Inscribed P1853 Saber Captured by the USS Passaic
The British Pattern 1853 Enlisted Dragoon Saber was one of the most commonly used swords by Confederate forces, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 swords of this pattern being purchased by the central Confederate government, as well as by the States of South Carolina and Georgia, while others were brought in by private speculators.
The majority of P1853 Sabers purchased by the central government are believed to have been bought through the firm of S. Isaac Campbell & Company of London. A surviving invoice dated March 10, 1862 lists 1,400 cavalry swords, packed 50 to a case, marked with “WD” / “H” in a rhomboid with a circle around it, and the initials “SIC & Co” in the two lower quadrants. These swords were to be shipped aboard the blockade runner Minna.
The initials on the cases shipped aboard the Minna are found as one of two variants on S. Isaac Campbell & Company marked swords. The markings, which are found on the spine of the blades near the hilt are either SIC & Co LONDON or ISAAC & Co.
Although the sabers baring S. Isaac Campbell & Company markings are the most easily documented Confederate purchased Pattern 1853 Dragoon Sabers many thousands of unmarked examples were purchased by arms speculators and sold to Confederate and other Southern State agents. Generally speaking there is no way to determine if these unmarked sabers saw service with Confederate troops unless they have additional provenance.
The sword offered here is one of the unknown thousands of unmarked Pattern 1853 Dragoon Sabers imported to the South during the Civil War. The sword its self is generally unremarkable, save for the inscription found below the throat of the scabbard that reads:
Dredged up in Wassaw Sound, GA
The Joseph Hoopes referenced in the inscription is Second Assistant Engineer Joseph Hoopes. Hoopes joined the U.S. Navy on September 16, 1862 and was assigned to the U.S.S. Passaic, which was commissioned on November 25, 1862.
The Passaic was the first in a new line of improved monitor type vessels that would become known as Passaic Class Monitors. After the U.S.S. Monitor engaged the C.S.S. Virginia at Hampton Roads in March of 1862, the U.S. Navy decided on a series of improvements to John Ericson's original design. In addition to increasing the ship's length and beam the ship's armor was also thickened. Improvements were also made to the pilot house configuration, which was mounted atop the turret. The armor and gun sizes were also increased. In all, the Passaic, and her sister ships, would finish out at 200 feet in length, with a 46 feet beam, and 12 feet 6 inch draft and weighed in at 1,355 tons. Although it was decided to arm the ships with new XV inch Dahlgren guns, lack of availability meant that the Passaic was outfitted with one XV inch and one XI inch gun.
On August 2, 1864 the U.S.S. Passaic was sent to Wassaw Sound, Georgia with orders to prevent the Confederate ironclads C.S.S. Savannah and C.S.S. Georgia from attacking the Federal blockade at Charleston. With the approach on Savannah by the forces of General W.T. Sherman in December of 1864 it was generally expected, and actually ordered by Confederate Secretary of the Navy S.R. Mallory, that the Confederate fleet at Savannah would attempt to fight its way out either down the Savannah River or via the Wassaw Sound. However, the rebel fleet was scuttled rather than attempting to run the Federal gauntlet, and December ended with relatively little activity for the U.S.S. Passaic.
Savannah was abandoned by Confederate forces on December 20, and was occupied by Federal forces the next day. With the Rebel fleet at Savannah scuttled, or withdrawn up river to Augusta and effectively trapped by low water the need to patrol the Wassaw Sound was effectively eliminated.
The Passaic would remain in the sound for another week or so, apparently aiding the U.S.S. Bibb in torpedo removal and charting the ship channels of the Sound. Presumably it was during this period that Hoopes acquired this saber. Given the generally good condition of the saber and scabbard I do not think it likely that the sword was submerged for an extended period of time. I have yet to come across any records or reports of actual dredging of the Wassaw Sound, although the ship's logs from the Passaic or the Bibb might shed some additional light on the matter.
The Passaic returned to the blockade at Charleston, arriving at about noon on December 29. Hoopes would serve with the Passaic until April of 1865 when was transferred to the U.S.S. Kearsarge. Hoppes was with the Kearsarge when it made sail for the coast of Spain on April 1, 1865 in an attempt to intercept the C.S.S. Stonewall. The Kearsarge was unsuccessful in capturing the Stonewall, which surrendered to Spanish authorities at Havana, Cuba on May 19. The Kearsarge moved into the Mediterranean and then the English Channel before heading south down the coast of Africa. While off the coast of Liberia, Hoopes contracted yellow fever, which he succumbed to on March 18, 1866.
The sword is in about good condition, especially considering the time it spent submerged in Wassaw Sound. The blade has a fair amount of old pitting over the whole length of the blade, as well as numerous nicks down its edge. The iron scabbard is in better overall shape than the sword, with only light scattered pitting, and a small dent on the left side of the scabbard between the hanger suspension rings. The hilt, guard, and grip are all in surprisingly good condition, especially the leather slab grips, which remain tight to the hilt and still show some of the original pressed texturing.
The scabbard's inscription is quite well done, although not very deep. It is difficult to photograph, so for the pictures I highlighted them to show them more clearly. In person the inscription can be read quite easily.
Even with the condition issues, this is a really outstanding sword and a very rare, possibly unique, example of a Confederate purchased P1853 Saber captured by the United States Navy. This sword is a must have for the collector of Confederate edged weapons, or someone who collects US Navy items, especially those pertaining to the USS Passaic.