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Thread: Civil War Sabers Intentionally Left Unsharpened?

  1. #1
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    Civil War Sabers Intentionally Left Unsharpened?

    I hope someone can help me with something.

    I've been reading a lot about swords lately (grin), and when ever my readings delve into sabers, the readings imply or state outright that Civil War sabers were meant to be sharpened, but that the sabers were purchased unsharpened from the manufacturers as cost saving measures, and to reduce chances of damage to the blades in transit, and in reducing chances of cutting up supply personnel as the blades were moved.

    I correspond with a number of "casual sword enthusiasts" who insist that the Civil War saber was meant to be left unsharpened so the troops would not hurt themselves, or their horses.

    Now, I know that many troops would not sharpen their sabers, and that being drawn and resheathed into metal scabbards dull edges pretty quick, so I am inclined to think this is the source of the many dull CW sabers I hear about, and not that there was a "policy" in place to leave the blades unsharpened.

    Given that cavalry troops in the Napoleonic and Crimean War periods used sharpened sabers, why would the United States depart from such a reasonable action as sharpening sabers, and adopt one that sounds so implausible to me?

    Is there any truth to this, or is this one of those "urban legends" kinda rationalization you hear some times?

    Thanks.

    Don
    "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence in their behalf."

    An unknown, but very astute person

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    I think that quite often (as in other wars) sharpening wasn't done 'til the "eve of battle'.

    I can't tell you how often they were sharpened versus not, but I can give you one reference where they were sharpened:

    ...During the month of the siege of Yorktown not an hour was lost which could be applied to cava (misprint?) Alertness and steadiness soon characterized our cavalrymen. No incident was fruitless. When grindstones were procured and the sabers of my regiment were sharpened at Hampton, it produced a similar effect upon the men.
    --William W. Averell, Brevet Major-General, U.S.A., "With The Cavalry On the Peninsula" in Vol. II of Battles & Leaders of the Civil War, available online at ehistory.
    Sikandur~~Aim Small, Miss Small

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    Bingo!

    Originally posted by Scott Bubar
    I think that quite often (as in other wars) sharpening wasn't done 'til the "eve of battle'.

    I can't tell you how often they were sharpened versus not, but I can give you one reference where they were sharpened:



    --William W. Averell, Brevet Major-General, U.S.A., "With The Cavalry On the Peninsula" in Vol. II of Battles & Leaders of the Civil War, available online at ehistory.
    Thanks, Scott.

    I am not a very patient fellow, and like the thread from the Nintendo site where Hellbringer was spilling forth the tripe of fiction, misperception and myth about Medieval knights and swords, I've had to endure the comments of the "casually read" or "proudly obstinate" who keep insisting the myth from my original post was in fact truth.

    I will now at least be able to post something someone else has provided for my counter discussions.

    Thanks, this will help enormously.

    Don
    "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence in their behalf."

    An unknown, but very astute person

  4. #4

    Re: Bingo!

    Originally posted by Don Nelson


    Thanks, Scott.

    I am not a very patient fellow, and like the thread from the Nintendo site where Hellbringer was spilling forth the tripe of fiction, misperception and myth about Medieval knights and swords, I've had to endure the comments of the "casually read" or "proudly obstinate" who keep insisting the myth from my original post was in fact truth.

    I will now at least be able to post something someone else has provided for my counter discussions.

    Thanks, this will help enormously.

    Don
    Scott is correct saying that the swords were often sharpened at the eve of the battle. At least it was like this in Europe.
    As well, it was clearly mentionned in the Prussian regulation of the late 19th century that the swords should be sharpened by the regimental armourers when the army goes to war, and ....the sharpening has to be REMOVED when the war is over.

    Jean

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    Re: Civil War Sabers Intentionally Left Unsharpened?

    [QUOTE]Originally posted by Don Nelson
    [B]I hope someone can help me with something.

    I've been reading a lot about swords lately (grin), and when ever my readings delve into sabers, the readings imply or state outright that Civil War sabers were meant to be sharpened, but that the sabers were purchased unsharpened from the manufacturers as cost saving measures, and to reduce chances of damage to the blades in transit, and in reducing chances of cutting up supply personnel as the blades were moved.

    I correspond with a number of "casual sword enthusiasts" who insist that the Civil War saber was meant to be left unsharpened so the troops would not hurt themselves, or their horses.

