Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Heavy Artillery Sword

 Dating from the early 18th century, this type of sword was issued to enlisted men serving with field, coastal, heavy or siege artillery units.  These units were defined from horse artillery, basically by the calibre of cannon, or gun, employed, and the role on the battlefield.   Horse artillery, as the name implies, were traditionally attached to cavalry units.  This meant that horse artillery units were expected to move frequently and rapidly on the battlefield.   The other artillery units were more stationary and typically utilized heavier calibre guns.

All soldiers, even artillerymen, need a weapon with which  to defend themselves. That is the purpose behind this sword.   It measures approximately two feet in length and has a wide blade -- short enough to not trip the artilleryman and stout enough to be of some use for defense.   Its design harkens back to the sword carried by ancient Roman legionnaires.  I have read that an intended use of this sword was to allow an artilleryman on foot to disable to horse of a charging cavalryman.

Sounds fanciful doesn't it?   Perhaps useful in 18th century combat.  Not so much by the US Civil War.   Really, who in their right mind would  who wants to be within  two feet of a charging horse not to mention the three foot long blade of his sabre or the  range of his pistol?  By the mid 19th century, revolvers and carbines for artillerymen seem far more useful for defense.  However, I can see field use for these weapons. Artillerymen often needed to cut down small trees and brush to clear a field of fire for the gun or simply to move it.   The length and width of this blade is ideal for that task. Apparently,  the sword is also useful for preparing meals.  The French nicknamed it a "coupe choux,"or cabbage chopper.

The sword depicted above is most likely French and dates, again most likely, to the 1830s.   It is of the type imported by the US and CS governments.   However, there is no way of knowing whether or not it served in the Civil War    The US government had its pattern, the 1832 artillery sword.  It was made by N.P.  Ames,  and subcontractors.   The Ames sword has a wasp tail blade (thicker at the base and point and point with a thinner middle) with three fullers (channels cut in the blade), a grip that resembles the feathers of a bird and the image of an eagle cut  in the pommel. I cannot find where Ames manufactured any of these swords during the Civil War. All of the examples that I have seen have antebellum inspection dates.   During the war, several southern makers, known and unknown, that made a similar sword for the Confederate government.  The CS weapons resemble either the French or the U.S. patterns and range from well made to poor weapons.

Genuine examples of French, US and CS versions of this sword are readily found on the collector market.  Even though examples are abundant, the US Ames swords have a fairly significant price.  As expected, due the relatively small amount that were made and the popularity if collecting anything CS, the Confederate examples cost the most.  The Frencgh examples cost the least. However, and French example with Civil War provenance will have a higher value.  Please note, however, that the Ames and CS swords have been mass reproduced.  Some reproductions are of age to have natural patina (coloring due to age or use).

The sword pictured herein is mine and is currently in my collection.  I purchased it in Vicksburg, Mississippi in the fall of 2012.