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Thread: Bayonet Wounds

  1. #1
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    Question Bayonet Wounds

    My unit was discussing bayonet wounds and a question came up. How many soldiers were actually treated for bayonet wounds? In looking at some of the reference material that I have, I could not find mention of bayonet wounds.

    Any information would be greatly appreciated.


    Cheers,
    John Ferrannini
    Asst. Surgeon
    67th NY a.k.a. 1st Long Island Volunteers

  2. #2
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    Because only "wounds" were recorded in the hospital records. Most men who were
    injured by bayonet bled out before they got to the hospital. There were no records
    by burial details on the cause of death on the battlefield or you would have seen more listings for
    bayonet wounds in the Official Records of the War of Rebellion.

    Here is a column on the subject that appeared in Civil War News:

    Mythbuster: The Bayonet
    By Craig L Barry
    September 2010 Civil War News - The Watchdog


    Myth: “On the Civil War battlefield, the bayonet turned out to be a relic, responsible for few battlefield wounds. Though there were many mass charges in Civil War battles, there were few hand-to-hand bayonet fights, and those were usually of short duration.

    “Although infantry soldiers were issued bayonets and received bayonet drill, they found the weapon most useful for other purposes. Bayonets made excellent tent stakes and candle holders, and when a charge petered out they were useful for digging a hole to hide in.”


    (Kevin Eisert, www.civilwar.bluegrass.net)



    Unlike the knife, which was often carried for defensive purposes by civilians and soldiers alike, the bayonet as a weapon has always been strictly military in nature.Civilian rifles typically have no provision for a bayonet. In fact, the U.S. Model 1841 percussion rifle was produced without any provision for the bayonet, but it was the exception to the general rule for military arms.To the martial mind of the 19th century, the bayonet was seen as the fourth form of fencing, along with foil, epee’ (dueling sword) and dueling saber. It was, according to George McClellan, “the brave man’s weapon.” The first official training bayonets were issued in 1858. Soldiers learned to affix and remove it on command and how to guard against cavalry and infantry using the rifle mounted with bayonet as a pike.They also drilled the motions of bayonet fighting as a group drill using the actual blades. When it came time to practice assaulting (fighting), soldiers would wear a plastron (jacket), mask and fencing gloves. The blades were affixed to old service rifles, rather than risk damage to newer long arms.

    How often and how exactly were bayonets used? Postbellum there was a tendency to downplay the role of the bayonet in close-quarter fighting. The 1870 Surgeon General’s Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion (1861-1865) on Civil War injuries contained a table that listed the type(s) of wounds treated in Federal hospitals. Fewer than 1,000 bayonet wounds were noted there. Connecting the dots, historians concluded that the bayonet was little but an impediment to soldiers who were issued them (not all were), used primarily as candlestick holders or cooking implements as noted in the “myth” heading.

    This is not necessarily a conclusion that can be drawn. The Surgeon General’s information can be interpreted another way: only the wounded were treated in hospitals and the casualties from bayonets were primarily dead on the battlefield. There is some weight to the argument since the weapon was primarily used in hand-to-hand fighting. Such close-quarter fighting provides a ratio of mortal bayonet wounds to recoverable injuries which is expectedly very high indeed. Some period accounts state that few bayoneted soldiers survived the trauma due to the heavy loss of blood that resulted in such a short time. Perhaps if there were cause of death or autopsy reports from burial details we would have a different perspective of the damage done by the bayonet, but no such records survive.

    There are first-person accounts of soldiers discarding their bayonets as excess weight while on the march; but soldiers also discarded other essential pieces of equipment like their canteens and blankets. Estimates of up to 50 percent of equipment issued to soldiers were noted as discarded on the march. However, when one lends weight to the letters and diary entries that mention use of the bayonet in battle, a clearer picture emerges. Sam Watkins wrote in Company Aytch: “We gave one long, loud cheer, and commenced the charge. As we approached their lines...Officers with drawn swords meet officers with drawn swords, and man to man meets man to man with bayonets and loaded guns.”