    Now, I know that many troops would not sharpen their sabers, and that being drawn and resheathed into metal scabbards dull edges pretty quick, so I am inclined to think this is the source of the many dull CW sabers I hear about, and not that there was a "policy" in place to leave the blades unsharpened.

    Given that cavalry troops in the Napoleonic and Crimean War periods used sharpened sabers, why would the United States depart from such a reasonable action as sharpening sabers, and adopt one that sounds so implausible to me?



    Don,
    I think this is most likely an instance of practice vs. policy and in reality the weapons probably were not given great consideration as far as keeping them sharpened, and I have heard mention of swords being rather blunt during the Civil War in litt. but cannot locate those references. According to Bruce Catton ("Civil War") the sabres were supposed to be carried and all times, but the men disdained the cumbersome, noisy weapons and usually lashed them to the near side of the saddle. According to Catton, the troopers preferred their revolvers (p.369).

    It would seem that the Confederate forces use of the sabre was also somewhat limited, even more as supplies were limited as the war progressed . An illustration of a Union cavalryman who received a sabre cut on the head in 1865 shows his skull fractured, rather than the deep cut that would have been fatal.In the text it states "...there were actually very few sword or sabre injuries during the Civil War". ("Medical Practices of the Civil War", Susan Provost Beller, 1992, p.30). This suggestion is also supported by Frederick Wilkinson ("American Swords and Knives", in Swords and Hilt Weapons, p.112) who states, "...Union hospitals treated less than 1000 sword and bayonet wounds throughout the war".

    With these references it would seem that the Union forces simply did not emphasize maintaining the blades, especially in the field, as the sabres were not particularly favored. I cannot imagine an official order or policy ordering them to be left unsharpened, though enforcement of maintainance was likely overlooked.

    With the Confederate forces, it would seem likely that the surplus or weapons of varying quality and form and probably lack of maintainance as well would discourage their use. On both sides, it seems that swordsmanship was generally poor, adding to the ineffective and minimal use of swords during the Civil War.

    I agree with your observations and just wanted to add my perspective with some references.
    Regards, Jim

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    Re: Re: Civil War Sabers Intentionally Left Unsharpened?

    [QUOTE]Originally posted by Jim McDougall
    [B]
    Originally posted by Don Nelson
    I hope someone can help me with something.

    I've been reading a lot about swords lately (grin), and when ever my readings delve into sabers, the readings imply or state outright that Civil War sabers were meant to be sharpened, but that the sabers were purchased unsharpened from the manufacturers as cost saving measures, and to reduce chances of damage to the blades in transit, and in reducing chances of cutting up supply personnel as the blades were moved.

    I correspond with a number of "casual sword enthusiasts" who insist that the Civil War saber was meant to be left unsharpened so the troops would not hurt themselves, or their horses.

    Now, I know that many troops would not sharpen their sabers, and that being drawn and resheathed into metal scabbards dull edges pretty quick, so I am inclined to think this is the source of the many dull CW sabers I hear about, and not that there was a "policy" in place to leave the blades unsharpened.

    Given that cavalry troops in the Napoleonic and Crimean War periods used sharpened sabers, why would the United States depart from such a reasonable action as sharpening sabers, and adopt one that sounds so implausible to me?



    Don,
    I think this is most likely an instance of practice vs. policy and in reality the weapons probably were not given great consideration as far as keeping them sharpened, and I have heard mention of swords being rather blunt during the Civil War in litt. but cannot locate those references. According to Bruce Catton ("Civil War") the sabres were supposed to be carried and all times, but the men disdained the cumbersome, noisy weapons and usually lashed them to the near side of the saddle. According to Catton, the troopers preferred their revolvers (p.369).

    It would seem that the Confederate forces use of the sabre was also somewhat limited, even more as supplies were limited as the war progressed . An illustration of a Union cavalryman who received a sabre cut on the head in 1865 shows his skull fractured, rather than the deep cut that would have been fatal.In the text it states "...there were actually very few sword or sabre injuries during the Civil War". ("Medical Practices of the Civil War", Susan Provost Beller, 1992, p.30). This suggestion is also supported by Frederick Wilkinson ("American Swords and Knives", in Swords and Hilt Weapons, p.112) who states, "...Union hospitals treated less than 1000 sword and bayonet wounds throughout the war".

    With these references it would seem that the Union forces simply did not emphasize maintaining the blades, especially in the field, as the sabres were not particularly favored. I cannot imagine an official order or policy ordering them to be left unsharpened, though enforcement of maintainance was likely overlooked.

