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Civil War Swords - Historical Background
Considered the hallowed weapon of the great classical warriors,
the sword held a special romantic appeal to soldiers of the American Civil
War. It served as an emblem of honor, a symbol of rank, and – if
necessary – a savage and brutal weapon. Officers bragged
of the pedigree, the sentimental value, or the fine craftsmanship of their sabers.
Cavalrymen, foot officers and artillerymen carried many varieties of swords and sabers –
some resembling ancient Roman weapons, others looking more like a Cossack’s
saber or a Persian scimitar.
Although the rise of the rifled musket had made the sword virtually obsolete in the infantry it was still of value to an officer who was rallying his troops or bully frightened troops back into the ranks. Many officers used their swords as pointers in the din of battle. Perhaps the most famous and poignant example was Confederate General Lewis Armistead at Gettysburg. During the climax of Pickett’s Charge Armistead, unable to make himself heard above the roar of Union cannon and musketry, placed his hat on the tip of his sword and held it high to guide his troops to the “High Point of the Confederacy.” Moments later he was killed, still clutching his cherished sword. The Union veterans who had defended Cemetery Ridge that day recovered the sword and later returned it to the survivors of Armistead’s Brigade.
There are some accounts of cavalrymen, especially Union troopers, wielding their swords with deadly results. At Brandy Station, Virginia, in June of 1863, Confederate Cavalrymen reprimanded their Yankee foes for attacking them with swords rather than the more “gentlemanly” pistols.
Although he required the two-band Enfield rifle as the primary weapon for his command, Confederate General N.B Forrest continued to carry a sword. In living up to his motto “War to the sword and the sword to the hilt”, he inflicted several murderous wounds on Union horsemen at the battle of Fallen Pines in 1862 and was described as a “Scandinavian Berserker” by an admiring observer.
More Union and Confederate Civil War Swords Below
CSA Confederate Cavalry
Civil War Sword
Confederate edged weapons were produced by not only many established manufacturers but many smaller foundries and even local blacksmiths. In addition, there was also extensive importation of both the completed weapons and also of the blades which were then fitted with locally produced hilts, pommels and scabbards. As expected, this produced huge variations in both quality and style. Most, however, were relatively close copies of pre-war U.S. swords.
C.S. SWORDS & SABERS – OVERVIEW
At least 36 suppliers furnished edged weapons for the Confederacy. A few of the leading suppliers were:
Boyle & Gamble, Richmond, Va.
Memphis Novelty Works (Leech & Rigdon), Memphis, Tn. - later relocated to Columbus, Ga.
Nashville Plowworks (Sharp & Hamilton), Nashville, Tn.
E.J. Johnston, Macon, Ga.
Halfman & Taylor, Montgomery, Al.
S. Isaacs, Campbell, & Co., London, England.
Although many modern historians consider swords a obsolete by the mid to late war period, documentary and archaeological evidence prove otherwise. Although rarely used in combat, they were not completely abandoned and were employed with great effect at Brandy Station, on the second day Gettysburg in the East Cavalry field, and at Trevillian Station.
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