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The American Training Bayonet 1858-1912
Pictures from American Bayonets 1776-1964 by A.N. Hardin, Jr.

Bayonet History

    The bayonet is a special weapon in the American arsenal.  Like the sword, the rifle bayonet harks back to the Renaissance, where the bayonet came to replace the short spear or pole arm.  English military men in the 1600’s liked this new weapon as “it could give hurt either near or at range”, but the early bayonet was little more than a long dagger rammed into the barrel of your rifle, and you could not shoot with it in place.

    By the Revolutionary War, the bayonet had evolved into a spike about 14-18” long.  Some were round, others triangular, in cross-section, still others had more of a “T” shaped Rib along the top, but all were similar in that they were powerful stabbing weapons.  These spike bayonet was a popular design, and would stick with us in one form or another from 1776 all the way through to the end of the Nineteenth Century.

    A second type of bayonet that became popular in America after about 1840 or so was the sword or saber bayonet.  True to their name, these bayonets looked like small swords or sabers, depending on how much curve they had to the blade.  They had between 20-26” blades, and were capable short-swords in their own right.  After about 1860, a new style of Bowie-knife influenced sword bayonet also starts to be seen, which is similar to the saber bayonet, but with a larger belly and the Bowie’s characteristic clipped point.  Though all these sword and saber bayonets looked fierce, they were probably better utilized as hand weapons then on a rifle.

    The third major type of bayonet, seen mainly in the closing years of the Nineteenth century, was the final evolution and the type we still use today - the knife bayonet.  These were shorter overall than earlier bayonets, and were all capable of functioning as a utility or fighting knife, as well.  The 1898 Krag-Jorgensen model was a true Bowie knife, with a wide full blade and upswept clip point.

    Unlike the sword or knife, the bayonet as a weapon has always been military in nature, and has never been in popular use among civilians.  To the military mind of the 19th century, though, the bayonet was seen as the fourth form of fencing, along with foil, eppe’, and saber.  Wearing a standard fencing mask and jacket, they practiced assaults with flexible training bayonets made of metal or whale-bone, with the first official training bayonets being issued in 1858.  Also to this end, several instructional manuals were written for officers, including one by General George McClellan himself in 1862.

    In training the bayonet, soldiers would learn to affix and remove it on command and how to guard against cavalry and infantry using the real bayonet.  They also would drill the motions of bayonet fighting as a group drill using the live blades.  When it came time to practice assaulting (actually fighting), soldiers would wear a plastron (jacket), mask, and gloves from fencing and use these following kinds of blades, affixed to old service rifles.

1858 Model, with blade made of whale bone.  The tip is an India rubber ball, covered with leather.  There are many nearly identical specimens to be found from this time period, with the blades made either of whale bone or spring steel.  One design uses a narrow spring steel blade encased in a leather sheath

1862 design from Scientific American magazine.  Never official in US Army, but shown here being used by two Zouave.
The man on the left is using a parry in tierce, while the man on the right attacks using a thrust with development.

1906 Model, meant to fit only on a mock rifle used for training, as opposed to using old, no longer fireable rifles.

1912 Model, also meant for use with dummy rifles.

    During the 30's and 40's, the use of the Pugil Stick in training replaced the use of the fencing bayonet for good.  The training emphasis has also shifted, and in many quarters of the military today it's training is regarded more as a way to simply produce aggression than to pass on fighting techniques.  The pugil stick of today is designed also with safety in mind, and with many of them the soldiers can not release their hands from the weapon.  This causes the fight to be more of a swinging affair than a thrusting one, and disallows the use of many classical techniques like Lunge Out, known better in modern day by the name John Styers gave it in Cold Steel, "Throw Point", where the weapon's tip is thrust a great distance and retracted with one hand.  This method gives an advantage measured in feet to the man who uses it correctly, which can be a deadly advantage in close combat, but one sadly no longer emphasized in training, and in fact is no longer found in the manuals for any of the US services!

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