Museum Acquires A.T. Mahan’s Civil War Era Officer's Sword

Lt. A.T. Mahan's M1852 Officer Sword

Last month, the Naval War College Foundation received Lt. Alfred Thayer Mahan's sword as gift from the estate of Neill H. Alford, Jr.

Lt. A.T. Mahan, 1862

Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914)  is most famous for his seminal book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. The book, published in 1890, was drawn from lectures he gave at the Naval War College as the first instructor of naval history and tactics. Mahan went on to serve as the College's second president from1886 to1889, with a second tour from1892 to 1893. His writings on naval strategy drew attention to the College and influenced a generation of world leaders and strategists during the dawn of the twentieth century.

Scabbard Detail

The Model 1852  U.S. naval officer’s sword, manufactured by the Ames Manufacturing Co. of Chicoppe Massachusetts, has a blade decorated with etchings of American naval motifs. The sword's scabbard is engraved with Mahan's name and the date of his promotion to Lieutenant, 31 August 1861. Immediately after his promotion he reported to USS Pocahontas for combat duty with the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Less than a year later in September 1862, Mahan was assigned to the Naval Academy staff at Newport, Rhode Island, where he served in the Seamanship Department under Lieutenant Commander Stephen B. Luce. A local sword conservator will conserve the sword, using funds provided by the Naval War College Foundation. Upon completion, the sword will become a permanent part of the new “Naval Academy in Newport, 1861-1865” display in the Naval War College Museum. Here it will be an iconic artifact that links the Naval Academy and the Naval War College through the key figures that taught and studied at the Naval Academy during the Civil War and later went on to become the early leaders of the Naval War College.

Intended for permanent display in the Naval War College Museum, the late Professor Neill H. Alford, Jr., of the University of Virginia, directed in his will that the sword be donated in memory of Vice Admiral Bernard L. Austin, who had been the President of the Naval War College at the time that Professor Alford held the Stockton Chair of International Law at the War College in 1961-62.

Images are courtesy of the Naval War College Museum


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