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"Sword Of Virginia" - by Don Troiani

Signed & Numbered Limited Edition Print & Canvas

2nd MANASSAS - AUGUST 30, 1862

Image size: 26 3/4" x 20"

Edition size: Print-350 S/N ......Canvas-15 S/N

Price: Print-$250 ....... Canvas-$800 (When these are sold out they will only be available on our secondary market--call then for current price and availability--800-237-6077)

By the time the Civil War engulfed Virginia, Frederick Gustavus Skinner had seen much of the world and won renown for his exploits as a sportsman. He had been born in Annapolis in 1814, but spent some of his youth in Egypt and attended school in France as the ward of his father's friend and every American's favorite Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette. Frederick's father established sporting journalism in North America by founding American Turf Register and similar publications. The younger Skinner reveled in fox hunting and horse breeding. After the Civil War he wrote extensively for a wide audience on those topics.

When Virginia seceded, Skinner received a commission as major in the 1st Virginia Infantry, a regiment made up mostly of young Richmonders. He had passed his 47th birthday just a few weeks before, but still boasted a powerful physique and tremendous stamina. Skinner "attracted swift attention" wherever he went, a contemporary noted, because he was "immensely tall, great-boned and of tremendous strength."

The major's bellicose temperament matched his appearance. The wife of Jefferson Davis' private secretary called him "that picturesque old warrior and fire-eater."

Soldiers in the ranks of the 1st Virginia admired Skinner, "Old Fred" as they called him with youthful nonchalance, "our good-natured old colonel." Later in 1861 Skinner advanced to lieutenant colonel of the regiment. His men liked the colonel's eccentricities and colorful style. One wrote that he "chewed tobacco like a sailor."

Frederick Skinner's war ended in a dramatic moment at the climax of a great Southern victory. On the afternoon of August 30, 1862, as triumphant Confederates pushed Yankees off the Second Manassas battlefield, the 1st Virginia ran into a determined stand by Federals on Chinn Ridge. Guns of the 5th Maine Battery poured fire into the attackers' faces.

As he thundered toward the roaring cannons, Colonel Skinner brandished his tremendous sword, a French Cuirassier saber he had brought home from Europe as a youth. The massive straight blade measured 38 inches long and bore an engraved maker's imprint of August 1814. "In his cups," a Confederate staff officer wrote, "the fine old Colonel would swear he should die happy could he have one chance to use that steel on the enemy." That chance loomed large at Manassas.

Skinner's mount, "Old Fox," a sorrel famed for prowess as a hunter, galloped well ahead of the infantrymen racing to keep up with their leader—"40 or 50 yds." in advance, an eyewitness wrote.

The advance by cheering veterans of the 1st Virginia Infantry generated so much momentum that it surely would have surged over the Federal gun positions in any event, but circumstances also aided the attackers. The horses and limbers of the Maine battery had headed for safety in the rear soon after dropping the gun trails. That left the artillerists manning the pieces with relatively few rounds readily available.

After a final volley of canister into the faces of the rapidly approaching Virginians, most of the Northern gunners fled. Skinner rode into the midst of the handful of brave men striving to reload. As one of them endeavored to yank the lanyard, Skinner raised up in his stirrup and sabered the gunner with a mighty thrust. A Yankee pistol bullet tore the colonel's ear, and wounds to an arm and in his chest shattered three ribs and hurt him desperately. In falling, the stricken enemy soldier dragged Skinner off his horse: "the weight of his body," Skinner recalled, "drew my sword out & I fell off my horse almost upon him." The Maine battery reported 16 casualties at the hands of the 1st Virginia and its sword-wielding leader.

The dire wounds he suffered on the plains of Manassas prostrated Frederick Skinner for long months and kept him out of Confederate service for the rest of the war. Despite his maimed condition, Skinner received promotion to full colonel in July 1863. He eventually retired formally to the Invalid Corps early in 1865, and survived until the spring of 1894, nearly 32 years after his dramatic mounted charge at Manassas.

Robert K. Krick

Fredericksburg, Virginia


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