SWORD GOES HOME

 Michael Martin of the Ottawa-based 33 Signal Regiment with a Civil War sword that once belonged to Confederate States Army Col. Charles Courtenay Tew. Photo by PATRICK DOYLE/OTTAWA CITIZEN


Michael Martin of the Ottawa-based 33 Signal Regiment with a Civil War sword that once belonged to Confederate States Army Col. Charles Courtenay Tew. Photo by PATRICK DOYLE/OTTAWA CITIZEN

Civil War relic returned

By: PETER ROBB , Ottawa Citizen
2 Sep 2015

An Ottawa-based military regiment will return a Civil War sword and scabbard belonging to a famous Confederate officer to the military academy where he studied and worked in the mid-19th century. The sword, belonging to Col. Charles C. Tew, has been “missing ” for 153 years since the Battle of Antietam in 1862. Tew was killed in that battle and his sword was taken as a trophy from the battlefield by a Canadian serving with the Union Army. About 40,000 Canadians served with the Union during the U.S. Civil War, which ended 150 years ago.

The sword will be handed back to The Citadel in a ceremony on Sept. 18, said Michael Martin, chairman of the charitable arm of 33 Signal Regiment, an organization that dates back to 1913.

The sword was given to Tew by his students at the Arsenal Academy, a prep school he founded that serves as an entry point to The Citadel, Martin says. The story behind the sword remained unknown, he says, until the unit was moving from its former headquarters at Wallis House on Rideau Street to a new location on Walkley Road. It had hung in the Wallis House mess since its arrival in 1963, after a resident of Utica, N.Y., gave the sword to her last known relative, an officer with the 33 Signal Regiment (then known as 703 Signals Squadron).

It was taken down from the wall and Tew’s name was noted during a review of the regiment’s property. And an investigation and valuation began, Martin says, that has taken until now to complete.

The story starts in 1862 at Antietam, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The general in command of the Southern side was hit in the leg and his femoral artery was cut. Knowing he was dying, he transferred command to Tew. To receive the news Tew stood up and was immediately shot in the head by a Northern sniper, just three days before his commission would have ended and he would go home.

At the time one Capt. Matthew Manly wrote: “During the battle in this bloody lane Colonel Charles Courtenay Tew was killed, his body falling into the hands of the enemy … He was shot through the head and placed in the sunken road … Here he was found, apparently unconscious, the blood streaming from a wound in the head, with his sword held in both hands across his knees. A Federal soldier attempted to take the sword from him, but he drew it toward his body with his last remaining strength, and then his grasp relaxed and he fell forward, dead” on what became known as The Bloody Road.

That Federal soldier was one Capt. Reid, who is said to have spoken with a British accent and was a Canadian serving with the North. He prised the sword from Tew’s hands after the colonel expired. Reid, who was known as a bit of a scoundrel, took the sword to Norwalk, Ohio, where it somehow passed to the local Odd Fellows Lodge. The weapon stayed in Norwalk for a time, eventually making its way into the hands of Amelia Blythe, Martin says. Blythe was a descendant of a prominent family connected to the lodge.

Confederate artifacts are often valuable because of rarity, but also because of the interest in the Civil War in the U.S. For a lesser known officer, a sword could fetch about $30,000, Martin says, but because it belonged to a commandant of The Citadel, who was killed leading an army on a famous battlefield, it is “priceless.”

“We believe it is only fitting to see that the sword is returned to the hands from whence it came. It is an amazing story. It’s an artifact that has passed through many hands from south to north. It is a story of heroes and scoundrels, prominent families on both sides of the divide and a mystery spanning 150 years,” Martin says.

Lt.-Col. David Goble of The Citadel said everyone at the academy is excited about the return of Col. Tew’s sword. “(He) was our first Honour Graduate and was accordingly the first person to ever receive a diploma from our institution. He was also the first president of The Citadel Alumni Association. We are extremely honoured by the 33 Signal Regiment’s decision to repatriate the sword and very appreciative of the lengths they have gone to make it happen,” Goble said. “At the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after 12 hours of savage combat on Sept. 17, 1862,” he added.

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