Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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Last chance to see Irish Brigade sword!

MORE: Read more news from Fredericksburg

Alan Zirkle photographed historians Frank O'Reilly and Greg Mertz delivering the Meagher sword from the Irish Embassy to the Fredericksburg park last year. Below, a close-up view of the finely crafted sword's hilt, decorated with an American eagle.

A close-up view of the sword's hilt, decorated with an American eagle.

Come Monday, a great Civil War talisman will vanish from public view.

A sword owned by Union Brig. Gen. Thomas Meagher, commander of the legendary Irish Brigade, can be seen through Sunday at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center off Lafayette Boulevard. And then, no more.

The Irish Embassy–which generously loaned the rare artifact to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in late 2009–is reclaiming the item.

The park, though, was lucky enough to be able to borrow the sword–a finely crafted weapon made by Tiffany @ Co. of New York City–for a whole year. Initially, last fall, park officials thought they’d be able to put it on exhibit for only a month.

Bottom line: Enjoy a final glimpse of this Battle of Fredericksburg touchstone while you can–appropriately enough, on the weekend heralding the 148th anniversary of the battle.

Meagher was one of the most colorful, controversial and interesting figures of the war.

Before he  made it to Fredericksburg, the native of Ireland had been sentenced to hang, exiled to a penal colony in Tasmania, and hunted jaguars in Central America, as reporter Emily Battle wrote at this time last year when his sword arrived in town.

At age 37, Meagher led the Irish Brigade’s charge against the Sunken Road’s stone wall on Dec. 13, 1862. Today, the unit is the best-known of those that attacked the Confederate stronghold at Marye’s Heights. Meagher  lost nearly half of his men to enemy fire as they crossed a field already littered with Union dead and wounded.

Yesterday, park Superintendent Russ Smith expressed the National Park Service’s appreciation for the loan of the general’s weapon.

“The original loan was only expected to cover a few weeks, so we’ve been extremely fortunate to have had the sword for an entire year,” Smith said.  “We are extremely grateful to the Irish Embassy and the Waterford Museum, and to former Councilman Matt Kelly, whose vision provided the impetus for bringing the sword here.”

Kelly got wind of the sword’s existence during a summer-vacation visit to a museum in Meagher ’s native Waterford, Ireland. He noticed  the sword was missing from a display about Meagher, and traced it to the Irish Embassy in Washington.

Smith asked if the park could borrow it for a little while, got a yes, and two park historians traveled to the embassy and returned with the weapon a few days before the battle’s 147th anniversary.

If you haven’t seen it, you should. Don’t miss your last opportunity to ogle this bit of America’s past.