Real Confederate Bowie Knives

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
REAL CONFEDERTE BOWIE KNIVES

green_river_works-ad.jpg

I don't know how many posts there have been here on CivilWarTalk & other CW forums that I subscribe to that have asked for help authenticating a Confederate Bowie Knife. Almost every single one of the knives pictured in those postings are great big & clunky looking.Quite often, they are stamped with markings designed to fool a buyer into believing it is an authentic relic. As we all know, at the start of the war volunteer regiments were sometimes presented with blacksmith made "fighting knives" of ferocious size & appearance. Whether or not they could be called "Bowie knives" is in the eye of the beholder. It did not take long for foot sore infantrymen to get rid of useless items like the homemade fighting/Bowie knives.
Green River Knife.jpeg


Green River Knife by John Russell

Green River pattern knives were ubiquitous beginning with the establishment of John Russell's cutlery factory in 1834. Examples on sale at the my local super market are all but identical to the originals. This classic design is an all purpose butcher, skinner & kitchen knife. Soldiers on both sides of the CW were happy to have one of these highly practical knives in their haversack. I have one in mine. I found it beneath the floor boards of a ruined plantation slave cabin in the 1990's.

Green River Knife John Russell MFG National Museum of American History .jpeg

John Russell "Bowie Knife" circa 1855-60
National Museum of American History

John Russell also produced the hunting/Bowie knife pictured above. This design was, like all Russell designs, a very practical knife. Notice the space in front of the guard that allowed for a very secure grip during the often slippery business of butchering game. Once again, this is a knife that any soldier could have carried.


Modern Greece & Her Cargo.jpeg
In 1862 the blockade runner Modern Greece was run aground & wrecked just off the North Carolina coast. Both Union gunboats & Confederate gunners from Fort Fisher bombarded the stranded vessel to prevent salvage parties from boarding her. The Modern Greece disappeared below the waves & was forgotten until it was discovered in about 50' feet of water & archeologists salvaged thousands of objects still in place buried in sand. Among the varied cargo of the Modern Greece was a large number of knives manufactured in England.


Bowie Knives Modern Greece.jpeg

As you can see, the English "Bowie Knife" is identical to the Green River design.

Edged weapons & pocket knives Modern Greece.jpeg

Edged Weapons Modern Greece 2.jpeg


Edged Weapons Modern Greece 3.jpeg

Edged weapons Modern Greece 4.jpeg


Confederate "Bowie Knvies" were, more often than not, British knives. The patterns were variations on a theme.
Needless to say, none of these absolutely authentic 1862 knifes are at all similar to the bogus "Bowie Knives" that are so common.

Edged weapons Modern Greece 5 pocket knives.jpeg

Artifacts from Modern Greece are on display at Fort Fisher & the Museum of Coastal Carolina. I made a measured drawing of two of the knives at the Coastal Museum for a knife smith in our local blacksmith forge. One of them was a utility knife very similar to the Green River multi use knife above. The "Bowie Knife" was exactly the same blade with a clip point. Makes sense, a manufacturer would have no reason not to simplify the production. That being said, there was a type of knife onboard the Modern Greece that I have never seen anywhere else.

Pistol:pocket knife Modern Greece.jpeg

Has anyone ever seen or heard of one of these things?
I am sure that every Boy Scout that ever lived wanted one of these pistol knives. If you have encountered one of these before please enlighten the rest of us about it.

Obviously, these examples are not the end all & be all of Confederate "Bowie Knife" designs. However, these are examples of knives that were intended for delivery to the CSA in 1862. One thing they all have in common, whether Green River or British manufacture is no resemblance what so ever to the giant "Confederate Bowie Knives" that are intended to take the hard earned money of unwary collectors.

The full text of the Modern Greece excavation report is online.







 
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Cycom

Corporal
Joined
Feb 19, 2021
Location
Los Angeles, California
Cool! I do love me some knives. In fact just finished using my Kershaw to tear down some boxes.

Can anyone recommend a modern replica? I need a big blade to chop chop in my backyard.

edited to ask: were these knives used in battle as frequently as bayonets?
 

7thWisconsin

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 21, 2014
I think knives cut meat, and occasionally brush, more than they ever cut flesh, to answer your question.
My grandfather was a blacksmith in the early 20th century. He made all the tools and knives in their household because he could. One of the knives I´ve used reenacting for over 40 years is a skinning knife he made that looks very much like the classic Green River knife. It has definitely returned 100 years of service.
 

Cycom

Corporal
Joined
Feb 19, 2021
Location
Los Angeles, California
I think knives cut meat, and occasionally brush, more than they ever cut flesh, to answer your question.
My grandfather was a blacksmith in the early 20th century. He made all the tools and knives in their household because he could. One of the knives I´ve used reenacting for over 40 years is a skinning knife he made that looks very much like the classic Green River knife. It has definitely returned 100 years of service.
That’s what I call “lifetime warranty.”
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Cool! I do love me some knives. In fact just finished using my Kershaw to tear down some boxes.

Can anyone recommend a modern replica? I need a big blade to chop chop in my backyard.

edited to ask: were these knives used in battle as frequently as bayonets?
A CW soldier who suffered a battle wound from an edged weapon was rare indeed. As you will note in the photos, CW soldiers did not carry knives on their belts. In fact, infantrymen on both sides had a habit of throwing away bayonets. The days of marching up to within 20 yards of the opposing line, firing a round & charging out of the smoke were long gone.
 

