Premier Firearms Auction
May 12, 13 & 14, 2023
INSCRIBED BOYLE & GAMBLE FOOT OFFICER SWORD ATTRIBUTED TO CAPT. THOMAS H. BELL. KILLED AT BATTLE OF SEVEN PINES
30” blade, characteristic Boyle & Gamble manufactured sword, most likely retailed by Mitchell & Tyler with M&T fancy floral ring mounts, bulbous grip with fancier twisted wire and engraved throat which reads “ Capt. / Jno A. Bell / 6th Ala / CSA”. The only problem with this impeccable contemporary inscription is that there is not a Capt. Jno. A. Bell in the Confederate army much less the 6th Ala. This sword surfaced in 1885 newspaper advertisement by mayor of Philadelphia who was major in war and was making wishes of the now deceased capturer of the sword to return it to the family of Captain Bell. Advertisements continued as late as 1912 trying to find family of Capt. Bell. There is a large binder of research concerning this mystery inscription. Nancy Rossbacher, genealogist, and master sleuth presents the most compelling theory:
1885 sword surfaces in Philadelphia, from estate of deceased Union soldier who captured it during the war. Soldier’s name unknown who captured it.
1911 Dr. Constant Wilson, Jr (1882-1932) of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, purchases it from its owner in Philadelphia while in Medical School
1912 Constant Wilson relative Miss Nellie Wilson is reported in Confederate Veteran magazine seeking to find family of Capt. Bell
Unknown date sword becomes part of Phillip Medicus (1893-1954) collection
1956 Norm Flayderman (1928-2013) purchases the Medicus collection
1998 published as part of Medicus collection of swords by Flayderman
1999 Steve Mullinax (1947-2016) collection
Cullen Smith (1945-2021) collection
Further: sword is product of Boyle & Gamble (Mitchell & Tyler) of Richmond
There is only one captain named Bell in 6th ALA, Thomas H. Bell
Thomas H. Bell was in Richmond February & March 1862, able to buy sword
Capt. Thomas H. Bell was mortally wounded at battle of Seven Pines May 31, 1862
There is no record of who the Union soldier was who captured sword, but plenty of Philadelphia troops were at Seven Pines, the 23rd PA was heavily engaged and lost 143 men.
“As Sherlock Holmes said, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. Capt. Jno A Bell does not appear to have ever existed, but Capt. Tho. H. Bell of the 6th Ala most certainly did, and he was at Richmond, home of Boyle & Gamble, in early 1862 and was very much in a position to lose his sword some months later. In fact, as can be seen in newspaper accounts below, when the sword surfaced in 1885 it was believed to be the sword of the captain who fell at Seven Pines. Col. Oates, former colonel of the 15th Ala and later governor of Alabama was reported in 1885 to remember “Capt. John A. Bell, whose sword was captured at Seven Pines is now in the hands of Mayor Smith of Philadelphia.”.
In final analysis, one wonders if handwritten order for “Tho. H. Bell” inscription be misread as “Jno. A. Bell” When comparing wartime receipts signed by Capt. Tho. H. Bell”, it would have been easy to have been wrongly interpreted by engraver. There are many typos in Civil War inscriptions, this must be another one. There was no Capt. Jno. A. Bell, in conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt this sword belonged to Captain Thomas H. Bell, 6th ALA, Killed at Battle of seven Pines.