    With the Confederate forces, it would seem likely that the surplus or weapons of varying quality and form and probably lack of maintainance as well would discourage their use. On both sides, it seems that swordsmanship was generally poor, adding to the ineffective and minimal use of swords during the Civil War.

    I agree with your observations and just wanted to add my perspective with some references.
    Regards, Jim
    Jim:

    I agree completely.

    It seems like what we have here among the more well-read sword historians (among whom I do not yet count myself) is a position that unsharpened Civil War sabers abound, but this was due to a number of factors that precluded or prevented them being sharpened; or, rapidly dulled the edges once applied.

    And not that there was an official, or even an unofficial policy to willingly refuse to sharpen the blades, as a means of protecting the horse and owning cavalryman from their own blades.

    What I seem to be seeing, is that the same people who insist that the dull blades are the result of some kind of "humane" policy to protect the "noble mount", are also people who hold to a number of myths regarding European medieval swords.

    I have offered up the notion that the alleged intentional retention of dull saber blades, is a myth that grew out of two components:

    1. There seemed to be a lot of unsharpened or otherwise dull Civil War sabers around - there must be some reason for it.

    And..........

    2. A certain ethnocentric belief by Americans that they are indeed the most naturally humane warriors of all time. This belief pops up in a number of interesting places and has been the indirect cause of at least one other rather bizarre myth regarding weaponry.

    The net result is, I think this "myth of the intentionally blunt Civil War saber" is one that is clung to and perpetuated because it makes Americans "feel good" about themselves. And not just feel good, but, actually feel somewhat morally superior. In this case, a "true American" would rather go into battle with a less effective weapon, than risk harming one of the two most noble animals on earth, the horse (the other being the dog).

    I've seen some folks trying to put a more practical spin on this by saying that a cavalryman can't be a cavalryman without his horse, and that if he injures his own horse, then he's in deep trouble.

    This part of the rationalization actually has some credence for me. The interesting thing to me though is, is that this justification always seems offered up as an afterthought, and has been offered up much less often than the more PETAish one.

    I think the other reason why Civil War cavalry sabers were often times left unsharpened is that with the advent of the reliable, easily portable, single-action revolver, the sword suddenly became much less important as a close-in combat weapon for the cavalry. So there was much less impetus to find "field expedient" methods of sharpening the blades in the absence of grinding stones and wheels.

    At least, that's my current assessment of the topic. I might find something that makes me reverse myself completely, but until then.......(grin).

    Don
    "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence in their behalf."

    An unknown, but very astute person

  7. #7

    Re: Re: Re: Civil War Sabers Intentionally Left Unsharpened?

    Originally posted by Don Nelson

    ........
    What I seem to be seeing, is that the same people who insist that the dull blades are the result of some kind of "humane" policy to protect the "noble mount", are also people who hold to a number of myths regarding European medieval swords.
    ..........

    Don
    May I insist that the Prussian regulation about removing the sharp edge of swords in peace time DO EXIST! (I have a copy...in German!) As far as European armies are concerned, this is NOT a myth. As well it was not a "humane" policy, but horses and cavalry men cost money (yes, always the same reason!). So the problem was not to think about the kind horse or the brave soldier...but to save money.
    Many collectors also tend to think that, for instance, a Prussian sword dated around 1865 should be found as it was during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870; actually, it continued its life long after this period and the once existing edge could have been removed later.

    Of course, I don't know about the practice in US cavalry.

    Just some thoughts, I don't intend to start "star war VII" with this! ;-)


    Best,
    Jean

  8. #8

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Civil War Sabers Intentionally Left Unsharpened?

    Originally posted by Jean Binck


    May I insist that the Prussian regulation about removing the sharp edge of swords in peace time DO EXIST! (I have a copy...in German!) As far as European armies are concerned, this is NOT a myth. As well it was not a "humane" policy, but horses and cavalry men cost money (yes, always the same reason!). So the problem was not to think about the kind horse or the brave soldier...but to save money.
    Many collectors also tend to think that, for instance, a Prussian sword dated around 1865 should be found as it was during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870; actually, it continued its life long after this period and the once existing edge could have been removed later.

    Of course, I don't know about the practice in US cavalry.

    Just some thoughts, I don't intend to start "star war VII" with this! ;-)


    Best,
    Jean

    I should add to avoid misunderstanding that my comment could explain why swords are now often find unsharpened, but during war time I agree, of course, that they WERE sharpened in field cavalry

    Jean.

