MOUNTED SWORDSMANSHIP

By Lieutenant G.S. Patton, Jr.,

Instructor in Swordsmanship, M.S.S.

The Rasp, 1914



In order to be convinced that, despite all improvements, soldiers still look to personal, man to man combat as the deciding factor in battle, it is only necessary to remember that every branch of the world's military forces is equipped with a hand arm.

The cavalry has it's sword or lance, the infantry it's bayonet, and the artillery has in the sword, carbine, or pistol what is for it the arm of outrance.

Would the millions of the world's warriors burden themselves with these weapons did they not expect and long to use them? Hardly.

Nor is this persistent and instinctive clinging to the weapons of infighting remarkable when we consider the origin of arms and war.

In that dim unrecorded past, when man, on first rising from the beast, began to think, he noted that he who had the greater strength and sharpest teeth was successful in the pursuit of food and female over his fellows who, also relying on their unaided strength, sought to oppose him, his preeminence went unchallenged until someone of lesser strength but greater cunning, seized upon a branch of a tree or bone of a devoured animal and reinforcing his lesser strength with this club, slew the giant and in his turn, became chief. Thus in the struggle of some hairy half human men, arms first asserted their supremacy, brawn first went down the drain.

Man and the club was paramount. Perhaps some resisted him with stones but their missiles were not sure and when he closed, the club wielder won.

Then someone whose lesser strength prevented him from using a bludgeon of sufficient size to successfully combat with the "Club King," took a pole sharpened in the fire or tipped with flint and when "Club King" rushed upon him, ducked his blow, ran him through, and in his turn was king.

As time went on, the stick became a spear, the stone tip a dagger and as art increased, a longer dagger or stone sword.

Next, bronze replaced the stone. At first bronze weapons were castings and as a consequence, brittle, so lasted better for thrusting than striking and the point still was uppermost.

But, as the first workers in bronze began to gain the skill to hammer out their weapons, they lost through civilization the manhood to use them. Rougher men overcame them and took their arts, but being wild at heart, they thought to conquer more by strength than skill, so used the edge. And thus the age-long seesaw was begun.

Then bodily protection began to be a factor as to whether point or edge should rule. The easiest armor to devise was one composed of quilting or of skin. This, while guarding against a thrust, did not prevent bones being broken by a blow, provided that blow was delivered by arms of sufficient strength. This remained true when scale and later chain armor was devised and had a lot to do with determining the style of attack during this period.

Shortly after the appearance of armor, the factor of discipline began to make itself felt. Men found that by standing close together and using the points of their spears they could get a greater number of effectives on a given space of front than they could by swinging clubs or cutting with swords. For in the latter case, only the front rank could actually combat and they not closely allied, or they could not swing, while the closer the men with the points stood together the better, and the number of ranks engaged was only limited by the length of their spears.

Discipline thus joined forces with the point and whether exemplified in the spears of the Phalanx of Greece, or in the points of the short swords of the Legions of Rome, the men who stood together and trusted to discipline and the point always thrust back their brave, powerful, and savage foes who uniting brute strength to the edge, lost.

In fact it may be said that whenever civilization has triumphed, it's advances have been gained by cohesion and mutual reliance, sticking together and using the point over reckless bravery without cohesion, where each fought for himself, cutting gallantly a road to oblivion. The point conquered for the Greeks, the Romans, and the Normans at the Battle of Hastings. The lances and long swords of the English won against the claymores of the Scots and with the invention of gunpowder, all over the world in India, Africa, and the Philippines, the point and it's winged brother, the bullet, have ever won.

But let us consider the most important factor in the use of weapons, the horse.

From the earliest recorded history, some races of men have ridden to war on horseback or driven to it in chariots. At first, however, the horse was only a conveyance. The warrior rode him to battle and dismounted to fight. There is a record of this as early as 1600 B.C.

In 1439, B.C., the chariot was invented and the warrior rode in it to battle, but, even yet, he dismounted to fight while the driver turned the horses to the rear, so that if his master was hard pressed or wounded, he could find safety in his chariot. Finally, chariots were actually driven into battle and warriors fought from them with bow or javelin. Scythe chariots were invented by Cyrus the Great in 559 B.C.

