Civil War Model 1862 Grimsley Artillery Valise Saddle Recovered from the River at City Point, Virginia


Civil War Model 1862 Grimsley Artillery Valise Saddle Recovered from the River at City Point, Virginia – City Point, located at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers, became General U.S. Grant’s headquarters and main supply depot, in the summer of 1864, during the siege of Petersburg. As a major, Union transportation hub and supply depot, City Point became a focal point for Confederate agents’ attempts to inflict significance damage. On August 9, 1864, a tremendous explosion shook the entire area; General Grant reported: “Every part of the yard used as my headquarters is filled with splinters and fragments of shell” and a staff officer wrote “Such a rain of shot, shell, bullets, pieces of wood, iron bars and bolts, chains and missiles of every kind was never before witnessed.”  Examination of the wreckage revealed that a barge, loaded with ammunition, had exploded, detonating 30,000 artillery shells and 75,000 rounds of small arms ammunition. As a result of this explosion, forty-three people were killed instantly and 126 were wounded (some accounts put the death toll at 300). The wharf was almost entirely destroyed, and the damage was put at $2 million. After the war, it was determined that the explosion had been an act of sabotage; Confederate Secret Service agent John Maxwell had smuggled a timed, explosive device aboard the ammunition barge. As a result of the blast, tons of Union Army equipment and supplies, on wharves, awaiting distribution, fell into the river waters. In the 1980s, divers began recovering some of the military supplies that had been dropped into the river, as a result of the 1864 explosion; much of these supplies, in the ensuing 100+ years, had been sealed in silt and sediment, in anaerobic conditions, thereby keeping the artifacts in remarkable condition.

This Grimsley, artillery valise saddle, a diminutive version of the Grimsley driver’s saddle, was designed to carry a valise, strapped to this saddle, to carry the driver’s gunnery equipment and personal belongings. The valise saddle was carried by the “off horse” or right-hand horse, opposite the left hand, or driver’s “on horse”, in a six horse, limbered team; the saddle was attached, via a hook on the saddle, to the horse team’s harness. The valise saddle was an exact miniature version of the Grimsley driver’s saddle and was not designed to be ridden.

This river-recovered, valise saddle is nearly complete, with one skirt missing; the leather remains in reasonable condition, as does sections of the wooden tree; the saddle, although complete, is in several, unattached sections. Both brass bound cantles are present; on one cantle area, the Grimsley’s distinctive, “US” saddle shield remains affixed; the “US” is the early, c. 1862, block letter version; in 1864, the artillery saddle shields and rosettes would exhibit an intertwined “USA”. Both front and rear cantles remain, intact, with their original, brass frames affixed. This is an extremely rare artifact, evidencing one of the first acts of wartime sabotage.