"Peculiarly distinguished among the advance guard, where all were distinguished, must be recorded . . . Private J. W. Brown, of Company F, First Georgia Regiment, who, upon hearing the order to fall back, exclaimed, 'I will give them one more shot before I leave,' and while ramming down his twenty-ninth cartridge fell dead at his post." - General Henry R. Jackson in his report of the Battle of Greenbrier River.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Beautiful Weapon

Grave of Lt. Col. James O. Clarke
When the First Georgia Volunteers were being organized at Macon’s Camp Oglethorpe, several candidates stood for election as the regiment’s officers. Lieutenant James N. Ramsey of the Southern Guards was opposed for the rank of colonel by Captain James S. Pinckard of the Quitman Guards and Captain S. A. H. Jones of the Washington Rifles. Captain James O. Clarke of the Oglethorpe Infantry was urged to put his hat in the ring for the colonel’s commission, but he declined, wanting to stay with his company. After repeated appeals, Clarke agreed to try for the post of lieutenant colonel. He justified this choice by saying that “because the Oglethorpes being on the right of the regiment, and the Lieutenant Colonel occupying generally a position on that wing, he will be near his company.” Clarke won election by default, due to the fact that no one else applied for the position.

Clarke was a popular officer. Before leaving Augusta for Macon, his soldiers had arranged for the production of a ceremonial saber, but it was not finished by the time the company had to leave for Camp Oglethorpe. In early June, as the Oglethorpe Infantry passed through Augusta on their way from Pensacola to Richmond, the sword was retrieved from storage and presented to Clarke. The occasion, as well as the weapon itself, was described in the June 6 edition of the Augusta Daily Constitution:


The Oglethorpe Infantry yesterday presented to Lieut. Colonel CLARKE a handsome sword, which was to have been tendered to him previous to the company’s departure for Pensacola, when he was their Captain, but the sword did not reach here in time, and hence was not presented until to-day.

The presentation took place at the City Hall, about 11 o’clock, and was witnessed by a large concourse of citizens.

Lieutenant J. V. H. ALLEN, of the Oglethorpes, made the presentation speech, which, though entirely impromptu, was neat and appropriate, but we did not obtain a report of it.

Lieutenant Colonel CLARK responded in the following brief and soldierly speech:

Sir: Pleased and surprised at this unexpected mark of approval and affection on the part of those whom I have had the honor to command, I am only prepared to say that such a gift from such a company, makes our heart swell with the emotions of gratitude, and in the hour of battle, the recollection of the source whence it came will give me inspiration, like the smiles of beauty, which drives the hero into the hottest of the fight!

“I take it, and swear it shall never be dishonored.”

At the conclusion of this speech, three hearty cheers were given for Lieutenant Colonel CLARKE, and three more for the Oglethorpes.

The gift was bestowed upon a worthy officer—one who will know how to use it on the field of battle, and knowing how, will use it aright.

The sword, which is an elegant one, was procured by the well known firm of CLARKE & CO., and the engraving, which are neatly executed, were designed by our fellow citizen Mr. J. B. PLATT.

The handle is formed in the shape of a lion’s head, while the hilt is ornamented with the coat of arms of Georgia. The dress scabbard is of silver with gilt bands—the engraving being on the bands, the first representing “Excelsior” onward and upward – the rise and progress of this gallant company. The second representing “Liberty”- the object for which freemen are ever ready and willing to fight, and in whose cause this sword is to be drawn and used,; third, justice at the “shoe” or point of the scabbard, significant of the fact that justice is to be demanded and obtained at the point of the sword.

We cannot, at present, follow out at length, these designs, but from what we have said, the reader will readily perceive that they are not only very neat, but very appropriate.

The service scabbard is bronzed, with silver bands—the engravings representing a variety of war emblems. The entire affair was very creditable to all concerned, and passed off satisfactorily and pleasantly.

Clarke would draw this saber as he led a charge during a skirmish at Laurel Hill, shouting “Up the hill, men, and remember you are Georgians!”

After Clarke died on December 6, 1889, he was buried in Augusta’s Magnolia Cemetery, in what was described as “one of the most largely attended ever witnessed in Augusta.” A large stone shaft marks his gravesite. Carved onto the top of the monument is a dress sword. Close examination of this carving reveals details that match the above description. Could this be the same weapon? I believe that it is.
(Photos courtesy of Rick Saunders of Augusta)

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