At last, some hard pressed warrior who, perhaps had broken his axle, unharnessed his horse and fought from his back. The first record of this is 980 B.C., and we are led to believe that it was a chariot horse from the fact that they are always depicted with the collar on and the illustrators do not drop it until a hundred years later.

In 885, B.C., cavalry was regularly used by the Assyrians who had their troopers ride in pairs, one armed with a bow while the other, who was unarmed, directed the horse of his companion. Later, this assistant was dispensed with and the archer fired while his horse galloped with the reins on the neck. Cavalry armed with javelins and mail shirts appears around 705 B.C. Some of these carried a short sword as well. In 595 B.C., Cyrus the Great, organized his cavalry in groups of a hundred formed eight deep and armed with a lance both for throwing or charging; both men and horses wore breast plates. In 480 B.C., Persian Cavalry under a general Masestivs had an authentic shock action and melee.

Alexander the Great used cavalry to a great extent. He had both heavy and light; also a sort called Dimachi, invented for both shock action mounted, and for work on foot; they were in fact, the first dragoons of history.

As long as scale or chain armor was stout enough to resist the shock of the lance mounted, it was quite clear that in the melee, the thrust of the sword would be equally non-effective unless it found the face or some other unguarded spot. The Heaume (or closed helmet) was not invented until about 1200, A.D. On the other hand, a cut, though it might not go through, was still capable of giving a crippling bruise or of breaking a bone or cutting through a casque. Moreover, these blows could be given in the most favorable position with the horse pulled up, for the mailed rider had little to fear from anything but a direct attack, the blow or thrust of some passing knight not being likely to take effect; while had he been unarmored he could not afford to pull up and expose himself to such risk.

About 1250 A.D., plate armor began to come in. At first it was very inadequate and was frequently worn over a suit of chain.

At the battle of Tagliacozze in Italy, on August 23, 1258, A.D., between the French under Charles of Anjou and the German Conradin, the Germans wore plate and the French in chain armor were getting the worst of it, as their cuts had no effect on the new armor. At last a French knight named Alard de St. Valery, noticed that when the Germans raised their arms to strike they left an opening. He called, "Give point!, Give point!," and the Germans were soon all killed or taken, as being unused to the great weight of plate, they were very weary.

From this time on, the point came back and to such an extent that in 1500 A.D., the estoc was the most deadly sword and had no edge at all, being simply a long straight steel skewer, very stiff and sharply pointed. In a strong hand it could be driven right through a piece of plate. Bayard was very fond of this weapon.

Shortly after this, armor began to be discarded because of the increased power of firearms. Until about 1650 A.D., the cavalry of Cromwell wore only the cuirass and a helmet without a closed visor, though some of the officers still used armor on their arms and thighs and a very few used the closed visor. Cromwell's men used the point almost exclusively.

Mobility now continued to increase in importance. Part of the cavalry dropped armor completely and in consequence, were called light cavalry. In the majority of cases it is strange to see that these light troops were given a curved sword called a saber instead of the straight one to which they were accustomed. The troops of Charles XII, of Sweden, and those of Peter the Great, were an exception to this rule.

The cause for the change to the curved sword is rather curious. For centuries on the eastern border of Europe and in Spain, heavy European cavalry had been opposed to light oriental horsemen wearing little or no defensive armor such as was known in Europe.

It then seemed only natural to the European to arm his new cavalry with a weapon similar to that used by the light oriental. But the copy was defective in at least two respects. The oriental weapon had been designed to cut through the padded body protection formerly largely used in the east. This was accomplished by giving the scimitar such a curve that it's cut had a very much drawn effect. The saber was not given sufficient curvature to accomplish this, though the early forms were less faulty than those of later date.

The oriental never has used the cohesive shock of lines of horsemen. He gallops at his foe in loose unaligned masses and from his first appearance in history, is spoken of as circling. He used a horizontal cut to increase the drawing effect of his weapon and takes his time to kill his man, continually circling him until he sees an opening and trusting to the agility of his horse for his parries. His sword has no guard to speak of.

