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Thread: 1796 LC sabre - French complaints

  1. #76
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    Originally posted by David Critchley
    Richard, the picture you posted reminded me to ask, Is it unusual for the throat of a 1796 scabbard to have screws that hold it to the main part of the scabbard anywhere else than through the main part of the scabbard?

    My 1796 has a throat that is secured with screws that screw down from beside the opening at the top so that they are covered when the sword is sheathed.
    Hi David,

    My mystery 1796 variant (which regular Forumites will remember gets an airing every year in response to some question or other!), has a similar feature:
    Attached Images Attached Images  
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  2. #77
    Originally posted by David Critchley
    I've seen it once before, but in brass on a light sabre with the same semi circular langets.


    Richard, the picture you posted reminded me to ask, Is it unusual for the throat of a 1796 scabbard to have screws that hold it to the main part of the scabbard anywhere else than through the main part of the scabbard?

    My 1796 has a throat that is secured with screws that screw down from beside the opening at the top so that they are covered when the sword is sheathed.

    David
    Hi David,

    I would say the method with the screws through the front and back edge of the scabbard body is the most common (as in the photo of the group pf 1796's on page 3 above). However, the other method, well illustrated by John above, is not at all uncommon. In this instance, a "double" mouthpiece is needed. I think this latter method is commonly found on swords by Woolley and, in particlar, Prosser.

    Richard.
    Celeriter nil crede

  3. #78
    That's interesting, thanks. As you say it is a "double" mouthpiece. My scabbard is marked D Egg, Haymarket, who must have been the retailer. But the sword gives no clue as to who the cutler was.

    David

  4. #79
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    Originally posted by David Critchley
    That's interesting, thanks. As you say it is a "double" mouthpiece. My scabbard is marked D Egg, Haymarket, who must have been the retailer. But the sword gives no clue as to who the cutler was.
    Durs Egg was a German gun and sword maker rather than a retailer, and had been in business in England since 1772 - the address form of "Haymarket" was in use between around 1788 and 1797, when he moved to the Strand. His descendants carried on the business until well into the 1870s.

    (Ref: Swords for Sea Service)

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  5. #80
    Originally posted by John Hart
    Durs Egg was a German gun and sword maker rather than a retailer, and had been in business in England since 1772 - the address form of "Haymarket" was in use between around 1788 and 1797, when he moved to the Strand. His descendants carried on the business until well into the 1870s.

    (Ref: Swords for Sea Service)

    John
    Thanks, that fits John, the royal cypher on the sword is the pre 1801. The Haymarket address would then push the date back even further and make my sword one of the very early ones then. That's nice.

    I knew he was a gun maker (by appt. to George III at some point I think) and had altered swords in the past, but was unsure as to whether he actually made swords from scratch too or just assembled and retailed them.
    Thanks again John

    David
    Last edited by David Critchley; 09-05-2006 at 10:47 PM.

  6. #81
    Richard

    While hunting for the Chasseur photos I came across a letter from the Times of 1855 which I'm sure you've seen already as I think I lifted it from SFI some 6 years ago (!). The following quote from it about the P1796 seems totally at odds with any French complaint about its cutting prowess!

    'our much-abused sabres of the old pattern - the old regulation Light Dragoon sabre - of which it was said, I recollect, when they were in use in our service, that they never cut at all, but only bruised an enemy.'

    Paul

  7. #82
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Digard View Post
    'our much-abused sabres of the old pattern - the old regulation Light Dragoon sabre - of which it was said, I recollect, when they were in use in our service, that they never cut at all, but only bruised an enemy.'
    That reminds me of something I read recently: for much of their life prior to their merger with the 17th Lancers, the 21st Lancers had no battle honours. "Friends" in other regiments used to joke that the regimental motto was "Thou shalt not kill"!

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  8. #83
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Digard View Post
    Richard

    While hunting for the Chasseur photos I came across a letter from the Times of 1855 which I'm sure you've seen already as I think I lifted it from SFI some 6 years ago (!). The following quote from it about the P1796 seems totally at odds with any French complaint about its cutting prowess!

    'our much-abused sabres of the old pattern - the old regulation Light Dragoon sabre - of which it was said, I recollect, when they were in use in our service, that they never cut at all, but only bruised an enemy.'

    Paul
    I think to a degree you have to take the complaints about any sword with a "pinch of salt", soldiers complain about their weapons, its a universal rule.

    Its only rarely you get an 1885 or SA80.

  9. #84
    The French didn't copy the 1796 sabre, but the attached picture shows one which was held in high regard by at least one French cavalry colonel who carried an ordinary trooper's version through several campaigns. I have blundered to the extent of reducing the definition to make the Swordforums file size, and saving it with the original name. So I no longer have the means of seeing his name or whether, as I think I remember, the blade or scabbard is engraved with the names of several of Napoleon's great battles. That gives me a little more reason to go back to the Musée de l'Armée in Paris, where I took the picture.

