Troopers, I know we discussed this on the old Cav Forum Site, but I do not remember coming to closure and agreement on it.
My question concerns dismounted Federal troopers deploying as skirmishers or fighting dismounted. Did they have their sabres attached to their sword belts? While I've only worn my sabre in garrison I found it cumbersome and distracting when I wanted to move quickly. I can understand that the Federal Cavalry may have followed the manual and done so early in the war, but as it matured into the efficient arm that it became in 1864 and 1865 did the dismounted troopers wear their sabres when fighting dismounted? If the manual states that they did wear their sabres, does anyone know of any documentation that supports any troopers not wearing their sabres while fighting dismounted? I could not find it addressed in the History of the First NY Dragoons, 1st Cavalry Division.
So, what do current Federal Cav units do? Do you wear sabres while drilling and/or fighting dismounted? How difficult is it to do so? I do know that trying to quickly remove a scabbard from the two straps on the enlisted sword belt is not a quick operation. Stay Safe, AJ
Well, I just came across a reference to the practice of strapping the sabre to the left side of the saddle to have it handy when the trooper is mounted and not in his way when he dismounts to fight on foot. It is supposed to be found in "A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers"; pp. 294-5, by B. W. Crowninshield. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy to check it. Could a 1st Mass trooper look into this reference and let me know what he finds? Thanks. Stay Safe, AJ
Howdy, I have that book and it is right where You said it would be. Here is the quote in its entirety. I hope that this helps. "The men finally learned to fasten the sabre, scabbard and all, firmly to the near side of the saddle. nearly parallel to the horses body, and when mounted throw the leg over it. It was then ready to be drawn when mounted, and was not in the way of the dismounted soldier, who had quite enough to do to take care of himself and his carbine in the thicket into which he had so frequently to march when skirmishing. On foot a sabre is seldom of use, and is dreadfully in the way" This is what is written in the preceeding paragraph... "Much of the horse equipment was cumbrous and useless. In time of war except on the plains , there was no need of lariat rope or picket pin. Even watering bridles were unnecessary. The heavy leather skirts of the saddle, intended to keep the coat from getting soiled, were found needless. Toward the last of the war the men frequently used the saddle tree without the leather skirts(they were easily unscrewed from the tree), and in order to make the saddle sit better, the men woule put their own blankets under the saddle, over the horse blanket, and thus prevent a saddle gall, and at the same time carry their own blankets more comfortably. The heavy hooded stirrups were unsightly and unnecessary, and quickly got out of shape when wet and muddy.The wooden stirrup, without the leather, was better.Many of the bits were severe." It seems clear to me that these things were done, but one has to bear in mind that even though it is documented as being done, it is hard to tell how wide spread these practices were. I have often read that as the war went on and on, some things got a bit more .... relaxed.... for lack of a better word in some regiments , but it seems to me that one must be carefull to not make the assumption that these practices were tolerated or allowed by most or many commanders.But it is very interesting to read that these things did happen just the same, I have read that it was not uncommon in time of war that some equipment got changed or modified to be more usefull or comfortable for the soldier or even the mounts. I am only saying this because I have two reenactor friends that think just because they see a origional period image of a soldier either wearing something out of the ordinary, or using something different, etc. They assume that it was how it was done all the time by everyone. I am not saying in any way shape of form that AJ is assuming this or anything, I am just trying to caution other from falling into this line of thinking. AJ, thank You for bringing this part of the book to my attention, I have not even come close to finishing it yet and now I feel like reading it some more, thanks! My GG Grandfather Hollis Haselton was in the 1st Massachusetts Cav. Co E . He mustered in on March 31, 1864 and mustered out on June 26, 1865. My girlfriend bought this book for Me, shes the greatest! Also if I misspelled something in the quotes,(and Im sure I did) please forgive Me, it look about 2 and a half million years for me to type this and correct the zillion mistakes I was able to catch! hahahahaha. I am a rather poor typist at best! Respectfully, John Rogers
John, Thank you for your post and your lengthy quote. Being a "One fingered Typer" myself I understand how long it took you. I also appreciate your cautions on "generalizing" this practice based on one documented instance. I agree with you.
I would, however, be interested if anyone else on the forum is aware of similar documented evidence of this practice of strapping the sabre to the saddle to fight dismounted that was practiced by the 1st Mass Cav.
What do recreated Federal Cavalry units do today? Do you fight dismounted with your sabre attached to your sword belt? Stay Safe, AJ
Not including posed "studio" portraits, the majority of images of Federal cavalry where the subjects are wearing sabre-belts , etc, that can be seen are wearing sabres. Original belts and sabers typically show obvious signs of use on the belt, while few scabbards show evidence of saddle attachment. I've never seen an original saddle that showed signs of having a sabre attached long term, while marks appear where nose bag, saddlebags, and other items were attached.