This form of attack was naturally inadmissible in Europe where it was necessary to get rid of the enemy quickly and to count the effect of fire. So the European light cavalry, armed with a bastard scimitar, was required to charge in dense line and attempt to use shock. Little wonder that they were unable to stand against the straight swords of dragoons lead by Papenheim, Charles XII, or the generals of Peter the Great. Nor is it strange that about this time there was a strong movement towards the use of fire action mounted. There were many cases where the three ranks fired their musketoons, then charged at the trot, pistols in hand, fired these just before closing and then fought with the saber. It is but fair to say that these tactics were also used on occasion by dragoons armed with straight swords, to the great disgrace of the cavalry service.

Turenne was the first to combat this tendency and forbid the use of firearms in the charge. Under the great Conde, cavalry regained it's prestige and ability to charge with sword or saber in hand.

There were two very curious and diametrically opposite examples of the reversion to the cutting weapon in France about this time.

During the reign of Louis XV, the French court at least was in a state of great effeminacy. More attention was paid to beauty in man than for his physical or moral qualities. Costume, manners, and morals combined to reduce his efficiency as a fighting machine. Yet, many of these un-masculine men whose sensual qualities were the only ones still developed, cherished a strange desire to appear fierce and to this end, carried huge sabers of absolutely no balance, fitted with grips so short and small as to belie the pretensions of their owners at first glance.

The other reversion was during the revolution when the peasants and men of the lower classes, on gaining prominence, were anxious to wear that badge of the higher order, the sword. Here again, the undisciplined instinct of brave but ignorant brutes asserted itself and we see huge sabers of ridiculous width adorning the bloody actors in the crimson reign of the misnamed Liberty.

The Egyptian expedition under Napoleon gave fresh impetus to the saber. Many real scimitars were carried back to France at it's close. The famous sword of Marengo carried by Napoleon was of this type. Murat also carried one, probably because it gave increased possibilities for being decorated with jewels.

The French dragoons and Cuirassiers, however, always stuck to the straight sword and the point and in Spain did such deadly work against the English cavalry who used the edge, that the English said, "The French did not fight fair."

In the foregoing, I have attempted to show very rapidly and roughly the various phases of the sword and it's use. I have taken a very general view and it must not be thought that the changes instanced took place precisely at the same time in all parts of the world.

They did not. Local conditions must be remembered. A thing might happen in one place hundreds of years before a similar thing occurred in another place. Yet, viewed in a broad sense, the changes cited have occurred in about the sequence named. To sum up, we may repeat what we have stated by saying, "Wherever man has relied on brute force and courage unaided by discipline or cohesive action to win, he has used cutting or striking weapons, if he has closed at all."

Wherever science or discipline have prevailed, he has used cohesive action, team work, and the point. As savagery has succumbed to civilization, so has the edge given way to the point.

The Cavalry Sword Model 1913, is an ideal thrusting weapon and at the same time, one which can give a cutting blow at least one third harder than our former saber, while the sharpened back edge makes it much easier to withdraw from a body than would be the case if it were single edged.

With this sword the use of the point is taught exclusively for the following reasons:

Charging in close formation with the edge, there is no correlation between the onrush of the horse and cut of the sword. A front cut is the only one possible at the moment of contact, because of the other men to the right and left; speed materially reduces both the force and accuracy of this cut.

In the charge with the point, all the energy of the horse is conserved and he becomes a steel pointed missile.

In charging with the edge, much more of the person must be exposed in order to cut.

When using the point, the almost prone position of the trooper reduces the target and facilitates the speed of the horse.

With the edge, the whole body is exposed to the attack of the point while in using the point the head is protected from a cut by the guard of the sword so that only the shoulder and back offer a target. Moreover, if he is simply cutting, he will have about a foot of point in him before he can land his blow. If, at the last moment, he sees this and attempts to parry, he is perfectly passive. If he misses his parry, he is dead; if his parry is successful, he saves his skin, but has absolutely failed in his military mission of harming his adversary; for when two horses pass each other at a gallop it is impossible to parry and then cut to the rear; the horses will be far out of reach. On the contrary, the man using the point can still parry a cut while keeping his point in line for the body of his adversary. A thrust may be parried in the same way as a cut, still keeping the point in line, though here it is a question of strength and skill as to which of the two combatants will be successful.