    The conventional wisdom, which the late Victorians forgot until the reaction set in with the purely thrusting 1908 model, is that you should choose whether you want a cutting or thrusting sword, since none can do both jobs adequately well. I think the 1796 is about as good as they come if you choose the cutting option. Under ideal circumstances you could probably cut as well with a really sharp, lighter and more manoeuvrable weapon, such as the Mameluke sword which was copied as the standard sidearm of British generals. But cavalrymen didn't wear all that braid, boots and leather shako for nothing. The narrow, stirrup-shaped guard was well suited to an underhand cut, which added the speed of the horse to that of the sword arm, instead of leaving it neutral or even subtracting it.

    I'm currently a long way from work in Saudi Arabia, where I have "Cavalry: Its History and Tactics" by Captain Louis Nolan, whose chief claim to fame is his death, minutes after playing a part in sending the Light Brigade down the wrong valley. But if memory serves me correctly, he commented on the extraordinary cutting ability he had observed in the swords of an allied Indian native state, only to be shown that they were simply surplus British sabres, properly sharpened and kept in wooden scabbards.

    The phrase of the time for preparing for war was "the regiment has sharpened". Even the future Field-Marshal Montgomery remembered it being listed for a specific day in the mobilisation orders of 1914, and he was an infantryman, who chose to kick his first German foe in the lower part of the abdomen instead. Lord Cardigan, an arrogant bonehead of impeccable courage who surprised everyone by finding a military botch-up for which he couldn't fairly be blamed, employed a celebrated civilian sword-cutler to sharpen his heavily-subidised regiment's swords. The Light Brigade were thereafter forbidden to draw their swords, even in drill, reduce bluntening by the steel scabbards which Nolan strongly condemned. Any cavalry sword ought to cut with only the last few inches, or it will lodge in the wound. But this gained added force from the fact that this part didn't rub on the scabbard. Various survivors of Balaclava reported the Russians' swords as being much blunter than their own.

    Like a lot of military decisions, the use of steel scabbards, while possibly wrong, was arrived at after considering a lot more factors than the layman often considers. In the days before plastics, it was one of the few materials which could be genuinely waterproof, and the army never forgot the possibility of war in climates a lot wetter than India's. The languet area would normally be under the cloak in heavy rain, but the bottom of the scabbard, including any drain-hole, would be immersed when fording rivers. I do have a British model 1908, which is a formidable thrusting weapon, but frustrating to anyone who has been a fencer, since the shaped dermatine grip means that it can only be moved from the wrist, not the fingers. It does have a very useful leather washer between guard and scabbard, which was probably greased.

    The entirely successful Charge of the Heavy Brigade on the same day involved the routing of a Russian cavalry force, various reported as 2½ to five times their number, in an uphill charge. Minor wounds were very numerous, but the rate of serious casualties was low on both sides. The bluntness of swords and weight of the Russian greatcoats seems to have had more to do with this than anything else.
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    Last edited by John Wallace; 06-20-2007 at 08:12 AM.

  10. #85
    I have followed this thread with great interest and found it very interesting and informative. The level of erudition displayed is awe inspiring!
    I have a Prussian 1811 sabre, which I found here in South Australia (Perhaps by coincidence, many of our early settlers came from Prussia in about 1840. I can just see some sternly bewhiskered veteran handing this sword to his emigrant son and suggesting that it would protect him from the "natives".)
    On the guard, it is marked:
    "1.T.F.4.15"
    then over near the knuckle bow:
    "59 K1" in smaller figures.
    The (I assume) mismatched scabbard is marked
    "9.T.B.2"
    I have vainly searched reference books for cavalry outfits with names like the "Tyrolean Fusiliers" or the "Thuringien Bootleggers".
    Would any of you care to take pity on my ignorance and suggest what these marks mean?

  11. #86
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ross Clark View Post
    I can just see some sternly bewhiskered veteran handing this sword to his emigrant son and suggesting that it would protect him from the "natives".)
    On the guard, it is marked:
    "1.T.F.4.15"
    then over near the knuckle bow:
    "59 K1" in smaller figures.
    The (I assume) mismatched scabbard is marked
    "9.T.B.2"
    Hi Ross,

    The "T.F" marking indicates the Fuhrpark-Colonne of Train (Transport) Battalion No. 1, which I think translates as some sort of vehicle park or wheeled transport section. Can't decipher the knucklebow marking, but the "T.B" designation on the scabbard indicates the Field Bakery unit, also of Train Battalion No. 1, weapon No. 2...the bewhiskered veteran may also have been be-floured!

