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"Officers, Swords and Pistols in Battle" Topic

13 Posts

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924 hits since 4 Aug 2017
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Nick Stern Supporting Member of TMP04 Aug 2017 8:55 a.m. PST

Paintings and movies (and our miniature figures) always show mid to late 19th Century officers holding their swords in their right hand and firing their pistols with their left hand. Wouldn't the natural inclination be to use the dominant hand to hold the pistol, especially if the enemy was not yet in hand to hand combat range? Were officers trained to use the pistol with their left hand? I suppose shooting right handed could lead to an awkward switching of weapons at the last minute.

nnascati Supporting Member of TMP04 Aug 2017 9:04 a.m. PST

Being left handed, as well as having fenced, I'd say it is more natural to use the dominant hand for sword play, as it requires more control. Purely my opinion.

Murvihill04 Aug 2017 9:23 a.m. PST

The French model 1892 revolver had the cylinder pivot to the right for reloading. This is the opposite direction from most revolvers that had swing-out cylinders, and the reason given was that the bearer would have sword in right hand and pistol in left, so reloading would come from the right hand.

leidang04 Aug 2017 10:35 a.m. PST

Many basket hilted swords are made for the dominant hand. Might be impossible or hard to use them in the off hand.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP04 Aug 2017 10:40 a.m. PST

The sword is an instrument of command. You point with it. When an officer has to go around killing people himself with his pistol, something has gone wrong. He has people to do that for him.

Stryderg05 Aug 2017 1:44 a.m. PST

I would think that the pistol would be used right before entering sword range, not more than 6 feet away. So sufficient accuracy could be achieved worth the off hand.

SaltyDog05 Aug 2017 3:15 p.m. PST

The scabbard is worn on the left hip so as to make it easier to withdraw the sword across the body with the right hand. I have taught Ceremonial sword drill to a lot of young Naval Officers in my time, always right handed even if they are left handed personally. As Leidang said, a lot of swords are made for the dominant hand. I think you answered your question Nick, with your last paragraph.

Lion in the Stars06 Aug 2017 3:58 a.m. PST

Don't forget that the Europeans seem to have a much greater idea of the effective range of a pistol than most Americans.

IIRC, we were taught that the effective range of the 9mm was 50m, but I'd like to see anyone get hits at that distance!

jaxenro Inactive Member17 Aug 2017 4:20 p.m. PST

Paintings and movies aren't known for historical accuracy. My guess would be they shot with the dominant hand then switched to the sword or the reverse (sword first then pistol depending on the situation)

Personal logo John the Greater Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 12:28 p.m. PST

Robert piepenbrink has it spot on. Officers weren't supposed to go around fighting people, they has soldiers to do that for them. The sword as an instrument of command and would always be carried in the right hand. Pistols, when used, were fired with the left hand if the right hand was otherwise engaged.

As I tell people at living histories, if the enemy is close enough to hit with a cap-and-ball pistol you have a problem the pistol can't solve.

Dobber22 Sep 2017 10:30 a.m. PST

Scholagladitoria on YouTube has a few videos about this. Long story short tradition dies hard. Back then the arm blanche was still considered viable weapon. Most European officers (making a generalisation) were competent swordsmen. Speaking particularly to the experience of British officers in the colonial era, Six Bullets may not be enough to save your life. Sometimes there are a few dervishes on top of you before you can reload. Also you never know what sort of culture you will be dealing with. For all you know they are hyped up on some sort of hallucinogenic drug and cannot feel pain so the three or four rounds you used up to stop at the first charging native will leave you empty. The one and only giant advantage of swords versus other people armed with melee weapons is that they don't need to be reloaded.

Rhingyll Supporting Member of TMP22 Sep 2017 11:54 a.m. PST

Not exactly the discussion thread but I have oftened wondered in this photo of the 72nd Highlanders in Afghanistan in 1879 why the officers wore the blanket roll opposite to the rank and file. Was it to get easier access to their pistol or sword?


Lion in the Stars22 Sep 2017 1:21 p.m. PST

That'd be my guess, Rhingyll.

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