The bayonet

ACW Bayonets

From my first few weeks in the Dutch Army through my time in the French and finally the US Army a bayonet was always issued with a musket, rifle or rifle musket. The bayonet is an integral part of the weapon as well as an effective weapon on its own. When placed on the muzzle a bayonet turns a long arm into a spear for use against cavalry or for sending home the assault. The bayonet rarely left my side during my military service across three continents. It would become a familiar, almost comfortable, presence upon my hip.

At Sevastopol a Russian bayonet took me in the throat and but for the action of my copain Remi I would have been but one more upon the butchers bill that day. The scar is hidden high up on my throat concealed by my beard; though the beard grows differently there. It is a constant reminder of just how close the angel of death has been to me in the past. It is also a stark reminder of how effective the bayonet can be.

The British redcoats pride themselves in their bayonet; with good reason as few are willing to stand a British bayonet charge. The French bayonet drill is effective and satisfyingly effective; though the dance as taught to us within the Legion is outright brutal. The US soldiers I trained and served with thought little of the bayonet and in a close quarters fight would as likely resort to fists and clubbed muskets as use their bayonet. This was one of my frustrations when dealing with American soldiers. In general the US soldier cared little for the bayonet and did not see it as an effective weapon. In his defense across the duration of the War of Rebellion my regiment saw hand to hand combat just once.

Pictured above are three American made bayonets of the war. The sabre bayonet on the left was issued with the Colt alteration M1841 I carried. The sabre bayonet beside it was the bayonet issued with the Harpers Ferry long range rear sight modified M1841 and the M1855 Rifle. The triangular bayonet lain across them is the standard bayonet as issued with the M1861 series arms. The quality of the steel is excellent as is the manufacture of all three. I would consider them the equal of, if not superior, any I saw upon the continent.

The sabre bayonet was never very popular with the men of my regiment though we retained them for more than half of our time in service. I kept mine through the duration of the war. The men generally complained that they were heavy, cumbersome on the march and completely ruined the accuracy of the arm when fixed. The triangular bayonet was lighter, less cumbersome on the march and did not spoil the accuracy of the arm when fixed. All are valid complaints and I would not disagree with those complaints. From my own experience I did not fix my bayonet until it was needed unless I was on guard duty in which case the bayonet remained fixed for the duration.

I’ve been told I am an odd duck in that when given the choice between a pistol and a bayonet I will choose the bayonet. I have seen far too many men miss with a pistol when their target was only an arms length away. I have never missed with a bayonet.

Men wanted to discard their bayonet but the threat of having to pay for lost equipment kept them from doing so. Most men who purchased their arms at the end of the war discarded the bayonet regardless of the model. I kept mine and found the other two in my wagon that some of the men must have decided I needed.

Draw Knife from a recycled file and a pair of framing chisels

Draw Shave from file & chisels

In a world where coin is scarce you don’t waste any more than you have to. Old files have a lot of life left in them and a good blacksmith can find many uses for that good steel. Many a worn out file has been made into a knife, froe or draw knife. The steel is of good quality and will hold a good edge. It doesn’t take too much time for a good smith to turn out one of these tools.

The draw knife is a tool used frequently being used to make everything from shingles to pegs. Framing chisels are a more specialized tool used for making the notches in the end of a log or beam that will help construct a house. They are also vital when making mortis and tennons when joining beams together for the frame of a building. All have a beauty inherent in their construction. The beauty of a useful and appreciated tool that will last.

Harpers Ferry M1841 with Long Range rear sight

M1841 Harper Ferry LR AM1841 Harper Ferry band, bayonet lug & ramrod AM1841 Patchbox Empty

I must admit that I have had a love affair with the M1841 since they were first issued to the Regiment. We had several different models in the regiment and often different models in the same company. All were in .58 calibre and had some form of rear sight and bayonet lug. The majority were issued with a sabre bayonet; though I do seem to recall a few with a standard bayonet but I may well not be remembering correctly. All had some form of effective long range rear sight. But the reality of combat had us only rarely needing to adjust our sights for long range fire as most of our firing was done at well under three hundred yards.

