Today, the center focus of our society is on the present. People often tend to worry about how the choices they make today will affect themselves and those around them in the foreseeable future. History, however, is the study of the past; it helps us comprehend the wealth of information about how people and societies behave and evolve over time. Always finding history to be a fascinating academic subject, I was thrilled to be given a unique opportunity to closely research an artifact from the archives of the Historic Huguenot Collection. Due to an interest in the Civil War era, the object I have chosen to explore is an 1836 U.S. Artillery Short Sword used by Union soldiers during this time.
Description and History
The U.S. Model 1836 foot artillery short-sword was the first sword contracted by the U.S. with the Ames Manufacturing Company of Chicopee, Massachusetts, with production starting in 1832. Despite there not being marking on this model from the manufacturer, evidence suggests that this short-sword derived from this company due to matching physical characteristics between this model and those produced during the Civil War era. The Ames Manufacturing Company was also a major provider of other side arms, swords, and light artillery for the Union during the American Civil War. With a whooping 16,200 models produced between 1832 and 1872, this weapon played a major symbolic role for artillery regiments during this time. Although the design was impractical for actual combat, it is alleged that artillerymen put this weapon to other uses, such as creating trails and clearing brush.
In terms of physical characteristics, the iconic design of this short-sword has remained relatively consistent throughout centuries. The first iteration of this design came from the Roman gladius, the standard sword of the Roman legionaries. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, centuries later during the late 1700’s, neo-classical swords began to be revived in Napoleon’s France, and by 1831, the French army was issuing a short-swords centered on the gladius to its artillerymen as a backup weapon in the event they were charged by infantry or cavalry. Eventually, the United States were inspired and began creating their own in 1832.
The U.S. model from our collection was a double-edged sword 25 inches long and was 1.75 inches wide. Moreover, the physical steel blade spans 19 inches with a small indent that runs down the middle, all with a corroded metal look due to length of time since its initial creation. Shifting to the lower part of the object, the sword has a 6-inch solid brass hilt and a 4-inch cross guard with a curricular design at each end. In addition, one of the most noticeable features is the fish scale grips that make up the hilt of the sword, along with the spherical pommel at the base of the sword with a faded image of an eagle.
This artillery short-sword was donated to the Historic Huguenot Collection in 1982 by Myra Wilkins, an elderly resident of New Paltz. Mrs. Wilkins, who was born on January 31st, 1908, was 74 years old when she donated a vast array of weaponry to Huguenot street and would eventually pass away and be buried Union Cemetery of Lloyd years later at the age of 83 on the 15th of January, 1992. When analyzing the genealogy of the Wilkin family to determine if this sword was actually utilized during the Civil War, I came across Myra’s grandfather William Ackermann. Upon exploring enlistment records, I discovered an individual with the same name who served in New York’s 10th Heavy Artillery regiment. Although I can not say this with absolute certainty, but evidence suggests that Ackerman, who according to Census data from 1860 was 16 years old at the age of enlistment, served in New York’s 4th regiment which was eventually combined with other groups from New York into the 10th regiment that was listed earlier. According to historical records, the 10th regiment was mainly stationed in Virginia, the state with the highest slave population in the confederacy.
The Civil War played a pivotal role in reshaping the status quo of contemporary America. Throughout the entirety of the states, the conflict truly divulged the horrors of war, racial discrimination and polarization. These effects were more than prominent in Ulster county which saw nearly 7,500 men, more than 200 of those from New Paltz itself, enlist for the war effort. As mentioned before, a majority of the soldiers who enlisted from New York eventually combined into the 10th regiment which saw most of their action in the confederate state of Virginia. Unfortunately, the Civil War was one of the bloodiest wars in American history and it is no surprise that many of these soldiers were unable to return home to their loved ones. Just from the 10th regiment, a staggering total of 267 died while serving in the military. What’s most shocking is that although this regiment fought in a total of five battles, 220 men died from disease while only a mere 47 were actually killed in combat.
