For nearly the whole of human history, the sword has been the predominant weapon of choice when two societies go to war with one another. Axes, spears and gigantic mallets have had their time -- currently, the fashion of infantry warfare is to use medium-range, high-powered rifles -- but the sword has persisted from the sack of Troy all the way to the modern day: U.S. Marines still carry ceremonial swords. During the late 1700s during the Revolutionary War, military technology was in the midst of making a gradual transformation from melee-dominated conflicts to riflery, and the sword -- while no longer the dominant weapon of the battlefield -- continued to play an important role.
Infantryman's Sword- The Hanger
The Guilford Courthouse National Military Park website states that "swords were widely used" in conflicts such as the battle at Guilford Courthouse. The battle between 2,000 British troops commanded by General Lord Cornwallis and 4,000 American troops under General Nathanael Greene occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1781. According to the website, "infantry men used hangers," a kind of cutlass. The hanger received its name because, according to the British Victoria and Albert Museum, "it was hung from the belt." The hanger had a long, slightly curved blade and a short metal pommel covered by a small round hand guard joined to the butt of the sword by a small metal knuckle guard. The hangers carried by infantrymen were cheap, inelegant weapons that served the brutal and perfunctory purpose of bloody hand-to-hand fighting by common soldiers.
Officer's Small Swords
While infantrymen carried the curved, cheaply made hangers, officers in the American Revolution were outfitted with slightly more elegant weapons. The officer's short sword, according to the Gentlemen of Fortune website, was a "thin, straight blade designed only for thrusting, and required considerable training." The small sword has been romanticised somewhat in historical movie representations of the time period because its construction -- light and fast -- and the skill required to wield it made for, according to Gentlemen of Fortune, "a refined style of sword play."
Although the age of knights in shining armour had passed some century or two before, cavalry remained an important part of 17th and 18th century warfare, right up to the invention of mobile artillery and tanks. In the Revolutionary War, British dragoons and American cavalry carried sabres into battle and would charge into enemy lines already reeling from attack. As the Valley Forge National Historical Park website states, "the shock of a cavalry charge often proved decisive in gaining a victory." The cavalry sabre was a long, heavy, deeply curved blade almost like a crescent, with a single edge and an elaborate knuckle guard.
The Guildford Courthouse National Park Service website states that hunting swords "were short, cut and thrust weapons used by the German Jaegers, American riflemen, and officers of both sides." Also known as the cuttoe, the weapon lacked knuckle and hand guards and served as a brutal, bloody weapon for American militias as well.
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