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Civil War Question - Swords/Sabers

Discussion in 'Non-Firearm Weapons' started by jimsouth, Jan 8, 2014.

  1. jimsouth

    jimsouth Well-Known Member

    Anyone ever hear of this? My friend ( the Civil War expert ) - told me he read an article - and I have no reason to doubt him - if you were caught with a sharpened sword - saber, you could be shot on site. The sword being a stabbing sticking weapon, and not a hacking weapon - so it wasn't considered honorable to sharpen a sword's edge. Ever hear of that?
  2. Sam1911

    Sam1911 Moderator

    Kindof doesn't make much sense not to sharpen a saber as it's optimized as a slashing weapon, not a thrusting one so much. But I'm not an expert.
  3. jimsouth

    jimsouth Well-Known Member

    I gotta do some searching on this one.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2014
  4. RetiredUSNChief

    RetiredUSNChief Well-Known Member

    Swords and sabers are designed with edges for a reason...and it ain't decorative.

    Sabers and cutlasses in particular are "hack and slash" weapons. Any such weapon designed to be wielded on horseback or shipboard (by enlisted aboard ship) are primarily designed for this because that's what combat in those types of quarters calls for when using edged weapons.

    A rapier, however, is designed primarily as a thrusting weapon, though it, too, is edged.

    Various designs of swords are used in support of a large variety of combat techniques. Regardless, if you are in possession of a sword meant for combat (as opposed to decorative) and it's NOT sharpened as intended, then it's somewhat less than optimal as a real weapon and will not serve you nearly so well in combat. Kinda pointless to have a "fake" weapon in a "real" fight.
  5. jimsouth

    jimsouth Well-Known Member

    Some time - somewhere , during the Civil War - there was Hell up about swords with sharpened edges. I do not know where it went; but there was a controversy about it "not being honorable". May have been a short lived thing, but it happened.
  6. hso

    hso Moderator Staff Member

    You're going to have to provide more context.

    Yes, I've seen similar things written about some heavy cavalry sabers supposedly not being sharpened in Europe since the tip was used to pierce in the charge and the heavy blunt was blade broke bones very effectively. Difficulties with edge to edge impact and the risk of breakage while hacking away from horseback led to the idea that the heavy saber would survive use better if redefined as an impact weapon.

    I've never heard/read anything about someone being shot for sharpening the things, but there are all sorts of "upon penalty of death" warnings that were part and parcel to Napoleonic era militaries.
  7. RetiredUSNChief

    RetiredUSNChief Well-Known Member

    One of the major risks with any pointed/edged weapon is getting it stuck in the body/bodies of the people you're using the weapon against. A stuck weapon is both a lost weapon and a potentially fatal distraction in the heat of battle if you attempt to deal with it instead of paying attention to things around you.

    A blunt weapon may or may not be an effective means of dealing with this problem, depending on the particular weapon design and how it's used.

    Not having a sharp edge means it can't "stick" nearly so easily during hack and slash techniques. However, this limits it's usefulness to what amounts to a "club", and the effectiveness of such a weapon now depends primarily upon its weight. Lighter swords are simply not as effective a club as heavier ones and will be less prone to inflicting a debilitating/fatal wound.

    Sharp or not, poking a sword into a victim still results in the same potential difficulty...that of being able to pull the sword back out. Depth of the poke is key to this, along with the blade design. The cutting edge has little effect on this.

    I have not heard of this taboo with respect to the cutting edge of weapons during the Civil War (or any other period). However, I suspect that if it did exist, it had more to do with preconceived notions of right-and-proper methods of combat rather than actual combat effectiveness. Actual combat is anything BUT gentlemanly in nature...it's not a personal duel of honor in any way, shape, or form.
  8. mole

    mole Well-Known Member

    I've never heard that. The closest thing I can recall is during WWI something about cutting a sawtooth pattern on the back of your bayonet. Probably not an official policy, but more like guys you just charged with that thing not taking prisoners because of the more terrible wound that bayonet would make. I don't know if that was a real thing or just made up later.
  9. Madcap_Magician

    Madcap_Magician Well-Known Member

    Sounds like fairy tales to me.
  10. mdauben

    mdauben Well-Known Member

    Doesn't sound too credible to me. The sort of curved cavalry swords used during the American Civil War were both thrusting and slashing weapons and cavalry were taught to use them that way. IIRC there was some controversy about the effectiveness of slashing versus thrusting attacks for cavarly in the early 19th century, which led to straighter, stabbing blades such as the US Army Model 1913 Cavalry Saber.

