Grant's Sword Draws High Bid of $1.6M at Civil War Auction

A diamond-adorned sword presented to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant brought a winning bid of more than $1.6 million Sunday in an auction of Civil War items.

The sword given to Grant, who later became the 18th president, was one of the marquee items among the 750 to be auctioned Sunday and Monday in Gettysburg, site of the 1863 tide-turning Civil War battle — by Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas. Online and phone bidders also participated.

Another showcase item up for bid was Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's frayed battle flag, which was auctioned for $896,250.

That left Grant's sword as the priciest item, going for $1,673,000 to an unnamed bidder.

Gary Hendershott, Heritage's director of Civil War auctions, described the sword as maybe the finest from the Civil War period. "It's really a hallmark of American silversmith craftsmanship." He noted that bidders in France recently paid more than $6.5 million for a gold-encrusted sword once owned by Napoleon.

Grant's sword was presented by citizens of Kentucky in 1864 to honor his promotion to General-in-Chief of all Union forces. The silver and gold sword contains a 28-diamond monogram and is covered with intricate designs, including engraved battle scenes on its 33-inch blade. The sword has belonged to the Donald Tharpe Collection of American History since 1989. It remained in Grant's family until the 1960s, when it was acquired by collector Jay Altmeyer.

Custer's silk, swallow-tailed battle flag was made by his wife, Elizabeth, and carried into battle during the closing days of the all-American conflict. The banner, which features crossed cavalry sabers, was at Custer's side at Appomattox Courthouse, Va., when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered Confederate forces to Grant.

The flag was left at Custer's headquarters at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, in 1876 when Custer and his men were wiped out at Little Big Horn by Lakota and Northern Cheyenne warriors.

Custer's flag stayed within his family until 1956, when it was acquired by Dr. Lawrence A. Frost, who kept it until 1990. Elizabeth Lawrence owned the flag until 2003, when it went to the collection of Thomas Minckler of New York City.

Another item of note that was auctioned included a "Bonnie Blue" flag carried by the 3rd Texas State Cavalry. It drew a bid of $47,800.

The total amount bid for the first session was more than $5.1 million.