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Markus Fischer




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PostPosted: Fri 19 Feb, 2021 10:03 am    Post subject: Bowie Knife Guard Types         Reply with quote

Hi

I wondered if anybody here has some knowledge about Bowie knife guards.
There are obviously a number of different styles of Bowie Guards, but how many exactly? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of certain types? Also it would be interesting to know at what time which type was the most prominent and why.... just fashion or something else?
I have done some superficial research myself, but couldn't find anything.
But the awesome folks on myArmoury never fail to share information that is hard to find elsewhere.

Thanks
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Sat 20 Feb, 2021 8:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bowies had every kind of guard. in fact, some of the knives most closely associated with J. Bowie were guardless. thatís pretty common in the Antebellum period. in the early part of the Civil War, large knives with D guards became common. iíve posted both kinds of projects here in the recent past. See Norm Flaydermanís book for the most detailed overview.

http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=380...ight=bowie

http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=384...mp;start=0

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Dan D'Silva





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PostPosted: Sat 20 Feb, 2021 2:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Agreed. I won't pretend to be an expert, but even at a glance, there is so much variety that documenting them all is probably impossible. After all, they've been made by countless smiths and cutlers in all shapes and sizes for closing on two centuries now... and that's not even touching on what counts as a Bowie. If you ask me to picture a Bowie, the knife that comes to my mind is something like this:
https://sheffield-trading.com/hunting-fixed-blade-knives/110-scale-tang-bowie-stag.html
Which arguably has as many features in common with a USMC Ka-Bar as with a Searles Bowie.

I would say, though, that you might be able to get a handle on the most common factory styles. The 19th-century Sheffield Bowies, for instance, had a wide variety of guards that could get very fancy. But most often they were simple, straight, two-branched, oval, sometimes with ball finials, or boat-shaped and crowned, and made of brass or nickel silver. These types have been extremely enduring. In the thread Sean linked to above, I used a boat-shaped, crowned nickel guard, similar to the one in the Sheffield Trading Company page.
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Markus Fischer




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PostPosted: Sat 20 Feb, 2021 11:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for sharing that knowledge. My primary interest was to know if there were specific guard types that had certain advantages in Bowie Fencing....it would be for example pretty obvious to say that a D-Guard offers more protection than that Sheffield Bowie Knife with its simple straight guard.

But after thinking about this a bit, I figured that apart of the D-Guard and maybe the swept-hilt guard, the differences in actual performance between different guard types are too suddle to be relevant.
Also I thought that that the guards might have changed and developed over time, just like medival european sword guards did.
And this might be partly the case, because (as you've told me) a lot of Bowies that were produced before the Civil War rarely had a guard..... probably because the Bowie wasn't used in combat so much.
But then as the War arrised they needed a guard, because you now would use the knife mostly for combat, and you would encounter sabers and other Bowie knives.
And as soon as there was a guard, the evolution probably stopped (or at least it was now mostly for Looks, rather than functionality) simply because it doesn't make a hole lot of difference which guard you take (again, except for the D-Guard).

This is just my personal interpretation of the input you gave me, and some further thoughts of mine.
Please correct me if there is something very wrong with my theory.


Thank you!
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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Sun 21 Feb, 2021 5:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Markus,

I think you may be romanticizing the Bowie knife's role in the U.S. Civil War. They certainly must have been used overwhelmingly as camp and field knives, not as combat knives. I'm aware of (but regrettably don't have the reference to hand) military research that bears on this:

On Monday 26 November 2007, in private correspondence, Paul Kenworthy wrote:
[A]n article . . . appeared in an issue of the journal of the Military Services Institute during the debate in the 1880s in the US Army about whether or not swords and bayonets should be retained. It re-examines the hospital records from the Civil War and contends that the statistics on sword and bayonet use are misleading. The author said that surgeons only recorded a wound as a bayonet or sword wound if they were reasonably sure that it was caused by that weapon. If they weren't sure what weapon caused the wound it went into a category called "puncture, incised or contused" wounds. Bayonet and sword wounds accounted for 1/47 of the wounds recorded. However, if you include puncture, incised or contused wounds, they jump to 1/10 of recorded wounds. In other words, soldiers in the Civil War were busily stabbing and beating each other, the only question was with what.

