Civil War sword finds its way back home
By KEN CLEVELAND | Telegram & Gazette | Published: July 24, 2020
CLINTON, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — The old sword was in good shape, given its 157 years and being carried into battle during the Civil War.
The scabbard is still clearly engraved:
"Presented to Lieut Wm J. Coulter
15th REG. MASS VOLS.
By the Citizens of Clinton
Dec 17th 1863"
That engraving on the scabbard expressed the sentiment of the town's residents as Coulter, a lieutenant leading the 15th Mass. Volunteer Regiment, headed back to the front lines of the Civil War, where he and the regiment had already seen action is some of the most significant battles of the war.
The unit would continue in its efforts on behalf of the union until June 22, 1864, when Coulter and his remaining regiment were captured and he surrendered his sword to Major Charles Eugene McGregor of the 24th Georgia Regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia, during the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, part of the larger Battle of Petersburg.
The blade was marked "W. WALSCHEID/ SOLENGIN," a Prussian maker of quality swords. So the citizens of Clinton did not skimp on providing Coulter with a sword worthy of a commander carrying his fellow Clintonians' support into the war to end slavery.
Today, the sword, presented 157 years ago to Lt. William Coulter, is in the Clinton Historical Society archives at the Holder Memorial Building.
Tim Langmaid explained the sword's history and how it was presented and then lost to the enemy, and finally found and returned, as the family donated it to the Society on July 18.
Coulter family members gathered for the ceremony and to see the display set up with Coulter-related items.
How it was returned is a story that involved a descendant eager to see the sword returned.
Langmaid said that his uncle Bill Coulter, great-grandson of Lt. Coulter, and former owner of The Daily Item, had often said that it was likely hanging over a fireplace in the south.
"He was always saying that 'some damn Reb has my sword over his fireplace,' " Historical Society President Terry Ingano also recalled.
It turned out it was in a foot locker in the Confederate soldier's family.
"It was a ceremonial thing," Langmaid said. If an officer was captured, the enemy took the commanding officer's sword. "It's in very good shape," he added, having been painted, which may have helped preserve the scabbard. He noted the details and scroll work as he presented the sword to Ingano.
Langmaid had met with the descendant of the Confederate major who captured the sword. "His dying wish was to get that sword back to those who owned it."
The man's friend's daughter was able to track Langmaid down through a story that his mother, Jane, sister of Bill and Jim Coulter, had written about Langmaid's brother, Shaw. That first-person account of how people with disabilities were treated in the 1960s and '70s detailed how Shaw had a better situation thanks to his family.
Since his mother was connected to Bill Coulter, the woman connected with Langmaid, who works at CNN in Georgia.
He said he was suspicious when she contacted him on Linked In.
"I couldn't believe what she was telling me," he said.
On Sept 2, 2017, he took his family to a North Georgia diner where Charles "Danny" Eugene Stow, the great-grandson of the soldier who took captured it, brought the sword.
"The first thing he said was, 'my great-grandfather is buried down the road; we can go dig him up and kick his ass,' " Langmaid said.
Langmaid said he was happy and proud "to donate this sword back to Clinton, and to the town that gave it to my great-great-grandfather."
Ingano thanked the Coulter family.
"I knew Bill well," Ingano said, noting the last family member to serve as editor of The Daily Item had been on the stage at the Holder and read from a diary William Coulter had kept detailing the war.
"He talked about Gettysburg," where the 15th Mass. Volunteer Regiment played a key role at the point where Confederate troops almost broke through the Union lines during Pickett's Charge.
And Lt. William Coulter was quite a writer himself, Ingano said, recalling the diary.
"It was sad Bill missed this moment," Ingano said.
Bill Coulter died April 2017, just months before the family was initially given the sword, and having spent the final years of his life across the street from the Holder Memorial at Corcoran House.
Langmaid agreed to do a full program on how the sword was found and returned at the Holder at a future date.