The Bayonet -Cold Steel

The Civil War Bayonet was nothing more than a sharpened piece of steel that infantrymen were issued. They would simply stick it on the muzzle of their rifles and off they go. It’s effectiveness was more psychological then physical.

Seeing a few thousand people running at you with large knives on the end of rifles could have a pretty frighting effect. However despite this only about 1% of Civil War casualties were actually a result of a bayonet wound.

Soldiers used the bayonet more often as an everyday tool around their camp rather than a weapon. There were a few instances where the bayonet made a prominent appearance. Such as during the Battle of Gettysburg when Union General Joshua Chamberlain ordered his men to fix bayonets and then charged down little round top completely routing the confederates there. These instances though were few and far between.

The use of “cold steel” to force the enemy to retreat was very successful in numerous small unit engagements at short range in the American Civil War, as most troops would retreat when charged while reloading (which could take up to a minute with loose powder even for trained troops). Although such charges inflicted few casualties, they often decided short engagements, and tactical possession of important defensive ground features. Additionally, bayonet drill could be used to rally men temporarily discomfited by enemy fire.

The Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War

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