Bayonet charges

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#1
Hello , I have heard many different things about the usage of the bayonet in combat. How often was it actually used in battle for attacks and defence? Also how many bay et charges where there during the war ?
 

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jackt62

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#2
Traditionally, bayonet charges were intended to rout an enemy line, precluding the necessity for actually bayoneting enemy soldiers up close. (The 20th Maine's bayonet charge at LRT is in this category). In any case, from all I have read, even these types of bayonet charges in CW combat were infrequent. There have been studies of wounded soldiers and the type of weapon that was used; most wounds were caused by musket/riflery, followed by artillery, and with bayonet wounds a very distant third place.
 

AUG

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#3
Usually one side was routed or withdrew before two lines of battle got close enough to engage in melee combat, attacker or defender, and if they did it usually didn't last long before one side was routed or surrendered en masse. Although there were a few exceptions that did see a lot of prolonged hand-to-hand combat, like the battle of Glendale/Frayser's Farm, Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania or the Crater at Petersburg.
 

Arioch

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7th Pa. Reserves @ Glendale...the brawl for Randol's battery...also an intense hand to hand slugfest...
 
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#7
The 22nd Ky was involved in two documented bayonet charges, both successful at driving the enemy from their positions. But as others have said, it was rare it seems to actually engagements with these charges.
 

PatW

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#8
According to accounts, bayonet wounds they were almost never observed by surgeons. This data would suggest that bayonet charges were not really a significant factor in the war.

But, a reply to that is that bayonet charges occurred and were important. The claim here is that soldiers unless they have extensive training do not like sticking another soldier with a bayonet. They will club him with the rifle butt, or punch him, or wrestle him but will do virtually anything to avoid sticking him.

Another thing is that surgeons only saw living patients. Perhaps, bayonet wounds when they occurred were done in the passion of the moment and the victim suffered multiple stabs which had a very high chance of being fatal.

If we go back to the Napoleonic Wars, English infantry doctrine emphasized multiple close range musket volleys until the enemy line wavered. When that happened, the British infantry would launch a bayonet attack. They also used this tactic with great success in the Revolutionary War. American militia did not have the training to stand up to a bayonet attack and generally ran. Continental infantry could contest a bayonet attack.

According to sources in those wars, very few bayonet wounds were suffered. But it is acknowledged that the bayonet attack was important in many battles. The reason for the lack of wounds is that the receiving side ran and did not suffer bayonet wounds or they surrendered.

I believe a similar dynamic occurred in the American Civil War. If you faced a determined defender, the only way, short of shooting them all down, to dislodge them was to launch a bayonet attack. Soldiers on the receiving end generally retreated rather than accept a bayonet attack or they surrendered.
 
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#9
My research is in a very limited area, but it wasn't rare for the 14th Iowa to hear "fix bayonets" in 1864:

They did that when taking Fort DeRussy in March. The rebels surrendered.

At Pleasant Hill, La., April 9, 1864, preparing for a rebel cavalry charge, "“We were ordered to fix bayonets, and those in the front line dropped to their knees with their guns on the ground, while the line behind stood with guns to shoulders ready to the press the bayonets home in the horses’ breasts as they charged.” (John Ritland of the 32nd Iowa wrote in 1922.) The dense was devastating to the cavalry, but I haven't seen a record of whether the muskets or bayonets did more damage. I'm assuming the muskets did. In the same battle, Confederate Major-General Walker had given orders to rely on the bayonet to save time and ammunition. Conferate Major-General Taylor wrote in his report of the battle that “these orders were well carried out as many ghastly wounds among the federals testify.”

At Bayou de Glaize May 18, Brigadier General Mower ordered Colonel Shaw's brigade to charge with bayonets, and Brigadier General A. J. Smith reported they did so "with terrible slaughter."

And at Harrisburg, Mississippi, July 15, from a letter to Davenport, Iowa, Morning Democrat editor signed "Veritos": "The 14th and 27th Iowa and the 114th Illinois were immediately ordered into line of battle, to fix bayonets and charge the enemy’s position, which they did at a double-quick, and to reach the enemy we had to ford three ponds of water, waist deep; but Iowa’s brave sons never falter, when heroic valor is required. We charged three rebel brigades and one battery, and drove them over a mile, killing and wounding a great number of them."
 

AUG

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#10
Fixing bayonets definitely wasn't rare; they usually had them fixed in most frontal assaults and sometimes when defending a position as well. So it's not that bayonets or bayonet charges didn't see use, just that actually getting close enough to stab someone or getting into a prolonged melee fight was rather uncommon.
 

Specster

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#11
7th Pa. Reserves @ Glendale...the brawl for Randol's battery...also an intense hand to hand slugfest...
I think if I somehow made it to a battery that was firing grapeshot and cannister at me (flanking? Dumb Luck?), Id be pretty irate at those fellows.
 

Specster

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#12
""...Another thing is that surgeons only saw living patients. Perhaps, bayonet wounds when they occurred were done in the passion of the moment and the victim suffered multiple stabs which had a very high chance of being fatal."

If you have seen a ACW bayonet up close, the wound it leaves, IMO, is worse than the WW1 "Trench Knives" AKA Knuckle Busters with a triangular blade. The knives were banned 2 years into the war by conversion because the wounds could not be easily closed. I would imagine an ACW bayonet would leave a similar wound but much larger than the Trench Knife...the wound is a triangular hole and its hard for a surgeon to seal the wound with stitches. I think bayonet wounds would be frequently lethal.
 
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#13
Unless things have changed, bayonet training is still a part of (at least in the Marine Corps) basic training. However, I believe that it is more a part of confidence building/self discipline than anything else. The use of the bayonet in American combat has persisted at least through the Viet Nam War. That said, the modern bayonet is more of a multi use tool than anything else. Then and now:
Civil-War-Bayonet.jpg
M9.bayo.P (2).jpg
 
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Tom Elmore

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#14
At Gettysburg, out of 2,672 casualties on my list whose cause of injury has been described/documented, just six (0.2 percent) involve a bayonet. Three of those six resulted from the clash between Wofford's Georgia brigade and the 4th Michigan in the Wheatfield on July 2. The Georgians, upon emerging from the woods on the western edge of the Wheatfield, found themselves in very close proximity to the 4th Michigan, making a hand-to-hand encounter unavoidable. The threat posed by the bayonet far exceeded the actual damage caused by the weapon itself, making "its bark worse than its bite." I consider it more of a psychological weapon that boosted the confidence of the user while instilling a primal fear among those on the receiving end.
 

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