Article's Done for the O.K.C.A. in 1997
The 1849 Rifleman's Knife
This is the one, the grand daddy of them all, considered by many to be the first Official U.S. Military Fighting Knife. Actually designed and approved in 1848 it took over a full year to produce and ship the 1000 knives ordered. The reason for this long wait was due to the huge number of presentation swords being ordered at the time. The Mexican War was recently on and the rush to decorate all the gallant soldiers of the era took precedence in the manufacturing process. Congress and various State Militia's had commissioned many swords made of Gold and Silver which kept the Ames Manufacturing Co. booked for a year in advance.
In 1847 Nathan P. Ames passed away, which gave way for James T. Ames, his brother and stockholding manager, to operate the company. In late 1847 James proposed several design's of knives for mounted troops in regards to a contract about to be let by the U.S. Government. The most rugged and heaviest of the design's was selected by the War Department as the knife to be produced. A contract was signed on March 8th of 1848 for the procurement of 1000 of these Mounted Rifleman's Knives with matching scabbards. Unfortunately in several previous letters to the War Department it had been explained that production capability was far behind in orders. Apparently the Mounted Rifleman's Knife took a low priority to all the presentation swords being produced at the time. The knives were finally delivered to the U.S. Arsenal on May 5th 1849 at a price of $4.00 each .
The Rifleman's Knife is a very large piece. Total length is 18 inches, the blade is 11 3/4 inches in length ,1 5/8 inches in width and 1/4 inch thick. The blade is non fullered and has a central ridge running full length to the spear shaped point. It is single edged with a 3 inch false edge running up the back. The walnut handles were routed to accept the blade tang and were held in place by three brass rosette headed rivets installed from the obverse side. A thin brass ferrule was passed through the end of the grip to allow an attachment of a wrist thong. This was deemed necessary when mounted to prevent dropping and loosing the weapon. The handles were finished by shaving the corners to a more rounded or oval feel. Of the knives I have examined no two handles are exactly alike owing to the hand made, rather than machine made, fit and finish. The guard was made of solid brass and is 3 7/8 inches in overall length and tapered to meet the handle. The markings on the knife are as follows: Obverse Ricasso " AMES MFG. CO. / CABOTVILLE / 1849" Reverse Ricasso " U.S. / W.D.". The reverse guard is stamped with "WD" and "JWR". These are the initials of the Arsenal inspectors of the time, William Dickinson and Major James W. Ripley. It's interesting to note that these may have been the last products to have been stamped with the CABOTVILLE logo. The records show that the stamping at Ames Mfg. Co. was changed in 1848 to "Chicopee / Mass". This change was due to the incorporation of tiny Cabotville into the larger township of Chicopee. One can only speculate why the marks are as they are. Were the blades made in 1848 and finished in 1849 or was this due to the pattern being Cabotville so all the production, in order to be approved, followed suit? The scabbard was a black leather affair with brass mounted throat and chape. The throat held a brass stud for attachment to a leather belt frog.
Due to the extreme rarity of these knives the best chance you will have of seeing one is in a museum. In many years of military knife collecting I can only remember seeing two for sale. While the 1849 Mounted Rifleman's Knife would absolutely make the centerpiece in any military knife collection, the price is definitely not for the weak of heart. These knives have been collectors items for many years, Francis Bannerman advertised the 1849 Rifleman's Knife in his 1927 catalog as a "rare weapon" and a "museum exhibit". The price including scabbard was $20.00. These knives have been reproduced in recent years so approach with caution, buy only from a reputable dealer who is willing to refund your money at any time should any questions be raised.
I remember the first time I saw a Rifleman's Knife was in Larry Thomas' American Military Edged Weaponry Museum. I just stood there for awhile looking at it. Larry wandered over and started telling me about that particular knife. We both agreed if only the knife could tell us it's story, now that would make one interesting article.
