This sword recently sold at auction for over $10,000. The engraving on the blade declares it was presented in 1861 to Maj. Archibald Gracie, 11th Alabama, by Governor Andrew B. Moore. The lot description from the auction notes that it is "a rather plain U.S. Model 1850 foot officer's sword...and is decorated with etched patriotic designs including 'U.S.' and a spread winged American eagle and shield." If indeed this was the sword of Archibald Gracie, then it is fitting that this particular confederate officer should have carried a United States sword made over for service in the southern cause, for Archibald Gracie was no Southerner. He was, in fact, from New Jersey - the confederate in our family attic - and he alone in our northern clan went South during the Civil War.
Archibald Gracie (1832-1864), shown at left in a pre-war photograph, was the third of four generations in the Gracie line to bear that name. His son Archibald Gracie IV (1857-1912) is famous for having survived the Titanic disaster long enough to testify at the inquiry and write about his experiences before succumbing to the effects of his ordeal several months afterward. My great-grandfather Archibald Gracie Ogden used to remark that he didn't think much of cousin Archie Gracie but to his credit he did know enough to go down with the ship!
The first Archibald Gracie came from Dumfries, Scotland and was one of New York's wealthiest merchants until the War of 1812 bankrupted his enterprises and forced the sale of the Gracie Mansion: now the official residence of the Mayors of New York. The second Archibald Gracie (1795-1865), shown at right, was a prosperous merchant as well who married Elizabeth Bethune of Charleston, SC and resided in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Family legend has it that his son and namesake, the subject of this essay, was rather under the thumb of an overbearing father. The way my grandmother used to tell it, young Archibald Gracie III didn't want to go to West Point but his father secured an appointment for him in the class of 1854 and he dutifully went. He rather enjoyed military service but after two years on the Northwest frontier his father asked him to go to Mobile to attend to his cotton brokerage interests there, and so he resigned and went. Along came the war, the legend continues, and he was once again uncertain how to act. Consequently, he boarded a train for Elizabeth but was met by his brother-in-law, my Gr-great grandfather Dayton Ogden, who said that the citizenry had branded him a rebel and were awaiting him with the proverbial hot pitch and feathers. "Elizabeth has made up my mind!" quoth Archibald Gracie, and turning his back to the North he commanded an Alabama brigade until his decapitation by a Union shell in the Petersburg trenches late in the war.
One of the joys of being the family archivist is getting to test our oral history against the evidence of the historical record and what is contained in our family papers. I have been interested in the motivations and career of Archibald Gracie, the Confederate from New Jersey, since I was a boy. I've read whatever mention of him I could find in the Official Records, and was recently delighted by the publication of Gracie's Pride, a history of the 43rd Alabama, the regiment Gracie raised in the spring of 1862 and commanded first as its colonel and then its brigade commander. His commandant at West Point was none other than Robert E Lee, and Freeman's biography includes a few nice details about Cadet Gracie for one with an interest in the subject.
There is a solid weight of evidence that, apocryphal family lore to the contrary, Archibald Gracie was inclined toward the south long before the outbreak of the Civil War. His West Point Class was decidedly southern, and included six future confederate generals, among them Custis Lee and J.E.B Stuart. His mother (at right) was a southern aristocrat, and his wife was Josephine Mayo of Virginia from one of the Commonwealth's first families.
There were ties, then, of class and of kin, and what is more a soldier's bonds as well. During his stay in Mobile, Gracie was Captain of the Washington Light Infantry Company of that city, and in December, 1860 at the request of the Governor, he lead his men in a bloodless capture of the Federal Arsenal at Mount Vernon, Alabama: days before the state officially seceded! He hardly needed Elizabeth New Jersey to make up his mind after that!
Gracie's military career saw him serve briefly with the 3rd and 11th Alabama regiments before raising his own command and occupying a relative backwater of the Western Theater around Cumberland Gap. At the head of an Alabama Brigade at Chickamauga, however, his men formed the final assault on Union General Thomas's position as the rest of the northern army fled the field, and clawed their way within yards of the Union position before falling back with severe casualties. Detached by Bragg to accompany Longstreet on his return to Virginia through East Tennessee, Gracie's Brigade bore the brunt of a minor battle at Beans Station in which the general was severely wounded in the elbow. The site of this engagement, sadly, lies beneath the waters of Holston River, drowned by the TVA.
Recovering in Richmond - where in a few months he was well enough to father a child - Gracie returned to his brigade and fought in several battles around Richmond and Petersburg. By happenstance, Gracie's Brigade occupied the part of the Confederate line that was undermined and exploded during the Battle of The Crater but luckily was moved to an adjacent position beforehand so fought in the counterattack instead of being blown to ribbons at the outset.
He was slated for division command, but on December 2nd, having just learned of the birth of his daughter, General Gracie was inspecting the Union Lines from his salient in the Petersburg trenches when an exploding shell struck and killed him, a captain, and a third soldier. The following day in New Jersey, perhaps unaware of her rebel son's fate, his mother died. Gracie was eulogized by the southern press - some clippings remain in our family papers - and there was even, if you can believe it, an ode written in his honor entitled: Gracie of Alabama!
Soon after the war, his father arranged for his son's remains to return to his family. Today Archibald Gracie lies with his ancestors in New York's Woodlawn Cemetery, a small United States flag by his stone. As with the US sword awarded him by a secessionist Governor, the United States flag by his grave seems fitting decoration for a prodigal's final return to the fold.