    Jonathan Newcomb in the 3rd Maine Infantry noted during the Peninsula campaign, “We rose up and fired a volley, then pitched into them with bayonets and clubbed muskets and drove them back for nearly a mile.” Perhaps most famously, Joshua Chamberlain at Little Round Top carried the day and perhaps saved the Army of the Potomac by ordering that famous bayonet charge at Gettysburg. He noted in his report the following:

    “My ammunition was soon exhausted. My men were firing their last shot and getting ready to “club” their muskets. It was imperative to strike before we were struck by this overwhelming force in a hand-to-hand fight, which we could not probably have withstood or survived. At that crisis, I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough. It ran like fire along the line, from man to man, and rose into a shout, with which they sprang forward upon the enemy, now not 30 yards away. The effect was surprising; many of the enemy’s first line threw down their arms and surrendered. … we made an extended ‘right wheel,’ before which the enemy’s second line broke and fell back, fighting from tree to tree, many being captured, until we had swept the valley and cleared the front of nearly our entire brigade.”

    The day of the bayonet was far from over.

    One must also consider the well-documented effect on morale of a company of gleaming bayonets advancing steadily on defenders. The British Army command for fixing bayonets features a movement where the blade is held overhead for an instant, to communicate the threat which it represents. It was especially effective to control civil unrest as well, often dissipating a crowd of rioters without firing a shot.Rather than concluding that the bayonet was obsolete by the time of the Civil War, it is fairer to say that the tactic of charging an entrenched position with bayonets alone should have ended with the Civil War. And yet it did not. Because of its usefulness in hand-to-hand fighting no matter how infrequent or impractical, the bayonet remains a valuable part of the infantry soldier’s equipment.
    Last edited by Craig L Barry; 11-29-2011 at 12:05 AM.
    Craig L Barry

    Author: The Civil War Musket: A Handbook for Historical Accuracy

  3. #3
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    in a section describing casualties we read:

    "Less than 1% of the wounds were caused by sabers and bayonets."
    95 % were bullets
    5% artillery

    Alfred Hay Bollett, MD; Civil War Medicine: Challenges and triumphs p 90

    With that said as before mentioned stats only include those who made it to the field hospital. The rest died in the field or if they reached the aid station were given opiates and sat aside only to me marked KIA. Injuries like a bayonet on the chest/abdomen were considered fatal for the most part and would never leave the aid station alive.

    Another theory I have heard is that in a conservative Victorian area where opposing sides may be from the same area or share a common heritage (Irish) they would have trouble running someone through with a bayonet it is a very personal way to kill someone where as shooting from a distance is not. No doubt there was a lot of PTSD and close quarters combat doesn't help.

    There was a case at Gettysburg were a Union and Confederate actually physically ran into each other due to the fog of smoke. They could have fought it out but the union Sargent tolled the Confederates to fall back to the rear and disarm. It seems strange by today's standards but it was a different time.

    Hope this give some food for thought.

    Mason Lumpkins
    Hospital Steward/Asst Surgeon
    Muddy River Battalion

  4. #4
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    When bayonet wounded arrived at hospitals they have been set aside simply because the wound itself was/would be a real hassle to treat. Most of the bayonets are triangular in profile, with only a sharp tip, rather than the easy, slit of a knife like we have today. They create a long, winding wound that's difficult to suture, and even with the bayonet's "blood grooves" it would still require some strength to defeat the suction to pull the thing from the soldier's body. ( I thought I remembered reading somewhere of a soldier who bayoneted another and had to plant his foot on his opponent's chest to get the leverage to haul the thing out of the opponent's body, something Hollyweird conveniently forgets to show.)

    Forensically speaking, the biggest target for bayonets will be the chest/abdomen area, so the statement that bayonet wounds can/are fatal will hold true - there goes collapsed lungs, and ragged holes in intestines, which equals peritonitis (which the surgeons recognized and dreaded). Thus Mr. Barry's interpretation that there may be higher amounts of bayonet wounds on the field, merely from dead people, seems logical to me.

