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Artillery Swords- Useless?

Discussion in 'Civil War Weapons and Ammunition' started by D.H. Hill, Apr 20, 2017.

  1. D.H. Hill

    D.H. Hill Private

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    Artillery swords are often dismissed as outdated and useless at the time of the war. Part of this is probably due to their general absence in period photographs of field cannoneers, and also to the remarks of General Gibbon, who argued that small arms of any type should not be given to cannoneers as it would lead them to use their significantly lower firepower to cover a withdrawl rather than sticking to the piece and driving off an attacker with canister.

    Gibbon's remarks were prompted by suggestion that field artillerymen should carry short swords, carbines, and pistols into the field. This proposition was not fulfilled during the war to my knowledge. Rather the 1861 regulations called for only the chief of piece to carry a saber on the battlefield, so he could use it to direct the piece, much as a line officer uses it to direct his infantry. The sabers of the men actually manning the gun would be placed in or on the ammunition chests. I think this was so they would have access to them whilst riding on the limber- when this practice was abolished they probably went elsewhere and were almost never used. Drivers would also carry this weapon (and sometimes pistols or possibly musketoons) in case they had to cut their way out of a tight spot. As they were not manning the piece they would not have to worry about the weapons getting in the way. They also had the option of hanging the sword on the saddle. Cannoneers I think would only usually wear their swords, etc. when performing guard duty, or if detailed to act as cavalrymen.

    I think part of the idea that artillery swords were useless comes from short swords, which WOULD be absolutely useless on the battlefield... and thus were issued to foot artillery, viz. heavy artillery which almost always fights behind breastworks. A short sword would be of vastly greater use in trench warfare, and its length would prevent its getting in the way (as much). The field artillery were to be issued the 1840 model light artillery saber (in practice some federal artillery got cavalry sabers), which being longer could be used on horseback or as a guide for maneuvers.

    Anyhow just my thoughts on the subject.
     
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  3. redbob

    redbob 1st Lieutenant

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    They were probably used more for clearing brush around the emplacements than for defending anything.
     
  4. originalrebelyell

    originalrebelyell Corporal

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    I agree the prob were.
     
  5. ucvrelics.com

    ucvrelics.com Sergeant Major Forum Host

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    They were but if the yankees got in the guns I would like to have something.
     
  6. Don Dixon

    Don Dixon Private

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  7. D.H. Hill

    D.H. Hill Private

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    I think that in a trench or gun emplacement a cannoneer with a short sword would have an advantage over an infantryman with a bayonet due to the confined spaces encountered since a bayonet is a thrust-only weapon, and a long one, and would be relatively difficult to bring to bear. Thus what we have is:

    Short Swords for Foot Artillery:
    Building fortifications/ clearing brush
    Trench fights

    Sabers for Field Artillery:
    Directing movement
    Cutting your way through when withdrawing a piece through hostiles

    The reasons the weapons were issued to their respective branches and not the other way round I think are clear. If the yanks get in your guns in the field you are going to lose them sabers and pistols or not, so you'd run away. If they got in them in your fortifications you would have something better suited to that kind of warfare (until everyone started fighting in trenches...).
     
  8. ucvrelics.com

    ucvrelics.com Sergeant Major Forum Host

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    Here is a Boyle & Gamble from my personnel dug collection that I excavated back in the 80's at Shiloh.
    DSCN5954.jpg
     
  9. John Winn

    John Winn Captain

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    I looked into the issue of side arms for field artillery batteries and what I was able to find indicated that neither swords or handguns were very common, at least not for those actually manning the guns. I believe that's because they were just in the way and the crews needed to be as light on their feet as possible. It's certainly true that a battery could be overrun and a side arm would have come in handy but I think they just made a sort of risk-benefit analysis and decided that they were better off with less hardware as the likelihood that they'd actually get to use such was minimal and it got in their way.

    Edit to add: field artillery were generally protected by infantry or, less so, by cavalry. If things got too close they packed up and retreated. So, while batteries were sometimes surprised and overrun, generally that didn't happen and hand-to-hand combat wasn't common. They knew that and thus mostly made the decision not to dink with carrying side arms. While I don't doubt some might have had wished they did have a side arm at some point I also think they made the right decision based on probability of need. The same has been debated about cavalry that gave up sabers; just not considered worth the trouble (better to have another revolver or a repeater rifle).
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2017
  10. Richard E. Schenk

    Richard E. Schenk Private

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    A thing I have always wondered about: Everyone seems to agree that the M1832 Foot Artillery sword was a fairly worthless weapon. On the other hand, I note probably the most commonly available Confederate swords are Confederate versions of the foot artillery sword. If they were so useless, why did the CSA spend so much of their limited capacity in making them?
     
  11. major bill

    major bill Major Forum Host

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    In general Civil War swords and sabers were of limited military value. Why were M1832 Foot Artillery swords and less useful than if foot artillery troops had been armed with different swords? Could one state arming foot artillery or even light artillery with swords or sabers was of limited military value?
     
  12. kevikens

    kevikens 2nd Lieutenant

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    The French artillery sword which looks almost exactly like the US model 1832 and, may have served as the model for the US model, was issued to the French infantry to replace the briquet of the Napoleonc era. It was seen by the French as a secondary arm for their foot soldiers. The French liked to issue their infantry short swords along with a bayonet. The French soldiers nicknamed them 'cabbage choppers' which may be an indication of their actual utility.
     
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