well as a staff billet as Acting Asst. Inspector-General of the Dakota Department from 1871 to 1874. Here, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 19th Infantry in December 1873. Lewis then took brief command of the garrison at Baton Rouge before taking a five-month leave of absence. He reported for duty at Camp Supply in the Indian Territory and served briefly at Ft. Bliss, Texas before moving on to Ft. Dodge in March 1878 where he joined his regiment.

On September 25, 1878, Lt. Colonel Lewis commanded a mixed detachment of five companies of the 4th Cavalry (B, F, G, H, and I) with three companies of the 19th Infantry (D, F, and G) in pursuit of a Northern Cheyenne band with women and children led by Chief Dull Knife and Little Wolf. The Indians had so far eluded capture after fleeing the Darlington Agency reservation near Ft. Reno (Indian Territory) in an attempt to make their way to the Dakotas.

With Colonel Lewis’ detachment in close pursuit the Indians halted and set up an ambush on defensible terrain south of the Smokey Hill River on Punished Women’s Fork in present day Scott County, Kansas. Late in the afternoon on September 27, Lewis’ scouts were pushing into a canyon where the concealed Indian warriors waited. A careless warrior fired prematurely and alerted the cavalrymen to the trap. Lewis was able to extricate his lead elements and called for his infantry — carried in wagons — to come up while sending out riders to reconnoiter around the canyon.

Low on ammunition, the Indians were desperate to make their escape. Little Wolf quickly sent a group of mounted warriors against Lewis’ advancing infantry to cover the escape of the woman and children. As the Indians reined in and fired off their last shots a wayward bullet struck Colonel Lewis in the leg cutting his femoral artery. Under the cover of looming darkness the Indians managed to extract their band and crept off into the night. Twelve warriors were killed and wounded with about 80 ponies lost. Army casualties were one killed outright and six wounded. Colonel Lewis was put into a wagon and rushed to Ft. Wallace, Kansas only to bled to death during the trip. The fight at Punished Woman’s Fork was recorded as the last Indian fight on Kansas territory with Colonel Lewis, sadly, the final casualty.

A new post at nearby Pagosa Springs, Colorado was named in his honor but was soon abandoned. Another Ft. Lewis was established near Durango, Colorado. Colonel Lewis’ final resting place is unknown. He was originally buried in the post cemetery at Ft. Wallace “but his body was subsequently moved to another location,” not recorded. No identified photographs of Colonel Lewis are known to exist according to the website http://swcenter.fortlewis.edu

Parenthetically, Lewis’ final dispatch penciled on September 27, 1878 (being a terse status report without battle content or reference to Indians) sold at auction in November 1998 for $2420.

Sword is in excellent condition overall; the scabbard and handle have a nice dark untouched patina.
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