    Post-modern note - A couple of years ago the US Army's TRADOC decided to remove bayonet training from the basic training skills, citing that the current battlefields and tactics don't use or need them. Something tells me, though, that the USMC has kept their bayonet drills, merely to make sure the Marines can - and will - use whatever weapons they can to complete the mission.
    Noah Briggs

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    As to modern bayonet training, I know my son had to go through it in about 2002 in his Army basic. He really enjoyed it. I would rather start a fight with a long strong stick than a short one. The butt of a rifle is still a great thing to hit with. I suspect it was in the Civil War. I would really be surprised if it was just a novelty... I would like to see more on this if anyone knows and has sources.

  6. #6
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    It has always been my belief that the use of the bayonet, while an actual weapon, had more power from a pyschological standpoint. Opposing battalions in battlelines firing at each other dont utilize the bayonet as it is difficult to reload with it on the musket. But once the order is given to fix bayonets, the enemy can see the steel and should realize the foe is ready to advance to break their lines. And breaking the enemies lines and forcing him to give ground was the point of combat in those times, not killing. Seeing the bayonet on your enemy meant business.

    Kent Dorr - Winter Quarters in Ohio
    "Devils Own Mess"

  7. #7
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    "....the use of the bayonet.....had more power from a pyschological standpoint."

    Beat me to it. The ideal bayonet charge is one where the enemy breaks before you make contact.

  8. #8
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    Post Wounds . . .

    Quote Originally Posted by KCFed View Post
    in a section describing casualties we read:

    "Less than 1% of the wounds were caused by sabers and bayonets."
    95 % were bullets
    5% artillery

    Alfred Hay Bollett, MD; Civil War Medicine: Challenges and triumphs p 90

    Well, it does say wounded. When the smoke cleared, there was a good chance that the shot folks would still be in the world of the living, able to be taken to a hospital to be treated, and would end up on surgeon's reports. Example: being hit in the shoulder'll hurt, but you ain't gonna die.

    As for fellas hit by artillery, well, let me put it like this: how long do you think you'll live without your legs and you're bleeding out faster than the water's goin' over Niagara Falls? Or, how about canister? How many do you supposed survived canister shot? You have to survive to be wounded, y'know.

    Now, for the bayonet. In close-quarter's fighting with the bayonet, you're stickin' people to kill 'em, before they can kill you. It's really no surprise that those bayoneted didn't live long enough to get to the hospital, and be recorded as wounded. Also, there was less chance of being bayoneted than being blown apart by cannon.
    --
    I remain,
    Most Respectfully,

    Mr. Franklin Jolly

    ~~~~~~~
    “Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.”

    Commonly Attributed to R. E. Lee.

  9. #9
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    Default Good Source on Wound Statistics

    Civil War Medicine by C. Keith Wilbur, M.D., has several charts in the back of the book from case studies done in the Civil War. The Union Medical Service requested surgeons to report the wounds and illnesses treated and these records survived unlike the South's records which burned with Richmond. Compared to bullet wounds, bayonet wounds were very low in number. There were more saber wounds treated than bayonet wounds.

    Please note that these statistics referred to wounds treated. After being wounded, the casualty had to survive the wound to receive treatment and with blade wounds, that usually meant if they died it was from blood loss either through bleeding externally or internally. A lung and diaphragm wound can cause death due to asphyxiation quicker than loss of blood volume from a major artery being severed. However if the severed artery involves the carotids, almost immediate unconsciousness results from loss of oxygen to the brain. If only one of the four carotid vessel's is severed, the blood flow can be stopped by pinching the ends of the vessels. However, in the 19th century, survival is almost certainly not likely due to no technique existent to repair or shunt an artery. If ligated, the resulting stroke may well be unsurvivable. Just some thoughts from some surgical experience in vascular surgery. Perhaps I should put something like "It's not bleeding unless it's squirting!" in my signature! lol!

  10. #10
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    I need to look back over it but I believe The Bloody Crucible of Courage goes pretty in depth into this topic with the same conclusion mentioned above, that recorded wounds mention only those that made it back to hospitals. Most of the time bayonet wounds were fatal, which partially comes from their design and is a reason why the triangular blades were outlawed. If those cases were known the total number would be much higher.
    Last edited by 1ofHoward'sCowards; 02-16-2012 at 06:26 PM. Reason: I can't spell
    Jake Koch
    Die deutschen Teufel Mess

    Vicksburg N.M.P.

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