Originally the M1841 was designed for a .54 calibre patched round ball with a simple Kentucky rear sight. It had no provision for a bayonet and a knife was issued with it. That round ball combined with the simple rear sight was an effective weapon out to about 250 yards. The first to reach our Regiment were of the original model but these were quickly replaced by those that had been modified to fire the .58 minnie bullet and mount a bayonet. By mid 1862 all of the rifles in the Regiment were excellent M1841’s of various manufacture and modifications. In July of 62 D Company received a number of M1855 rifles. In all honesty I still preferred the M1841 and managed to hold on to mine through to the end of the war. When we returned from furlough in the spring of 1864 we received a “new” issue of the excellent M1861 series arms. There were a couple of refurbished M1855, M1861, M1863 & M1864’s in the issue and once again I managed to retain a few of the M1841’s I so loved.

I carried the Colt Alteration and liked it for its simplicity. The Harpers Ferry modified rifle you see here was of a type also present in the Regiment. They were a good weapon and in the hands of a man who knew what he was doing could make an enemy very uncomfortable at 400 yards. Their short length and reputation for accurate fire made them popular in the works before Vicksburg where my Regiment gained a reputation as “shooters.” It was also at Vicksburg where the men took up the “Indian War hoop” instead of the more common US “huzzah.” I know that war hoop scared hell out of the enemy as well as the regiments beside us. Having a few Ojibwa and Dakota men in the ranks who were apt to take scalps did not hinder our reputation.

When it came our time in the trenches we were each given a couple hundred rounds and told not to come back with any. Most of the fire was harassment fire to keep rebel heads down while the engineers and sappers worked. And work it did, our sappers and engineers were rarely bothered by enemy fire. I have no doubt our fire told upon enemy morale as they could not raise their heads without inviting a shot. Many a rebel chose furlough by bullet. Rebel fire was no less effective as they had the benefit of rather well designed and sighted works, but our fire was considerably more plentiful and I daresay more telling. I have never been one to brag of those I have killed or wounded, I prefer not to dwell upon such things. But there is no doubt when it came the turn of my men to take to the trenches we did our duty and contributed enough to the siege that when it came time to march into the newly surrendered city my Regiment was at the head of the column.

In my military careers I have carried the French M1816/22 & M1842, US M1841, M1855 & M1864. I have fired all in anger and consider the finest to have been the M1864 but admit a soft spot for that M1841. As a civilian I have carried the P53, Sharps and a shortened Potsdam. I have to admit that Sharps is quite a weapon… but hand me my M1841 as I know exactly where I can put my rounds. If I have to rely upon a weapon to shoot exactly where I need it to an if necessity demands it to mount a bayonet I will still take that M1841. She is a beautiful piece with a history and I like her.

Picture courtesy of the relicman

Picture courtesy of the relicman

Shovels

0119141914Period spade

I spent a good amount of my military career with a shovel in hand. Shovels are a wonderful invention that make digging holes much easier. Shovels are a necessity for leveling ground, digging earthworks, filling gabion baskets, setting a fire pit or a set of sinks along with so many other tasks. In peacetime they are rather handy when it comes time to dig the foundation of a building, a well or a new outhouse pit. In both war and peace a shovel will dig a respectable grave.

The shovel and spade have been around a very long time, I have been told the ancient Roman Legions used them every day upon the march to fortify their camp. They were used to build their roads and I remember seeing a few of those roads still in existence. The shovel was a part of that. I helped to build several roads, two forts and a tunnel in North Africa. I suspect the shovel I used wasn’t all that much different than what those Romans had.

Not all shovels are made equal. A good shovel has a good sharp rust free blade with a good quality handle. A smooth handle free of slivers is a plus. Ideally a long handle is there for the digging and clearing out of dirt from the bottom of the pit. Shorter handles are useful for closer spaces or lighter work. Shovel blades are typically attached with straps and rivets to the handle; though there is a newer method which I think will take off as it eliminates the need for rivets. Instead a socket is made for the blade where the handle is inserted. This also has the benefit of allowing a replacement handle to be used without a lot of work should the handle break.