Skilledhunter

Private
Joined
Jan 21, 2021
A CW soldier who suffered a battle wound from an edged weapon was rare indeed. As you will note in the photos, CW soldiers did not carry knives on their belts. In fact, infantrymen on both sides had a habit of throwing away bayonets. The days of marching up to within 20 yards of the opposing line, firing a round & charging out of the smoke were long gone.
Here is some photos of CW soldiers carrying Bowie’s ...notice where they are located.

E804-BB5-B-933-C-4-CA7-BE8-E-F4-FC871-A9-AF0.jpg

175-BD6-B4-F661-4106-B928-7-E09-E0596-FB4.jpg

012-B214-A-B353-4-EB6-8937-308482-B8-A5-C2.jpg


B4-AD9-E70-F813-4-F49-9-A82-7556-F8-F3-B4-DF.jpg
 

Skilledhunter

Private
Joined
Jan 21, 2021
“Confederate "Bowie Knvies" were, more often than not, British knives.”

95% of all the Bowie knives in America were Sheffield at that time. So they were used on both sides. Usually the term “Confederate Bowie Knives” refers to knives made here in the South specifically for Confederate Soldiers. Or at least that’s what it’s referring to in the collectors market. And Dguards are probably the most faked Confederate knife out there. Im the first to admit I don’t know much about them. They are what we collectors call the “ugly” knives. LOL. So I never really studied them as they are of no interest to me as far as collecting goes.
Dont get me wrong I do have an appreciation for them , just outside my collecting field...and they ARE a specific field of collecting and you better know your stuff before you fork out thousands!
 

Lubliner

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
So when did the bayonet convert from the tapered triangular design, to the flat-bladed 'bowie' design used later on? I was wondering if any conversions from the south may have been modified to fit on the end of a rifle.
Lubliner.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Here is some photos of CW soldiers carrying Bowie’s ...notice where they are located.

View attachment 398978
View attachment 398979
View attachment 398980

View attachment 398981
First off, good camp photos. I especially like the pistols. Of course soldiers have knives for utilitarian purposes. Like I said, I carry one myself. The question above is about bayonet vs knife wounds. Medical records on both sides agree that edged weapon wounds were rare. Posing for the cameras in camp was one thing, actual fighting an entirely different thing.

The NCO or musicians sword is especially interesting. It is one of the few images I have ever seen. I have an NCO sword that is appropriate for a very early war program. Along with shoulder scales, artillery swords & a host of other garrison decorator items they were packed up for the duration.
 
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Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
So when did the bayonet convert from the tapered triangular design, to the flat-bladed 'bowie' design used later on? I was wondering if any conversions from the south may have been modified to fit on the end of a rifle.
Lubliner.
Are you referring to so called sword bayonets? I am not an edged weapon expert by any means, but I do have an interest in blacksmithing. I have never seen a blacksmith made bayonet. Smiths certainly hammered bayonets into useful items such as spade hooks - sconces & hooks for dragging corpses. My wife unearthed a Springfield musket body hook bayonet from a flowerbed in our yard.

I have the Modern Greece cargo at hand, so perhaps it will clarify why there were a mix of bayonets issued.

Enfileds in crate Modern Greece.jpeg


Enfield sword bayonet Modern Greece.jpeg

Enfield bayonet Modern Greece.jpeg

As you can see, the Enfields on the Modern Greece were both types of bayonets.
 
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CW Appraiser

Cadet
Joined
Apr 25, 2020
“Confederate "Bowie Knvies" were, more often than not, British knives.”

95% of all the Bowie knives in America were Sheffield at that time. So they were used on both sides. Usually the term “Confederate Bowie Knives” refers to knives made here in the South specifically for Confederate Soldiers. Or at least that’s what it’s referring to in the collectors market. And Dguards are probably the most faked Confederate knife out there. Im the first to admit I don’t know much about them. They are what we collectors call the “ugly” knives. LOL. So I never really studied them as they are of no interest to me as far as collecting goes.
Dont get me wrong I do have an appreciation for them , just outside my collecting field...and they ARE a specific field of collecting and you better know your stuff before you fork out thousands!
Ugly, please don't call these wonderful weapons ugly. Some Confederates are very fine. Pick up copy of the 2012 text "CONFEDERATE BOWIE KNIVES" Mobray publishing; The crude fake D-Guards don't match the "Southern Quality" of the real thing. When researching book and scouring as many images of soldiers armed with knives, majority of Union soldiers had Sheffield bowies or side knives, but most knife-toting Confederates had "local-made" especially early war where it was an honor to use Southern made arms.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Ugly, please don't call these wonderful weapons ugly. Some Confederates are very fine. Pick up copy of the 2012 text "CONFEDERATE BOWIE KNIVES" Mobray publishing; The crude fake D-Guards don't match the "Southern Quality" of the real thing. When researching book and scouring as many images of soldiers armed with knives, majority of Union soldiers had Sheffield bowies or side knives, but most knife-toting Confederates had "local-made" especially early war where it was an honor to use Southern made arms.
I agree, some of the home grown edged weapons were very good. The Nashville Plow Works products come to mind. However, truthfully some of the blacksmith made examples are not very elegant.
 

Skilledhunter

Private
Joined
Jan 21, 2021
Yes no doubt some are very finely finished... Mr. Sexton...I know one of the authors ‘Josh” of the CBK book. Super nice guy. Not that they are actually ugly. We just tease those collectors compared to our fancy Sheffields. But I do need to grab a copy of the book, even if I don’t collect them.
 

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