However, it's clear that if one-tenth of wounds were identifiably not caused by bullets, then knife wounds must have caused far fewer than one in ten of all wounds--bayonet and sword wounds would have predominated (probably in that order), and more unusual causes (clubbing with muskets' butts, for example) would have had a share.

Soldiers' expectations may well have been that they'd fight with their knives, but it can't actually have been common. Even if soldiers didn't discard their big knives in order to lighten their kits, guards prevent users' hands from slipping onto blades during heavy work, and D-guards still appear on machetes because of their usefulness in protecting users' hands when cutting brush.

I hope that this proves helpful.

Best,

Mark Millman
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Dan D'Silva





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PostPosted: Sun 21 Feb, 2021 9:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wouldn't say that the evolution stopped entirely. I'm relying on Google-fu here, but I've never seen a guard like this dated to the 19th century:
http://www.cuttingedge.com/knife/klc08252_small_bowie
It's superficially similar to the crowned guards of earlier knives, but has a smooth concave slope instead of an angle. As far as I can tell, that stylistic detail on simple factory-made Bowie guards didn't come about until the 20th century.
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Markus Fischer




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PostPosted: Sun 21 Feb, 2021 10:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Millman wrote:
Dear Markus,

I think you may be romanticizing the Bowie knife's role in the U.S. Civil War. They certainly must have been used overwhelmingly as camp and field knives, not as combat knives.

However, it's clear that if one-tenth of wounds were identifiably not caused by bullets, then knife wounds must have caused far fewer than one in ten of all wounds--bayonet and sword wounds would have predominated (probably in that order), and more unusual causes (clubbing with muskets' butts, for example) would have had a share.

Soldiers' expectations may well have been that they'd fight with their knives, but it can't actually have been common. Even if soldiers didn't discard their big knives in order to lighten their kits, guards prevent users' hands from slipping onto blades during heavy work, and D-guards still appear on machetes because of their usefulness in protecting users' hands when cutting brush.


Well, you could be right that Bowie knives were not used for combat as intensively as I thought. But still I am sure that they have been used for combat and that they started to have guards because of the Civil War. That seems to be very logical because as Sean Flynt said, most Bowie knives that were produced before the civil war didnt have guards at all.
Therefore I am quite sure that the appearance of guards was mostly combat related.
So the only reason, why you put a guard on a blade is quite simply to prevent you hand from slipping up on the blade when stabbing, and to protect your hand from your opponents blade.
You dont need a guard for chopping....look at meat cleavers or basicly all machetes. When you are swinging an object, it wants to fly out of your hand. Also most knives suited for chopping have enough blade width in front of your hand, so that the blade itself acts as a handstopper.
Therfore I am sure that the appearance of guards on Bowie knives was mostly combat related.
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Markus Fischer




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PostPosted: Sun 21 Feb, 2021 10:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan D'Silva wrote:
I wouldn't say that the evolution stopped entirely. I'm relying on Google-fu here, but I've never seen a guard like this dated to the 19th century:
http://www.cuttingedge.com/knife/klc08252_small_bowie
It's superficially similar to the crowned guards of earlier knives, but has a smooth concave slope instead of an angle. As far as I can tell, that stylistic detail on simple factory-made Bowie guards didn't come about until the 20th century.


Yes, youre right. As I already said, the evolution didnt stop. It just stopped in terms of functionality oriented evolution, but rather continued in a fashion/style oriented evolution (thats at least my theorie).
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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Mon 22 Feb, 2021 12:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Markus,

On Monday 22 February 2021, you wrote:
[T]he evolution . . . continued in a fashion/style oriented evolution (thats at least my theorie).

