Short Takes

by Fred Ray on October 2, 2010 · 1 comment

After 235 years the US Army has dropped bayonet training from its basic training curriculum. The bayonet has been very much a part of military history since its introduction in the 17th century as a replacement for the pike. Early “plug” models simply fit into the muzzle, making it impossible to fire the gun. The socket bayonet familiar to Civil War students was introduced around 1700 and permitted the weapon to be fired with the bayonet fitted, and was in turn gradually replaced with the knife bayonet in the early 20th century. Although the last US Army bayonet charge was in 1951 the British Army has used it much more recently.

… as a direct attack weapon by members of the British Army during the Battle of Danny Boy on 14 May 2004 in fighting with about 100 members of the Mahdi Army. Sergeant Brian Wood, of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, was awarded the Military Cross for his part in the battle. Similarly, in 2009, Lieutenant James Adamson, aged 24, of the Royal Regiment of Scotland was awarded the Military Cross for a bayonet charge whilst on a tour of duty in Afghanistan: after shooting one Taliban fighter dead Adamson had run out of ammunition when another enemy appeared. Adamson immediately charged the second Taliban fighter and bayoneted him.

In contrast to today, a large part of the Civil War soldier’s training was with the bayonet, about which whole manuals were written (one by Captain George McClellan). There were elaborate drills and dozens of positions. Even so the number of bayonet wounds were small, and its primary use was psychological.

“Traditionally in the 20th century – certainly after World War I – bayonet training was basically designed to develop in soldiers aggressiveness, courage, and preparation for close combat,” says Richard Kohn, professor of military history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bayonet training is, in short, used to undo socialization – to “basically to try to mitigate or eradicate the reluctance of human beings to kill each other,” Mr. Kohn says. It is one of the challenges in US or Western society “where we have such reverence for the individual, where we socialize our people to believe in the rule of law, and all of that,” he adds. “What you’re doing with young people is trying to get them used to the highly emotional and irrational and adrenaline-filled situations in which they are liable to find themselves whether they are within sight of the enemy or not – and the reluctance to take a life.”

If you’re exploring a Civil War-era wreck, resist the temptation to take a couple of old cannon balls.

When poking through underwater wrecks, the traditional threats to salvage crews and historians have been entrapment in the wreckage, kraken, and vengeful ghosts. It turns out that those who make it out alive are still in danger from the objects they salvage. Iron, when kept underwater for a long period of time, can explode once it reaches the surface, even after being handled.

Trapped gases, tiny bubble under pressure…and then—boom! You be warned, mates.

UPDATE: Cool gallery of Steampunk submarines from long ago. Yes, the Hunley is there.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Keith Harris October 11, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I really enjoy reading though this blog. Thanks for posting And great info on bayonet training. I understand that there were very few deaths in the war from bayonet wounds. Perhaps improved technology in rifling – they never got close enough to use them….or maybe there could have been a psychological angle. I would love any reading suggestions on this topic.

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