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: Civil War Sabers Intentionally Left Unsharpened?

    Originally posted by Jean Binck


    May I insist that the Prussian regulation about removing the sharp edge of swords in peace time DO EXIST! (I have a copy...in German!) As far as European armies are concerned, this is NOT a myth. As well it was not a "humane" policy, but horses and cavalry men cost money (yes, always the same reason!). So the problem was not to think about the kind horse or the brave soldier...but to save money.
    Many collectors also tend to think that, for instance, a Prussian sword dated around 1865 should be found as it was during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870; actually, it continued its life long after this period and the once existing edge could have been removed later.

    Of course, I don't know about the practice in US cavalry.

    Just some thoughts, I don't intend to start "star war VII" with this! ;-)


    Best,
    Jean
    Jean:

    Actually, I was hoping you would have a copy of that Prussian regulation (grin). And I fully understood the reasons for removing the edge during peace time. The myth I was referring to, was the idea that American Civil War cavalry troopers cared more for their mounts, and/or must have been such incompetent swordsmen, that the American Civil War sabers were intentionally left dull during the actual war itself.

    If my memory serves me, I do believe that the US Cavalry did in fact adopt the Prussian methodology.

    If you should ever get a chance to discuss Civil War sabers with some of the folk here in America who fancy themselves expert on that conflict, ask them about dull sabers and why they think they were dull. I'd bet you a dollar the answer you are likely to hear is that it was meant to prevent injury to the horse. Then ask why they wanted to prevent injury to the horse, I'd bet another dollar the answer you are most likely to hear has more to do with humane treatment of horse (as friend or "war companion") than as to cost issues.

    It seems, at least to me, that the people in the United States who have the strongest interest in the American Civil War also seem to have a very strong interest in "noble" animals like the horse or dog (big dogs only of course, no small ones - grin).

    Don
    "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence in their behalf."

    An unknown, but very astute person

  10. #10

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Civil War Sabers Intentionally Left Unsharpened?

    Originally posted by Don Nelson


    Don,

    I will take you up on that bet

    Jeff
    Jean:

    Actually, I was hoping you would have a copy of that Prussian regulation (grin). And I fully understood the reasons for removing the edge during peace time. The myth I was referring to, was the idea that American Civil War cavalry troopers cared more for their mounts, and/or must have been such incompetent swordsmen, that the American Civil War sabers were intentionally left dull during the actual war itself.

    If my memory serves me, I do believe that the US Cavalry did in fact adopt the Prussian methodology.

    If you should ever get a chance to discuss Civil War sabers with some of the folk here in America who fancy themselves expert on that conflict, ask them about dull sabers and why they think they were dull. I'd bet you a dollar the answer you are likely to hear is that it was meant to prevent injury to the horse. Then ask why they wanted to prevent injury to the horse, I'd bet another dollar the answer you are most likely to hear has more to do with humane treatment of horse (as friend or "war companion") than as to cost issues.

    It seems, at least to me, that the people in the United States who have the strongest interest in the American Civil War also seem to have a very strong interest in "noble" animals like the horse or dog (big dogs only of course, no small ones - grin).

    Don

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Civil War Sabers Intentionally Left Unsharpened?

    Originally posted by Don Nelson


    Jean:

    Actually, I was hoping you would have a copy of that Prussian regulation (grin). And I fully understood the reasons for removing the edge during peace time. The myth I was referring to, was the idea that American Civil War cavalry troopers cared more for their mounts, and/or must have been such incompetent swordsmen, that the American Civil War sabers were intentionally left dull during the actual war itself.

    If my memory serves me, I do believe that the US Cavalry did in fact adopt the Prussian methodology.

    If you should ever get a chance to discuss Civil War sabers with some of the folk here in America who fancy themselves expert on that conflict, ask them about dull sabers and why they think they were dull. I'd bet you a dollar the answer you are likely to hear is that it was meant to prevent injury to the horse. Then ask why they wanted to prevent injury to the horse, I'd bet another dollar the answer you are most likely to hear has more to do with humane treatment of horse (as friend or "war companion") than as to cost issues.

    It seems, at least to me, that the people in the United States who have the strongest interest in the American Civil War also seem to have a very strong interest in "noble" animals like the horse or dog (big dogs only of course, no small ones - grin).

