18th Century Living History

Charge Bayonets!

In Research on October 18, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Way back in February we wrote a series of posts about the drill carried out by the 18th century army. One post we never published related to the position of ‘charge bayonets’. As with much of the British armies drill during the seven years war, the position of charge bayonets probably changed.

A painting by David Morier depicting the Highlander charge against Grenadiers of Barrell's Regiment at Culloden in 1746. Morier reputedly used Barrell's (as well as captured highlanders) as models for this painting. It also depicts the charge bayonet position.

Our main sources for drill are the 1757 platoon exercise ordered by the Duke of Cumberland and the famous drill treatise of the period by Humphrey Bland. Each describes the charge bayonets position in similar fashion described and shown below.

A sketch by Lt. Baillie of a Grenadier showing the charge bayonets position as described by Bland and Cumberland around 1753.

“23d, Charge your bayonet. 1. Step forward about eighteen inches with the left foot, bending the left knee, and at the same time seizing the butt with the right hand, (placing the plate full in the palm of that hand) bring down the muzzle so as the firelock may rest upon the left arm, almost level, and as hight as your breast, the left elbow turned out towards the front, the fingers and thumb towards the lock.” (Cumberland: 1757: 11).

The position remains essentially unchanged from the position shown in Morier’s painting 11 years previous. In this instance the charge bayonets is essentially a defensive position and proves difficult to carry out offensive bayonet charges. This was something noted by William Wyndham in his ‘Plan for the Discipline for the Militia of Nofolk’ in 1760. The method of charging bayonets which he described as ‘pressing the piece against the top of your hip’ (14). And pictured in the manual as such:

The Charge Bayonets as described in William Wyndhams Treatise.

Wyndham explains that the above position makes a “a man is firm against shock, and in guard; having the command of his body, feet, and firelocks, to use as he shall see occasion, or opportunity, to defend himself, or annoy his enemy, or advance upon him, if he should give way” (1760:15). This as Wyndham indicates is the same method as used by Britain’s ally the Prussians, although he was fairly confident he had come upon this method by his own accord stating “Our manner of charging bayonets seems to be the same with which the Prussian use in action: so far as we can judge, from the obscure and unintelligible description, given of it in the regulations for the Prussian Infantry, printed in 1757 pag. 35” (1760:15).

In 1764 a new manual was issued replacing the 1757 manual. With this new manual came a new method of charging bayonets for the army which would be similar to that described by William Wyndham.

“#32- Charge Bayonets! (3 Motions)
1st. As in Explanation one.
2nd. Bring the Swell of the Firelock down strong upon the Palm of the Hand, turning upon both Heels to the Right, the right Hand grasping the Piece at the Small behind the Lock, and as high as the Waist-Belt; The Firelock upon a level with the Barrel upwards.”

In many cases official manuals of the Army simply standardised drill and practice all ready occurring in the regiments, certainly Wyndham had seen two regular units drill during the process of writing his treatise and several Prussian military practices had already been adopted during the course of the war. If the 1764 was simply standardising practice already happening, to what extent had this method been adopted by British regiments and at what date?

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