Details on Davis Guard Medal

A Davis Guard Medal was offered at auction by Stacks Rare Coins during their Americana Sale January 16- 18th , 2007. It realized a $48, 300.00 price for the coin. Below is a copy of the information offered in connection to that sale.

1863 Davis Guards Medal. Extremely Fine.
295.6 grains, 37.8 mm, 1.7 mm thick. Hand engraved upon a custom planchet, original hanger added at time of production and still remaining intact. The June 1994 Ford specimen lacked the original hanger, but this exact distinctive style of arc hanger is depicted in a contemporary life image of the commanding officer of the Davis Guards, Irish-born Lieutenant Richard W. Dowling. The specimen in our Ford VII sale retained the hanger, though it was flattened into a slightly different configuration.

The most important medal of Texas interest and a prime numismatic artifact from the Confederacy, awarded by the citizens of Houston in 1864 after Union troops and naval forces were turned away from entry to the Sabine River, thus disallowing their intrusion into the heartland of southeast Texas. Specimens in silver were presented to each man in the unit, some 45 individuals, though just seven examples are currently known to exist, only three of which are in private hands.

The present specimen was discovered by a metal detectorist near the town of Bryan, Texas at the head of a former railway spur that had seen occupation by both Union and Confederates during the Civil War. Its discovery was announced in March 1995; it first appeared at auction in our sale of September 1995. At first look, the finder, a Texan named Bert Green, did not know the medal's significance, and we can understand why. The production is rather crude, showing hand-engraved designs on a plain piece of silver. The obverse shows a large, capital DG above a Maltese Cross. Though hand-engraved, the shape and style matches other specimens exactly enough to suggest that the design was first traced on the blank planchet from a template and then engraved. The reverse also closely matches others known, with the large cursive inscription "Sabine Pass / Sept. 8th / 1863." The blank space above that inscription shows some very fine curved scratches, vestiges of what we believe to be the recipient's name; the Jack White specimen in Ford VII was named in this location, while the Thomas Hagerty specimen in our June 1994 sale was named above DG on the obverse. The naming of the medals was done after their presentation, thus not in the same hand as the main medal, which was accomplished by an engraver named Charles Gottchalk. Both sides are framed with an engraved decoration consisting of short diagonal spokes from an inner circle, made into stripes by crosshatching. To the unacquainted, the medal does not look like much -- for this reason we are fortunate to have a wealth of contemporary evidence, descriptions, and even images of the medal, not to mention the well-documented ground provenance of this specimen.

This example, because of its time in the ground, shows light granularity and corrosion on its mottled silver gray surfaces. No notable raised scale is present aside from a tiny patch left of the cross. That side is a bit darker than the other but not offensively so. No heavy marks are seen. just a diagonal scrape above SAB of SABINE.

Once described as engraved on a planed Mexican 8 reales, a sensible suggestion, though some facts suggest cast production of the planchet instead. Among these is the fact that the thickness is a full millimeter off that of a struck Mexican 8 reales (2.7 mm) yet is precisely the same as another specimen studied (the Ford-Stack's 6-94:248 specimen, also 1.7 mm thick and an essentially-identical 37.7 mm in diameter). Two planchets both trimmed down from 2.7 mm thick and 38.2 mm in diameter would almost certainly not be so precisely matched. The thin, plain, consistent edge and custom hanger of precisely the same thickness also suggests casting as the means of planchet production. Mexican silver coins were the likely origin for this planchet's metallic content.

An extensive history of the battle is given below, though the history could be much longer. A new 288-page book entitled Sabine Pass: The Confederacy's Thermopylae by Edward T. Cotham Jr. describes the battle and its effects in detail. It the only medal issued during the Civil War to officially commemorate a Confederate action in battle. The fighters at Sabine Pass were all Texans, all of Irish descent, and their commander was Irish born; it is little wonder the regiment was called "The Fighting Irish." Their chaplain, a Franciscan friar named Felix Zoppa de Connobio, was the main force behind the medal and raised the funds neccessary to produce them. A specimen was presented to Jefferson Davis (the unit's namesake and honorary commander), prized by him until his capture in Virginia in 1865, and was the object of his efforts to gain the medal's return in 1880. A replacement medal was presented to Davis at the Texas State Fair in 1875. Seven years later, while speaking to an audience in New Orleans, Jefferson Davis recalled his medal and the men who won at Sabine Pass:

"The State of Texas honored these men by striking off a medal, on the one side of which was the date and Sabine Pass; on the other the letters D.G., and D.G. -- I think you won't take it as egotism on my part -- stood for "Davis Guards." The company had done me the honor to take my name, and I was the only honorary member of it; so I have a right to be proud of it." (From Edward Cotham, Jr.'s Sabine Pass: The Confederate Thermopylae, pp. 171-2.)