If you can say this about post-Civil War developments in Bowie knife design, why don't you accept it about pre-Civil War developments? One could equally well postulate, for example, that with the advancement of industrial processes knife manufacturers found that when they added guards to their knives they could raise their asking prices by more than the cost of the guard, and thereby increase their profit margins. When enough manufacturers had done so, then guards on Bowie knives became part of the expected design, and knives without them no longer looked right.

It's dangerous to assume that what seems obvious to us today corresponds to the way that people thought in the past. Fashion, for one, is at least as strong a driver of personal-weapon design as function. In an industrialized capitalist society, profit is an equally strong motivator; and manufacturers can create demand to generate profit, rather than merely responding to customers' pre-existing desires.

Best,

Mark Millman
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Markus Fischer




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Feb, 2021 12:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Millman wrote:

If you can say this about post-Civil War developments in Bowie knife design, why don't you accept it about pre-Civil War developments? One could equally well postulate, for example, that with the advancement of industrial processes knife manufacturers found that when they added guards to their knives they could raise their asking prices by more than the cost of the guard, and thereby increase their profit margins. When enough manufacturers had done so, then guards on Bowie knives became part of the expected design, and knives without them no longer looked right.

It's dangerous to assume that what seems obvious to us today corresponds to the way that people thought in the past. Fashion, for one, is at least as strong a driver of personal-weapon design as function. In an industrialized capitalist society, profit is an equally strong motivator; and manufacturers can create demand to generate profit, rather than merely responding to customers' pre-existing desires.



Wars have prooven to be an imense development boost at every time in history. Do you really think it is coincidence that Guards started to become a common feature on Bowie knives as the Civil War arised?

Let me tell you a little story.....or rather a fairytale:

Lets just imagine you were an american soldier in the year 1862.....the civil war has just started. You and your troop of 20 men have been camping near a river overnight. Suddenly at 5am you feel that the ground is shaking. You wake up all your comrades, because you know whats happening: An enemies cavalry charge is coming upon you.
You grab your musket, just as the 2 comrades next to you...with the exception that they also grab their camp knives, with which they ve been splitting firewood the other day.
The first horseman is coming at you. You shoot him in his chest, he drops of his horse, the horse is running away into the bushes around the campside.
You look around you to see where the next enemie is. You see your 2 comrades that sleept next to you fighting 1 horseman each.
The first one shoots his musket, but he misses. Now the cavalryman feels confident and charges at him. Your comrade doesnt have the time to reload his muskeet, so he draws his bowie knife.

The cavalryman is throwing a saber strike at your comrade while riding alongside of him.
Your comrade desperately tries to parry the saber with his bowie knife, but the saber slides down the blade of his Bowie knife (which doesnt have a guard) and cuts of his thumb.
In the pain and surprise he drops his knife, the cavalryman turns his horse, charges again, and splitts your comrades skull with his saber.
Your second comrade on the other hand manages to shoot the cavalrymans horse with his musket. The horse collapses and the cavalryman jumps of in order to not get buried beneath it.
But now the cavalryman stands up and runs at your comrade with his cavalry-saber in hand.
Your comrade also doesnt have the time to reload and also draws his bowie knife. In the meantime the cavalryman has reached your comrade and strikes at him with his saber.
But your comrade leans back, so that the sabers tip misses him by just about 2 inches. Then your comrade takes his chance and delivers a knife-strike at the cavalrymans sword-hand. He hits....but only the sabers D-Guard.
His bowie drops of the sabers guard without doing any damage. The cavalryman recovers and delivers a second strike at your comrade.
He leans back again...but this time not far enough. The saber slices across his chest and wounds him badly.
Rage is flamming inside your comrade, and he charges at the cavalryman and rams his bowie (which doesnt have a guard) deeply into his opponents throat.
The cavalryman dies and drops to the ground, blood running out of the stab-wound.
But your comrade has suffered a further injury.
His hand had slide up onto the blade and all the tendons in his fingers have been cut, because his thrust was so powerful.

The battle is over and your troop has won, but one of the 2 comrades that sleept next to you has died, and the other one is so heavily injured, that he cant continue fighting and gets sent back home to return to his old life as a farmer.

