Berks History Center obtains rare Civil War revolver

The Berks History Center is thrilled to announce the acquisition of a rare Civil War artifact currently on display inside the BHC Historical Society Museum located at 940 Centre Avenue, Reading, Pa., 19601.

The newly acquired object is a Smith & Wesson Model No. 1 Second Issue Revolver that was once owned by Daniel S. Yohn, a member of Reading’s First Defenders.

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The item was procured through Guy Mestdagh, a collector of rare firearms who resides in Belgium. Mestdagh initially contacted the BHC to inquire about the revolver’s owner. Following thorough negotiations, it was agreed that Mestdagh would sell the rare artifact to BHC.

Challenges emerged during the process of shipping the revolver from Belgium due to national regulations. With the help of a Netherlands firearms and antiques dealer, the revolver was successfully delivered to Berks County on December 5, 2023.

“After a long negotiation process and a journey of nearly 3,800 miles, we are thrilled that Daniel Yohn’s revolver found its way home to Reading,” said BHC Curator, Amber Vroman.

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The title “First Defenders” was given to five volunteer groups of Pennsylvania soldiers who swiftly responded to President Lincoln’s appeal at the onset of the Civil War. President Lincoln urged state militias to converge in Washington D.C. on April 15, 1861. Among these groups were the National Light Infantry and Washington Artillerists of Pottsville, the Logan Guards of Lewistown, the Allen Infantry of Allentown, and the Ringgold Light Artillery of Reading.

“Without the swift action and bravery of the Ringgold Light Artillery, the Civil War could have taken an entirely different course and conclusion,” stated Vroman. “The acquisition of this revolver is incredibly special, not only to our local Berks story, but to the national narrative as well.”

Daniel S. Yohn, a native of Reading, Berks County, was born to William and Phillipina “Phoebe” (Levan) Yohn on January 17, 1844. At the age of seventeen, Private D. S. Yohn joined the First Defenders in their journey to Washington D.C. That same year, his half-brother gifted him the Smith & Wesson revolver, which includes intricate engravings on the grip and backstrap featuring the inscription, “Presented to D. S. Yohn 1861; By His Bro W. Y.”

“While we cannot say for sure, the revolver may have been gifted to Yohn upon his return home to commemorate a significant year,” Vroman explained. “Engravings on weapons were common, and they provide valuable clues about the histories of their owners.”

Individuals interested in viewing Daniel Yohn’s revolver may do so by visiting BHC’s Historical Society Museum during operating hours, Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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