Of the three million soldiers who served and fought in the Civil War, each represented a unique story waiting to be told. Although no two men shared exact same experiences throughout the conflict, whether their exploits in battle or their emotional state of mind, similar threads weaved their way through a significant number of these narratives. With nearly two-thirds of all enlistments being under the age of 21, Ackermann most likely included, the conflict not only became a test for survival due to gruesome and life-threating conditions, but also to the emotional narratives that ensued throughout their campaign.
A common misconception regarding the cause of enrollment is that Union soldiers fought to liberate southern slaves and Confederate soldiers fought to do the opposite. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that this was not what the soldiers during this time truly believed. During this conflict, Union soldiers fought in order to protect the United States and to reunite America. As a result, the underlying issue of slavery was often seen as a trivial issue by both sides of the war; for many, it seems, emancipation was not a prelude to equality.
Despite this, however, there were significant differences in the rights of African-Americans between those who resided in New York and those in Virginia. Within the former, slavery was officially made illegal in 1827, but in terms of representation, New York residents were less willing to give blacks equal voting rights. By the constitution of 1777, voting was restricted to free men who could satisfy certain property requirements for value of real estate. This property requirement disfranchised poor men among both blacks and whites. In spite of this, John Hasbrouck, born to an enslaved woman in New Paltz in 1806 and, later, as a freeman, was able to purchase land in the town. He is commonly believed to be the first African American eligible to vote in New Paltz.
Although African-Americans exhibited some rights in the north, slavery was still a strong issue throughout Virginia where Ackermann was most likely stationed. At first glance, one may think that Union soldiers would have stop to think about the cultural and socioeconomic differences between the north and the south, but to our dismay, that is not what occurred. Upon analyzing letters archived from the Historic Huguenot street, it can be seen that soldiers cared little about the lives or wellbeing of these individuals. The language of many of these letters suggested strong animosity toward the idea of equality, as many writers often resorted to dehumanizing names toward slaves they encountered.
Its important as a society to be able look back at these records and think about how much times have changed. During this era, even though there were different stances on the issue of slavery, it is undeniable that racism was heavily prevalent from both sides of the conflict. It’s no secret that Historic Huguenot street itself once owned a large slave population, and there are many items apart of its collection that continue to serve as a reminder of the past. In my opinion, I believe that the inclusion of this short sword has contributed an unprecedented amount to the nature of New Paltz’s history. This item in juxtaposition with old remnants of Huguenot Street’s early past help remind us how much we’ve progressed as a society and helps reiterate the demand for change in the near future.
Altschuler, Glenn C. “What the Troops Really Thought about Slavery.” Baltimoresun.com, 27 Oct. 2018, http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-2007-04-15-0704130145-story.html.
Burgin, Chris. “Roman Weapons and Armor .” Roman Weapons and Armor, 2008, http://www.web.archive.org/web/20080105112407/http://www.eclectichistorian.net/Roman/.
Editorial Staff. “Exhibit: Freed Slave, New Paltz Landowner John Hasbrouck.” The New York History Blog, 12 June 2017, http://www.newyorkhistoryblog.org/2017/06/exhibit-freed-slave-new-paltz-landowner-john-hasbrouck/.
FamilySearch. “1860 Census Data.” FamilySearch, 2019, http://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MCQQ-2WY.
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Lanham, Howard G. “Sword Plate from the 1861 U.S. Ordnance Manual.” U.S. Army Regulations Illustration: Link 11d Swords and Scabbards, 2019, http://www.howardlanham.tripod.com/link11d.htm.
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New York State Military Museum. “10th Artillery Regiment.” 10th NY Heavy Artillery Regiment during the Civil War – NY Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, 2018, http://www.dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/artillery/10thArtHvy/10thArtHvyMain.htm.
New York State Military Museum. “Civil War Newspapers Ulster County, New York.” Ulster County, New York in the Civil War – NY Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, 2018, http://www.dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/counties/ulster/ulster_CWN.htm.