A Civil War sword that was found just after the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House has recently made the long journey home to Spotsylvania County. The artifact and its matching scabbard arrived at the Spotsylvania County Museum on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2022, arriving from an Oregon donor determined to see it returned to its rightful place where it can teach lessons from our past.
Diane Dillard found the 1863 Emerson & Silver-manufactured sword in her family home in St. Helens, Oregon last year. The sword belonged to her late husband, Max Walden Dillard and its ownership can be traced back directly through the generations of the Dillard family. When Dillard found the sword, a tag from the early to mid-1900s was attached by a fraying cloth thread that reads:
“Civil War sword picked up after the battle of Spottsilvania Court House, Virginia, and later presented by an old negro man to “Mars William” Dillard on a visit to Virginia.”
“After reading the sword’s tag in September 2021, I looked up Spotsylvania County and realized that my two close friends from Oregon who were traveling around the country just happened to be camping in Spotsylvania at that same time,” said Diane Dillard, Civil War sword donor. “I said, gosh, that’s where the sword came from--let’s see if we can get it back home to them! I’m very passionate about items being preserved from the past as we need that in this country more than anything: the appreciation of how we got to where we are today.”
Dillard’s friends visited the museum and things progressed from there. Museum staff worked closely with Dillard on her donation to the museum, which was officially accessioned into the collection on February 15, 2022.
“This artifact is a remarkable addition to our collections because it is connected to two different periods in our county’s history,” said Tourism Marketing and Museum Coordinator, Lily Eghtessad Eghtessad. “Spotsylvania served as the fighting grounds for four bloody Civil War battles, but this tag links the sword to the possible beginning of our area’s tourism promotion- one that is still a great economic force for our county and state today.”
Dillard believes that the “Mars William Dillard” identified in the sword’s tag is family descendant William Barclay Dillard, who was born on May 4, 1850, in Albemarle, Virginia and passed away on September 22, 1927, in St. Helens, Oregon.
According to the National Park Service, the sword’s tag could be in reference to Civil War relic and curiosity museums that emerged after the end of the Civil War. Many abandoned uniforms, swords, guns, and soldier’s belongings were picked up from battlefields by locals and collectors, then displayed or sold as a part of what could be considered early tourism efforts in the Fredericksburg region.
The Spotsylvania County Museum is located at 6159 Plank Rd and is adjacent to the First Day at Chancellorsville Battlefield. The sword has been accessioned into the museum’s collections and will soon be on display after more extensive research has been conducted. The museum expresses gratitude for the Dillard Family’s desire to send this artifact home.
All donations and gifts accepted at the Spotsylvania County Museum are tax deductible. Through the generosity of our donors, the Spotsylvania County Museum is able to further preserve and interpret the vast and rich history of Spotsylvania County for citizens, visitors, and future generations.