  11. Bobson

    Bobson Well-Known Member

    I believe you're correct. When I was going through high school, I became fascinated with the Civil War and took nearly every opportunity to complete reports and projects on a variety of people and events of the time. I specifically recall learning about this same thing, though I certainly couldn't verify that research today.

    The way I see it, there are only two possibilities. Either it really happened (even if it was short lived, as you suggested it might have been), or someone went to a lot of trouble to make it seem like it really happened.
  12. CWL

    CWL Well-Known Member

    The (early) cavalry of the Civil War modeled themselves after the dashing horsemen of the Napoleonic Wars. The French and other light cavalries were indeed armed with unsharpened but pointed curved sabers. These were meant to be used as a thrust & parrying weapon for fast cavalry actions as their doctrines meant for them to always be in motion during combat.

    The curvature of light cavalry swords were designed to allow easy release after spearing an opponent, especially while in motion. For practical reasons, if the blade was fully sharpened, it would penetrate too deeply and prevent ones sword from being withdrawn. Still deadly, even unsharpened sabers could split skulls and deliver bone crushing blows on the enemy.

    Here's a medical journal illustration of some Crimean War survivors of saber woulds (thanks to heavy felt headwear).

    Never heard about any shooting offenses for sharpened sabers, tho'.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2014
  13. Piraticalbob

    Piraticalbob Well-Known Member

    Nathan Bedford Forrest was known to sharpen his sabers, being something of a badass at hand-to-hand combat; he ended the war with having one more man killed in personal combat than horses shot out from under him. Once, when a subordinate shot him after being accused of cowardice, Forrest, who was paring his nails with a pen knife at the time, stabbed the man to death with the knife.
  14. Vonderek

    Vonderek Well-Known Member

    I always learn something new here. I never considered the saber as an impact weapon. Interesting thread.
  15. bainter1212

    bainter1212 Well-Known Member

    The Civil War saw the cavalry move from the Napoleonic main-line battle unit to a lighter, more mobile scout-and-harass strategy. I don't doubt that weapons and tactics followed suit in some way.
  16. twofifty

    twofifty Well-Known Member

    Unlucky is the soldier whose unit tactics have not adapted to new equipment, or whose equipment has not kept up with new tactics.
  17. owlhoot

    owlhoot Well-Known Member

    To add a little detail to Piratical Bob's comments about General Forrest:

    The good general and his troopers had stopped at a farm to water their horses and take a break when the general noticed a grinding wheel, the kind that is operated by a foot treadle, and sat down to sharpen his sword. As he was grinding away, a young captain approached and said, "Sir, with all due respect, we were taught at West Point that a gentleman never sharpens his sword." Forrest continued his task and without looking up replied, "Good!"

    During the war Forrest killed 27 men in hand to hand combat not counting the young man he killed with his pocket knife. He had 26 horses shot from under him. In one particularly difficult encounter in which he suffered some painful wounds but slew his opponent, he remarked to the unit surgeon that had his adversary given him the point instead of the slash, he would be a dead man.

    In the incident wherein Forrest was shot by one of his own officers that he had removed from command, Forrest was shot in his hotel room. The pistol used was a single shot. After firing the officer ran from the room, down the staircase, across the town square and into a shop with Forrent, though badly wounded, in hot pursuit. Forrest caught him in the shop and went to work with his pocket knife before collapsing. After he was attended by the doctor, Forrest was asked why he had chased the young soldier being grievously wounded as he was and certainly the man would have been caught and hanged anyway, Forrest answered, "I ain't letting no sonofabitch kill me without killing him back."

    Forrest had suffered a solid hit in the torso from the shooting. The young man had multiple stabs wounds. Both were in critically bad shape. They were placed on cots in the same back room at the doctor's office where the doc could look after both at the same time. When they were able to speak, the young officer apologized to Forrest for shooting him. Forrest said he was sorry too. Forrest recovered. The young man did not. Sometimes you can get away with bringing a knife to a gun fight. Both Forrest and Jim Bowie did.

    Forrest rose from private to lt. general (three stars). There were no four star generals in the confederacy. They don't make generals like him anymore.
  18. HexHead

    HexHead Well-Known Member

    Sounds like it came from an earlier version of THR, where they wanted to present a more positive image to the anti-swordists.
  19. RetiredUSNChief

    RetiredUSNChief Well-Known Member

    Kind of dovetails with my suspicians that any such proclivities with respect to unsharpened swords in combat being due to preconceived notions of what is right and proper as opposed to what actually works best in combat.

    General Forrest did not seem to be afflicted with such preconceived notions.

  20. lemaymiami

    lemaymiami Well-Known Member

    Forrest did have quite a career in that war. His activities after the war are what I remember him for --- and not favorably at all.

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