A Civil War Artifact
The Chaska History Center has over 4,000 artifacts that have been donated over the years. This Civil War sword is one of our favorites. The sword belonged to James B. Heth, Jr., born in Buffalo, NY, 10 Feb. 1841. He died in Shakopee, MN on April 16, 1893. This slightly-curved blade is an infantry officer’s sword that was not government-issued, but was well-liked due to its excellent manufacture by the W. Walscheid firm of Solingen, Prussia.
The model M1850 sword is 39 inches long. On the blade (fig. 1, 2), the engravings include ''E Pluribus Unum'' and ''U. S.'' on the other side. It has an ornate handle guard (fig. 3) depicting an eagle and the initials “US” and a grip (fig. 4) wrapped in a metal “sharkskin” covering with brass retaining bands.
As an article in the History Center’s collection, the sword is a wonderful piece, showing the highest quality of a fighting weapon at the time. However, like most of our artifacts, the sword also unlocks the details of the lives surrounding it. Who donated it? Why did they possess it? What was its use? Does it have special meaning or qualities? Here are some of those answers related to this sword.
In 1862 at the beginning of the War between the States, James Heth was living with his parents and siblings in Milwaukee, and he and his older brother enlisted into Wisconsin 24th Infantry Regiment. The battles where he fought are inscribed on the scabbard: Chaplin Hills, Kentucky, Oct. 8, 1862; Stones River, Tennessee, Dec. 31- Jan 1, 1863; Chickamauga, Georgia, Sept. 19-20, 1863; Missionary Ridge, Tennessee, Nov. 26, 1863. In 1864, he was promoted to second lieutenant and was transferred to the Wisconsin 38th Infantry located around the capital – Washington City (before it was named District of Columbia).
Smaller battles and skirmishes continued to the end of the war, and his regiment witnessed the execution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators and marched down Pennsylvania Avenue as part of the Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac before being disbanded and returned to Wisconsin. James was mustered out as a First Lieutenant, surviving four years of infantry combat without apparent physical injury or permanent disability or sickness.
Shortly after discharge from service, James Heth moved to Shakopee, Minnesota. He married the 25-year old Jennie B. Brown on October 29, 1865. Jennie’s parents had moved from Pittsfield, MI to Eden Prairie, then settled in Shakopee, where they managed the National Hotel. James and Jennie had a son in 1868, but “Little Jimmy” felt sick for one day, then died of scarlet fever in Dec. 1870. Their daughter Nellie was born 29 June 1873. James worked as a railway depot agent and then managed the National Hotel with his wife Jennie until it was destroyed by fire in October 1879. From then until his death, James worked in mercantiles and handy man jobs where he could find the work. He was active in the community within the Grand Army Post and Fire Department. He was stricken with “paralysis” in June 1892 and died on April 16, 1893, leaving his daughter Nellie to help care for her mother until Jennie’s death in July 1905.
Nellie Heth soon married Florian H. Faber, a Chaska resident, on Feb.21, 1906. By Jan,1920, Nellie had divorced Florian and was caring for their 8-year old son James Faber, who eventually moved to Chaska. Nellie died in 1957. Her ex-husband Florian died in 1944. Their son James donated the sword in 1987 and died in 2005. He also donated the Sand Art jar given to his aunt Magdalena Faber featured in our last newsletter.
References and resources used for this article: 1.Find A Grave.com. 2.Ancestry.com census, marriage and military pension records. 3.Newspapers.com. 4.Shakopee Weekly Argus newspaper on microfilm, held at the Scott County Historical Society. 5.Shakopee Courier newspaper on microfilm. 6.Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865.
7.Quiner’s Military History of Wisconsin, Chicago, 1866; chapters 32 and 46.
By Julie Wiese and Neil Wingert for the Chaska Historical Society