    Don
    Hello Jean,
    Thank you so much for coming in on this and mentioning the Prussian regulations, which present some very interesting perspective. Your information on European regulation swords is extremely helpful in the study of the U.S. swords of the 19th c. as the influences of France and Germany are well established.
    During the Civil War, the importing of swords and blades from Solingen was extensive, and it would not be surprising if Prussian regulations pertaining to swords were not considered by the Union Army. One instance of adoption of German military influence, although superficial , were the noticeably out of context pickelhaube helmets.

    Don,
    I am gladly not one of those people who considers themselves an expert on the Civil War, or any particular topic for that matter, but as an animal lover, I can relate to the affection that any cavalryman would hold for their horse. The bond between handlers and any working animal defies words, but in my opinion , noblility is a term well befitting them. The term is rapidly loosing application in trying to describe 'humanity'.


    Regards, Jim

  12. #12
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    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Civil War Sabers Intentionally Left Unsharpened?

    Originally posted by Jim McDougall


    Hello Jean,
    Thank you so much for coming in on this and mentioning the Prussian regulations, which present some very interesting perspective. Your information on European regulation swords is extremely helpful in the study of the U.S. swords of the 19th c. as the influences of France and Germany are well established.
    During the Civil War, the importing of swords and blades from Solingen was extensive, and it would not be surprising if Prussian regulations pertaining to swords were not considered by the Union Army. One instance of adoption of German military influence, although superficial , were the noticeably out of context pickelhaube helmets.

    Don,
    I am gladly not one of those people who considers themselves an expert on the Civil War, or any particular topic for that matter, but as an animal lover, I can relate to the affection that any cavalryman would hold for their horse. The bond between handlers and any working animal defies words, but in my opinion , noblility is a term well befitting them. The term is rapidly loosing application in trying to describe 'humanity'.


    Regards, Jim
    Jim: I certainly understand that, and agree with it. As a misplaced cowboy and lover of mammalian critters, I have established many a bond with horses, dogs and cats, and of late even a mother Morning Dove and her two young ones (at least one of which was brutally slain by a road runner - sigh).

    I spent many hours on horseback in my younger days, and I loved the two horses I rode regularly, even though there were times I was convinced that the only reason God put horses on this earth was to make sheep look smart (LOL!).

    It is amazing to me how a horse can not only try to injure or kill you, but also look so damnably smugly proud of itself for having tried it!

    I think my biggest regret in life is that I did not structure my career so that I could have an acreage with some horses on it, and at least a couple dogs. At present, I have no horses, and only one dog, a goofy cholocate Labrador Retriever named 'Buck' who I adore and is my constant companion. Also have three cats who tickle me with the strength of their different personalities.

    Well, back to work for me I guess............

    Don
    "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence in their behalf."

    An unknown, but very astute person

  13. #13

    blunt steel

    I once owned a sword (British P'85 "Maltese cross"), with a rounded point and a flat cutting edge. It was not blunted - it had just never been sharpened. It was recounted to me by the then Master at the Tower Armouries that troopers swords were issued " unsharpened", and only pointed and ground when departing on war service. This is demonstrably wrong, but it may indeed have been the case with some units, in the UK as in the US. The justification given was that "swords that had been sharpened , were to be kept sharp; and that a sharpened sword had a service life of five years, wheras an unsharpened blade could last for 20". (they often made the wretched things last even longer!). There may be a grain of truth in this, though none of my books mention the fact, and it does accord well with the parsimony displayed by the War Department.
    British troopers swords of the period were such blacksmith's abominations that it probably made little difference to the functionality of the weapon anyway!
    John




    Scott is correct saying that the swords were often sharpened at the eve of the battle. At least it was like this in Europe.
    As well, it was clearly mentionned in the Prussian regulation of the late 19th century that the swords should be sharpened by the regimental armourers when the army goes to war, and ....the sharpening has to be REMOVED when the war is over.

    Jean [/B][/QUOTE]

  14. #14

    Re: blunt steel

    Originally posted by John Harvey
    I once owned a sword (British P'85 "Maltese cross"), with a rounded point and a flat cutting edge. It was not blunted - it had just never been sharpened. It was recounted to me by the then Master at the Tower Armouries that troopers swords were issued " unsharpened", and only pointed and ground when departing on war service. This is demonstrably wrong, but it may indeed have been the case with some units, in the UK as in the US. The justification given was that "swords that had been sharpened , were to be kept sharp; and that a sharpened sword had a service life of five years, wheras an unsharpened blade could last for 20". (they often made the wretched things last even longer!). There may be a grain of truth in this, though none of my books mention the fact, and it does accord well with the parsimony displayed by the War Department.
    British troopers swords of the period were such blacksmith's abominations that it probably made little difference to the functionality of the weapon anyway!
    John
    [/B]
    [/B][/QUOTE]

