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Confederate Swords and their Owners
The great conflict between the North and the South in the U.S. came at a time of great change in military tactics and strategies. Gunpowder and artillery were in their heyday yet still had their drawbacks in that they could run out during combat, leaving the engaged soldier with no weapon. Every soldier had a knife or a sword, usually both, to fall back on.
The Confederate soldier was in general, an excellent horseman and a dead eye shot from years of hunting with rifles on their farms back in the South. Most Southerners were from agrarian backgrounds as cities were few and far apart. This gave the Confederacy Cavalry an advantage over the city born and bred Northerners who opposed them.
They preferred their rifles to their swords but the swords could be utilized when the ammo ran out. On horseback, these swords, which were rarely sharpened past the tip (the exception being Nathan Bedford Forrest, who sharpened both sides of his heavy saber), would be utilized as bludgeons to knock back enemy soldiers or with a stabbing action rather than a slashing movement. This type of use led to enemies suffering from broken arms and particularly, collarbones, an area of vulnerability.
Why bother with a sword if what you needed was a bludgeon? Weight and status seemed to be the reasoning. A sword, even the heavy sabers were able to be worn or placed on the horse, were small enough for maneuvering and light enough to grab quickly and use effectively. They were also beautifully crafted with etchings inscrolled on the blade and “CSA” always found engraved as well.
One Confederate soldier complained that all he did with his sword was use it to cook his meat over the campfire. Southerners did not usually fight with swords as they considered it an outmoded form of defense, preferring their rifles and pistols. This led to the Union troops jeering at them and often was heard before a battle “Pick up your swords!” as the Union troops preferred to fight that way.
But the Southerners that did fight with the sword were fierce swordsmen and not to be taken lightly. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a businessman and plantation owner who had been born to a poor family and had made his fortune as a slave trader and farmer. When he found out that the Confederacy could not afford to outfit the Tennessee Volunteers with horses, ammo and swords, he offered to pay for an entire regiment. Through this action, he came to the attention of his superiors and the Governor, Isham Harris, he was quickly promoted to Lt. General and given his own battalion to lead and train.
His men, Forrest’s Cavalry Corps, were considered some of the best in the Confederate Army, although Forrest had no formal training and his tactics and strategies were unusual. His Elite Forces, which were his guard and consisted of 40-90 men, were the best in his unit and were formidable during battle.
Another famous leader was General Jo Shelby whose sword even today is much admired and replicated. No collection of confederate weapons is complete without it and it is recognizable by its intricate designs on the blade.
No matter that the swords were the last weapon used by the Confederates. Every Cavalry officer, every leader owned one and those collectors today still appreciate their beauty and the memories of those who owned them.
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