The military career of Edward Settle Godfrey (1843-1932) spanned nearly his entire adult life, and involved his participation in each of the major wars of the last half of the 19th century. He served as a private in Co. D of the 21st Ohio Volunteer infantry during the early part of the Civil War. Entering West Point during the war, he graduated in 1867 and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the 7th Cavalry. He served throughout the Indian Wars, commanding Co. K of the 7th at the battle of the Little Bighorn. He survived the "hilltop" fight with Reno, and the following summer was involved in the campaign against Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce and later received the Medal of Honor for his actions at the battle of Bear Paw Mountain. With the outbreak of the Spanish American War he served in Cuba and in the Phillipines during the insurrection there. He was retired by operation of law in 1907.
Godfrey will perhaps be most remembered for his actions at Little Bighorn. Attached with Benteen's scouting party consisting of companies D, H and K, Godfrey arrived on the hilltop above the valley of the Little Bighorn to find a fluid situation, with Reno's men having arrived from the valley floor confused and panic-stricken. The main body of Custer's command was now under attack several miles away. Later in the afternoon, Reno attempted to join forces with Custer. Unknown to Reno, Custer and his portion of the command were now killed to the last man. Now the Indians turned their attention to Reno. Godfrey and company K were in the lead, with the majority of the command in the rear. As the attack came, Godfrey executed a textbook falling-back movement that not only saved the men in his company, but likely kept Benteen and Reno's command from being overrun. For the next day and a half, Godfrey dug in, along with the remaining members of the 7th, and ultimately survived.
Godfrey served with the 7th for nearly 30 years before being promoted to Major and being transferred to the 1st U.S. Cavalry on December 8, 1896. This sword, given to him a week later, almost certainly commemorates this momentous event in his career. Oddly, he was transferred back to the 7th a year later, serving three years here and then successively until his retirement with the 12th and 9th cavalry.
In a letter sent from Fort Apache, Arizona Territory, on December 15, 1896, addressed only to "Colonel", Godfrey writes of the occasion when he received this sword:
...I had quite a surprise party myself Friday afternoon. The door bell rang and I went out, saw Sergt Lehman and some men and I thought to myself well I wonder what's the trouble now, as I supposed that some order had been issued for a detail to go out! However they all looked happy and smiling and to my astonishment Segt. Lehman began a formal sort of speech and winded up by handing me a beautiful, gold mounted saber with resolutions...Of course, I could not refuse, so I made a short speech of acceptance and the next morning at inspection gave them a more extended talk. I have always been opposed to presents from those under or over in (me) in the service and had I known of their intentions would have stopped them.