Union Sabers

Federal weapons, with few exceptions, exhibited advanced manufacturing techniques and excellent quality, as shown by these curved-blade, cavalry sabers. The weapons are shown in close-up (1) to (3), while the photograph shows a group of Ohio cavalrymen, rugged western Yankees, typical of many in the ranks of Union cavalry regiments, with their sabers very much in evidence. They were young, lean, and hardy young men, well-used to the outdoor life, and meant business. The great cavalry tradition was one of massed charges, using lance or saber, but the only large-scale cavalry encounter of that type occurred at Brandy Station in June 1863, when 7,000 Union and 10,000 Confederate cavalry engaged in one charge after another, both sides employing their sabers with great gusto. Nevertheless, the heavy, cumbersome saber gradually went out of fashion, with troopers giving preference to a combination of repeating carbines for long range work, revolvers for closer

Below: A group of Ohio cavalrymen with drawn sabers.

ranges, and dirks or hunting knives for hand-to-hand combat.

1 U.S. Model 1860 design of cavalry saber featuring three-bar type of grip guard

2 U.S. Model 1840 design of cavalry saber featuring variation of three-bar type of grip guard

3 Imported Model 1840 design of cavalry saber, complete with scabbard featuring a hilt fabricated from iron

Union Officers' Swords

In a universal military tradition stretching back many centuries the sword was both the officers' weapon of choice and an official indication of his status, and it is very unlikely that any officer on the Union side did not have his own sword. Nevertheless, as with the cavalry and their sabers described on the previous pages, so Union officers in general began to question the value of an implement which was cumbersome and heavy to carry, but which they almost never used in battle. As a result, by the middle of the war many officers sent their swords home for safe-keeping, or relegated them to the wagons, preferring instead to carry a reliable revolver or, in some individual cases in front-line infantry units, a rifle-musket.

Some swords were very utilitarian in design and manufacture, but others were very elaborate, although why the medical corps (12) needed a design of its own is not clear, although it was, presumably, never intended to be used. It is worth noting that the regulation Model 1840 (6) and Model 1860 (11) staff and foot officers' swords were particularly elegant, their simplicity of line making them stand out from the others; it must be presumed, therefore, that the intervening Model 1850 was something of an aberration.

1 Model 1850 staff and field officer's sword

2 Non-regulation, steel-hilted, imported officer's sword

3 Non-regulation, steel-hilted, imported officer's sword

4 Non-regulation, brass-hilted, imported officer's sword

5 Non-regulation, steel-hilted, imported officer's sword

6 Model 1840 regulation foot officer's sword, with scabbard

7 Model 1850 foot officer's sword with

brass-mounted leather scabbard

8 Model 1850 foot officer's sword with all german silver scabbard

9 Model 1840 cavalry officer's saber

10 Model 1860 cavalry officer's saber

11 Model 1860 staff and field officer's sword

12 Model 1840 medical officer's sword, with scabbard brass-mounted leather scabbard

8 Model 1850 foot officer's sword with all german silver scabbard

9 Model 1840 cavalry officer's saber

10 Model 1860 cavalry officer's saber

11 Model 1860 staff and field officer's sword

12 Model 1840 medical officer's sword, with scabbard

Curved Saber Line Drawing
rflacts courtesy of Tlio Civil War Library and Museum. Philadelphia Pa

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