    John,

    Here is the Prussian text:

    Bei einer Demobilmachung mußte mit einer stumpfen Feile nur soviel as unbedingt erforderlich von der Schärfe genommen werden.
    (On demobilization, the edge should be blunted with a smooth file not more than what is necessary to remove the sharpness)

    [K. von Helldorf: Dienstvorschriften der Köninglich Preußischen Armee, Berlin 1895]

    I came also accross the following British instructions mentioned in a Skennerton book:

    Instruction for sharpening for active service – 1898 (LoC § 9206)

    Sharpening on receipt of orders for active service ( P’08) – 1914 (LoC § 16969)

    It is my understanding that if there were regulations for sharpening the sword when order for ACTIVE service was given, I assume that it means that they should not be sharp when NOT in active service (garrison in UK etc.).

    Did I miss something?

    Best regards,

    Jean

  15. #15

    Re: Re: blunt steel

    Jean,
    Thanks for that; though I think that there is some confusion in this thread as to the definition of sharpening; quite clearly, if one had a regiment of French curassiers to thrash before breakfast, one would take the trouble to give the old blade a whet the night before. However, it seems as though we are dealing with blades being issued without even being "shaped" on the stone (I am not trying to divert the topic!) - mine had a completely rounded point, and the edge was flat, almost as though the final process of grinding after proofing had been completely abandoned. I assume that this is the status of the US swords as well.
    I have never heard of military swords being deliberately blunted after campaigning; it would be a hugely destructive process, and one guaranteed to effectively prevent the sword being re-used, as so much metal would needs be eliminated.
    Perhaps somebody out there has the LoC listed by Jean, and can give us the "low-down?"
    Best,
    John


    John,

    Here is the Prussian text:

    Bei einer Demobilmachung mußte mit einer stumpfen Feile nur soviel as unbedingt erforderlich von der Schärfe genommen werden.
    (On demobilization, the edge should be blunted with a smooth file not more than what is necessary to remove the sharpness)

    [K. von Helldorf: Dienstvorschriften der Köninglich Preußischen Armee, Berlin 1895]

    I came also accross the following British instructions mentioned in a Skennerton book:

    Instruction for sharpening for active service – 1898 (LoC § 9206)

    Sharpening on receipt of orders for active service ( P’08) – 1914 (LoC § 16969)

    It is my understanding that if there were regulations for sharpening the sword when order for ACTIVE service was given, I assume that it means that they should not be sharp when NOT in active service (garrison in UK etc.).

    Did I miss something?

    Best regards,

    Jean [/B][/QUOTE]

  16. #16

    Re: Re: Re: blunt steel

    Hello John,


    Here are the missing “List of Changes” of the British army published by Skennerton:

    ***********************
    Instructions for sharpening for active service -1898 (LoC §9206)

    The edges to be ground on a grindstone, not less than 4 inches broad (if such be
    available), to run in water in a trough, care being taken that it runs truly, and that the
    stone always touches the water, so as to prevent heating the blade.
    In grinding to a sharp edge, care should be taken not to alter the outer figure of the
    blade. As the ground surface is liable to rust, it should be polished, by means of a
    rotary polishing bob, in a lathe; the bob to be as large in diameter as can be used.

    Sharpening on receipt of orders for active service (Patt '08) -1914 (LoC § 16969)

    Hold the sword with point resting in a shallow nick cut in the edge of the bench (or fix
    in a vice) so that the angle of the edge is horizontal. With a file, saw, taper, second
    cut, single, 8-inch, file until the point and edges are sharp, the filing being restricted to
    a distance of 1/2 -inch, and then blending to 1 inch from the point. The filed surface will
    then be smoothed off and polished with Cloth emery, No. F, and then lubricated with
    Oil,G.S.(§16663).
    Previous instructions for sharpening the Patt '08 sword (LoC § 16259) were cancelled.

    ****************************

    It appears to me that in this case, the swords were left "blunt" prior to the active service.
    Please note that in the Prussian sentense, it is mentioned to remove a minimum of material. The purpose is not to make it blunt like a stick or remove the hardening of the edge, but just to remove the extreme sharpness.