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  12. #87
    Thank you very much John, but I'm not sure I kneaded to know that, especially since I paid good dough for this sword! I mean, it takes all the romance out of it if the original owner just loafed in the face of the French.
    Actually this would explain the excellent, nick-free condition of the blade-it never sliced anything harder than pumpernickel!
    Seriously, does this mean that Prussian military bakers strutted around with sabres? Did they perhaps need to defend themselves against their Gallic opposite numbers, armed with day old baguettes and hurling stale croissants? (I suppose that could cause a lot of pain!)

  13. #88
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ross Clark View Post
    Thank you very much John, but I'm not sure I kneaded to know that, especially since I paid good dough for this sword! I mean, it takes all the romance out of it if the original owner just loafed in the face of the French.
    Actually this would explain the excellent, nick-free condition of the blade-it never sliced anything harder than pumpernickel!
    Seriously, does this mean that Prussian military bakers strutted around with sabres? Did they perhaps need to defend themselves against their Gallic opposite numbers, armed with day old baguettes and hurling stale croissants? (I suppose that could cause a lot of pain!)
    SwordForum Warning - pun count exceeded!

    But to answer your question, this just goes to show that patterns of swords which were originally issued to first-line fighting units were often used by "logistic" troops once they became obsolete - the same happened to British P1899 cavalry swords, for example, which were used in the Boer War but which by the time of WW1 are often found in the hands of Royal Army Service Corps or Artillery units, having been superseded by the P1908 in the regular cavalry. Swords were a badge of office and an important part of military tradition, and re-using existing sword patterns in this way ensured that officers of supply and transport regiments could maintain their status without having to be issued with newer, more expensive models. And of course in a last resort even rear echelon units could be called on to fight, so some sort of sword may still have been better than none!

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  14. #89
    Thanks again John. Sorry about the "bread" puns but I was on a roll.
    Your reply has opened up a new world of research for me (Until now I had never heard of a "trainsoldat". I now find they even had their own song!)
    Your comments about status and tradition make perfect sense,
    however, my sword is very much a plain trooper's model with no decoration at all. Would a Prussian officer, even one doing a presumably low status job, have carried such a thing?
    If not, did the baggage trains provide their own escorts, by having sword equipped cavalrymen as part of their establishment?
    I confess to knowing virtually nothing about the Prussian Army organisation of this era but I seem to have memories of reading about combat units being detached to guard the "baggage".

  15. #90
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ross Clark View Post
    Your comments about status and tradition make perfect sense,
    however, my sword is very much a plain trooper's model with no decoration at all. Would a Prussian officer, even one doing a presumably low status job, have carried such a thing?
    If not, did the baggage trains provide their own escorts, by having sword equipped cavalrymen as part of their establishment?
    Hi Ross,

    We really need a Prussian expert here, but I would have thought that troopers or NCOs of supply and transport units could well have carried swords for self-defence during the time of the Franco-Prussian War. Thomas Fritz Zehe, who often posts here, might be able to confirm this?

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  16. #91
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    A mention

    To return to the original subject:

    In the biography of General John Le Marchant by Thoumine (Thoumine, R.H. Scientific Soldier, A Life of General Le Marchant, 1766-1812, Oxford U. Press (1968)), the 1796 LC sabre is said to have been the subject of a complaint by "a French officer" as to the severity of the wounds it caused.

    Unfortunately the identity of the French officer or the original written or oral source of the complaint are not referenced.

    At least the complaint is mentioned in an academically valid work.
    Sweord ora ond sweordes ecg.

  17. #92
    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Read View Post
    To return to the original subject:

    In the biography of General John Le Marchant by Thoumine (Thoumine, R.H. Scientific Soldier, A Life of General Le Marchant, 1766-1812, Oxford U. Press (1968)), the 1796 LC sabre is said to have been the subject of a complaint by "a French officer" as to the severity of the wounds it caused.

    Unfortunately the identity of the French officer or the original written or oral source of the complaint are not referenced.

    At least the complaint is mentioned in an academically valid work.
    But even then it was "said to have been". Said by whom? When? It's good to know the earliest written occurrence of the myth (I feel confident in calling it that), but as an historical source it's really no use at all if it can't be traced any further. All too many throwaway comments like that have been made by otherwise excellent scholars over the years, providing false sources for otherwise baseless claims.

  18. #93
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    In a fallen world what is perfect?

    As I pointed out the reference is far from ideal. However, it does narrow down the field to a single officer and, apparently a single incidence.

    We do, however know that the 1796 LC sabre did make an impression on French officers who encountered it.

    Captain Charles Parquin, Chasseurs a Cheval of the Imperial Guard.


    "We always thrust with the point of our sabres, whereas they always cut with their blade which was three inches wide. Consequently, out of every twenty blows aimed by them, nineteen missed. If, however, the edge of the blade found its mark only once, it was a terrible blow, and it was not unusual to see an arm cut clean from the body."