This medal is important for enthusiasts of Texas history, Confederate history, naval history, Irish-American history, and American military medals. With only three specimens in private hands, the chances to purchase a specimen of this medal are clearly few and far between. Stack's is fortunate to have been selected to present each of these three medals in their first ever auction appearance. The last example we offered, in the January 2005 Ford VII sale, brought $40,250. While this one lacks a legible name, it retains excellent visual appeal and a dramatic provenance. We expect lovers of history from many specialties to compete to own this truly important artifact.
The medal's history and the story of the battle it remembers were described in detail in the pages of Coin World on March 31, 1994. The cataloguer is happy to acknowledge the paper's permission to adapt the story for this description.

Chickamauga, First and Second Manassas, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg...the roll call of great Civil War battles includes the names of some of the most legendary and bloody fights our nation has ever known. Through four long years of terrible war men on both sides fought and died protecting what they believed in. Casualties on both sides came to one million killed or wounded, more than in any other war in our nation's history. Acts of bravery and heroism under fire were honored on the Union side by the Congressional Medal of Honor, authorized for non-commissioned Navy ranks in 1861, for all Army ranks in 1863. The Union medal was cheapened at first by mass awards, like those to the entire 27th Maine Volunteers in July, 1863. The 27th agreed to extend their enlistments and stay on to defend Washington, D.C. in case Gettysburg turned out to be a Confederate victory. In return, a grateful Congress gave each and every man a Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1916 an act of Congress withdrew these mass awards and 911 CMH medals were officially rescinded.


On the Confederate side a ''generic'' bravery medal was authorized by the rebel congress on November 22, 1862. Awardees were to receive their medals and have their names inscribed on a ''Roll of Honor.'' Nothing ever came of the measure, however, and there is no officially authorized national Confederate medal for bravery or heroism like the Union's Congressional Medal of Honor. That is not to say there aren't some privately issued medals known that are called Confederate battle or bravery medals. There is the famous Newmarket Cross of Honor, for example, issued by the Virginia Military Institute Alumni Association in honor of the V.M.I. Battalion of Cadets who fell in the hopeless fight at Newmarket, Virginia on May 15, 1864, just days after the trench battles of Spotsylvania. Newmarket represents the highpoint of selfless devotion to the rebel cause and deserves its medal, but it was not issued at the time. The one medal issued for a Confederate battle honor that has the best claim to being ''semi-official'' is the medal made for the Jefferson Davis Guards for their heroic conduct during the short and sharp defense of the Sabine River Pass on September 8, 1863.


The Davis Guards was a 47 strong detachment of Company F, First Texas Heavy Artillery, Army of the Confederate States of America, Lieutenant Richard Dowling then commanding. They were all Houstoner's in their early 20's, or younger. Their unit had been nicknamed both ''The Houston Rough and Ready Company'' and ''The Fighting Irish.'' Their defense of the Sabine River Pass saved Houston, and all of Texas, from a Union invasion. Jefferson Davis, himself, wrote of the battle ''There is no parallel in ancient or modern warfare to the victory of Dowling and his men at Sabine Pass, considering the great odds against which they had to contend.'' The Davis Guards medal was commissioned by the grateful citizens of Houston, Texas, to honor the first anniversary of the defense of the approaches to their city. Friar Felix Zoppa da Connobio headed the movement to provide the men with silver medals and Charles Gottchalk engraved them.


Each member of the Davis Guards received a medal, whether he was present at the battle or not. As awarded, the medals were unnamed; engraved names vary in style and execution. CSA Major General John B. Magruder prepared special unit citations for the Guards and may actually have presented them with their medals. The Congress of the CSA enacted a special resolution of thanks and some $3,000 was raised for the guardsmen at a special banquet given in their honor in Houston. The Davis Guards medal is of the highest importance to the military history of the Confederacy. For example, it can be noted that a specimen was actually presented to President of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis. Davis received his medal by virtue of being honorary commander of his namesake, the Davis Guards.


In a letter to Ed. Frossard printed in Numisma dated July 12, 1880, Jefferson Davis told the following story. It underscores how significant Davis felt both the Sabine battle and its award medal were: ''The very remarkable defense of the Sabine Pass, in 1863, was commemorated by a medal struck in silver, one of which was presented to each member of the Company that made the defense, and another one to me, I having been elected an honorary member of the Company at the time of its organization. After my capture in 1865, and while I was in Fortress Monroe, my wife held as a prisoner on board the transport ship Clyde, some officers were sent to examine her luggage. Among other articles pillaged from her trunks, was the medal to which I have referred.'' Davis continued that he understood that his medal had later been sold and he authorized Frossard to try to recover it. Its whereabouts are still unknown today.


