Civil War heirlooms bear Rutherford tales
As published by the Daily News Journal, Sunday, December 11, 2011
By Greg Tucker, President of the Rutherford County Historical Society
Not all Civil War "arms" were made for combat. There were a number of "musician's swords" and at least one extraordinary "Double Barrelled Flintlock Sporting Gun."
Now Rutherford artifacts, both the sword and the sporting gun illustrate a Civil War story.
The U.S. Model 1840 Musician's Sword was carried by American military musicians during much of the 19th century (approximately 1840-80). Most of the swords were manufactured by the Ames Manufacturing Co. of Chicopee, Mass., but some bear marks of other foundries. Intended for ceremonial dress, they were issued to bandsmen who accompanied Union troops during the Civil War. Since many of the Model 1840 swords were captured when state arsenals were seized by Confederate raiders early in the war, the musician's swords were also used by Confederate personnel.
The swords were made with a blunt edge and rounded point. Handles were molded brass with a grip patterned to look like wire wrap. The hilt has a knobbed single branch. Although crafted primarily for non-combatants, the sword with its 27-inch blade could be a weapon of last resort (basically a metal club) and was often carried as a weapon by standard bearers and hospital stewards.
During the long period of occupation following the Battle of Stones River, many Rutherford County residents were resigned to coexistence with the occupying military as a matter of survival. Some, like Mary Rooker, even negotiated special arrangements.
A determined mother anxious about the safety of her children and the preservation of their East Fork farm near Walter Hill, Rooker sought protection from harassing Union troops in February 1863. In a letter to Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans, commander of the occupying forces, she told of abuse by some of the Yankee "pickets" and requested protection. According to Rooker family lore, a Union sentry ("Dorsey") was stationed at the farm. "He would walk around the house and rattle his sword," according to stories told by the grandparents of Joe and Martin Rooker.
As the war and occupation continued for several years, casual contact became routine between some local residents and the Union troops. The Union outpost on the hill overlooking the bridge on the Lebanon turnpike near the Water Hill community, for example, was often visited by 10-year-old John L. Rooker (Mary's son and grandfather of Joe and Martin Rooker).
Soldiers at the outpost befriended the child and one day dressed him in a cutoff Union uniform. They sent him home wearing Yankee blue and swinging a blunt Union sword. Family lore does not recount mother Rooker's reaction when her young son returned to the farm dressed as the enemy, but the family did retain the sword — a Model 1840 Musician's Sword.
After many years as a playtoy and Civil War relic, the original sword was recently returned to Rutherford County. It now hangs below a picture of the mature John L. Rooker and his wife Martha Davis Martin Rooker.
The LePage family of Paris, father and sons, were recognized as the leading makers of deluxe firearms for European nobility in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Jean LePage was appointed royal gun maker for Louis XVI of France. After the French Revolution, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned LePage to produce the Double Barreled Flintlock Sporting Gun.
According to firearm historians, the first LePage Sporting Gun was presented to a Polish count who had gained Napoleon's favor. During the 19th century, the LePage manufactory supplied European royalty with a number of the hand-tooled guns, which were presented as trophies or gifts to those recognized for valor or other service to a sovereign. (Similar presentation firearms may have been produced by other European gun makers.)
The steel and walnut stock on a LePage gun are intricately decorated with floral-like patterns and inscriptions. Even the trigger guard and butt cap are hand inscribed. The hammers are crafted in animal-like form. A gold inlay on the upper stock would bear the appropriate royal crest.
The highly successful tactics of Confederate raiders, particularly Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan, were closely studied by European military leaders during the American Civil War. Austrian observers actually came to the States and rode with Morgan in order to learn his tactics and strategy. According to family lore, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria sent a sporting gun to Morgan as a gesture of admiration and appreciation.
Morgan's trophy gun was apparently retained by his family (perhaps by his widow Martha Ready Morgan in Murfreesboro) until the 1890s. Near the turn of the century, the Morgan family experienced financial difficulty and were assisted by a young Murfreesboro banker named Doc Lytle Ledbetter, son of Capt. William "Doc" Ledbetter (leader of the Rutherford Rifles during the Civil War).
The Morgan descendants were unable to pay for the banker's help, or perhaps Ledbetter refused to accept any payment. As a gesture of appreciation and friendship, the Morgan family presented Ledbetter with the sporting gun in its original case and in virtually mint condition. Over the years, the case was trashed and the gun suffered some wear and minor damage, but today it is carefully maintained as a unique and fascinating Rutherford family heirloom.
Greg Tucker can be reached at email@example.com.