Friday, September 4, 2015

Fallen officer's sword finally coming back to South Carolina -- from Canada

Col. C.C. Tew fell in this area of the Bloody Lane (NPS photo)
(The Citadel)

On Sept. 16, a sword that enemy soldiers took from a mortally wounded Confederate officer will be presented to nine cadets from his alma mater at the spot in Antietam’s Bloody Lane where he fell 153 years before.

The 1 p.m. ceremony on an undulating, fence-lined country lane will transform the sword and scabbard from a spoil of the Civil War to an enduring symbol of respect and principle.

Descendants of Col. Charles Courtenay Tew, who was from Charleston, S.C., and led the 2nd North Carolina State Troops, had long looked for the sword, making inquiries by word of mouth and magazine ads. The soldier’s father, who was not certain that his son had been killed at the 1862 Maryland battle, had even traveled to a remote island in the Gulf of Mexico to try to learn his fate.

Relatives eventually learned the weapon had made its way to Ohio, but they had no idea that it ended up on the wall of an officers’ mess for a military unit in, of all places, Ottawa, Ontario. A foundation associated with the Canadian regiment researched and authenticated the sword and decided The Citadel should be its permanent home.

“I think this is the most important artifact that The Citadel has ever had,” said Lt. Col. David Goble, director of the Charleston military college’s Daniel Library. “This gentleman was among the first 20 cadets ever to matriculate on this campus, and the first honor graduate. The mission of The Citadel is to produce principled leaders in all walks of life. This is our first principled leader.”

Goble will lead the school’s contingent to Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg for the ceremony and wreath-laying, prayer and playing of Taps where Tew died. Representatives of the 33 Signal Regiment of the Canadian Army and its foundation will hand the sword over to Keith Snyder, a National Park Service park ranger, who will then transfer it to the cadets.

“It is an incredible story and we are going to be standing on the very location where this event took place,” Snyder told the Picket this week.

The Citadel contingent will return to the school, which will have a Sept. 17 reception at Daniel Library with the cherished sword on display, and an official transfer on Sept. 18 on Summerall Field, just prior to the traditional Friday cadet dress parade.

Among the Tew descendants who will attend the events in Charleston is Caroline Sloan, a great-great-granddaughter who grew up in Greenville, S.C., and now lives in Portland, Ore. She will give a talk at the Sept. 17 reception.

Tew’s family had high hopes for The Citadel graduate, who went on to teach at the school and led the affiliated Arsenal Academy in Columbia, S.C., where cadets gave him the sword on Nov. 25, 1858.

“He was educated,” said Sloan. “As soon as he hit the pavement, everybody said the boy was going somewhere.”

(Courtesy of Caroline Sloan)

Tew, called Courtenay (pronounced Courtney) by his family, later moved his family to Hillsborough, N.C., to start a military academy there. When the Civil War broke out, he joined a North Carolina regiment.

The Citadel has long honored Tew’s legacy and has some of his belongings. Now the sword will be at the institution he attended and served. Sloan cited research efforts led by Michael Martin, chairman of the 33 Signal Regiment Foundation, which supports soldiers in the Canadian unit.

Sloan said: “I am thrilled to know what happened, the fact that (Martin) could connect the sword on a wall in Canada to the battlefield.”

While the journey of the sword is remarkable in its own right, there’s also a compelling human element, through communication between Tew’s father, Henry, and a Union soldier who came into possession of Courtenay Tew’s drinking cup that was taken from his saddlebags at Antietam.

That soldier, J.W. Bean of the 5th New Hampshire Infantry, returned the cup to the Tews in 1874 and showed a spirit of national reconciliation in a letter to the family.

“All brave men can but respect & honor the memory of those who were willing to sacrifice their lives upon the altar of their principles, however they may differ from each other,” Bean wrote. “War is between nations and not between individuals -- and when the battle is over – brave men on either side learn to respect each other.”

He fell leading troops at Sharpsburg

Charles Courtenay Tew was among the first 26 cadets to report to The Citadel in 1843. He was the college’s first honor grad and alumni association president. He taught at the campus in Charleston and for a time was superintendent of Arsenal Academy, where he received the sword. The scabbard has inscriptions about its bestowal and capture.

While leading the academy in North Carolina, Tew – a renowned scholar and academic – was called upon to take up arms after secession.

According to the 1893 “The History of the South Carolina Academy,” Tew helped secure North Carolina coastal defenses and led the 2nd North Carolina as part of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The book said he was “prompt, thorough, efficient and devoted to duty.”

His unit served around Richmond, Va., and was part of the Seven Days Battles. They moved north when Lee decided to invade Maryland and were posted on the famous Sunken Road (Bloody Lane) on that fateful Sept. 17, 1862, the largest single bloody day in U.S. military history.

An onslaught of Federal troops tried to oust the Southerners from their positions. The colonel briefly became brigade commander when its general was wounded.

Cup returned by Federal soldier (Courtesy of Carolina Sloan)

A Capt. M. Manly of the 2nd North Carolina wrote: “During the battle in this bloody lane Colonel Charles Courtenay Tew was killed, his body falling into the hands of the enemy … He was shot through the head and placed in the sunken road … Here he was found, apparently unconscious, the blood streaming from a wound in the head, with his sword held in both hands across his knees. A Federal soldier attempted to take the sword from him, but he drew it toward his body with his last remaining strength, and then his grasp relaxed and he fell forward, dead.”

It’s believed that Tew’s sword, scabbard, cup and perhaps his watch were taken by one or more Federal soldiers, likely with the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Bean’s New Hampshire unit also charged Bloody Lane.