Back home though, he realizes, that he isnt able to work anymore, because his right hand is disabled.....he cant move any finger, as all the tendons have been cut and healed in a way that makes it impossible to move the fingers.

He failes to continue working as a farmer....he looses his farm, and shortly after that his wife, who has found a new husband with enough money.
1 year later he dies of starvation, as a bagger on the streets of New York.

Meanwhile you continue fighting in the Civil War.
2 years after the battle in which you lost both of your comrades, you decide to commission a Bowie Knife from a bladesmith to serve you as a side-arm in the years of war ahead of you.
The bladesmith shows you a design of a bowie knife (which doesnt have a guard) that he usually makes for soldiers, and you really like it and and agree with the smith, that he should make exactly this knife.....

But then you remember the old battle 2 years ago.....and you remember your comrade you has died because of the saber cutting his thumb......and your other comrade who, as you have been told, died 1 year ago because of the long term effects of his injury, which has been caused by his hand sliding into his blade.

You think about how this problem could be solved.....and suddenly you remember that the cavalrymans hand has been protected from your comrades bowie knife strike because of the D-Guard covering his hand.

So you go back to the smith and tell him, that you wanted to have a D-Guard added onto your Bowie Knife.

The smiths is surprised and says: " Hmmm, quite interesting. I ve had 5 other soldiers also requesting a guard on their knives recently. I have never put a guard onto a knife before, but for some reason this seems to be a new trend".


And thats why Bowie Knives first started to have guards at the time of the Civil War......
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Adam Simmonds





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PostPosted: Tue 23 Feb, 2021 5:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I'm aware the guards on 'bowie knives' and indeed most knives designed and carried primarily as weapons (rather than tools) were put in place to stop the hand of the person holding it from sliding down onto the blade. These short guards were not generally intended as defensive additions to block the opponent's knife. Trying to do so using a guard measuring usually under an inch in length would I suspect be rather ill advised. Whether people really 'fenced' with knives in the sense of a controlled back and forth style like one sees in televised sword play or in boxing etc I'm really not sure - it seems to me that knives are too quick and unpredictable for such behaviour. They are fast, nasty last resorts if not mean looking deterrents. Where running towards a gun or longer weapon might sometimes make sense, running away from a knife is almost always the safest course of action. They're exceedingly dangerous in just about anyone's hands.

One exception to the above that I am aware of is in the knife fighting which apparently took place in certain parts of south America in days gone by and still perhaps today in some rural communities. In those cases, as far as I understand it, where duels of honour and other fights were settled with knives, the defensive element was typically a heavy cloak or piece of cloth wrapped around the left / non knife holding forearm which could be used to parry and ensnare the opponent's blade to allow for a counter attack with one's own.

D guard bowie knives seem a bit of an anomaly to me and seem almost closer to small swords than to knives in many respects. One other set of knives which often show a D guard are WW1 trench knives however the D guards on these are as often as not knuckle dusters as guards per se.

For reference I've added a picture of several antique 'fighting / self defence' knives from the period of roughly 1850 - 1900 which all display guards. Note that all of these are relatively short (perhaps for looks and convenience - one wouldn't want the guards snagging on clothing etc especially if worn concealed) and I can't imagine them being particularly useful to intentionally block an incoming blade with, not unless one was wearing some sort of armoured glove as well.



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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Tue 23 Feb, 2021 5:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Markus,

Let me applaud you on your writing. It's vivid! I greatly enjoyed your fairy-tale.

But please consider these points:

Bowie knives were far more popular among Confederate troops than Federal ones. That's clearly related to cultural differences between the northern and southern states of the U.S. The D-guard Bowie in particular is acknowledged to be a southern phenomenon; very few northerners would have had them, except perhaps ones taken as trophies. My understanding--which may be inaccurate--is that D-guard bowies were popular from the war's initial days, when the Confederate forces were in the ascendant.

