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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Maxey Swords Undergo Conservation

By Caitlin Ammon and Lynn Deal, Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Site

Sam Bell Maxey House has conserved a number of artifacts this past year. Since the house has been closed to the public for tours due to the current construction on the exterior preservation project, this was the perfect time to send artifacts to professionals for treatment. Two of the objects recently conserved were the Maxey House swords. They are usually on display in the room we call the library.

The more delicate of these two swords is actually a Mexican Army Officer’s dress sword. The scabbard is made of silver and plated in gold, while the sword itself is ornately decorated. The blade is engraved with a series of flowers and shields, and mother of pearl is inlaid on the handle.

You might wonder how Sam Bell Maxey came to own a Mexican dress sword. After graduating from West Point in 1846, Maxey began his career in the U.S. Army by fighting in the Mexican-American War.  After the U.S. captured Mexico City, Maxey was one of five captains assigned to oversee the City Guard.  As a captain, he lived with the mayor, or alcade, of Mexico City. As thanks for his service and protection, the alcalde presented Maxey with this dress sword.

The second sword that was recently conserved contrasts sharply with Maxey’s delicate, beautiful dress sword. This type of battle sword is commonly referred to as an “old wrist-breaker” because it was so heavy. Soldiers thought that if the sword was not used correctly, the weight of the sword could break a man’s wrist during a fight. Thus, this sword was designed to be battle attire rather than dress attire. As such, the battle sword looks very utilitarian when compared to the dress sword and is larger and heavier in order to be an effective battle weapon.

However, Maxey was a general during the Civil War, so he would not have carried this particular type of saber. The story that has been handed down is that Maxey was given the saber and scabbard from a soldier who served in the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee on April 6, 1862. As it was common practice for both the Union and Confederate Armies to take weapons from fallen enemies during the Civil War as battle prizes, it is probable that a Confederate soldier would not want his sword to fall into Union hands and so he gave it to Maxey for safe keeping. Another interesting note about this sword is that the saber is of U.S. Army issue, while the scabbard is of Confederate issue.

The Sam Bell Maxey House is located in Paris at the corner of Church and Washington streets in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.

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