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Civil War Question - Swords/Sabers

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

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  1. Jim K

    Jim K Member

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    If you examine your own technique in using a knife to cut meat or vegetables, you will see that you probably don't bring the knife straight down in a chopping motion. Instead, you bring the knife along the top of the object to be cut, in a slicing motion that you make deeper as you go. But a slicing motion is not practical with a sword or saber, so their edges are made to be used with a chopping or hacking motion.

    Jim
     
  2. geim druth

    geim druth Member

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    I own a reproduction Patten saber and an original 1860 pattern light saber. These two swords are designed to be used for two completely different purposes. The Patton sword points naturally, but cuts awkwardly. The 1860 light calvary saber is designed for cutting.

    The 1860 was the standard Union saber during the Civil War. An unsharpened saber would have been almost useless, but as Billy Shears pointed out, a sword is normally sharpened to an 'appleseed' edge not a 'razor' edge. An appleseed edge lastes longer and cleaves rather than slices, giving better penetration on leather and heavy clothing.

    Perhaps, the controversy over sharpening involved the type of grind used on the sword edge.
     
  3. RPRNY

    RPRNY Member

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    Cavalry swords were edged and used to cut as well as pierce. Lancers obviously only pierced.

    An earlier post mentioned a trooper cutting off his horses ear. This was not at all uncommon and up through the First World War, mounts with uneven ears were common in any operational unit, as opposed to ceremonial units.

    I am not aware of any instance from the war between the states when having and using and edged weapon was punished by policy on either side. In peace time, both for training and among gentlemen who may have carried short swords, it may well have been policy/custom to dull one's sword, although up through the 1850s duels fought with swords were yielding corpses. It seems improbable that in the US it was acceptable to pierce but not cut your opponent...
     
  4. Billy Shears

    Billy Shears Member

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    This is true with most cavalry sabers, but not all cutting swords. Numerous Indian talwars and Persian shamshirs, and other eastern blades have very strongly curved blades that make them almost completely useless for thrusting, but whose degree of curvature corresponds almost exactly to the arc of motion of the arm. They were made to employ the drawcut, and were most definitely intended to slice, not just hack. The British 1796 pattern light cavalry sword has enough curvature to be used in this matter as well, though it was also meant to hack. For that matter, the Japanese sword was used with a slicing action at times, not from the degree of its curvature, but rather the technique with which it was employed.
     
  5. RetiredUSNChief

    RetiredUSNChief Member

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    These two comments are very likely spot on.

    The condition of any given soldier's sword/cutlass/saber during the Civil War was likely the result of a combination of many things: who and where one got his training from on the subject, folklore, experience, hearsay, and personal opinions.

    Much like we see nowadays with respect to personal firearms, in which the type of gun, caliber, bullet design and various methods of carry and utilization are seen to be endlessly debated, just on THR alone.

    The bottom line is that, like Sam and hso pointed out in the posts cited above, swords were carried both sharpened and unsharpened.

    The why depended on the individuals.
     
  6. Slamfire

    Slamfire Member

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    Accidents happened in Cavalry units. I knew and used a gunsmith who was in the US Horse Cavalry. Bob told me an event he witnessed. During sword practice against a straw target, one of his fellow troopers fell off his mount. Bob knew the troopers name, I have forgotten, but this trooper was attached to his Patton saber by the sword knot. Somehow in the fall, the point of the sword got under the arm pit of the trooper and the hilt hit the ground first. The trooper was impaled by his sword and of course, died when it went through him.

    I was never impressed by the Patton sword. Too flexible, poor side to side balance, I think it was inferior as a thrusting sword to the British P1908.
     
  7. AJumbo

    AJumbo Member

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  8. Billy Shears

    Billy Shears Member

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    One of the posters there put up a lengthy quote from a book about cavalry weapons in the post Civil War era, and I think that just about settles the matter as far as I am concerned, it makes a lot of sense -- the weapons were delivered from the factory blunt, and it was expected that the end users would sharpen them, but a lot of them ended up in the hands of troopers who had no skill in their use, led by officers who had no skill in their use, and these regiments tended naturally to make little to no use of the saber in combat. They simply never got around to sharpening them because it's a time consuming task, and they didn't care much for the saber anyway. I've seen a Civil War era sword that showed no signs of ever having been sharpened, and the "edge" was a full sixteenth of an inch thick. It would take a long time to grind away enough metal from that to put a good cutting edge on the weapon, especially on so long a blade (though the forte, near the hilt, was supposed to be left blunt, as it was used to parry not cut). Troopers and officers who had no skill with, confidence in, or desire to use the saber might well have simply neglected to do it, preferring to trust their pistols. This would have been even more true of cavalry during the Indian wars, where there was even less opportunity for saber charges, and sabers were often laid aside entirely and left with the baggage.

    However those officers which did have some proficiency with the sword, and which imparted some of their skill to their men almost certainly did sharpen their sabers.
     
  9. Outlaw Man

    Outlaw Man Member

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    Back when I did Civil War reinactments, our Captain's was sharpened. I distinctly remember him using it to cut up an apple.

    Some of those guys get borderline psychotic with their attention to detail, but this guy wasn't that big a stickler.
     
  10. geim druth

    geim druth Member

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