Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Antiques, Weapons and Geeks

I've always considered myself a pacifist, despite my predilection for mysteries and thrillers. Guns, swords and other weapons have never really been on my radar, except in fiction and action films. Two things have conspired to change that.

First, romantic suspense author Shannon McKenna wrote a guest blog for Barnes & Noble's Mystery Forum, which I moderate, talking about a weapons expert named Adam Firestone who helped choreograph her action scenes. I was intrigued. Since then, I've met Adam in person when he gave a weapons workshop for my writing group, and he's done two Q&A's for Romance University.

My knowledge of weapons has increased exponentially, but it's still pretty much at preschool level. As you can see, I don't have the faintest idea how to hold a weapon - this was unloaded, but the way I wielded it during the hands-on part of the workshop still made Adam very nervous!

Anyway, the other night I had dinner with my friend Keri Stevens and her husband. Keri missed Adam Firestone's workshop because it was the same weekend as the Romantic Times conference, so we ended up talking about that a bit. Her husband was interested, too, since it turns out he's very knowledgeable on the subject of weaponry. 

Gun talk led to talk about other weapons, and I mentioned my dad passed on some swords to my son - swords that I assumed belonged to my grandfather, who served in WWI and WWII. I've always been curious about the origins of those weapons, and Keri's husband gave me some good ideas where to start digging for information.

After a couple of hours doing Google searches, I now have a much better idea where these items came from. Only one is a sword, as it turns out. Another is a bayonet. And the third, which I knew wasn't a sword but didn't know what to call it, appears to be a parade stick of some sort. The long one is the sword - as you can see, it's really long:

As far as I can tell - there are no manufacturer's marks - it appears to be made by Ames, and it is similar to their 1840, 1850 and 1860 Staff and Field officer's swords. But even though my great-great-grandfather did fight in the Civil War, he wasn't an officer. 

He was, however, active in the Grand Army of the Republic, and it turns out Ames made similar models for the GAR. I now believe that sword belonged to my great-great-grandfather, Rev. Isaiah Villars, who also wrote a number of books:

Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls Database:     Villars, Isaiah - CPL - Co D - 35 IL US INF
      Residence, Catlin, Vermilion Co, IL; Join, 3Jul1861-Catlin,IL; Age, 23; Born, Clinton Co, OH
      Mustered out, 27Sep1864 
From:  Honor Roll of State of Illinois, Illinois Veteran's Commission, Oct.1,1956      Villars, Isaiah,  Date of Death, June 15, 1915

       Buried Elmhust Cemetery, G.A.R. Section, Joliet, IL
Will County Illinois USGenWeb Necrologist Reports (© 2002 The ILGenWeb Project All Rights Reserved):
    June 12, 1915 - Rev. I. J. Villars, former chaplain Joliet Penitentiary and prominent as anti-saloon worker, at New Lenox, aged 76 years. He was a veteran of the civil war. 

I haven't been able to find the exact sword online - this one has the clam shell handguard as well as some decorations in a thistle motif, both next to the grip and etched on the (very worn) blade.There is also a tiny "W" under the clamshell, which I believe is an inspector's mark.

I'm less sure about the bayonet and haven't got a clue about the origins of the parade stick/staff. My grandfather, Col. Horace S. Villars, served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in WWI and WWII (Legion of Merit, Army Commendation Medal Oak Leaf Cluster). He served in England, France, Germany and Panama, that I know of. 

I'm assuming the parade staff is his, but I have had zero luck identifying it. It's made of row upon row of individual slices of bone? glass? ivory? - I can't tell.

The bayonet looks similar to a French Lebel bayonet:

The first Berthiers approved for service were the Carabine de Cavallerie Modele 1890, Carabine de Cuirassiers Modele 1890, and the Carabine de Gendarmerie Modele 1890. The Gendarme carbine could be fitted with an epee bayonet similar that that used on the Lebel. which the French Poilu affectionately referred to as "Rosalie." 1

Until I started fiddling with it, I didn't even realize there WAS a bayonet inside the case - I thought it was all one piece!

It appears these bayonets were made long before WWI, so maybe my grandfather purchased this as a souvenir when he was in France. I wish I knew more about these, but at least I can pass this information onto my son so he has a better idea where his inheritance comes from.

If any of you reading this can add information about these pieces, please let me know! Also, if I've identified them incorrectly, please correct me. I'd love to know more. I've become a weapons geek!


Becke Davis said...

Here's an update from my dad, who I should have just asked in the first place:

"Dad was given the French bayonet by an appreciative patient in Germany. It was
encrusted with mud and rust and had been lying in a field probably since the
Franco-Prussian war in the late 19th Century.

The walking stick is made of bone and was a gift to my grandfather (Rev. Ulysses Villars) by one of his parishioners. That's all I can tell you about it."

I'm excited because the age of the bayonet means it COULD be a Lebel Rosalie.

I suspected the staff/stick was bone but it's nice to have confirmation (even if it's a little gross to think of how it was made). It would be nice to have more information about it, but I know a LOT more about these than I did a week ago!

Post a Comment