    *************************************************

    Swords should be kept sharp during the war, here are the advises of General de Brack, officer in Napoleon’s light cavalry:

    Gen. De Brack: "Avant-postes de cavalerie légère", 1831
    (I translate the best I can)

    **************************
    How to sharpen a sabre?

    When a campaign starts, the order comes suddenly. Each one hurries to prepare during the few hours which are granted; therefore, little care is taken for the sharpening of sabres. It is a major fault that is always recognised when it is too late to remedy it. It is not a small thing to sharpen a sabre blade.

    The French model has a bevel edge. It is a mistake that don't make, for its sabre, any nations knowing how to slash with a sabre [de Brack means the Eastern nations]. More open is the angle of this bevel, less the blade can cut deeply. If, by the way you sharpen it, you increase this defect instead of decreasing it, you make the edge virtually useless: a stick worth your sabre. Remember therefore that less the angle of the bevel is open, more your sabre will penetrate.

    During the Empire, the cavalry did not carry any axe, the sabre replaced it for all the work of the bivouac, therefore, blades were quickly in a bad condition. But the cavalrymen who knew their job corrected this abuse that they were obliged to make:
    1) While cutting wood and stakes, by using only the lower part of the blade and preserving the upper part for the fight
    2) By always carrying a small very soft file or a sharpening stone which permitted them to sharpen the blade when its edge was lost.
    I advise you the use of this file or a sharpening stone and when you will use the one or the other, always pass it along the blade from the base to the top, taking the guard as the base, so that the invisible teeth of your "saw" look downward.

    [remember de Brack's advise I mentioned in a previous post, regarding the cutting blow: " you deliver the blow using your sword like a saw, pulling slightly the hand backward while the sword hit your enemy; this is the secret of the terrible cuts of the Mamelucks' sabre."]

    Two things contribute strongly to loose quickly the edge of the blade. The first is the negligence with which one put in or draws out the sabre from the scabbard. The second is shaking and friction of this blade when sheathed.
    To cancel the first of this causes, do not "throw" your blade in its scabbard, but sheath it gently taking care of avoiding any friction of the edge.
    To cancel the second, verify that the wooden linen inside your scabbard if well done and placed and compresses the blade to prevent it from wavering.

    One of the causes of destruction of blades is humidity. Do not sheath your sabre without having carefully wiped it; not only rain, blood, fog can be the rust causes, but even the least sensible humidity of air attached to its polished surface and fixed in the steel pores. If you sheath a wetted blade, it communicates its humidity to the scabbard and you will have then many difficulties to dry it. A good precaution in war is to keep the blade greasy.
    If, following heavy rain, water comes into the scabbard and reaches the bottom, it is a permanent cause of rust for the point of the sabre. Take out the wooden linen and place the empty scabbard in the sun or near a fire; if it is near a fire, do not heat it so that its welding melts, but proceed slowly until you evaporated the humidity. If this is not sufficient, pass quickly and several time the scabbard in hot ashes.
    Often, a dismounted horseman who hold his sabre, let the point rest upon the ground; the result is obviously rust and loss of the point: he will miss it the day of the battle.
    Often, a cavalryman get a piece of meat roasted at the end of his sabre, he loses the hardening of his blade and cannot trust it anymore for his defence.

    As a general rule: take care of your blade like you take care of your razor.

    ********************

    I hope this helps.

    All the best,
    Jean

  17. #17
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    Thought I'd throw in this tidbit at an ancient thread:
    In 1862, a very tall and muscular Prussian officer, Heros Von Borcke, joined up with Jeb Stuart's Cavalry and became his A.D.C. Several times, his sword, a straight, wide-bladed sword of pattern-welded Damascus made in Solingen, with an "Iron-cutter" proofmark, is mentioned, and is described as "razor-sharp". Stuart, after the battle of Gettysburg, remarked to Von Borcke who had been wounded and missed the affair how much he had missed having Von Borcke and his sword there. Absolutely nothing disparaging was ever said to him about having a sharpened blade.
    Of course, Von Borcke would have been a much better-trained swordsmen than the bulk of officers or troopers on either side, so for the average man it may have been felt that "dull was safer".
    In regards to De Brack's instructions, it should be noted that every French cavalry unit had sword instruction as a standard feature of regular training. Every trooper would attain some competence in handling the white arm.

  18. #18
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    Al,

    On the subject of Von Borcke's sword, you may find this interesting:

    Reuniting with the Sword
    mark@swordforum.com

    ~ Hostem Hastarum Cuspidibus Salutemus ~

    "Those who beat their swords into plowshares usually end up plowing for those who don't."
    Benjamin Franklin

  19. #19
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    Zombie Thread!