The Confederate armies were notoriously short of funds and materiel. Bowie knives would have been used frequently in place of shovels--which, please note, is a thrusting motion, often against heavy resistance, that would benefit from having a guard to protect the user's hand.

Photographs of soldiers joining the war effort on both sides are well known to show their subjects absolutely loaded with pistols and knives in addition to their issued equipment. The photographers are equally well known to have kept pistols and knives as props to lend the photos' subjects a fiercer and more martial appearance--but those props stayed with the photographers.

As for the fairy-tale elements of your story, as an active Civil War re-enactor who drills weekly--much less frequently than the soldiers did, although I admit that I've now done it for far longer than the war's duration--I can tell you from experience that it takes less than two seconds to fix a bayonet on the type of rifled musket that overwhelmingly dominated the equipment of soldiers on both sides; that contemporary military doctrine instructed soldiers in skirmishing situations to use their bayonets first and to hold their fire in reserve because strategists and tacticians were aware of the limitations of single-shot muzzle-loading long arms; and that the bayonet-combat drills the soldiers practiced include guard postures for defense against saber cuts delivered by cavalry.

No doubt it's amply clear that I think it unlikely that the addition of guards to Bowie knives is a change that was driven by function, although it does seem to be coincident with the war or the immediate pre-war period. But In order really to answer the question, in-depth research on the knives' production and sale, with specific dating of examples, will certainly be necessary. While that's likely to be straightforward for mass-produced knives (for example, those from Birmingham, Sheffield, and Solingen), it will probably be quite difficult for ones produced locally by small-scale makers.

I suppose my central point is this: Modern people looking at questions such as this are overwhelmingly inclined to ascribe changes in the form and technology of weapons and armor to functional improvements, but this turns out to be much too narrow a focus. Economics, including large-scale systems of trade and production, and particularly fashion are at least as important as function in the development over time of weapons and armor. I recommend that you seek out posts here by Jean-Henri Chandler, Dan Howard, and Matthew Amt, who have written particularly clearly and thoroughly on this topic.

Best,

Mark
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Markus Fischer




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PostPosted: Tue 23 Feb, 2021 11:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Adam Simmonds wrote:
As far as I'm aware the guards on 'bowie knives' and indeed most knives designed and carried primarily as weapons (rather than tools) were put in place to stop the hand of the person holding it from sliding down onto the blade. These short guards were not generally intended as defensive additions to block the opponent's knife. Trying to do so using a guard measuring usually under an inch in length would I suspect be rather ill advised. Whether people really 'fenced' with knives in the sense of a controlled back and forth style like one sees in televised sword play or in boxing etc I'm really not sure - it seems to me that knives are too quick and unpredictable for such behaviour
I can't imagine them being particularly useful to intentionally block an incoming blade with, not unless one was wearing some sort of armoured glove as well.


Well, I dont know if they had an actuall Bowie-Fencing Style back then....maybe they had some basic techniques, but probably nothing compared to todays bowie fencing styles.
Concernig the question if you can parry an incoming knife strike with your knife, I have added a link to a video where Lynn Thompson shows and demostrates this technique.
I dont know if the techniques shown in this video would actually work in combat....also the video is partly an advertisment for Cold Steel knives, so they might be exaggerating the effectivness deliberatly....also the guard of his training Bowie is shaped very oval....almost like a tsuba on a katana. I have no clue how common this shape was in history...which would be very important, as this shape basicly has the same function as the Nagel on the German Langmesser, which allows catching the blade on the flat and letting it run down until it gets stopped by the Nagel or in this case the part of the guard which is extracting left and right.
But even if this was a common feature, it doesnt mean that they have used the guard in that manner...

Here is the link:

https://youtu.be/gUP6SNicwUU
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Markus Fischer




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PostPosted: Wed 24 Feb, 2021 12:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Millman wrote:
Dear Markus,

Let me applaud you on your writing. It's vivid! I greatly enjoyed your fairy-tale.

