May 02, 2012

Fix bayonets!

The War of 1812 had a number of deadly weapons on the battlefield, but perhaps the most feared was the bayonet. Both British and American infantry used the bayonet fixed to the end of their muskets. Soldiers commonly fired with the bayonet attached, but on the battlefield contests usually ended before the bayonet was used. Primarily the bayonet was used to silence sentries or pickets but it could be used in battle.

The bayonet
On the battlefield, the bayonet could be used when an enemy’s formation began to falter. Typically an army would fire into enemy formations until gaps formed. Once these gaps formed, a bayonet charge would provide the best opportunity to scatter and destroy the enemy. Despite this strategy, the use of the bayonet on the battlefield often did not occur because, as one contemporary remarked, “the fear of the bayonet, rather than the bayonet itself, was the deciding factor.”

In some instances the use of the bayonet did occur in battle. During the Battle of Lundy’s Lane both armies advanced so close due to the large amount of smoke and the fact that the battle took place at night. During the battle the British commander, General Drummond, lamented, “Of so determined a character were their [American infantry] attacks directed against our Guns, that our Artillery Men were bayoneted by the Enemy in the Act of loading.”
The bayonet at Lundy's Lane

A bayonet wound was one of the most feared due to the blade’s triangular shape. Triangular shaped wounds were difficult for a surgeon to sew up. As the surgeon sewed up one side of the wound, the stitches on the other side would begin to pull open, causing immense pain for the patient.  Most surgeons would not bother with bayonet wounds, and if they did, it usually involved stuffing the wound with linen bandages and constantly checking it, removing the bandages as necessary.

Today the use of triangular shaped blades is banned by the Geneva Conventions, for good reason. Make sure you visit the numerous battle reenactments this summer, you might just see a bayonet charge in action.

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