Of the foregoing advantages of the point, the fact of increased reach is paramount. The point will outreach and outkill the edge in a charge; hence if we meet foes using the edge against our point, we have them. If our enemy also uses the point, we are simply fighting fire with fire and our superior swords and greater physical strength tips the scale a little our way; whereas, in such a case, had we continued to use the edge, we would have been lost.

Against a lance, the charge with the point is superior to the charge with the edge. In the first place, the lance point can be deflected at a greater distance from the body; thus giving the swordsman the longest possible path in which to get the necessary deflection, while the sword at the same time slips along the shaft of the lance with the point in line for the lancer's body who thus not only has his attack parried, but also his life menaced. Should the trooper on the contrary, sit up to use the edge, he must make his parry when the lance is not over two feet away from him, so that the path the point has to go, while being deflected, is reduced between six and seven feet, while the size of the deflection is the same as before and at the same time the attention of the lancer is not disturbed by the threat of the blow.

In the second place, when using the point against a lancer, the target offered by the swordsman is very small and low, while, when using the edge, the entire front of the swordsman is visible as a target. The significance of this is brought home when we recall the historical fact noted in many foreign regulations, that, at the moment of contact, lancers invariably point high.

Another circumstance which has been frequently mentioned by opponents of the sword is the fact that, in many cases where a charge is made, one side breaks before weapons are actually crossed. Among the many contributory causes to this premature departure of one set of opponents is the formidable and business like appearance of the other. I believe that it will take but one experience to convince an observer that a charge with the point, where all the energy of the onrushing horses seems concentrated in that glittering line of leveled steel, is more menacing than a similar charge where the combatants sit erect and idly wag their swords at each other.

Against infantry, the point is the only thing. The bayonet has a long reach and against it the cut is of little use.

Among wagons or artillery, the point alone can reach opponents behind wheels or shields.

In the melee, did circumstances permit of individual uninterrupted combat, the edge would be nearly as useful as the point, except that it's wounds are much less crippling. But, two important factors militate against this species of combat. When the melee commences, the enemies line has been broken and he must at once be compelled to take up and continue a retrograde movement. He must be compelled to feel that he is on the defensive; the spirit of offense in the attackers must be dominant. This precludes pulling up, hammering, tactics. The troopers must continue at the gallop, riding at one enemy, killing him and on to the next, or if they fail to get their first man, they must not pull up, but leave him to a comrade and with unabated energy, ride down another opponent further on.

Again, individual combat where the opponents pulled up and fought it out hammer and tongs was all right when both wore defensive armor and were thus immune to any passing attack of some third party. But when an unarmored man pulls up, he makes himself a fine target for some passing adversary while, had he continued to move to the front at speed, the danger would have been much reduced.

Now in answer to some very proper and probable questions. Is it possible for the soldier in battle to always take up the extremely extended positions described in the regulations? No, not any more than it will always be possible to always get the proper sight setting for the rifle. The positions described are the best and the more rigidly and accurately they are enforced at drill, the more approximately will they be assumed in battle.

Will the edge ever be used? It will. Man is not very far removed from his cave ancestor. And as battle was a primal pastime, so modern man engaged in it more readily retrogrades to his hairy progenitor. It is for this reason together with the added facility in withdrawing it, that the sword was made sharp. We do not teach it any more than we do biting in a fist fight. At the last extremity, both are useful and will be used. The longer we can defer, by practice, that state of hysteria in which either will be used, the more deadly we make our swordsman or boxer.

Will the point always be successful? No, but in all circumstances it gives the largest chance of success.

In practicing the use of the point as prescribed it must always be remembered that it is for the use of the many in combats of opposing masses. It is in no way fencing, but the use of the sword is to quickly accomplish a tactical object; the quick and complete defeat of the enemy. The days when heroes fought one another while the armies watched, have passed. The use of the sword as now taught does not contemplate the training of such prodigies. It's object is to teach, as quickly as possible, a large number of men the most efficient way of handling their weapon in a combat that will last for minutes and be famous for centuries.