This elaborate sword was presented to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War on April 23, 1864 by the U.S. Sanitary Commission Metropolitan Fair. The fair was a fundraiser for the Union Army and supported hospitals for wounded soldiers. Grant “won” the sword in a voting contest against competitor Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.

The sword is rich in symbolism. The silver grip displays the head of a Greek soldier and military trophies; the gilt knuckle guard bears the head of Medusa, and the counterguard shows Hercules slaying the Nemean lion. The pommel is the head of Athena, goddess of warcraft, and set with rubies, diamonds and a sapphire.

Grant's name is engraved on the sheath, along with the words, "Upon your sword sit laurel victory." This phrase is taken from William Shakespeare's play Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene III: "Upon your sword sit laurel victory! And smooth success be strew'd before your feet."

Grant would go on to take the Confederate Army’s surrender at Appomattox and become U.S. President in 1869.

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this article first appeared in military history quarterly

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