Discussion About John Brown's Broadswords.

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I'm curious, during the Pottawotamie massacre it is said that broadswords were used to hack pro slavery men to death.

" The three men were escorted by their captors out into the darkness, where Owen Brown and one of his brothers killed them with broadswords. John Brown, Sr. did not participate in the stabbing but fired a shot into the head of the fallen James Doyle to ensure he was dead. "

Does anyone know about said swords? I know JB got pikes from a Massachusetts Blacksmith, but I know little about the broadswords.

 
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byron ed

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My understanding of it is that they were surplus 1832/33 U.S. Artilleryman's swords, many made by Ames. The pattern was based off a French military pattern that had itself evolved from the ancient Roman short sword. Mostly passe' by the 1850s, these swords nonetheless were in Federal inventory until 1873 or so, and the cash-strapped Confederacy appreciated the pattern enough to copy and issue it to their forces during the Civil War.

The type was intended as an Artillery foot-soldiers weapon, having enough weight that it was to be swung at the shins of enemy cavalry horses to break their legs as they breached the battery; its pointed tip then to dispatch the fallen rider. It came to be, though, that officer corps didn't want personal weapons of any sort (sword or pistol) issued to cannon crew; that they should only consider the gun itself (and implements) as their last defense lest they abandon the cannon too quickly. Enemy cavalry all had revolvers by that time so the practicality of a short sword had eroded anyway. Some pose that they were used to cut away brush occasionally.

John Brown's band may have sharpened the edges such that it became a slashing weapon, which they used to hack apart some pro-slavers. In some writings of John Brown he openly admits his purpose was to employ high terror to achieve an overall goal of discouraging further attacks by pro-slavers (as opposed to just shooting them).

From incidents like this and from the murderous incompetence Brown demonstrated later at Harpers Ferry, we know John Brown was no Christian, and ultimately quite selfish in his delusions - to his own family and band inclusive. Yet upon his death he was sainted because it served the anti-slavery movement to encourage that. We are naive to hold him in high regard today.
 
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My understanding of it is that they were surplus 1832/33 Artilleryman's swords, many made by Ames. The pattern was based off a French military pattern that had itself evolved from the ancient Roman short sword. Mostly passe' by the 1850s, they nonetheless were in Federal inventory until 1873 or so, and the cash-strapped Confederacy appreciated the pattern enough to copy and issue it to their forces during the Civil War.

The type was developed as an Artillery foot-soldiers weapon, having enough weight that it was to be swung as a somewhat sharp club to break the shins of enemy cavalry horses that had breached the battery, it's pointed tip then to dispatch the fallen rider. It came to be, though, that officer corps didn't want personal weapons of any sort (sword or pistol) issued to gun crew; that they should only consider the gun itself (and implements) as their last defense lest they abandon it too quickly.

John Brown's band may have sharpened the edges such that it became a slashing weapon, which they used to hack apart some pro-slavers. In some writings of John Brown he openly admits his purpose was to employ terror to achieve the higher goal of protecting free-staters from further attacks by r (as opposed to just shooting themattacks
Awesome, thank you so much. I suspected it might be an Artillerest's sword they were using.
 
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byron ed

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There was no 1834 pattern of the U.S. Artillery short sword, whatever that Confederate copy is claimed to be.

Anyway they all look about the same. Here's an example of the 1832 U.S. pattern Brown's men used:

1575240778168.png


I use a high-quality repro of this in my presentations on Brown.
 
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Don Dixon

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My understanding of it is that they were surplus 1832/33 U.S. Artilleryman's swords, many made by Ames. The pattern was based off a French military pattern that had itself evolved from the ancient Roman short sword... The type was intended as an Artillery foot-soldiers weapon, having enough weight that it was to be swung at the shins of enemy cavalry horses to break their legs as they breached the battery; its pointed tip then to dispatch the fallen rider.
The Ames "short artillery sword," which was intended primarily as an engineer tool rather than a weapon. Well trained gunners would have used it for clearing fields of fire and building field fortifications to protect their guns. It was patterned after earlier French fascine knives. In the Germanic armies the term was faschinenmesser (fascine knife), and the short sword length knife was carried by engineers, pioneers, and artillerymen. The Swiss cantons also copied the French fascine knife also, but the use of theirs was clearer because it had saw teeth on one side. The Ames "sword" has been widely ridiculed by modern authors who did not understand its use and incorrectly believed that its primary intended use was as a weapon.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 
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FedericoFCavada

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The pikes were built by Charles Blair of Collinsville, Connecticut:


I'm away from my library at the moment, but I believe there is a book citation with an image of one of the Potawatomie reprisal killing "broadswords" and it is a double-edged, straight bladed Ames type foot artillery sword modeled after the French foot artillery and infantry briquet and talabot swords based on Classic Roman gladius designs.

