Bayonets were first seen in Spain in the late 1500s. They travelled to France in the mid 1600s and finally to England at the end of that century. Bayonets probably started as a dagger pushed down the barrel of a gun to form a makeshift pike. They retained their popularity early on with all levels of the military for many reasons -- a quick and reliable weapon for infantry, and a terrifying mode of attack for commanders. By the time of the Civil War, bayonets were less popular and rarely used in combat, although they were still issued to every soldier.
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Look at the muzzle locking ring, which is the portion of the bayonet used to attach the blade to the muzzle of the gun. The locking mechanism should be a mortise slot, which was in use from the mid 1700s and on. The mortise slot is a opening cut in the locking ring that has 90 degree turns in it so that the bayonet would be applied at an angle and then rotated in to its final position and secured with a ring clamp and screw.
Measure the length of the blade, interior diameter of the socket and depth of the socket. Bayonets during the Civil War were typically 18 inches long in the blade, roughly 0.781 inches in socket diameter and 3 inches in socket depth. The British Enfield Rifle-Musket, used by the Confederacy, was roughly the same proportions although sometimes longer in the blade.
Establish that the bayonet is American in origin by looking at the fuller of the blade, which is the groove along the broad side of the bayonet. American bayonets from that time period have a fuller that is very deep and runs the entire length of the blade.
Observe the materials used in the bayonet and accessories. Look for signs of rust, pitting and general wear. Bayonets were frequently used as general tools around a camp site, and were worn down quickly. No bayonets were made from stainless steel, and should have some degradation. Leather accessories such as a scabbard should be in such poor condition; it would nearly be falling apart. If anything seems to be in too good of condition, it might indicate a fake.
Find the model number of the gun that the bayonet was attached to, if you have it or know what it was. Guns used in the Civil War that had bayonets specifically designed for them were, on the U.S. side, the US Model 1816 Flintlock Muskets and Springfield "Trapdoor" Rifles, and on the Confederate side, the British Enfield rifle-musket.
Tips and warnings
- Because resources were so limited during the Civil War, improvisational bayonets and old bayonet styles were often used. This article covers the most common "made for the gun" bayonets provided by the gun manufacturers. These are the best documented bayonets from that time period, but others may exist.
- Due to the large re-enactment community in America, it is easy to find bayonet replicas for the Civil War era. Usually they are sold as such, but not always. Only purchase from reliable vendors and have private trades checked by an expert before completing a transaction.
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- "A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times;" George Cameron Stone; 1999
- U.S. Model 1855 Socket Bayonet
- U.S. Model 1816 Socket "Replacement" Bayonet (aka "Conversion" Bayonet)
- Civil War Acadomy: Civil War Bayonet
- British Pattern 1853 "3-Band" Enfield Socket Bayonet (aka Pattern 1853 Enfield Infantry "Long-Rifle" Bayonet)
- "Warrior A Visual History of the Fighting Man;" R.G. Grant; 2010