The Trowel Bayonet
As the saying goes "Truth is stranger than fiction" so are the weapons our troops at times fielded. In this essay we will cover the phenomenon known as the Trowel Bayonet. The time frame of 1866 saw the end of the Civil War and the shift of the United States Army to the role of westward expansion. The natural landscape dictated a change in the fighting doctrine of the troops. In the east hardwood forests and rolling hills yielded natural fighting positions and concealment. In the move west across the Great Plains this natural cover was almost non existent. In many of Frederick Remington's paintings you see soldiers lying behind their horses for cover. This was not conducive to winning, for if your horse was wounded or worse dead it was a long walk back to the fort. What was needed was an entrenching tool. In an effort to cut down the weight load of the soldiers it was planned to incorporate this entrenching tool into an already issued piece of equipment. Thus was born the intrenching bayonet. The name trowel was taken from the bricklayers tool that the intrenching weapon resembled. The intrenching or trowel bayonet was first standardized in 1868. The last model was introduced in 1873. In these 5 years 4 primary models were distributed as issue. All are known by the year in which they were standardized. Model 1868, 1869, 1872 and Model 1873. Of the 4 distinct models only the 1873 was made in any thing to be termed a large quantity, 10,706. The cost of the first series was $6.13 each The model 1855/70 bayonet of the time cost approx. $2.00 each. The difference in price was due to the manufacturing method and design used. The first model used an 1855/70 bayonet as a base with a flat steel plate welded on the top of the bayonet itself. In each successive model the cost was brought down as the method of construction was enhanced.
The method of employment used was also diverse. The trowel was meant to be used as a hand tool for digging. Some liked the extra leverage gained by mounting the bayonet to the end of the rifle. Needless to say plugged bores and bent barrels were the order of the day. To combat this misuse a circular was issued in the proper use of the trowel bayonet. The following is an excerpt from that manual on the commands and use of the bayonet. "The commanding officer will command "Prepare to form trenches - March". At the command March, the battalion, if in one rank, or if in two ranks, the front rank only, will step about five yards to the front in a continuous line; but it need not be straight, this being determined by the features of the ground, so as to take advantage of any natural cover. At the command "Draw Bayonet", the men will draw their bayonets by grasping the shank with the right hand, nails towards the body, point of the bayonet downwards. At the command "Commence Work", They will drop on the right knee, as when in the position of firing when kneeling, throwing up as much earth and as rapidly as possible to their front." As can be seen this was a well thought out and rehearsed drill. The problem was in the men using this weapon \ tool. Soldiers from all ages as well as today will not carry what does not work. Though extremely rare to find today the trowel bayonet when discovered is in unusually good shape. This can only be attributed to the fact that most were never used. Testing continued from the initial acceptance right up to the day that the trowel bayonet was discontinued. It was just never readily accepted by the rank and file trooper. In just about every test the bayonet was subjected to the one common response was in the look of the weapon, it was fearsome.
The scabbard for the trowel bayonet was an all leather affair with a brass tip. The first models were fully stitched using rivets only to hold the brass tip in place. On later model the belt loop was also riveted for added strength. The fixed position was deemed a hindrance to many so the replacement model used a snap link as the belt attaching device. This was short lived as the succeeding model reverted back to the much stronger full leather belt loop. A patent was issued to Felix Chillingworth on December 1, 1868 for the scabbard pattern. This same basic pattern was used for the life of the trowel bayonet. The throat contained a section of spring steel to hold the bayonet in place and prevent dirt from entering. The short life of the trowel bayonet was announced by the arrival of the intrenching knife. The intrenching knife hung around for about twenty years before the decision was made to convert to a real intrenching tool, a shovel. Short lived the intrenching / trowel bayonet played an insignificant part in the taming of the west. It is only remembered due to its curiosity and rarity as a collectable.
Well, by the time your reading this the BIG SHOW will be right around the corner. This month I wanted to take the opportunity to ramble a bit about some shows I've been to in the past, the deals made and I hope, still waiting to be made. Like most knife enthusiasts my idea of a good weekend is walking a few aisles and hopefully finding that "great buy". That's right, "great buy", that's the term I use for a knife I actually took home with me. The price was so ridiculously low I had to make certain it wasn't a fake or reproduction. Some other categories I have are "great find" or "great tale". The "great find" is a knife that the person selling it usually knows what they have. The price is about 3 times the "book value". These knives most often are rare versions that have been identified in a reference book as rare or valuable. The problem with these are, you would have to be a Sultan to afford it. The "great tale" knife is just that, a story knife. Over the years I have held the very knife George Washington peeled an apple with, the knife Abe Lincoln had with him at Gettysburg, the knife....... well you get the picture. These knives are always from a Great Aunt or Uncle handed down through the family. Documentation is completely void but it would be like insulting the family honor to even ask for it. I myself find all three just as entertaining on these weekend treks but for obvious reasons the "great buy" is my favorite.