But please consider these points:

Bowie knives were far more popular among Confederate troops than Federal ones. That's clearly related to cultural differences between the northern and southern states of the U.S. The D-guard Bowie in particular is acknowledged to be a southern phenomenon; very few northerners would have had them, except perhaps ones taken as trophies. My understanding--which may be inaccurate--is that D-guard bowies were popular from the war's initial days, when the Confederate forces were in the ascendant.

The Confederate armies were notoriously short of funds and materiel. Bowie knives would have been used frequently in place of shovels--which, please note, is a thrusting motion, often against heavy resistance, that would benefit from having a guard to protect the user's hand.

Photographs of soldiers joining the war effort on both sides are well known to show their subjects absolutely loaded with pistols and knives in addition to their issued equipment. The photographers are equally well known to have kept pistols and knives as props to lend the photos' subjects a fiercer and more martial appearance--but those props stayed with the photographers.

As for the fairy-tale elements of your story, as an active Civil War re-enactor who drills weekly--much less frequently than the soldiers did, although I admit that I've now done it for far longer than the war's duration--I can tell you from experience that it takes less than two seconds to fix a bayonet on the type of rifled musket that overwhelmingly dominated the equipment of soldiers on both sides; that contemporary military doctrine instructed soldiers in skirmishing situations to use their bayonets first and to hold their fire in reserve because strategists and tacticians were aware of the limitations of single-shot muzzle-loading long arms; and that the bayonet-combat drills the soldiers practiced include guard postures for defense against saber cuts delivered by cavalry.

No doubt it's amply clear that I think it unlikely that the addition of guards to Bowie knives is a change that was driven by function, although it does seem to be coincident with the war or the immediate pre-war period. But In order really to answer the question, in-depth research on the knives' production and sale, with specific dating of examples, will certainly be necessary. While that's likely to be straightforward for mass-produced knives (for example, those from Birmingham, Sheffield, and Solingen), it will probably be quite difficult for ones produced locally by small-scale makers.

I suppose my central point is this: Modern people looking at questions such as this are overwhelmingly inclined to ascribe changes in the form and technology of weapons and armor to functional improvements, but this turns out to be much too narrow a focus. Economics, including large-scale systems of trade and production, and particularly fashion are at least as important as function in the development over time of weapons and armor. I recommend that you seek out posts here by Jean-Henri Chandler, Dan Howard, and Matthew Amt, who have written particularly clearly and thoroughly on this topic.

Best,

Mark



First of all I am happy that you liked my story Happy

I have to admit that I have very little knowledge about the Civil War and that you are definetly better informed than me there.
You have convinced me that it was probably a mix of fashion, function and coincidence that guards started to appear at the start of the Civil War.
And you are probably right that modern people focus too much on function when they are reconstructing history.....but I would say that in most cases this is still the right way of looking at it.

Yes, fashion and economy was a big factor, but at the end of the day we are talking about weapons, which your life depended on. Therefore it is fundermental that your weapon works.
If we look for example at the development of european swords, we can clearly see that their blades are getting more slender and therefore more thrusting-oriented at the same time as armor got better and easier available to the common soldier (I am sure you know that, I just mention it to reinforce my point).
This development is definitely function oriented.
Also the development of more complex guards on longswords was caused my Joachim Meyer and other fencing masters who started to use much more binding techniques ( working "Indes") which endangered the hands getting cut. Therefore they made more complex guards in order to protect the hands.
I think that fashion also played a role in that specific case, but I think that function was the primare reason.

I personaly think that the development of swords in the middle ages and before was much more function oriented than for example in the renaissance and later, because the sword was considered a weapon rather than purely a status symbole, as it was the case in the renaissance because firearms were predominant.

Annother reason for that might be that in the renaissance culture and art returned.
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Wed 24 Feb, 2021 7:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Markus Fischer wrote:
https://youtu.be/gUP6SNicwUU


Hm. Maybe it's just me but I think that in a real fight, parrying like that would be kind of stupid.

