If there is any order we receive in reenacting that sends a chill up my back, it is this order, “Fix Bayonets.”

I guess it is because pulling a 12 inch Civil War bayonet out of its scabbard and attaching to the end of your musket seems to make it more of a lethal weapon.

Only about 6% of the Civil War soldiers that died in battle were killed by bayonets. But when I think of having this lance that starts out from its base in a triangle and tapers down to a sharp point thrust into my innards, it insights a fear in me that goes back to military boot camp.

The bayonet evolved from a lance or spear affixed to a musket to a knife in the modern army. The Civil War soldiers were taught to thrust it toward the enemy like a spear.

You read in history that many of the soldiers used the muskets as clubs.
This begs the question on how much bayonet drill instruction the soldiers received in their boot camps. Since they hardly were allow any target practice, maybe bayonet drill was kept to a minimum. I do know that they were drilled in maneuvering as a cohesive unit until it was ingrained in their psyche.

About four years ago I participated in a two hour bayonet learning session at Old Washington Historic Park near Hope, AR one summer afternoon that left my right forearm sore for two weeks. I don’t know how those Civil War soldiers did it. Well, I guess I do. Even though they were usually smaller than we are today, they were a lot stronger.

One of the most intricate procedures that can be accomplished with muskets is “Stack Arms”. This allows a unit’s soldiers to place their muskets in stacks of
four muskets so they can leave to do other camp work or to retire for the night. When this maneuver is performed by veterans, it is looks very professional and sharp.

So was the bayonet utilized extensively in the Civil War? Not really. But was it a scary weapon? In my estimate it certainly was.

About Civil War Reflections

Vernon has been a Civil War buff since childhood, but had been inactive in Civil War history for over two decades. However, in the early 1990s his interest was rekindled after watching Ken Burns’ “Civil War Documentary” on PBS. He particularly became interested in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and decided to learn more about this epic struggle.
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