    I had read where they (the U.S. Cavalry) left their swords relatively blunt during the later Indian Wars so that they would not lodge in the bone(s) of the victim and possibly disarm or unseat the cavalryman. UNFORTUNATELY I did most of my research on the subject some 30 or so years ago, and have no idea of the source.

    I will note that theories go in-and-out of fashion, and that two contemporary units might have had different customs/regulations/habits regarding the sharpening of their sabers. Therefore, any blanket statement that they always sharpened their swords, or never sharpened their swords, or all of their swords were "razor sharp" should either be avoided or phrased very carefully.
    Retired civil servant, part time blacksmith, seasonal Viking ship captain.

  20. #20
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    Bruce, the U.S. cavalry did not use their sabers during the post-Civil War Indian Wars. They were considered a useless encumbrance since rarely would a cavalryman get close enough to an Indian to use a saber. Carbines and revolvers were the weapons used. For example, the 7th Cavalry when it left Ft. Abraham Lincoln for the campaign of 1876 took only two sabers per troop for the express purpose of killing snakes found in camp and only for that reason.
    "Courage is fear holding on a minute longer."--Gen. George S. Patton

  21. #21
    "Razor-like sharpness is not resorted to by civilized nations like Great Britain and the United States. ... There was a well-grounded fear in our Civil War, both in the Southern and the Northern armies, that a captive who had a sharpened weapon in his possession was in danger of being killed on the spot like a captive wolf. Our cavalry sabers were tempered only to a moderate degree of sharpness, but that degree was sufficient to render them terrible in the hands of men who knew how to use them." (Henry Murray Calvert, former U.S. Vol. cavalryman, "Reminiscences of a Boy in Blue," 1920, quoted in full in D. A. Kinsley's "Swordsmen of the British Empire," which also quotes Sir Robert Baden-Powell re British swords not being kept sharp because it wore them out too soon - a budgetary consideration!

  22. #22
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    Here is another later (of several thread from this section.
    http://www.swordforum.com/forums/sho...ntlemanly-quot

    A companion thread from that time

    http://www.swordforum.com/forums/sho...ican-Civil-War

  23. #23
    I cannot comment on general practice but I do have an 1860 Light Cavalry sabre [1864 Manufacture] which given the neatness of the blade edge and the evenness of the sharpness was almost certainly sharp when it left the factory.
    Cheers,
    Alan

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by alan simpson View Post
    I cannot comment on general practice but I do have an 1860 Light Cavalry sabre [1864 Manufacture] which given the neatness of the blade edge and the evenness of the sharpness was almost certainly sharp when it left the factory.
    Cheers,
    Alan
    Hi Alan

    Can you relate who the maker was? Are there federal inspection marks? I do have a generic wristbreaker that does appear to have been ground as sharp but it is not inspected and unmarked as to maker.

    Cheers

    Hotspur; curious minds and all that

  25. #25
    Repeating, rifled weapons didn't exist (in large use) until the Crimean War and American Civil War. They had a huge impact on the use of the sword and bayonet. With regards to the bayonet, prior to the wide spread use of rifles, armies lined up in ranks, fired volleys at each other, and dependent on national temperament and tactics, may have closed in to bayonet range and charged. Capitalizing on the fear of a visible blade which is different than an invisible bullet, one side would usually break and run. The point is, they were almost within rock throwing range. Rifled muskets changed things. Accurate shooting might start at 300 or 400 yards. It took a lot to keep advancing in the face of that kind of fire. It wasn't surviving 2 or 3 volleys and then you were in bayonet range, it was 4 or 5 times as much. So for infantry, it was much more common for an advance to stop, or defenders flee before they reached bayonet range.

    The revolver and breach loading carbine did much the same for the cavalry sabre. A trooper with two or three revolvers could usually drop an opponent before getting to saber range. It's said that when all you have is a hammer, everything else looks like a nail. A better way to say it be, "when you like using your hammer, everything else looks like a nail." Your gun kept the other guy at more of a distance with no risk of a missed parry and getting sabered in return. And since the saber and bayonet were secondary weapons to the firearm, rather than being primary, it made more sense to keep on shooting as long as you had loaded revolvers or ready ammunition. And looking at it from the perspective of the guy getting shot at, if he's missing at this distance, do you want to charge in with your saber or bayonet to where it is easier for him to shoot you?

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