My favorite "great buy" knife was landed less then a year ago. Early on a Saturday morning I found myself at the doorway to a local gun show paying to enter. Out of the corner of my eye something orange caught my eye, as I turned to look it was an Orange handled Gerber dive knife. WOW!!! This beauty was sitting with a pile of other knives of various types. I was about seven people away from plunking down my money and getting the familiar hand stamp. Nerves started running high, Adrenalin was pumping and I hadn't even entered yet! As I moved one closer to paying a fellow walked up and picked the knife up, I wanted to yell to him PUT IT DOWN. He only moved it out of the way to look at some others. Good, coast is clear again. One more closer to enter and I started to think, why didn't he buy it? Bet it was a "great find" priced among the stars. Well I wanted to look anyway but it took all the fun out of it as I knew I couldn't afford it. Back to standing in line. Okay pay the entrance fee "No I am not carrying any weapons Thank you", change back in the pocket and fill out the giveaway card. No sense in rushing now. I casually walk over to look. Shock set in, the price tag says $45.00. Can't be, must have read it wrong, look again. $45.00. I pick up the knife and pull it out of the scabbard, the blade is mint. O.K. what kind of cruel trick is this, I know, Candid Camera, look around for the camera stupid. From this point on you know the drill, NEVER put the knife back down. That has happened to me twice, I put the knife down to get the money from my pocket and BINGO, somebody else picked it up. Anyway I got the fellows attention as I was interested in the knife. When he strolled over and said "Hello" I tried to respond but nothing came out. Again I tried but only managed a feeble grunt. Clearing my throat I managed a quiet "How much"? He looked at the tag and said $45.00. Normally I would counter offer but by this time I had already started to perspire quite a bit. This was NOT the time to quibble a price, even for fun. I reached down into my pocket to pull out my money and managed to drop it all over the floor. Bending down I could hear my heart beating, as if were about to explode. This couldn't be true, a knife that I had seen only weeks before priced at $1900.00 for $45.00, must be dreaming. I started to gather the money but I was shaking so hard it was difficult to count. After I handed him the cash he smiled and said "Thank You". Now panic was setting in, WHY was he smiling? Did he just get me or something? What was wrong with the knife? Well the reason he was smiling was he just made $25.00 profit in about 15 minutes. It seems he just bought the knife off a guy that just walked in. He was happy, I was relieved, all was well. That was perhaps one of the most difficult transactions I had ever made. Time slowed down, it was all a blur, but the new pride and joy was mine. Any one who has ever had "Buck Fever" knows the feeling well. Everything is going your way but for some unknown reason you just seem to lose all control. I love the knife but NEVER want to repeat the experience, it actually hurt.
The "Great Find", is not really that rare of an occurrence. Most show goers have run across that one particular knife that makes them do a double take. STOP, LOOK, VERIFY, YES that's really what I thought it was, but no price in sight. Wait for the dealer to finish the transaction in progress so as not to be rude, and ask to see the knife. I have learned NOT to ask the price up front, look at the knife first. If you do accidentally ask the price first you may pass up the chance to actually handle a rare specimen or worse, offend the chap by laughing out loud. After you have examined the piece carefully ask how much they are asking for it. At this point you could..... Act interested, hand it back immediately or ask further question on the knifes background. I usually look a little longer then hand the knife back thanking the seller of course. Experience has taught me to hold the laughter until out of ear range. Sorry folks but Faberge Eggs are out of my price range. I must admit I have viewed many rare knives in this way. Reason being, most are NEVER sold until the owner realizes the price is way too high. Show after show I have seen these knives in the same case.
The "Great Tale" is one that truly amazes me. I often have to ask myself, "Do I have stupid painted on my forehead"? What would make folks believe these amazing stories? In most cases I DO NOT believe the dealer is out to swindle me, he, or she, actually believes the story themselves. Some are real whoppers that no one could buy, like the George Washington one I recalled in the beginning of this article, others are just forgeries by inept crooks. These latter ones are the most often seen. Just about every large military show I've been to has the classic USMC "World War II" Ka-Bar for sale. Problem is the knife was more then likely made within the last few years. The knives, as being produced today look very close to the World War II knives but there are differences if you know what to look for. Once again experience tells me to keep my mouth shut. In the beginning I would try to explain to the seller that the knife they have was a fake. WRONG, again an insult to the family in the making. Just two weeks ago I saw one that really got to me. It was the USMC Fighting Utility knife again but this one even had the leather scabbard marked from the Marine owners World War II battles. When original, these scabbards are like a diary of the true experience, prized by some collectors as curio's. The part that really got me was the piece looked good but the writing told the true story. It was marked "Guadalcanal / August / 1942" with various dates of battles for the island. Apparently somebody forgot to inform the forger that this particular style of knife was invented and distributed almost a year AFTER the battle for Guadalcanal.