While the design doubtless made a handy fascine knife and/or machete, the Romans seemed to do quite well with the originals as a weapon, albeit usually with shield too, no?
 

byron ed

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The Ames "short artillery sword," which was intended primarily as an engineer tool rather than a weapon....the Ames "sword" has been widely ridiculed by modern authors who did not understand its use and incorrectly believed that its primary intended use was as a weapon...
The ridicule you speak of is a reenactorism, not author naivety. Authors are correct in believing the U.S. 1832 contract Artillery short sword was intended primarily as a defensive weapon, per the government requirement and specification in that initial contract. Yes certainly, as you point out, it served as an engineer's (perhaps you meant sapper's) tool.

One physical clue to its intended purpose though are the fullers ("blood grooves") on both sides of the blade. Extravagant for a tool. Also, every artillery battery had a battery wagon full of purpose-designed tools; axes, hatchets, shovels and sickles, so the sword was auxiliary to those for the purpose of clearing range.

But let's rely more on militaria experts -- who in majority indicate the intended role for the sword was defensive. The second reference below mentions some official alternate uses, while the third one is pertinent to how John Brown obtained the type:

from U.S. Swords, Arthur Wyllie (c)1980, 2005 - pg 27:
“In 1832, an official sword for the men of the foot artillery was adopted... The purpose of this sword, according to regulation, was to ‘equip an artilleryman so that he would be able to defend himself against a cavalry charge.' ...According to the manual, the artilleryman was supposed to stand and face the charging cavalryman...When the horse fell, he should then, in turn, down the helpless soldier. Despite it’s relative uselessness, this sword remained regulation for all foot artillerymen for as long as swords were carried...”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
from U.S. Army Swords 1832-1865 - The Golden Age of U.S. Army Swords (a presentation based the author's book Civil War Cavalry and Artillery Sabers, 1833 through 1865), John H. Thillman 2001
"- In 1828 Lt. Tyler was in France to study artillery. He sent examples of French accoutrements among them the sword
-- This sword was carried by the Foot Artillery from 1832 through the 1880’s. It was made from 1832 to 1862
-- It was also used by NCO’s and Musicians till the model of 1840"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
from Rafael Eledge, Arms & Militaria appraiser (per PBS Antiques Roadshow Billings Montana June 10, 2010)
“...it’s a model 1832 short artillery...the initials beside the 1843 production date...are for Joseph C. Bragg,who was the inspector for the U.S. Government...he’s the guy that said this is worthy to be used by the U.S.A. government...it had to pass muster...a lot of times if they didn’t they went to state contracts, smaller contracts or were sold privately...”
 
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byron ed

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The confusion with fascine knives is understandable though, leading to misidentification at times.
Here's the French and German fascine knives of that time:

1575412172120.png


1575412260469.png


...and here's the French Artillery short sword of that time, the pattern the U.S. adopted:

1575412845734.png
 
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Don Dixon

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The ridicule you speak of is a reenactorism, not author naivety. Authors are correct in believing the U.S. 1832 contract Artillery short sword was intended primarily as a defensive weapon, per the government requirement and specification in that initial contract. Yes certainly, as you point out, it served as an engineer's (perhaps you meant sapper's) tool.

One physical clue to its intended purpose though are the fullers ("blood grooves") on both sides of the blade. Extravagant for a tool. Also, every artillery battery had a battery wagon full of purpose-designed tools; axes, hatchets, shovels and sickles, so the sword was auxiliary to those for the purpose of clearing range.

But let's rely more on militaria experts -- who in majority indicate the intended role for the sword was defensive. The second reference below mentions some official alternate uses, while the third one is pertinent to how John Brown obtained the type:

from U.S. Swords, Arthur Wyllie (c)1980, 2005 - pg 27:
“In 1832, an official sword for the men of the foot artillery was adopted... The purpose of this sword, according to regulation, was to ‘equip an artilleryman so that he would be able to defend himself against a cavalry charge.' ...According to the manual, the artilleryman was supposed to stand and face the charging cavalryman...When the horse fell, he should then, in turn, down the helpless soldier. Despite it’s relative uselessness, this sword remained regulation for all foot artillerymen for as long as swords were carried...”
The following primary War Department sources:

A System of Exercises and Instructions of Field Artillery, 1833

A System of Exercise and Instruction of Field Artillery, 1843

Instruction for Field Artillery, Horse and Foot, 1845

Instruction for Field Artillery, 1860

which were four of the field manuals used for field artillery training prior to the Civil War are available on-line through Haithi Trust. In reviewing them, I was unable to locate Mr. Wyllie's citation. If the foot artillery sword was to be used tactically to attempt to resist cavalry, presumably its use for that purpose would have been discussed in the army's field artillery doctrinal publications.