I have no doubt it WAS practiced. I have heard of several references either directly or indirectly to it. The next model of sabre issued to US cavalry after the was WAS designed to attach to the saddle and no doubt came from war-time experience, but I've yet to find or see evidence enough to say that the practice of attaching the sabre to the saddle was common, everyday practice - which is what we represent as reenactors - the common, everyday.
There are several directives and personal accounts that state directly that the canteen was to be worn on the person. Some time after the war the canteen got a snap swivel so it could be attached to the saddle. That appears to have influenced much of the post-war artwork of Civil War horsemen - which, in-turn, influenced reenactors.
There's an interesting wartime photo of a dismounted trooper guarding a group of Confederate prisoners. He clearly has his saber straps buttoned together, so they weren't removed from his belt in order to fasten his saber to his saddle, yet his saber surely must be someplace. He is armed with a Sharps carbine. We of the Cal 100 consider sabers largely optional; we're encouraged to wear ours, but we never draw them, therefore, most of us march and drill without. When we march with the infantry, we ignore commands to carry our carbines at "Support arms", because we theoretically need our left hands to steady our sabers. This is something the infantry commanders never quite get! On the field, when we take a knee for firing position, we throw our sabers across our left thigh, pointing down.
Post by Dave Myrick on Nov 30, 2004 16:26:17 GMT -5
Hmmm...........first let me begin by saying that one photograph alone does not justify anything. There are a myriad of reasons why the trooper in you photo does have a saber on his belt. The historical record shows that the Federal cavalry become extremely proficient in the use of the saber. Early in the war most Federal regiments were issued sabers and revolvers to the man and only a smattering of carbines. As time progressed that changed as more carbines became available, they were issued but sabers were never done away with. A simple examination of ordinance returns will show this.
As to the original question of what to do with the saber when fighting dismounted, the forse rides to the scene of action and ordered to Prepare to Fight on Foot. Troopers dismount, horses are linked and led to the rear and the now dismounted men form a line in preparation for the next commands. No where does the manual say anything about strapping the saber to the saddle after dismounting. You take it with you. A troopers weapons were mounted on his body. Reason being that if her were to become separated from his horse, he could still fight. His personal effects, blanket role shelter tent etc. stayed with the horse so if separated from his horse he could still fight unencumbered. As Jerry mentioned, I have no doubt that things out of ordinary were performed. Men tend to want to try to do things to make their lives and missions easier, this does not by any stretch mean that they were ordinary or commonly done.
Post by Jerry Todd on Nov 30, 2004 19:13:37 GMT -5
Our friend Andrew German is recovering from some recent computer woes that prevent him from responding himself as yet.
He does send on the following:
Benjamin W. Crowninshield, A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers (Boston, 1891), pp. 294-95.
"Towards the last of the war the men frequently used the saddle tree without leather skirts (they were unscrewed from the tree), and in order to make the saddle fit better, the men would put their own blankets under the saddle, over the horse blanket, and thus prevent a saddle gall, and at the same time carry their own blankets more comfortably. . . .
"Of the soldier's equipment, the rattling scabbard, with iron rings, made a ceaseless noise. Had the straps fastened directly to the scabbard, without the jingling ring, the noise would have been avoided; and on occasions, absence from this noise would have added to the efficiency of a scouting party. The men finally learned to fasten the sabre, scabbard and all, firmly to the near side of the saddle, nearly parallel to the horse's body, and when mounted throw the left leg over it. It was then ready to be drawn when mounted, and was not in the way of the dismounted soldier, who had quite enough to do to take care of himself and his carbine in the thicket into which he had so frequently to march when skirmishing. On foot a sabre is seldom of use, and is dreadfully in the way."
Davis, in Common Soldier, Uncommon War, about the 6th US Cav., notes that the volunteers were doing this by 1863, but the regulars were not permitted to do so.
Comrades, Thanks for the input to date. I am not not surprised that incidents of removing the sabre and scabbard from the sabre belt were recorded in "Volunteer" units histories and that "Regulars" were forbidden to do so as noted in Common Soldier, Uncommon War.
Interestingly, that distinction in following regulations or policies mirrors some personal experiences of mine concerning the "Regular" Army and its Reserve or National Guard counterparts.
Now, I'm still interested in what current recreated Federal Cavalry units do when dismounted to fight on foot. As I understand it the troopers of the 1st Maine (Mounted) always wears their sabres, while the 9th NY (Dismounted) does not. What about the other recreated units? Stay Safe, AJ
I know this is an old discussion but I am new to the site and thought I'd respond to the last point. We wear blue mostly, doing impression of southern unionist as a volunteer unit in the western theater. we do a lot of sword fighting around here. our commander really goes with irregular nature of the western volunteers - thus some of us ride with the saber on the saddle, some on the belt. We never fight with sabers when dismounted but those with them on the belt dismount and fight with their saber on them. Hope this helps. I sense we may be different around here with the amount of saber fighting we do - but the CS are of a like mind and we go at it. the crowd loves it and we have not problem with authenticity since this certainly occured from during the war - though we all recognize we don't do justice to the amount they dismounted and fought on foot. we do some of that, and seem to be doing more and more of it these days.
