A Marine Corps Tradition: the Military Sword

Posted by Bryan on 1/31/2013 to U.S. Military Swords
From the time of their founding, on November 10, 1775, until 1826, there was no regulation pattern sword worn by the Marine Corps. Tradition says that officers of that period carried the Mameluke sword, like the one awarded to Lieutenant Pressley O’Bannon and one or two other officers by the Viceroy of Egypt on December 8, 1805, in appreciation for their services in the battle of Derne. Period paintings and sketches, however, consistently show officers carrying swords of British or French manufacture. The only written descriptions only note that they had brass handles or were “brass mounted Hangers.”

The first regulation of swords by the Corps began in 1826. Officers carried the Mameluke, a cross hilted sword with a curved, scimitar-like blade. NCOs, enlisted men, and musicians carried swords with only a slightly curved blade and a handguard which encircled the hand. Because musicians were often boys, swords with a 24 inch blade were available, though the standard blade length was 32 inches. As the swords were not made to order, but bought from stocks on hand, most are indistinguishable from militia swords of the period.

The 1840 and 1859 regulations for enlisted men stated they were to carry the same swords as the Army, and in 1850 officers of all ranks carried the same sword. The major differences between the swords of officers and enlisted men at this time had to do with the amount of ornamentation on the sword. In 1875, officers readopted the Mameluke sword while NCOs retained the Army 1850 model. Following the First World War, the enlisted men’s swords were redesigned. The blade was shortened to 27 ¾ inches, narrowed at the hilt, and etched with “United States Marines” on one side, with the Marine Corps insignia on the other.