The Romance of a Sword

Not so long ago, my 12 year old daughter, Sarah, posed the question “Why do you keep all this old stuff” as she perused the Civil War artifacts I have displayed in my office at home.  I tried to explain to her that my “old stuff” were tangible reminders of a war that has excited my interest since I was just a child.

Among the many artifacts I have in my office is a sword hanger that I found while metal

sword hanger
Sword Hanger found on the Port Gibson battlefield by the Author.

detecting on the Port Gibson battlefield, June 18, 1995. I immediately thought of this small brass relic after reading the following article, which was published in The Vicksburg Herald on March 13, 1901:



On the first day of May, 1863, Lieut. I.B. Dutton of Company H, Twenty-Fourth Iowa Volunteer Infantry, while with his regiment at Port Gibson, or in the battle of Magnolia Church, lost his sword. How it was lost was never definitely known, though quite possibly it was drawn from its scabbard while the bearer was passing through a thicket or cane break.

Be that as it may, thirty-seven years later, the same sword was found by Miss Sadie Millsaps, daughter of Mr. F.P. Millsaps of Port Gibson. The story of the finding of the sword forms almost as romantic a feature of the history of that relic as is the story of its loss.

In a private letter to a gentleman well known in this city, from a relative at Port Gibson, the following interesting passage occurs:

“I obtained it (the sword) from Mr. F.P. Millsaps, father of Miss Sadie Millsaps, the young lady who found it on the Port Gibson battle field near the old Magnolia Church. The Millsaps family resided near that old church, and last spring, while the young lady was out in the woods near her residence gathering wild flowers, she found the sword. The scabbard was not found. About a foot of the blade projected above ground, the hilt end and most of the blade being underground.

“I satisfied myself as to its identity by getting several young men with good eyesight to decipher the name scratched on the shield of the hilt. As you hold up the sword in your hand you will notice the upper side of the hilt is wider on one side of the base of the blade than on the other. You will find the name of the wider side near the base of the blade and that it follows the curvature of the opening, through which the blade passes through the hilt.”

“I requested Mr. Millsaps to ask his daughter to write me a letter giving me the particulars of her finding the sword.

Your brother,



The sword in question was sent by express to the addressee of the above mentioned letter,

Post-war picture of Captain William T. Rigby, 24th Iowa Infantry (National Park Service)

who has turned it over to Capt. W.T. Rigby, of the park commission. It was seen yesterday at the office of the park commission, and corresponds faithfully with the graphic description contained in the letter from the Port Gibson gentleman. Owing to its long burial the blade had been almost entirely eaten away by rust, while the hilt had become loosened from the blade. The following letter tells the story as to how the sword came to Vicksburg and to Capt. Rigby:

War Department

V’burg National Military Park Com’n

Vicksburg, Miss., Feb. 26, 1901.

Philip M. Harding, Esq., City:

Dear Sir – I am informed that Miss or Mrs. Sadie Millsaps, Port Gibson, has in her possession an officer’s sword found on the battle field of Port Gibson and marked “I.B. Dutton.” Lieut. Dutton belonged to Company H of my regiment (Twenty-Fourth Iowa Infantry Volunteers.) He has been told of the finding of the sword and is anxious to purchase it of Miss. Millsaps. He is, however, to my certain knowledge, a poor man and unable to pay much money to get back his sword. As it is no value for any one else, perhaps Miss Millsaps may be willing to sell it for $10 which is the largest sum that Lieut. Dutton can possibly pay.

If you can assist me in securing, for Lieut. Dutton, the sword at this figure, it will be a much appreciated favor.

With regards I am,

Very cordially yours,


Capt. Rigby will send the sword to Col. Milo P. Smith, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who is a brother-in-law of Lieut. Dutton, who also resides in Iowa. It was from Col. Smith that Capt. Rigby received his first intimation about hearing of the sword by Miss. Millsaps.

It is likely Mr. Dutton will be pleased to receive his old companion back again after so long a separation.

The young lady who found the sword, Sadie Millsaps, was the daughter of Franklin and Martha Millsaps. On the 1900 United States Census for Claiborne County, 19 year-old Sadie was living with her parents and siblings. (1900 United States Census, Claiborne County, Mississippi, ED 154, page 21A.)

