Sword of first Citadel graduate coming home after 153 years

Charles Tew sword

A Civil War sword that belonged to the first graduate of The Citadel, a Confederate officer killed at the Battle of Antietam in 1862, will be returned to the Charleston, SC, school by a Canadian group.

The sword, which belonged to Col. Charles C. Tew of the 2nd North Carolina State Troops, has been missing for 153 years, since Tew was killed Sept. 17, 1862, during the bloodiest single-day battle in American history.

It is being returned by the 33 Signal Regiment Foundation of Ottawa, the charitable arm of the 33 Signal Regiment of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, Canadian Army.

The sword was placed in the care of the 33 Signal Regiment in 1963 but was positively identified only recently as belonging to Tew. Members of the regiment worked very hard to unravel the mystery of the sword after it was “rediscovered,” according to the 33 Signal Regiment Foundation.

“We’re delighted to return this most important artifact,” said Michael Martin, chairman of the 33 Signals Regiment Foundation. “As this is the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, we believe it is only fitting to see that the sword is returned to the hands from whence it came.”

Tew was not only the first individual to receive a diploma from The Citadel, which was established in 1842, but he was the first honor graduate and the first president of The Citadel Alumni Association, according to Lieutenant Col. David Goble of The Citadel.

Tew, a native of Charleston, was one of the first 20 cadets initially admitted to the new South Carolina Military Academy, now known as The Citadel.

He graduated first in his class in 1846, becoming both the first graduate of the school and the first honor graduate.

Upon graduation, he took a position as a professor at the school. He left The Citadel in 1852 and spent a year in Europe studying military tactics. When he returned from Europe he was made Commandant of Cadets at The Citadel. In 1859 he founded his own successful military academy, at Hillsborough, NC.

Col. Charles Courtenay Tew.

Col. Charles Courtenay Tew.

When North Carolina seceded from the Union in May 1861 the first two colonels appointed by Gov.  John W. Ellis were Tew and D.H. Hill. Hill would go on to become a lieutenant general.

Tew took part in the Peninsula Campaign, the Northern Virginia Campaign and the Maryland Campaign before being killed in the latter.

Tew was shot through the temple by a sniper during fighting in the famed “Bloody Lane” during the Battle of Antietam. His body was never recovered.

The sword, a gift to Tew from his students at the Arsenal Academy in Columbia, SC, where he taught before leaving to start the Hillsborough academy, had hung in the 33 Signal Regiment’s mess in Ottawa since 1963, after a resident of Utica, NY, gave the sword to her last known relative, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

When the unit recently relocated, the sword was taken down from the wall and Tew’s name was noted during a review of regiment property. After an investigation and valuation was begun, the object’s provenance was discovered, the publication added.

The official transfer of the sword from the 33 Signals Regiment Foundation to The Citadel will occur Friday, Sept.  18, on the school’s parade ground in Charleston.

(Sword of Col. Charles C. Tew, 2nd North Carolina State Troops, showing Palmetto Tree detail. Photo credit: Ottawa Citizen.)

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