A Testimonial of "Esteem and Respect"
A Presentation-Grade Sword Given to
1st Lt. Oscar D. McMillan, U.S. Army, 1865
June 18, 2013 | CMH Museum Artifacts - Pieces of History
By Dieter Stenger, Curator
On May 23–24, 1865, as the Grand Armies of the Republic passed in review from the Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue, Union Army 1st Lt. Oscar D. McMillan was in obscure Hedgeville, Virginia, ninety miles northwest of the events taking place in the nation's capital. Amid the monotony of camp life, he began writing a letter to his sister, imagining the spectacle of the Grand Review: "I suppose it was a magnificent sight, there is something so exhilarating in the thought of marching home as conquerors after four years of war and strife."
McMillan's men—Company C of the 1st Potomac Home Brigade, Maryland Cavalry—began to muster out the very next day, but not before giving McMillan a token of their appreciation. Days earlier they gave him a sash, belt, and a magnificent presentation-grade sword. Later donated by the McMillan family to the U.S. Army—as part of a larger collection associated with Oscar McMillan—the sword today is part of the Army's core collection held at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
The heavily ornamented sword resembles the Model 1850 Staff and Field Officer's sword. Its hilt has a gilded brass half-basket hand guard with pierced floral designs and the initials "U.S." Its silver-plated brass grip features a standing figure of liberty wielding a sword and a shield. The quillon on the cross guard takes the form of an American eagle's head. The pommel, shaped as a Phrygian helmet—ancient emblem of liberty—is decorated with floral sprays, and an American eagle with upswept wings, clutching an escutcheon. The pommel rim is surrounded by small red rubies.
The McMillan sword's German blade is etched and gilt washed on both sides. The ricasso is marked "W./CLAUBERG/SOLINGEN" around a standing suit of armor. Although Victorian in date, the blade etchings retain patriotic emblems of the Federal period, especially the American eagle standing on an escutcheon with thirteen stars, pierced by an anchor, with panoplies of flowers. There also are two flags, a bugle, two drums, and a shield. The reverse of the blade features a panel with the motto "Always Ready," and a "U.S." in large letters.
The silver-plated scabbard is fitted with heavy furnishings depicting floral designs and stands of arms. The drag features a standing uniformed Union soldier. The reverse sides are delicately engraved with floral designs within shaped panels. The scabbard throat, or upper band, bears the following inscription: "Presented to 1st LIEUT. OSCAR D. McMILLAN/BY/the members of/Compy. C/Cole's Md. Cavalry/As a token of/esteem and/respect." Above this inscription, inscribed on the scabbard, are the Latin words "Semper paratus," meaning "Always Ready."