A Naval Officers Manual of the Sword
By Russell V. Tucker
me not without reason,
Sheath me not without honor"
The naval officers sword is more than decoration, or at times a nuisance in tight places. It is a time-honored badge of the rank, and a close quarters weapon. Its proper wearing and use is as much a part of the officer impression as any other part. This article will address the proper manual of arms for its wearing and use.
This will mainly address parade and other formations for which the naval officer is most apt to make use of his sword, with some attention to situations that can come about during the leading of landing parties. Safety is always primary to authenticity with a drawn sword. Likewise, this article makes no attempt to be comprehensive, and is from a collection of reference materials, such as may be found in Hardees, Caseys and Scotts manuals and other less common references. Many positions are decided from the sometimes incompatible manuals through period photographs of officers exercising the position.
We must start by hanging the scabbarded sword properly form the slings on the sword belt.
The novice always seems to hang the sword from the hook on the belt, but hangs it the same way it hangs from the straps - guard forward and drag to the rear. This gets in the way while walking, interferes with ladies dresses or other persons walking close by, hits the ground, is inconvenient when sitting down, and can bang on the steps or trip the wearer while going up or down ladders or stairs.
The hook hanging from the left side of the belt at the top of the front sword strap is to carry the sword while not drawn from the scabbard (all branches). There is not a reference in the Naval Regulations or in Hardee's concerning carrying or hanging officers' swords. However, period naval and marine pictures show the accepted manner.
The proper way to hang the sword when not in use is to seize the upper ring between the thumb and the fore finger of the left hand, back of the hand up, raising the scabbard, whilst turning the hilt toward the body, until it points to the rear; passing the ring over the hook attached to the waist-belt. It is obvious that elevating the sword and hanging it with the drag (point) forward was the desired result more than the guard to the rear. The left elbow can be slightly pressed against the body and forward of the properly hung sword guard while walking. This keeps the drag forward and resting slightly across the left leg and out of the way of feet and people in the rear. The left hand falls naturally on the scabbard to rotate the drag of the sword further up and forward out of the way when sitting down and going up and down stairs. See figures 1 through 3. This manner may be observed in period photos in The Image of War, Vols. I and III.
There may be times just prior to or during an engagement in the field or on the deck that warrants hanging the sword opposite from above. Reversing the position at these times will allow for quicker and smoother drawing and the scabbard will hang at a better angle during the active time to follow.
When attaching (never sewn on) the straps on a sword belt, the front sword strap, and hook, should be in the middle of the left side or slightly forward of the center, but never to the rear of center as this will tend to get the drag of a hanging sword caught behind the left leg (and in front of the right leg).
However, just as much a theory behind hanging the sword "backwards" is that the grip is in a position for a rapid draw for an overhand slash with the right hand, just as the pistol is carried on the right side in a "backwards" frog, ready for draw by the left hand.Position of the Sword Under Arms
The Carry position consists of the grip in the right hand, which will be supported against the right hip, the back of the blade against the shoulder (Hardee 1855/1861; Caseys, Gilhams (KSG), and confederate editions of Hardees are identical). The arm should be nearly extended; sword supported by the thumb and first two fingers, extended and placed on the grip in such a manner that in raising the sword to the salute, & c., the fingers can be introduced inside the guard, and firm grasp of the sword obtained without effort (Ellsworth 1861).
Note that the hand should not grasp the sword grip in a fist, but should support it in the manner of a musket held at Order Arms. The top of the grip should be held between the thumb and first two fingers, the guard resting on the top of the hand, the other fingers being used to support and balance the grip. There should be only a slight bend in the elbow, only enough to allow the hand to be placed at the side of the hip. The sword must never be sloped back over the shoulder, but should always be held with the blade perpendicular (Berriman 1861). It is plain sloppy, and the proper carry of the sword just like proper wear of the uniform goes with the position.Present Arms (Salute)
The officer continues by dropping the point of the sword by extending the arm, so that the right hand may be brought to the side of the right thigh, and remains in that position until the person to whom the salute is rendered shall have six paces (Hardee 1855/1861; see figure 6). The sword should point the right (not straight ahead,) with the nails to the front (KSG 1861, Morris 1865). Note that specific to doing this position during a parade, the officer should remain in this position as long as the men of his command are at Present Arms (Berriman 1861). This may be observed in period images showing sword presented in this manner in The Image of War, Vol. I, pages 86 and 381.
To recover, raise the sword smartly, and place the back of the blade against the right shoulder, returning to the position of the Carry (Hardee 1855/1861). The bringing the sword back to the first position of the salute before placing it back at the Carry was outdated by the 1860s and is not appropriate to the WBTS era drill.Order Arms
Cross the hands in front of the body, left hand over right, right hand resting on the sword hilt (Ellsworth 1861, KSG 1861, see figure 8).
The above notwithstanding, photos in The Image of War show officers at Parade Rest with the right foot back, like the men in the ranks, and the sword sloped across the front of the body, with the point near the left toe. This position is the most common in period images, and it was used for the figure shown here.
Other Shoulder PositionsReverse Arms (as for funeral parades)
Carry the sword with the blade under the right arm, edge upwards, hilt to the front (KSG 1861).In Place Rest
There is no officer impression that can be done better than one done correctly.
Special thanks to long time reenactor Geoff Walden as consultant to this article, and to Captains Michael Zeigler and Charles James, two splendid CSMC officers from which he had the honor to learn the basic sword positions.
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