What if you opponents blade inadvertedly misses your guard? And why do you think that they are wearing very heavy gloves during this training with blunt aluminium (?) blades? Answer: because they are already anticipating the opponents blade missing the guard. Wink

I've never fenced with a bowie like that, but I do fence Olympic sabre and I *never* *try* to parry with the guard even though it is much more substantial. The guard *did* "save" me on a number of occasions and that's the reason why I believe swords have guards.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Wed 24 Feb, 2021 8:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The very large D-guard knives were mainly in the deep south, ranging from Texas to Georgia. There is a plausible theory that these are related to the Mexican Espada Ancha, and moved from west to east as states of the new Confederacy sought to arm troops quickly in the absence of sufficient firearms and swords. Some of these knives (and pikes!) were made on state contracts for this reason. That's why you might see more of these knives in early-war images. It's true that photographers kept prop weapons, but scholars have noted that there is no evidence of a single knife appearing in more than one surviving image.

The large CSA knives were certainly assumed to be used in combat. "To the knife!" apparently was a CSA boast about the degree to which troops would fight. That supposed brutality was used for propaganda purposes in Federal media. Personally, I'd much rather face a knife than a .58 projectile or canister shot, but it's a moot point. The CSA wanted all the modern military firearms and artillery they could get.

The D-guard is so closely identified with the CSA during the war because it scarcely existed before or after. As impractical as it was for military service, it was ridiculous for civilian use.

BTW, it's not that most Antebellum knives were guardlessĖthere are examples of every kind of guard from that period and much earlier. It's just that many knives used on the frontier were, like J. Bowie's sandbar knife, utilitarian hunting/butcher knives. As the legend of Bowie grew, men with no great need for such a knife adopted fancy versions, especially the imported Sheffield knives. There are gorgeous American knives all through the 19th c., though.

I highly recommend the Flayderman book and this one: https://www.amazon.com/Confederate-Bowie-Knives-Jack-Melton/dp/1931464529/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=confederate+bowie&qid=1614188267&sr=8-3

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Adam Simmonds





Joined: 10 Jun 2006

Posts: 160

PostPosted: Wed 24 Feb, 2021 10:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Well, I dont know if they had an actuall Bowie-Fencing Style back then....maybe they had some basic techniques, but probably nothing compared to todays bowie fencing styles.
Concernig the question if you can parry an incoming knife strike with your knife, I have added a link to a video where Lynn Thompson shows and demostrates this technique.
I dont know if the techniques shown in this video would actually work in combat....also the video is partly an advertisment for Cold Steel knives, so they might be exaggerating the effectivness deliberatly....also the guard of his training Bowie is shaped very oval....almost like a tsuba on a katana. I have no clue how common this shape was in history...which would be very important, as this shape basicly has the same function as the Nagel on the German Langmesser, which allows catching the blade on the flat and letting it run down until it gets stopped by the Nagel or in this case the part of the guard which is extracting left and right.
But even if this was a common feature, it doesnt mean that they have used the guard in that manner...

Here is the link:

https://youtu.be/gUP6SNicwUU


Hi Markus,

I have no experience fighting or 'fencing' etc with knives and no desire to gain any. I have twice had a knife pulled on me and each time I backed away.

The video you posted seems to show two men playing around in a very controlled and safe environment. I suspect that if they were armed with actual knives and intended to harm each other, the video would look very different.

As per my original post, I strongly suspect that the idea of fencing in a kind of back and forth, parry / riposte manner with knives is largely the stuff of fantasy. That's not to say it might not be interesting or amusing to play around with either imaginatively or physically, but there are enough examples of actual altercations involving knives today (particularly in areas such as London city) which paint a very different picture. These altercations are generally swift, brutal, artless and momentary.

Perhaps there are ways of dealing with a knife attack beyond simply running away (which indeed may not always be an option) however I do think that videos such as the one linked in your post above run the risk of giving people a very poor understanding of how 'knife fights' might actually play out, and, furthermore, might make such altercations appear much more predictable and manageable (dare I say glamorous?!) than they are in reality.

