Weapons of the Civil War

Civil War Sabers, Swords and Bayonets

Some of the most dramatic cinema footage you will see of Civil War battles features these sharp-edged weapons. In fact, there were so few deaths and injuries reported because of the sabers,UnionWeapons swords and bayonets, that they were ultimately negligible. Of a reported 250,000 injured soldiers treated in Union hospitals during the war, only 922 were reported to have been injured by what was referred to as an “edged weapon.”

Edged weapons actually include any of the following:

  • Bayonets
  • Swords
  • Sabers
  • Military cutlery (Bowie Knives, etc.)
  • Pikes and Lances

Aside from pikes and lances, which we will discuss a little later, most of the edged weapons were considered “prestigious.'” Officers carried them, as did many of the mounted soldiers. They symbolized the authority of an officer, but were very rarely unsheathed. Edged weapons were also presented to soldiers for an increase in rank, or as rewards for valiant effort on the battlefield. Skilled cavalrymen were able to make the sword a dangerous weapon, but because of the close combat necessary to make a kill, they preferred a skirmish type of tactic that allowed the use of revolvers and carbine rifles from the perimeter.

The Civil War Bayonet

This was the fixed edge on the end of a musket, and was used when Union and Confederate lines merged on the battlefield as a close combat weapon. Bayonets had been used since the musket had been invented, mainly because a soldier could likely only get off a couple of shots before they were embroiled in hand-to-hand combat. This would still allow the soldier to continue fighting with a dangerous weapon. Still, very few casualties or injuries were reported as a result of the bayonet, relegating it to the role of colorful but probably unnecessary accessory for the musket.

 Civil War Bayonet

Civil War Bayonet

Civil War Weapons

As we mentioned earlier, the sword was primarily a ‘prestige’ item, worn by officers and members of the cavalry. It was a sign of authority because it was given out for promotions or efforts on the battlefield. The sword is probably best known from the typical charge at the climax of a Civil War movie, where the general draws his sword and calls upon his army to charge the opposition. One interesting thing about the swords and sabers used in the military, was that they differed in style, length, and curvature depending on the branch of the military. Those of officers were different than those of the cavalry, which were different than those of Navy officers.

Military Cutlery

That is the term used to refer to a number of small, hand-to-hand weapons used by soldiers when their firearms were and things got a little too close for comfort. Items that were very popular, such as the Bowie Knife (named for Texas folk hero Jim Bowie ), actually became more of a hindrance as soldiers realized the weight of such weapons and how little they were used. According to several different sources, although the Bowie Knives were popular, it is believed that most military cutlery was avoided when the actual hand-to-hand close combat took place.

Pikes and Lances

Though little information is available about these weapons, evidence suggest that both pikes and lances were actually used to a greater degree during the Civil War than were the others. These were not weapons of prestige, tending usually to be carried by companies of soldiers who were lacking more modern weapons.

Primitive as it might seem for armies with repeating weapons and revolvers to be carrying around something more often associated with the Knights of the Round Table, pikes and lances proved effective weaponry for skilled horsemen.

The pike, depending on the size, could be thrown at the enemy, or used to ward off cavalry attacks. The horses could not penetrate through a few rows of the pikes, thus making it difficult to break through lines.

The lance was similar to the pike, but it typically had a more blunt end, used more to batter than to impale. It was also very effective when arms were in short supply. This was the case with the army of the Confederacy, who passed an act that set up two companies in each regiment with pikes and lances.

The South had little choice but to use the resources they had to build whatever weapons were necessary, because iron was in short supply. Twenty regiments of Southern pikeman had been formed by the end of the Civil War.

Chevaux-de fries

Resembling a series of lances/pikes strung together, Chevaux-de fries were made up of 10-to-12-foot logs that had sharpened wooden stakes attached to them. They were used in much the way that barbed wire would be used in subsequent wars, and were effective in fending off large scale incursions and cavalry attacks.

Chevaux-de fries

Chevaux-de fries

Lawrence Combs has been a Civil War “buff” since he first visited Gettysburg in 1970.

Since that fateful day when he first gazed out from Little Round Top, he has a student of the weaponry, tactics, and soldiers of those horrific days in American history.

Source : Ezinearticles

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