In terms of its military outcome, its effect upon the war, the Battle of the Sabine River Pass was a small affair by Civil War standards. In terms of public opinion, however, the Confederate victory was a great southern morale builder. On July 4, 1863 the southern stronghold of Vicksburg had surrendered, giving the North control of the Mississippi and splitting the Confederacy in two. At that very same time, in the eastern theater, Lee's attempt to bring the war home to northern soil ended in defeat in the Gettysburg campaign. Overseas, Confederate diplomats were unable to convince Queen Victoria's government or France's Napoleon III that such defeats would be overcome in the future. As a result, Confederate rams being built in French and English shipyards were confiscated. If the South needed anything in late summer, 1863, it was a boost in morale both home and abroad. The victorious Sabine River fight gave them that.


The Sabine River forms the boundary of Texas and Louisiana for much of its length. The river flows into the Sabine Lake, with Sabine City situated nearby. The city was a terminus for the railroad leading to Houston, the state capital. Midway through 1863 Secretary of War Stanton became alarmed that the French armies supporting Maximilian in Mexico would march into Texas to reclaim the western portion of the state as Mexican sovereign territory. Stanton determined to mount an expedition into Texas and take its capital, to establish Union claims on the state in case Mexican troops should invade into the west. Union Major General William B. Franklin was given command of the expedition into Texas, which sailed from New Orleans on September 5, 1863 with 5,000 troops aboard about 20 steamers. Franklin's battle plan depended upon the capture of the pass leading from Sabine Lake into the Sabine River. With the pass in his hands his men could command the city and its railroad and the railroad led directly into Houston, the campaign's ultimate target. All hinged on control of the pass.


The Sabine River Pass was defended by a small earthwork mounting eight guns, three of which were modern rifled Whitworths made in England. Manning the guns were about 41 members of the Davis Guards, all Irishmen from Houston. Since the draught over the Sabine River was quite shallow Franklin was forced to lay off the bar and send over his lightest vessels to force the pass. He appointed acting Lieutenant Frederick Crocker to command the lead force, giving him four steamers converted to ironclads and about 150 sharpshooters divided among them. Crocker was ordered to cross the bar, silence the fort's guns with his own fire, and land his detachment. Another Union force, under volunteer Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel, was to follow Crocker's lead and storm and carry the fort's defenses.


On the morning of September 8 Crocker and General Franklin made a long reconnaissance of the fort which gave them a clear picture of its defenses. It also gave the defenders a clear picture of the enemy's intentions. At 3 P.M. that afternoon Crocker began his attack. The long delay was fatal. Crocker led his vessels across the bar, firing his guns as he came. The defenders held their return fire until the Union vessels were directly abreast of their guns, and then they opened fire with a salvo that bracketed the Union ships. Their third shot disabled the Union gunboat Sachem with a shell through her boiler. Lieutenant Crocker's Clifton was next and she was soon hit and disabled. Both Union ships struck their colors and surrendered. Rebel steamers took them in tow and their crews into captivity. The U.S.S. Arizona grounded under fire but was kedged off later on. She remained in the channel still under fire, covering the withdrawal of the Union landing force.


The whole fight was over in 45 minutes. The Davis Guards fired off 137 rounds without stopping to swab their guns, a measure of the intensity of the battle (an unswabbed gun barrel could ignite the next powder charge loaded and kill a gun's crew in a blowback). The Guard lost not a man killed or wounded. Union losses were 19 killed, 9 wounded, 315 captured. CSA Lieutenant Dowling and most of his garrison escorted the Union prisoners off the battlefield. The handful of gunners left to man the fort's defenses were ordered to march around inside making as much noise as they could, to fool the Union pickets into thinking the garrison was stronger than it really was. Union General Franklin withdrew his landing force under covering fire from U.S.S. Arizona's guns and the federal invasion of Texas was repulsed.


Southern newspapers carried dispatches and copperplate engravings of the battle for the next several weeks. Northern newspapers were harsh in their criticism of the federal campaign and later pointed out that more than one-third of all Union shipping losses in 1863 had occurred in the short action at Sabine, Texas! News of the Sabine Pass defeat, followed quickly by reports from bloody Chickamauga, sent New York gold prices up 5% and Confederate bonds actually rose two to three percent on the London market!
Discovered by a metal detectorist near Bryan, Texas before March 1995; our sale of September 1995, Lot 82.


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