Finally, I just don't see how relying on a small piece of metal to protect your naked hand against an incoming blade could be a viable martial technique. The anomalous D guard bowies aside, most antique knives (see the image I posted in my previous post) with martial considerations feature a guard projecting well under an inch from the base of the blade. I certainly wouldn't want to trust my fingers to such a thing!


With best regards,

Adam
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Paul Hansen




Location: The Netherlands
Joined: 17 Mar 2005
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PostPosted: Wed 24 Feb, 2021 12:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Adam Simmonds wrote:

I have no experience fighting or 'fencing' etc with knives and no desire to gain any.


I do think we need to distinguish a bit between "ordinary" knives and bowies, which are noticably longer, heavier and more forwardly balanced. Yet not so much so to be considered as short swords, like, e.g. most saxes, messers etc. They fall a bit in between.

As such I guess it makes sense that the fighting style employed would also fall a bit in between knife fighting and messer fencing. Several influencial people, like Biddle and Styers have adopted sabre fencing techniques to bowie fighting. It is a legitimate concept in itself. But in my opinion it could go horribly wrong if someone were to confuse the concept of knife duelling with the concept of effective street self defence, because, as you rightly point to as well, they are completely different things.
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Adam Simmonds





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PostPosted: Wed 24 Feb, 2021 1:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:

I do think we need to distinguish a bit between "ordinary" knives and bowies, which are noticably longer, heavier and more forwardly balanced. Yet not so much so to be considered as short swords, like, e.g. most saxes, messers etc. They fall a bit in between.

As such I guess it makes sense that the fighting style employed would also fall a bit in between knife fighting and messer fencing. Several influencial people, like Biddle and Styers have adopted sabre fencing techniques to bowie fighting. It is a legitimate concept in itself. But in my opinion it could go horribly wrong if someone were to confuse the concept of knife duelling with the concept of effective street self defence, because, as you rightly point to as well, they are completely different things.



Hi Paul

I agree that it helps to be clear as otherwise such discussions can become more concerned with words rather than the objects to which they supposedly refer. The trouble when it comes to defining 'bowie knives' is that this popular term has become so widely used and refers to such a wide range of knives that it has become quite imprecise as a result. I guess the same thing could be said about the word 'sword'. The more widely used a word becomes, the blurrier it gets. As far as I see it, 'bowie knives' refers to a wide range of knives built robustly for defensive and or general hunting / camping purposes which were particularly popular in the US, Mexico and the UK during the 19th and 20th centuries. I'd be interested to hear your definition? These types of knives will of course perform differently than kitchen knives made for different purposes and usually of thin, often cheap and flexible / easily breakable steel.

I own a few antique 'Bowie knives' which I'll picture below for reference and as you say - they are generally heavier (being of significantly thicker steel) and a bit more forward balanced (although not necessary - my 'chefs' knife balances at the base of the blade like many antique 'bowies') but they are not necessarily longer (the below antiques range from 5 - 9 inch blades) than kitchen knives. Also, while they are usually a bit heavier than thin bladed kitchen knives, they are still very light, fast weapons.

I guess my point remains however that I just don't really see how such relatively short and quick weapons (for the sake of argument I'm referring to blades which do not exceed an absolute maximum of about 12 inches / 30 centimetres) could be systematically used to 'fence' in a parry riposte style like one might with a significantly longer weapon. Please note that, as said above, I 'm entirely ignorant of the actual practice of this kind of thing and would be interested to see something that contradicts my assumption.

Best regards,

Adam



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Adam Simmonds





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PostPosted: Wed 24 Feb, 2021 2:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To add to my previous post - I have noticed that many modern made "bowies' are often on the larger, heavier end of the spectrum, possibly to satisfy a modern desire to hold the larger than life, legendary weapon of an imagined frontier world. Or perhaps it's thanks to Crocodile Dundee and Rambo. In any case, most of the 19th Century bowies I've seen and handled are impressive looking weapons but are relatively small, light and compact. They are however almost always made from good thick steel which is the one area where modern replicas often seem to be under built!
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