This is not meant to be negative in anyway. I have enjoyed each and every experience if only as a learning one. I for one am looking forward to this show as I do every one, who knows that "Great Buy" might be just lurking around the next bend. Let's race to see who gets to it first.
The Georgia Pike
"Let every army have a large reserve, armed with a good pike and a long heavy side knife, to be brought upon the field, with a shout for victory, when the contending forces are much exhausted or when the time comes for the charge of bayonets." The above is an excerpt from Governor Joseph E. Browns Proclamation to the Mechanics of Georgia.
On a recent museum trip I was confronted by a long spear like weapon unique in design. Upon further investigation it turned out to be a Georgia pike. Used from the very onset of the Civil War these pikes filled a need in the Confederate armed forces for weapons. By most accounts about 2,500 Georgia pikes were made by the "mechanics" of Georgia and turned in to the state arsenal. These pikes were distributed from there to the soldiers to repel General Sherman's Army as it marched into Georgia. When Governor of Georgia, Joseph E. Brown's Proclamation was announced on February 20th of 1862, it was addressed to the "mechanics of Georgia" The term mechanic was another name for an armorer or craftsman. This was indeed a splendid idea for these young fellows, for if they were employed in the making of weapons they were exempt from the draft. Many old blacksmith forges were fired up in the production of pikes. The design as set forth in the proclamation called for a pike with a staff length of six feet. All makers could receive the plans from the state arsenal. When the pikes were finished they were to be final inspected at the arsenal also. Two of the largest producers of pikes were Samuel Griswold of Griswoldville Georgia and H. Stevens of Augusta Georgia. Griswold was perhaps more famous for his Griswold & Gunnison brass framed revolver design then his pike making. With his machine trade background Griswold produced 100 revolvers per month for three years before the war was over. 3600 revolvers was quite a feat in the south. Both of these makers pikes were of the clover-leaf design being composed of three blades. The main blade in the center was of a leaf shape with the small two side blades extending out of the bottom at 90 degree angles. The main blade was 10 inches in length as the side blades were 3 1/2 inches from point to center. The head was attached to the staff with 24 inch wrought iron straps riveted through the wood. The wood was to be of Ash but in some cases Georgia pine was substituted. Together with the six foot staff these pikes made a formidable weapon when matched against a bayonet charge. State records show Griswold supplied 804 pikes at $5.00 each to the arsenal for final approval. Stevens supplied 655 also at $5.00 each. These two makers are famous because they were of the few who stamped their names into the blades. Most of the Georgia pikes made were unidentified.
Several designs were made and accepted. Many of these were ornamented as well. These included the confederate flag in dots, C.S.A. with a single star, and C.S.A. with 11 stars to signify the states. These designs, with single straight blade closely followed the original pattern set at Milledgeville, home of the arsenal.
Many of these pikes were included in the weapons captured by General Sherman. They were stored at the arsenal in Augusta by the general for safe keeping. They remained there until 1904 when they were sold at auction as surplus. The famed Francis Bannerman company purchased about 1200 of these confederate pikes in that auction. At that time pikes were not really high on any collectors list and they sat in storage for some time. To make them more appealing for sale Bannerman made up displays by welding them into various shapes. Some had the staffs shortened and painted red. Some had the heads gilded. I have run across several of these red short staff pikes over the years.
Today a pike in original condition is quite rare. Some have only the head intact as the wooden pole has decayed over the years. Prices are sky rocketing on Confederate arms of late and the pike is no different. I have seen pikes priced at over $2500.00 sold in minutes. While most are generally lower in cost the Georgia Clover leaf can bring upwards of $1000.00 and the Georgia retracting blade can go as high as $1500.00. The pike was not a glamours weapon then or now. It merely acted as a stop gap weapon for an unarmed man to kill his opponent and then retrieve his firearm. Perhaps this is why so few pikes remain intact today. If used successfully the pike was discarded and the soldier now "owned" a newly liberated weapon.
For further reading on all types of American pikes check out American Polearms by Rodney Hilton Brown and Confederate Edged Weapons by William Albaugh.
