Edged Weapons of the Civil War

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.

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.

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.

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.


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