Post by AZReenactor on Jan 17, 2006 11:31:07 GMT -5
Id think they would leave it on their horse. Watch "Gettysburg" when Buford makes his stand that should give you a idea.
Garrett, This is really a poor example. Most of us want to portray Civil War Cavalry, not Hollywood cavalry in our reenacting. You need to understand that a quality reenacting portrayal really requires a great deal of careful research into original and reliable sources. The quality of your portrayal will be proportional to the quality of the research and preparation you put into it.
Post by AndyGerman on Jan 23, 2006 17:49:34 GMT -5
This is one of the many practical matters that were not recorded in detail for us.
The famous sketch of the 1st Maine on the dismounted skirmish line shows them with sabres on the belt. Those in the foreground have them properly hooked up with drag to the front, so the fellow kneeling has it pointed forward. If you wear your belt properly high, a hooked-up sabre is annoying but not completely impractical. Hold the scabbard at the top ring as you double-quick and you won't trip yourself.
However, as recorded, some volunteer units figured out how to sling their sabres on their saddles, presumably with the straps attached to the saddle rings (though I haven't tried it). I've never seen a photo or sketch showing that arrangement.
Samuel Cormany of the 16th Penna. Cav. noted in his diary on April 15, 1863, "the 1st two squadrons were ordered to 'Prepare to fight on foot'--We threw off our Overcoats and Sabres, fell into ranks--Stood two hours in heavy rain..." J.C. Mohr, ed., The Cormany Diaries (Pittsburgh, 1982). Usually there wouldn't be time for such an organized approach.
Speaking of sabres, as I review the ordnance records I'm surprised at how common the 1840 "wristbreaker" was throughout the war. I don't think it's properly represented among reenactors. Check the records for your historic unit before settling on an 1860 sabre.
And to address one other reenactorism, the revolver is not hung on the belt for left-hand draw. The holster was originally to be worn on the back of the hip, making a butt-forward orientation more efficient to draw with the right hand.
Post by John nolan on Jan 24, 2006 14:51:07 GMT -5
This might be alot more common then we think? " The order was passed though the remainder of the regiment to be prepared to fight on foot at any time. The men were already counted off by fours, of course, and now the bridles of horses Nos. 1, 2, and 3, were given to the No. 4 man to hold,- his part in the coming action being to take care of the four horses,-with orders to ''look out for my grain,'' ''take care of my haversack,'' and a thousand and one instructions. the sabres were strapped to the saddles, and all superfluities taken from the person and strapped to the saddle or put in the saddle-bags. The grain bags and all baggage were strapped firmer on the saddle- they might go through some heavy shaking before the riders again got to them. The cartridge boxes were filled to their utmost capacity-the spare cartridges in the saddle-bags were put in the pockets-the carbines were examined-the Spencer's loaded carefully with their seven deadly messengers, while the Henry's were wound up to unwind and set flying sixteen humming birds, to sing in the ears of the enemy. The canteens that were full were thrown over the sholders-there was no knowing how much a man might want a drink of water before he saw his horses. The traps were taken care of by each one as if sure of coming back, while at the same time everything of value was left with the led horses, as if there was a chance of not returning. The boys took it easy till called for-sitting down, lying down, sleeping, even writing,-perhaps the last line home-smoking, laughing, joking, anything but what looked like expecting every moment to fight, but all knowing their places, and ready to '' fall in '' at the first note of warning. This was a detailed account of the fight at Dinwiddie Court House on March 21, 1865 by Edward P. Tobie of the 1st Maine Cavalry. History of the First Maine Cavalry is the most detailed Regimental that I have read.(Billy or Johnny) I have always found this interesting, this is the last 3 weeks of the war (east), he writes '' the bridles of Nos. 1, 2, and 3, were given to the No. 4 man to hold" No link straps? "The canteens that were full were thrown over the shoulders" Not already on the person? The 1st Maine was what I would call a "Sabre Regiment" maybe the most seasoned Gen. David McM. Gregg had ( by this time Gen. George Crooke, Gregg had already resigned).They had crossed sabres with the south's finest, but they had also fought dismounted quite a bit by this point in the war? Maybe links were not issued to all Regiments and some officers said " Congdon Who?".(just because a book is written dosen't mean it was read or followed). It also sounds to me like some troops might have carried their sabres on their belts when they were mounted and unbuttoned the hangers from the belts and bottoned them to the saddle when they were dismounted. More gray area to think about!