Theatre Made Knives
A new phenomenon has caught on quite rapidly in the knife collecting world. This is very interesting in itself as the normal rules do not seem to apply. I have been taught and as well advise others to ALWAYS buy the knife not the story. Unless the story can be documented with evidence or proof of fact, it is just that, a story. With this new interest this is certainly not the case. It seems that the story is just what makes the knife. These hot new items feature almost none of the know collector traits. They are usually not in mint or even unsharpened condition, they do not have a desirable factory pattern or do they exhibit well known maker names. Just what is it that has recently caught our fancy? Theatre Knives. Also known as soldier made, trench art, or shop knives. These are not to be confused with the cottage industry knives that were produced during World War II in American home workshops. Many of these well known knives have been collectibles for years, such as M.H. Cole Knuckle knives, Murphy Combat knives , Richtig, Nichols, etc. etc. What we are talking about here are knives either completely made or reconfigured somewhere in a battle zone. Many of these knives have Plexiglas handles, which often times replaced the leather washers rotted away after being submerged in salt water. Plexiglas in rear areas was often gathered from airplane bubbles or windshields. This unending supply was routinely tinted to make the handle more colorful. Anything to liven up the surroundings was fair game. It is often said that war is comprised of 98% boredom and 2% sheer terror, this 98% allowed for a lot of spare time on ones hands. Blades were many times formed from ordinary pieces of metal found lying around any heavy equipment repair shop. Grinders were in most shops, so it was a natural to grind blades in that spare time too. Many of these theatre knives retain a typical blade of issue to the branch of service, as these too were easy to come by. Pommels and guards when replaced were mostly made of aluminum. Easy to form or work aluminum was favored for it's light weight and high polish luster.
One of the most treasured finds in this new market is the scabbard. Scabbards were made of leather which made them easy to mark. Some scabbards can literally trace the movements of the fellow through his tour of duty. As a new city, country, or island was liberated, the scabbard was so marked, usually with the date the soldier was there. These scabbards though so easily faked are the key to some of the stories that abound with this type of knife. Imagine the yarn that could be spun with a scabbard marked Iwo Jima, or Okinawa. One visions hand to hand fighting while shells burst overhead, machine gun bullets whizzing by as the enemy is slain with the knife you are now holding. Hold on a minute Walter Mitty, back to reality.
Studying these knives over the years and asking lots of questions I found out these knives were often made by rear area troops. Seabees and Army Engineers were the largest producers as they had the material and machinery to make this task come to fruition. The most common way for an average soldier to come by one of these knives was by trading for it. When the front line troops were relieved and sent to the rear they often times had hard won souvenirs. These souvenirs were then traded to the knife makers for a custom knife that the combat soldier knew would one day come in handy if only to open a ration can. Alcohol was also a highly prized trading commodity but often traded for a good knife.
Knives were and still are a prized commodity to the combat soldier, and a custom knife is the ultimate. The knives we see today are these prized belongings of a time gone by. Some of the original owners pass these on to a younger generation who do not care what story is behind the knife. As time goes by many of these warriors are regrettably no longer with us so the true story of the knife is again no longer available. In those rare instances when a knife and it's original owner part company with documentation to the facts, that's the knife I would like to find. Now that's a story even I would be willing to buy.
The Bayonet, Evolution and Design
The actual beginning of the bayonet as suggested in the title is unknown. What we do know about this edged item is only through the bayonets themselves. Precious little has been written about the earliest days of the bayonet and what is written is often only a line or two. For many years the bayonet was thought to have originated in France. The name bayonet is accredited to the French town of Bayonne in the southernmost region of the country. Most students of the bayonet today agree that the origins are likely to have happened in Spain. When thinking of the bayonet, armies in parade or charges over the top of a trench are a likely thought. The bayonet is so ingrained in the military thought of today one would have to stretch the imagination to believe it was not invented as a soldiers tool. Whether we choose to believe it or not this is precisely the truth. The first recorded source of an armed force using a bayonet was some 70 years after the first recorded use as a hunting tool. Yes that is correct, the origins of the bayonet were for use by hunters.
Most historians believe that the bayonet was first used in the 1570's to 1580's by the people of Northern Spain. That is not to say the user's or builders were Spaniards, actually the Basque people of the region are credited with this distinction. From it's use by the common people the bayonet was really championed to the foreground by royalty. Boar hunting was a sport of the wealthy but a sustenance by the commoner. Weapons of the time being of one shot with an extremely long time in reloading between forced the hunter to place his one shot well. Anyone familiar with hunting hogs will know of their fearless reputation. It is to this, the inaccurate arms of the day and the unskilled hunter, that the bayonet owes it design to. On the hunt it was usual for a backup hunter to carry a pike for the finishing of the job. A luxury that nobility could afford but the common man was lacking. Carrying two weapons was unwieldy when the musket of the day could weigh up to 20 pounds. The idea of inserting a knife or more likely a pike tip into the barrel would cut down on the hunters load while using the musket length and weight to advantage. In essence the Plug bayonet was invented. To whom we owe this distinction is a mystery. If I were to guess I would say a practical man was behind it, not some Kings Armorer.
