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To Fix, Or Not To Fix (Bayonets) That Is The Question

Cold Steel, The Bayonet



As the War between the United States and Great Britain edged closer and closer, the United States Army decided to retire the Steuben's "Blue Book."   Ever since the War of Independence, the United States had relied on Baron De Steuben's  "Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States."

In 1791, France had adopted a new manual for Infantry tactics that influenced the Infantry manuals of almost every nation.   An attempt was made in 1810 to adopt an "abridgement" of this manual by the United States Army but did not come to be.

By March 30th, 1812, Col. Smyth's "Regulations for the Field Exercise, Manoeuvres, and conduct of the Infantry of the United States" printed in Philadelphia by Fry and Kammerer, was adopted as the official Infantry manual of the United States.

Steuben's manual however, remained the "official" manual for the Militia.

The new manual was based on the French 1791 manual but kept much of the regulations that was included in Steuben's.

There is however, one aspect of the "Manual Exercise" that is not found in Smyth's 1812 manual, and that is FIX BAYONETS and UN-FIX BAYONETS. It is simply, not there.   There is an assumption therefore, that whenever the men would fall in, their muskets were always fixed.

There is evidence, that the "Peacetime army" before the war, were issued with some muskets where the bayonets were "braised" or welded on them. So the Army was not entirely unknown to the practice of keeping weapons fixed at all times. 

The omission of fixing and un-fixing bayonets from Smyth's is
perplexing. There are always some situations where you can not have your weapon fixed.  Examples are with the position of secure arms and also in regards to Funerals. Page 210 of Smyths states in the regulations concerning Funerals..."The escort being formed in line, with shouldered arms, without bayonets...."
So even Smyth realized that the men may have to un-fix bayonets at times.

The official United States manual (Steuben's) before March of 1812 did include Fix and Un-fix Bayonets. So did the troops continue to use what was in Steuben's?

Steuben Regulations (1805 printing) :

Fix------Bayonets!      Three motions.

1st and 2nd motions the same as the two first motions of the secure.

3rd Quitting the piece with your right hand, sink it with your left down the left side, as far as may be without constraint, as the same time seize the bayonet with the right had, draw and fix it, immediately slipping the had down the stock, and pressing in the piece to the hollow of the shoulder.  

Yet the story gets even more confused, for in March of 1813, the army abandons Smyth's manual for a manual written by William Duane.   "A Hand Book for Infantry containing the First Principles of Military Discipline..." was published in Philadelphia by the author in 1813.  The title page includes...." Adjutant Generals Office, Washington City, 19th March, 1813.  General Orders, The "Hand Book for Infantry." compiled and
published by William Duane, of Philadelphia, will be received and observed as the system of Infantry Discipline for the Army of the United States.  By Order of the Secretary of War.  T. H. Cushing, Adjt. Genl. "

  Duane writes on page 102, "Fix Bayonet ---   This operation is
performed in two modes, at the right and at the left side.  At the right side, it is performed at the order, by drawing the bayonet from the scabbard and fixing it on with the right had, and letting the firelock remain at the order.  This is the shortest and best method; the other method from the shoulder, may be performed from the shoulder, in five motions, in this manner: 


At the word FIX BAYONETS, 


1.      The right had crosses the body and holds the grasp;  

2.      The left hand is carried up and seizes the firelock; 

3.      It is brought down, with the left hand to the left side; 

4.      The bayonet is there fixed, which is followed,   

5.      By the shoulder.

On page 104 Duane writes...

At the word UNFIX BAYONETS...four motions...


1.      Throw the muzzle of the firelock forward from the order with the right hand.  

2.      Force the bayonet by striking the ball of the right thumb against the
shoulder and unscrew the bayonet. 

3.      Return the bayonet to the scabbard. 

4.      Draw back the firelock to the position of the order with hand in front of the piece below. 

5.  Carry the left hand to the left side.

Duane also includes instructions to un-fix from the shoulder. His instructions printed  above are a little confusing and illustrates while his "Handbook" was despised by many officers.  In fact, many officers continued to use Smyths.

The point though, is that up to March of 1812, the U.States army had specific commands to fix and un-fix bayonets.  The new manual written by Smyth did not include these motions but it was replaced by Duane's in 1813 that did include fix and un-fix bayonets in its manual exercise.

We may never know what commanders did from March of 1812 to March of 1813? Would they had simply used what was in Steuben's?   If an officer had served in the army before March of 1812 he obviously would had been trained to use those commands.   Steuben's is not entirely unlike what
is found in Duane's though the latter author suggests going from the Order to fix and un-fix.

Rest assured, if the officer wanted to fix or un-fix bayonets, he could find the commands to do so.     

David C. Bennett