It’s impossible to know with certainty who took the trophies, but Martin told the Picket that a Capt. Reid, a Canadian serving with the 8th Ohio, may have taken the blade. Another soldier apparently gave the cup to Bean.

Tew, 34, and thousands of other Confederates killed at Antietam were buried in mass graves. They were later moved to cemeteries in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md., and Shepherdstown, W. Va. Snyder of the NPS said Tew’s final resting place is not known.

The colonel left behind a widow and three surviving children in Hillsborough.

But the family didn’t know he had been killed because none of the regiment’s members had seen the body. Perhaps he had been captured.

A few years later, a man visited Hillsborough and said that Tew had just been released from Fort Jefferson on the islands known as the Dry Tortugas, west of Key West, Fla. (The fort housed prisoners during and after the Civil War). Tew, according to his man, had been confined for killing the colonel of an Illinois regiment.

Henry Tew, in a newspaper article, described his response.

“It was startling and improbable but the utter absence of all motive for the deception made upon oath and without demand for compensation induced me to take the long tedious and expensive voyage from Charleston via Balto & Key West to the Port to realize its falsity, and return cheerless via Havana, Key West & Balto to my home.”

Col. Tew’s widow, Elizabeth Tradewell Tew, passed away in 1870 and her father-in-law took custody of the children.

Henry Tew received a letter from an individual in Norwalk, Ohio, claiming the sword was at a fraternal lodge in that city. Efforts to obtain the sword failed, but the family did hear from Capt. Bean, who said he buried the Confederate and had the silver cup.

“Perhaps the only relic of his last hours,” Henry Tew wrote about his lost son. “And to (the) generous kindness and magnanimity of this gallant opponent on the fatal field it is now in our possession.”

Engraving on scabbard (The Citadel)

In 1885, a Yankee veteran, Col. John Finn of the 8th Ohio wrote to Ella, the colonel’s daughter, explaining that there were high casualties in the Bloody Lane fighting. He said a bullet struck the Confederate officer in the left temple.

I think that he was unconscious of what was going on around him, and knew that it was impossible for him to live more than an hour or so at most,” Finn wrote. “He was sensible enough to hold a tight grasp to his sword, of which we were very anxious to secure, and which was taken from him by my company, as also was his waist belt and scabbard.

Finn pledged to have the sword returned to the family. Apparently, he was unsuccessful.

On to Canada, via Ohio

So what became of the sword?

Martin, with the Canadian foundation, helped conduct research that proved the provenance of the Tew sword.

Not every detail is certain, including who took custody of the sword on the battlefield and held it for decades. What’s known is that the weapon was donated to the 703 Communication Regiment (now the 33 Signal Regiment) in 1963.

Martin said the woman grew up in New York and was a relative of a colonel of the 55th Ohio who participated in the fighting at Antietam. It’s possible that the colonel, who was killed the next year, shipped souvenirs back home from Sharpsburg. The sword was believed to have been displayed for a time at a fraternal lodge in Norwalk, Ohio. The woman moved from the United States to Canada. She had a distant cousin who served with the Canadian military unit.

The sword was displayed in the regimental mess but was taken down during an inventory in 2009 when the unit was moving to a new armory. During the insurance process, the blade was sent to an appraiser, who told them, “You don’t know what you have here.”

The regiment was told even without the Tew provenance it was valued between $20,000 and $30,000. But given its history, it was deemed irreplaceable, Martin said.

Thus began the quest to authenticate the sword (through Sloan family letters, The Citadel archives, etc.), which ended successfully in December 2014. The college was notified in March 2015.

Martin said Friday that Canada's top general signed the authorization to transfer the sword, culminating a seven-year effort by the regiment and foundation.

Richard Barnes of Raleigh, N.C., an “historian by passion,” is researching the 2nd North Carolina State Troops and hopes to write a book about the bloodied unit that saw action in numerous campaigns, ending with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Va.

“(Tew) was highly praised by fellow colonels and senior officers. He was considered one of the most finished scholars on the continent,” said Barnes. “His cadets loved him and they followed him anywhere. He produced a lot of fine military minds.”

View of Rebel dead at Sharpsburg (Library of Congress)

Barnes will be part of the Sept. 17 event at The Citadel.

“I can tell you I am extremely excited about it,” Barnes said. “It is great closure that will bring attention to a much overlooked individual.”

Search, finally, comes to an end

This month’s events indeed are time for celebration and reflection by the Tew and Sloan families.

Caroline Sloan’s father, Edward “Ned” Sloan Jr., in recent years led the charge to find the colonel’s sword.

Her mother, Charlotte Ferguson Sloan, was from the Tew line and grew up in a Spartanburg, S.C., house with the colonel’s second surviving daughter, Ella.

“She grew up on the stories of the colonel. The family really did worship him. He was a superstar when he died. They thought on he would be president. It was crushing.”

Sloan said the family learned only in the past month about the sword’s fate and plans for its repatriation. But they agreed that The Citadel should have the sword.

“My most immediate reaction was it is terrible my mother died (in 2013) before we knew this has happened. She was very invested in this story.”

Sloan said she is pleased Goble and others are the college are celebrating Tew’s legacy.

Goble, a 1969 Citadel grad and Vietnam veteran, said he hopes events related to the sword will assist fund-raising efforts to modernize the school’s archives and museum.

Goble cited efforts by Ned Sloan, Citadel Class of 1950.

“He has truly been looking for this sword forever. This is a huge deal. For The Citadel, Charleston and the family. It is an amazing story.”

• Related: More on the life of Col. C.C. Tew

1 comment:

  1. This is the story of generosity and courage as much as anything. What a legacy the Colonel has left!