The earliest known bayonets are shaped like that of the hunting lance. Long thin blades to reach the vitals of the animal. Another style was that of an "arrowhead" design. It is simply shaped like the tip of an arrow, thin tip widening back to large proportions. Most of the earliest plug bayonets will have a full length cross guard to help in the insertion of the bayonet into the barrel while helping to extract it from the animal if the need should arise. As in any item used in the field they were rather plain looking utilitarian tools for the common man. Royalty on the other hand used the bayonet for dress purposes as well. Rare examples today can be seen in museums with exotic wood, ivory, stag and even jeweled handles. These are thought to be more of a status symbol then a working tool. As in any other artifacts what we see today are the items collectors or family put away for safe keeping. Very few of the actual working plug bayonets exist. They should be thought of as extremely rare yet do not bring the prices of the stylish pieces.
The grip of the plug bayonet is what gives it the characteristic look and appeal. For the plug bayonet to work it must be inserted into the musket bore. To hold it in place the grip tapers upward towards the hilt. The bayonet is simply inserted until the widening grip will not go any further. With one last push it is securely in place. The musket bayonet is then ready to perform duty. It also ensures, even if time allows, the musket can not be fired again. While going in for the kill by hand assures the ultimate in Adrenalin rush it also leads to an uncertain future of the hunter. Used as a hunting tool the plug bayonet survived for a few centuries. Traditions, right or wrong are hard to break. Hunting plug bayonets can be found to exist as late as the 1850's in this popular sport. The use in military circles was not nearly as long. You see the hogs did not shoot back, the enemy did.
The Bayonet, Evolution and Design
In this, Part II we will explore the conversion of the hunting arm to that of military icon. The plug bayonet did present quite a unique military problem. It was useful in the final troop engagement where swords and pikes were the order of the day. The obvious advantage was now every infantryman was also a pike man. The disadvantage was the musket was inoperable. In the very earliest times the bayonet was truly a war like tool. Close fighting was the only way known. As the Armies and tactics grew around the gun, that policy changed also. Battles were slowly becoming standoffs between the two opposing forces. Lines of infantry were developed with the musket men being three deep. This formula was to give time to the slow reload procedure for the weapons. The classic infantry line had the first line firing then dropping to reload while the next line stepped forward to fire. This meant the ground covered took quite some time. Generally the ranks broke or scattered before the actual hand to hand fighting took place. It also called for a quicker reload, something that could not happen with a plug bayonet. It is in this time that the socket bayonet was born.
The socket bayonet is just what it sounds like, a tubular socket attached to the blade that could be slipped around the muzzle of the arm to leave the bore exposed for reloading. In it's earliest form the socket was a slip on affair brazed or welded to the blade. Most bayonet blades of the early design carried a knife or sword blade configuration. In this way the blade could also be of some use as a cutting tool. Many manuals were written about the use of the bayonet in war and it is to this that the French had become known as the fathers of the bayonet. While the thrust was taught the blade endeared itself to hacking or slashing also. Perhaps this is the reason or at least one of the reasons it quickly became obsolete. The musket barrels of the time were rather crude soft iron, easily bent on a slash. The sword blade socket bayonet was changed rather quickly to the more common cruciform or triangular shape.
The triangular bayonet dominated the battleground for close to 200 years. It is the most common socket bayonet found today around the globe. Changed to a pure thrusting weapon, tactics on the battlefield evolved around it. The socket bayonet also underwent changes during it 200 year reign. The most significant was the attaching method. From a simple slip on attachment to more complex rings and locks, today this is the way bayonet models are determined by the advanced collectors. While most socket bayonets look alike, there are hundreds of different varieties for the specialized collector to choose from. Minor differences in length, socket diameter, locking method , etc. can change a collectable from $20.00 to 250.00 or more. The mounting method used is still popular today in other items of everyday use. Most popular 35mm cameras of today use a "bayonet" mounting system for attaching their lenses, the light bulbs in the taillights of the automobile you drive have "bayonet" mounts. It is simply stated "a slotted passage to affix two objects as one". Many mounts were tested over the years but the mortised slot is the most common. In it's many configurations it can appear as a "T" slot or that of an "L". The slot on the socket allowed the bayonet mount to slip past the front sight and twist around it to prevent it from simply slipping off. At first there was no other attaching method. If fitted properly the bayonet was locked in place by sheer friction. As armies grew and arms were manufactured at a higher rate all bayonets could not be hand fitted to every musket. An increase in the tolerance would allow the bayonet to move about and eventually fall off in battle. Springs were tried in the beginning as an attachment method. These springs were attached to the musket itself, not the bayonet. It didn't work. The early Swedish socket bayonets used a "wing screw" to add pressure to the junction. This approach did work to clamp the bayonet in place was also found to be impractical. Later springs were added to the socket of the bayonet itself, while more practical this idea was also discarded. The solution almost universally agreed on was the locking ring. A simple ring surrounding the socket with a cutout to match the slot in the bayonet socket. This bayonet and ring could then be slipped over the front sight and with a quick twist of the ring the slots no longer aligned. Fast, efficient and practical the locking ring method lasted right up to the end of the socket bayonet era.
