In 1994, While doing family research in Halifax County, VA I attended an estate sale in the town of South Boston. Whenever in the area I visited antique stores, yard sales and estate sales in hopes of finding a family bible, pictures or other evidence of my ancestors who once populated the county.
Instead, I found this pre-war dated Ames saber laying on a table amid tools and fishing tackle. I first noticed the heavy wear to both ring mounts on the steel scabbard. This sword had spent a lot of time on the horse! Even better, when I drew the saber I couldn’t believe the date! 1860, one of the first of the Ames contract light sabers. These early dated examples of the Ames contract are almost impossible to find. After small orders in 1858, Ames received an order for 5000 sabers in March of 1859. of these, 1200 went to Virginia in 1860. Here is a letter sent in 1860 instructing the shipment of those sabers to VA.
March 22, 1860
I transmit, hereto appended, a copy of a letter from the Sec. Of War, directing that the inspection of certain sabers which are being made by Ames & Co. for the state of Va. And in accordance with the direction therein you are hereby instructed to take the Necessary measures for making the inspection under the same rules and regulations as for Similar arms made for the U. States. I presume that the commissioner named in said Letter will furnish up with further You will employ the usual sub-inspector on this duty and pay them in the ordinary manner and if no tender of payment be made to you by the commissioners you Will, after the inspection is completed, transmit to this office, an account of the expense incurred in the execution of this duty, including your own transportation if you have to travel in connection with this duty especially.
H.K. Craig, Col. of Ordnance’
The newly enlightening information is that Secretary of War John B. Floyd, a Virginian, was able to send 1,200 Ames model 1860 sabers, with the ricasso dated 1860, to the state arsenal for eventual use by Virginia cavalry regiments when just a few months later the Civil War began. For modern day collectors it means that of the 5,000 sabers contracted for in 1859, 1,200 went to be the State of Virginia.
Due to the date of the letter by the Ordnance Department to the New York Arsenal in March of 1860 and again in August, the sabers would have been in manufacture during the March to September time frame, therefore, the blades were dated 1860.
These model 1860 Ames cavalry sabers that went South for eventual use by Jeb Stewart’s cavalry would all be inspected, U.S. stamped and dated 1860. However, at least one (Jim Dear collection) is known with the date only. Perhaps it is one of the first ones made for Virginia, before the instructions reached Ames in time for the inspections to take place – we just don’t know.” – Thillmann
The 1859 Contract lasted only two years with the last sabers of the 5000 delivered on January 11, 1861. We can surmise then that about half of these sabers, or 2500 were dated 1860. With 1200 going to Virgina it is an almost 50% chance that an 1860 dated saber went south.
This example shows use but not abuse. The steel blade is straight and without nicks or damage. It has areas of discoloration along its length but has an overall attractive bright steel appearance. Marked on the reverse ricasso of the blade is the three-line maker’s address in block style letters that reads “AMES MFG CO / CHICOPEE / MASS”. Address is worn but clear and legible. Obverse ricasso bears the U.S. stamp, inspector initials G.G.S. (George G. Saunders) and the date “1860”.
The brass retains a deep, untouched, dark bronze patina overall. Grips wears a thin, double twisted brass wire that is wound around bridal leather on the wooden handle. Given the age, the leather is in amazing condition with only a few spots of light wear visible. The brass wire is complete and still tight.
The scabbard is a dark patina with crusted, light pitting over its length. There are no dents. Both ring mounts show the scalloped wear of being carried on the sword belt.
Is this sword one of the 1200 shipped to VA in 1860? Obviously we will never know. I believe, based on where it was found in southwest VA and it’s condition of use, that it is likely that it saw service with the Army of North Virginia’s Cavalry Corp, led by Jeb Stuart. Only the sword knows.. but it’s fun to imagine !