Col William B. Roberts
Col William B. Roberts lies under a white stone spire in a Methodist and Episcopal Church cemetery at the corner of Peter and Arch streets in Uniontown. He was in the 2Regiment of Volunteers in the Mexican War. Roberts was born in Mellon Township, January 01, 1809 and served as a field officer in the local militia while carrying on a furniture store. When the war with Mexico began in 1846, he immediately set out to form a volunteer infantry company to be called the “Fayette County Volunteers”. The company assembled at the old market house on January 02, 1837, and Roberts was elected captain. The next day the company traveled by wagon to Brownsville, then to riverboat to Pittsburgh. Only two regiments of Pittsburgh troops were called for, and they were mobilized at Pittsburgh where Captain Roberts was elected Colonial of the second regiment. The Fayette County regiment became company II. Capt. Samuel S. Austin had lost the election for Captain of the volunteer company. He wanted to go to war but only two volunteer regiments in Pennsylvania had been authorized. So Austin had gone to Mexico, at his own expense, declaring himself the one man “third Pennsylvania Regiment”. After traveling by river to New Orleans, and camping there for a short time, the second regiment landed with Col Roberts in command, at Vera Cruz on March 9.Colonial Roberts led his regiment through the terrible battles and the disease ridden march from Vera Cruz to Mexico City. He headed his troops in a storming charge at the decisive battle of Cerro Gordo and saw the volunteers of his regiment scale the walls of Chapultepec, the key to Mexico City. But Colonial Roberts was not to enjoy the great victory—before long he was dead, another victim of disease. He died in Mexico City on October 3, 1847 of “hemorrhage of the lungs”. His second in command, Lt Col John W. Geary wrote to U.S. Senator Daniel Sturgeon of Uniontown; “He (Roberts) was manly in his department and honorable in every impulse…he had already in his military career established a lasting claim upon the respect and memory of his countrymen”. Lt Col Geary had the body embalmed and placed in a coffin lined with zinc. On the return home the Uniontown men hid a small captured Mexican Cannon in the coffin. At Brownsville they brought the cannon out to salute –Austin lit the charge and the cannon blew up killing him. The remains arrived home December 17, 1847, and the Union Volunteers and Fayette Cavalry-militia companies led funeral procession. Final rights were held in the Cumberland (now the third) Presbyterian Church. Of the 97 men who left Pittsburgh with the Fayette County Company, only 26 were on hand for the triumphal return on July 14, 1848.
Mexican War Sword Presented to Col. William B. Roberts, 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteers, 30" blade with etched military motifs. Gold gilt handle. Guard and metal scabbard with nicely decorated bands. A very attractive Model 1840 staff officer's sword of the pattern generally associated with Medical officers and Paymasters, but this specimen was presented to an infantry officer and bears no departmental designation whatsoever. Beautifully engraved on the larger shield shaped languet is the following inscription:
Presented To Col. Wm. B. Roberts by his friends as a testimonial of their respect and confidence in his gallantry as a Soldier. Pittsburgh Jan. 7th, 1847.
Most interesting is another presentation on the smaller shield languet on the opposite side, this being a posthumous presentation from the widow Roberts to another Pittsburgh officer. It reads
Presentedby Mrs. Roberts to Lieut. Kane Dec. 17th, 1847.
The sword was presented to Roberts just days before he left with his regiment for Mexico. In late 1846 Roberts and a large number of men from Fayette County (in Southwest PA, now part of "Greater Pittsburgh") enlisted for the war with Mexico. The Fayette Company left on the 2nd of January, 1847 for Pittsburgh, where it was mustered into service on the 4th of the same month and designated Company H of the Second Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. Roberts was immediately commissioned as Colonel of the regiment. He received this sword three days later. The Second Regiment proceeded by way of New Orleans to Mexico, and landed at Lobos Island, near Vera Cruz, which was invested by the American forces and fleet. The regiment entered the city after its surrender, and moved thence to the interior by way of Puebla and Perote, being assigned to Quitman's division. During its term of service it took part in the engagements of Tobasco, Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, San Pascual, and at the storming of the Belen Gate.
After surviving numerous adventures on the battlefield, Col. Roberts took ill along with many dozens of others in the 2nd Regiment and he died of disease in the city of Mexico, on the 3rd of October, 1847. The command of the regiment was assumed by Lieutenant-Colonel John W. Geary, afterwards Civil War General and Governor of Pennsylvania. The body of the dead Colonel Roberts was embalmed, and, with that of Lieutenant John Sturgeon of the Fayette County Company, was sent back to Uniontown. The funeral procession was escorted by the "Union Volunteers" and the "Fayette Cavalry". The remains of Col. Roberts were interred in the Methodist graveyard in the borough of Uniontown, and a marble monument erected over his grave.
In December of this same year (1847) the newly-widowed Mrs. Colonel Roberts gave this same sword to Lieutenant James Kane (also shown as Kean), also of the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment. Kane served as Lt. Co. H 2nd PA Vol. Infantry enlisting on Dec. 20th 1846 at Pittsburgh at the age of 20. He was given a furlough from October 29th, 1847, and was on recruiting duty from Dec 1847 through May 1848 in Pittsburgh when he received his late colonel's beautiful sword as a gift from the widow. He mustered out with his company July 20th, 1848.
The condition of the sword is extremely fine with no damage nor defects. The blade is mostly shiny etched steel with vestiges of factory luster mixed with some darkening in recessed areas. The brass handle, guard, and scabbard are absolutely beautiful with a nice luster melded with gilt and a hint of patina. The handle is adorned with an early pattern eagle, oak leaves, and acanthus. The languets are adorned with laurel leaves and stars in addition to the engraved presentation inscriptions. The blade is profusely etched with all etching strong including a wonderful early pattern U.S. eagle under patriotic ribbon. All detail is fine on the scabbard and mounts as well.
While expensive Civil War presentation swords are relatively common, finding an example from the Mexican War is a truly memorable and rare event. Finding one that bears an additional posthumous re-presentation is unique in our experience. A wonderful battle weapon of the War with Mexico carried by two separate Pennsylvania officers.