Most socket bayonets when mounted on the arm were positioned to the right side. Occasionally a left mount will be found. Bottom mounting was not considered for use as this is the position that the ram rod took on the arm and would interfere with the reloading process. The elbow that attaches the bayonet blade to the socket also underwent changes in development. At first they were short pieces keeping the bayonet more in line with the arm itself. To facilitate faster reloading the distance from the bore was increased. In some instances the blade was mounted on an increasing angle from the bore. Eventually the most popular distance seemed to be about one inch. Socket length was standardized if that word can be used loosely was around three inches. One notable exception was the English Brown Bess at four inches.
Today in the United States socket bayonets can be found ranging from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War. Collecting of these bayonets is not as popular as it once was so they can be picked up for a bargain. That is if you know what you are looking for.
The Bayonet, Evolution and Design
here we last left off the bayonet in use was the cruciform and triangular "socket" type. The existence of the socket bayonet for so many years led to experimentation in it's use. One of these experiments led to the development of the sword bayonet. The time frame in use of the sword bayonet actually paralleled the spike bayonet but for purposes of this essay we are using this development as the second design. The socket sword bayonet never really caught on in many countries. Besides the obvious reasons, weight on the muzzle of the rifle, the socket sword bayonet was a dismal performer in either configuration. The sword bayonet was just that, part bayonet and part sword. Lengths varied by manufacturer and country of origin. Most if not all of the early bayonets were manufactured with a detachable handle, usually of wood, to be used in the sword application. The idea for the sword bayonet is likely to be found in the ever present problem of the infantryman, weight. The disadvantage of the spike socket bayonet is that it is useless unless mounted to the rifle. The sword bayonet on the other hand was designed to be used with or without the rifle. If a soldier was issued a socket sword bayonet he could forego the extra weight of a sword for use in battle. This actually was a contradiction to the way set battles were taught in the era. If the soldiers "held the line", the sheer volume of firepower was the most efficient way to win a battle. If the line was not held or "the ranks were broken" the result was a unorganized free for all. This last option was the great fear of the then modern commanders. In these circumstances the sword with it's slash and cut power was the ultimate weapon in self protection. While the rifle with bayonet attached had the upper hand in reach, it was also awkward in use with close quarters combat.
The actual life of the socket sword bayonet was short, the idea of the sword bayonet however did live on. Generally accepted as the origin date is 1700, the final chapter of the sword bayonet is however quite controversial. Most authorities could set the date at around 1850 for the end of this era. It was at this point in time that the second stage of design was instituted. The early sword bayonet design was dominated by the Hirschfanger look. The later designs took on more of the modern look that we are familiar with today.
It should be noted to the collector today that the sword bayonet was never a piece of general issue to the common infantryman. It was, rather, an item of specialized use and issue. The sword bayonet was issued mainly to the "rifle" companies, as opposed to the general use of smooth bore muskets. These rifleman were employed at greater distances as the accuracy of their arms allowed for much more precise fire. This is not to say that they were the only ones issued such items, it is merely included here as a reference point to the scarcity of these bayonets. In many cases Artillery troops were also issued the sword bayonet.