    Parquin, Charles. Military Memoirs (Trans. and Ed. BT Jones, London 1969, reprinted Greenhill Books 1987).
    Sweord ora ond sweordes ecg.

  19. #94
    I spotted an interesting 1796 variant on a visit to Thirlestane Castle in the Scottish borders today.

    http://www.thirlestanecastle.co.uk/

    It was a (visibly reground) 1796LC blade in an early 1821 pattern hilt. Very piratical! I was sure I'd seen one on the forum before but can't relocate it if I did.

    No picture, because photography's prohibited (unfortunately).

  20. #95
    Just spotted p96 of the 1968 Society of Army Historical Research journal, which briefly reviews "Scientific Soldier" and citing the mention of the "old chestnut" of this thread's subject being "retailed once again".

    The author's initials are B.R. - Robson, I assume?

    I trace the origin of this legend/myth back to 1933 with this quote from Ffoulkes and Hopkinson, also in the SAHR Journal;

    http://tinyurl.com/6rzl9g (not as shown, 1932, but '33 - Vol XII to be exact)

    The authors even refer to it as a "legend", though they appear to accept on face value that a complaint was made. There must be a yet older source for this story. Le Marchant's memoirs (compiled/written by his son Denis) are available online, and there's no mention in there of outraged French officers in that:

    http://tinyurl.com/5ot8jc

    As what is now an exercise in folklore, any takers for an older reference than 1933?

  21. #96
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan S Ferguson View Post
    Just spotted p96 of the 1968 Society of Army Historical Research journal, which briefly reviews "Scientific Soldier" and citing the mention of the "old chestnut" of this thread's subject being "retailed once again".

    The author's initials are B.R. - Robson, I assume?

    I trace the origin of this legend/myth back to 1933 with this quote from Ffoulkes and Hopkinson, also in the SAHR Journal;

    http://tinyurl.com/6rzl9g (not as shown, 1932, but '33 - Vol XII to be exact)

    The authors even refer to it as a "legend", though they appear to accept on face value that a complaint was made. There must be a yet older source for this story. Le Marchant's memoirs (compiled/written by his son Denis) are available online, and there's no mention in there of outraged French officers in that:

    http://tinyurl.com/5ot8jc

    As what is now an exercise in folklore, any takers for an older reference than 1933?
    The Legend and subsequent quote about '...the unsportsmanlike behavior of Wellington's Light Horse' seems to have emanated from
    'History of the 16th Light Dragoons' by Colonel H Graham Volume 1 published in 1912. I don't know if Graham cited his source for this statement?
    Robert

  22. #97
    Thank you for that Robert. In an admittedly speedy scan over lunch I tried to locate this within the Graham book, to no avail.

    Do you have a more specific reference, by any chance?

  23. #98
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan S Ferguson View Post
    Thank you for that Robert. In an admittedly speedy scan over lunch I tried to locate this within the Graham book, to no avail.

    Do you have a more specific reference, by any chance?
    Jonathan
    I have a note that it is to be found on page 245 of Volume I which mentions Napoleon's Generals in the Peninsula protesting to the Duke of Wellington.
    As this is a so called 'legend it could be possible that Graham quoted his source, even if hearsay!
    Robert

  24. #99
    Thank you for the reference Robert - that explains my lack of luck - it's in an appendix (#1)entitled "Arms and Equipment". Unfortunately there is no source quoted. Here is the full text;

    "In 1784 swords with curved blades were substituted. These were good cutting weapons, but were nearly useless for giving point. Their chief defect was the want of a proper guard for the hilt, and many men received severe wounds in the hand and forearm in the Peninsular War for this reason. The cuts, however, inflicted by the British cavalry with this weapon were terrific, and their severity was actually on one or two occasions formally complained of by French generals. They thought their wounded savagely and unnecessarily slashed."

    I can't make much sense of this, since the writer seems to be conflating several distinct patterns of curved sword in use between 1784 and 1810 or so.

  25. #100
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    Hopefully I'm not repeating something already said. The book Sword, Lance and Bayonet by Charles ffoulkes & E.C. Hopkinson page 19 "Its terrific wounding power was frequently noted in the Indian wars of the early nineteenth century, and there is a legend that Napoleon's generals in the Peninsula protested to the Duke of Wellington against the weapon as being too barbarous" quoted from Graham, History of the 16 Light Dragoons, I, 245. Also page 50, 51 ""As a cutting weapon in the hands of a skilled swordsman its effect must have been terrific, indeed there is a legend that Napoleons generals protested in the Peninsular War against this"unsportsmanlike" behaviour of Wellington's Light Horse". Still no official record!

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