The owner of the sword was Isaac B. Dutton, who enlisted as a Lieutenant in Company H,

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Portion of a Letter written on G.A.R. stationary by I.B. Dutton while he was post commander. (

24th Iowa Infantry, in August 1862. Dutton only served one year, being discharged early on a surgeon’s certificate of disability. After the war he lived many years in Tonganoxie, Kansas, and was very active in Post #149 of the Grand Army of the Republic, serving at various times as chaplain and post commander of the organization. (Kansas, Grand Army of the Republic Post Reports, 1880 – 1940; accessed May 1, 2017 on

I was very curious to find out if Lieutenant Dutton every received his sword, so I went to, and was very quickly rewarded with the following article from The Times Democrat (New Orleans), March 9, 1901:

Port Gibson, March 8 – Last spring Miss Sadie Millsaps, daughter of F.P. Millsaps, who resided on the old Port Gibson battlefield near Magnolia Church, found in the woods near her residence an officer’s sword, partly projecting above the ground, without the scabbard and with the name I.B. Dutton scratched on the hilt. The discovery was mentioned in the newspapers, and the original owner, Lieut. I.B. Dutton, of Company H, Twenty-Fourth Iowa Volunteer Infantry, heard of it and requested his friend and former fellow officer, Capt. William T. Rigby of the Vicksburg Park Commission, to recover the sword. Capt. Rigby in turn requested the assistance of P.M. Harding of Vicksburg, a former resident of this place. To-day Mr. Harding, acting through his brother, purchased the relic from the finder and will forward it to its original owner, who lost it in the battle of Port Gibson or Magnolia Church, as called by the Federal side, which was fought between Grant and Bowen on May 1, 1863.

I found a second article, written in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 4, 1906; the article has some of the details wrong, in particular changing the place where the sword was found from Port Gibson to Champion Hill. Also, this article makes it sound as if the sword had just been presented to Dutton, some five years after the previous article. I have no idea why it would take so long to get the sword to Dutton. Once nice thing about this article though, is that it included both a picture of Isaac Dutton and a photo of the sword as well:


Within the past few days a sword has been restored to Captain Isaac B. Dutton which has been buried for more than forty years on the Vicksburg battlefield. And is still a good sword, requiring only a scouring and sharpening to be as good as ever. It was no ordinary weapon at the time it was lost at Champion Hills during Grant’s memorable siege of Vicksburg, and even now, in its coat of rust, the old weapon shows good temper and can be bent almost double.

Captain Dutton was elected to lead Company H of the Twenty-Fourth Iowa Volunteer

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Photo of Lieutenant Isaac B. Dutton from the San Francisco Chronicle, March 4, 1906

Infantry when the Civil War broke out, and he sent to Boston for the best sword that could be purchased. It reached him in good time and was worn by him on many a field. But at the Battle of Champion Hills, before Vicksburg, when Captain Dutton was busily engaged in looking after his company on the brushy field, his belt was broken and the sword dropped to the ground. It was not missed until he went into camp that night. He was compelled to rob a dead Confederate of his sword in order to continue the campaign with proper equipment.


A few days ago Captain Dutton, now a resident of Los Angeles, received a letter from the secretary of the Twenty-Fourth Iowa Association asking whether he had lost his sword in any of the battles about Vicksburg. It appears that a curio hunter, while digging on the old battlefield at Vicksburg, had unearthed a sword that bore the name of Captain Dutton. After scraping off the earth and rust the name was plainly discernible on the hilt.

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Lieutenant Dutton’s Sword – San Francisco Chronicle, March 4, 1906

A search of the records disclosed that the Twenty-Fourth Iowa Regiment had fought in that particular spot where the sword was found. Correspondence through the Grand Army of the Republic channels placed the curio hunter in touch with the original owner, with the result that the valuable relic was, a few days ago, received by Captain Dutton. He has presented it to his son, Harry A. Dutton of this city.

About 1885 Dutton moved to Los Angeles, California; I don’t know why he decided so late in life to move, but the old veteran had been to the state before. His obituary noted:

Captain Dutton was born at Waldo, Dover County, Ohio, September 24, 1827. When a boy of

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Lieutenant Dutton’s Grave (

22 he drove an ox team across the plains to the Yuba River in this state. This was before gold was discovered at Sutter Creek. He remained in California about a year and returned to the east by way of the isthmus. (Los Angeles Herald, January 10, 1910.)

Isaac B. Dutton died on January 9, 1910, and is buried in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles. His grave is marked with a military marker that is slowly sinking into the earth.

I don’t know where Lieutenant Dutton’s sword is today, but I hope that it is displayed proudly in the home of one of his descendants. That worn and rusty blade is a tangible reminder of the sacrifices made by Dutton and thousands of other Union soldiers like him during the Civil War.



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