There is no confusion over fascine knives.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 

byron ed

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...If the foot artillery sword was to be used tactically to attempt to resist cavalry, presumably its use for that purpose would have been discussed in the army's field artillery doctrinal publications...
...or their use as sapper's tools, if that were the case. There's detail that isn't covered in those official books. That's what cadet training is all about. (To mention the big ole fat Gibbons, the primary artillerists manual of the time, there isn't one specific diagram or procedure provided for cannon drill, for instance).

There is no confusion over fascine knives.
You're welcome, but because "Artillery short sword" has become more of a stance than a topic (among reenactors anyway) I think the confusion will continue.
 
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FedericoFCavada

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Well, I've been poring over the books I *thought* had a picture of the "broadsword" used by Brown and his followers in Kansas, but I cannot find it. Online, there are several images of the Ames artillery short sword, copied from French artillery short swords and post-Napoleonic infantry briquets, but it seems that these may be "examples" rather than the genuine "real McCoy."

In any case, the points of the nefarious servile insurrection pikes were modeled on a double-edged dagger seized from one or another Missouri "border ruffian." At least one sectional Southern newspaper put an "actual size" drawing of the pike point as proof of the warm feelings of Northern abolitionists toward their neighbors and as something of a rejoinder to Northern cartoons about the 1856 beating sustained by Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner at the hands of SC Preston Brooks--"Southern Chivalry: Arguments vs. clubs."

Recall that during the actual raid, it would seem that John Brown had taken a small sword from the Washington estate, and possibly a pistol too. This 1700s gentleman's small sword purportedly had been a gift from the king of Prussia to George Washington, and had been handed down within the family as an heirloom. The symbolism of this is quite similar to political violence/terrorism in 20th century Latin America. The Colombian rebel group "M-19" brazenly and audaciously stole the sword of Simón Bolívar from the museum where it was displayed, proclaiming that the work of "liberation" remained uncompleted and so they'd have to take the Liberator's sword... The subsequent day, the group burgled an army garrison's armory, helping themselves to the rifles and machine guns therein.
 
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byron ed

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...Recall that during the actual raid, it would seem that John Brown had taken a small sword from the Washington estate, and possibly a pistol too. This 1700s gentleman's small sword purportedly had been a gift from the king of Prussia to George Washington, and had been handed down within the family as an heirloom...
...that refers to the later Harper's Ferry raid, that is. The broadsword hacking incident occurred much earlier in Kansas. We'd sure like to see that image if you do come across it.
 

FedericoFCavada

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Yes. To clarify: The theft of the Geo. Washington sword was during the 16-18 Oct. 1859 "into Africa" raid at Harpers Ferry Federal Arsenal. The use of "broadswords" by Osawatomie Brown's four sons and two others to stab and hack to death James P. Doyle, William Doyle, and Drury Doyle, Allen Wilkinson, and finally William Sherman--missing Henry "Dutch Henry" Sherman, one of the intended targets occurred at Pottawatomie, Kansas, in late 24 May 1856--two days after the Preston Brooks/ Charles Sumner incident became known to Brown.

I looked through a good many books on Brown's life and the Harpers Ferry raid, including a few that are very profusely illustrated, but thus far have not found the image... Hopefully I can find it. In the meantime, online, there are a number of images of Ames artillery short swords, but thus far none appears to have actual authentication to Bloody Kansas...

Incidentally, I think that when many people hear "broadsword" the basket hilted variety from Scotland comes to mind... In actual practice, the Spanish frontier "espada ancha" literally "broad sword" was a short little thing, with a straight blade. These were double-edged early on, and later gave way to single-edged varieties. One might think of the Model 1841 Naval Cutlass as something of a representation. Blade length varied from 18-in. to 25-in. So "short sword" perhaps is a better or more descriptive term, and might explain why the "foot artillery sword" or "Ames short sword" is not so described?
 
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