Congressional presentation sword of Major General John E. Wool, 1854–55
United States, possibly Baltimore
Steel, gold, gilded brass, diamonds, rubies, wood, silver, textile; L. (in scabbard) 39 1/4 in. (99.6 cm)
Purchase, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger and Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Goelet Gifts, 2009 (2009.8a–c)
The American practice of presenting specially designed swords to military officers in recognition of heroic actions or distinguished service dates to the War of Independence. In the nineteenth century, particularly during the War of 1812, Mexican War, and Civil War, the U.S. Congress commissioned a large number of highly ornate presentation swords with hilts of gold or silver from leading designers and silversmiths. This sword presented to Major General John E. Wool is one of the finest and most original.
The sword, in pristine condition, was awarded to Wool by Congress in 1854 in belated recognition of his pivotal role in the American victory at Buena Vista during the Mexican War. The massive gold hilt incorporates the American eagle as the pommel, an ear of corn for the grip, and a cactus branch entwined with snakes (for Mexico) as the crossguard. The blade is etched with the American arms, and the gilded brass scabbard has gold laurel branches as suspension mounts. The original silver-mounted storage box also survives. The sword's elegant proportions, novel design, sculptural conception, and superb finish make it an outstanding example of mid-nineteenth-century silversmithing. The inscription on the blade names a Baltimore cutler; the unmarked hilt may have been made in the same city.