The sword bayonet also during it's career let the way in the development of mounting practices. The socket mounting was simple and effective for the triangular or spike bayonet. The sword bayonet presented many different obstacles to the normally easy union. The socket sword bayonet without handle was useless. Many variations of detachable handles were tried but most were lost or probably thrown away by the weight conscience trooper. To make a more effective arm the handle had to become an integral part of the bayonet. Creating a comfortable and useable handle that fit over the muzzle of the rifle was quite a challenge to the designers. Again the distance from the muzzle to the blade had to allow for rapid and easy reloading. In the case of the sword bayonet it really did matter if the blade was too close. In the heat of battle, reloading, could in effect put a soldier out of commission if he sliced the back of his hand across a sharp sword blade. In many cases the hand guard of the sword doubled as the socket, in others a socket was attached to one of the quillions. Most of these designs did not allow for a strong and rigid lockup to the rifle. In all cases modesty won out as the bayonet was not pleasant to the eye. A sword in the era was a formal piece of dress and many a soldier spent all their hard earned pay to have a custom presentation piece made. It had to look good.
In the next installment we will cover the last of the socket type bayonets and the transformation into the modern mounting systems. Stay tuned.
The Bayonet, Evolution and Design
As promised in last month's article, today we will explore some other socket designs. In continuing with the dual purpose of the socket bayonet, much like the sword bayonet, an intrenching bayonet was developed. The intrenching bayonet was uniquely an American idea. The vast expanses of the new American west presented conditions unlike any others yet encountered by the United States Forces. With lack of cover for concealment new tactics had to be developed. During the Civil War, Confederate troops taught the Union forces the value of covered fire, sniping if you will. On the plains this method was difficult for a lack of trees to hide behind. The horse was the preferred method of cover at first, that is until troopers found that walking home was not a good option.
The first model Trowel bayonet was an experimental model of 1868. Little is known of the production of these but several sources refer to the National Armory as the makers. The testing and usage is well reported in Ordnance files with dates starting in 1869. Several models of the trowel intrenching bayonet were developed from 1868 through 1873. They never seemed to really catch on with the troops. It seems they were neither fish nor fowl, they were not good bayonets and they were not efficient shovels. Many respected military men of the day attested to the worth of the intrenching bayonet. The proof was in the usage. Unfortunately most of these bayonets were never used, as soldiers had done for years, they discarded anything they could not eat, shoot or provide cover from the elements. The trowel bayonet was seen as a mere additional weight to be carried and never used. One interesting letter I have seen was from Major Reno of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment dated July 11, 1876 to the Chief of Ordnance. This letter was on the topic of the battle for the Little Bighorn and the use and misuse of weapons. He stated " I also desire to call attention to the fact that my loss would have been less had I been provided with some instrument similar to the trowel bayonet, and, I am sure, had a opponent of that arm been present on the night of June 25th, he would have given his right hand for 50 bayonets. I had but three spades and axes, and with them loosened ground, which the men threw into piles in front of them with tin cups and other such articles as could in any way serve the same purpose." When needed the idea of intrenching was to do it quickly and do it deep, tin cups were hardly efficient for this purpose.
Luckily for all involved the idea of the intrenching bayonet died. With the emergence of the true knife bayonet of the future it seems the Ordnance Dept. also could see the worth of a true intrenching tool. The design of this tool was still a far way off on the late 1800's but the idea was firmly planted. Several knife designs were to be used and a knife/tool concept was tried but it all came back to being practical and just using a shovel as a digging instrument. Which by the way we still use today. Just as a side note, the entrenching tool (folding shovel) of today has turned out to be a fearsome weapon. Many letters and testimonials have been written about it's use in actual combat. When swung it can do serious damage. It was an often used weapon in the coming trench warfare of World War I and a hand to hand combat tool of the Marines in the Pacific of World War II. By some accounts it was actually used more then the knife in close-in fighting. The Russian Army of today actually gives instruction in it's combat use and keeps the edge sharpened for just this purpose.
The modern mounting system of muzzle ring and locking tab was an overlap in design. The socket design was a true bayonet, being used only when attached to the muzzle of the rifle or musket. In a search for a more utilitarian design the handle was added to allow use while not mounted. The new system allowed the soldier to have a knife or sword for a number of different uses and still be able to mount the weapon to the riffle for use as a bayonet. As designs and uses changed the bayonet was also adapted. The actual use of the bayonet was in a decline since the invention of the rapid reloading of the rifle. During the Civil War less then 1,000 cases of death by bayonet were recorded by the Union surgeons. Although I'm sure the number was much greater it explains the change to the primary use of the bayonet.
The European use of the bayonet with muzzle ring was much earlier then the U.S. They also used a twin mounting lug system which was the predecessor of the muzzle ring as far back as 1790. The twin mounting lug while in use with the Europeans was never a big hit with U.S. arms designers. The muzzle ring mounting was the route taken on most domestic arms from about 1841 to the present excluding the socket system. Next month we will explore the modern systems of mounting. Stay Sharp.