History of the Sword

US Military Sword History
History of the United States Army NCO Sword

The Model 1840 Noncommissioned Officers' Sword was based on a German version of the infantry sword used by British troops during the Napoleonic Wars. In August of 1840, the United States Army Ordnance Department contracted with Schnitzler & Kirschbaum ( S&K )of Solingen, Prussia for 1000 swords of this pattern. Later, N.P. Ames Manufacturing Company of Cabotville received their first contract in 1844 to make this sword, followed by Ames Manufacturing Company of Cabotville (1847), then by Ames Manufacturing Company of Chicoppee , Mass in the 1850s. 

The Model 1840 Army NCO sword was worn and saw frontline service by American sergeants during such great conflicts as the Mexican-American War (1846 - 1848), the Civil War (1861 - 1865), and the Spanish American War (1898). A shorter version with a 26 inch blade (the typical 1840 Army NCO sword sports a 31 inch blade) was carried by musicians, and thus was called the Model 1840 Musician's sword. NCO's of shorter stature and cadets also carried this variant. Other ranks allowed to carry it included Sergeant Major, Quartermaster, Ordnance Sergeant, Hospital Steward, Corporal and Pioneer (Combat Engineer). 

Many of the Model 1840 Army NCO swords manufactured by the primary contractor, the Ames Manufacturing Company, were very badly manufactured with a blunt edge, but they still proved effective in combat, as the sword could be used like an iron club to break bones. The 1840 Army NCO sword was the main weapon of standard bearers and hospital stewards, as well as a secondary weapon for infantry NCO's. The sword was also used by the Confederates who captured many after seizing state arsenals. 

The M1840 (1840 Army NCO sword) has had a long service life. In 1868 the United States Army ordnance board recommended that no more leather sword or bayonet scabbards be purchased. (the sword was originally was equipped with a leather scabbard), so after the leather ones were used up, a black Japanned steel scabbard was substituted along with a new pattern leather frog. The 1840 Army NCO sword remained in service as a ceremonial weapon until general orders No. 77 dated August 6, 1875 discontinued its use. A modern version of this sword with steel scabbard is currently permitted for wear by US Army platoon sergeants and first sergeants (Army Field Manual FM 3-21.5) and is mostly used during a regimental CSM (Sergeant Major or SGM) change of command as a symbolic transfer of authority between CSM's.

History of the United States Marine Corps Sword

U.S. Marine officers and NCOs have carried swords since the American Revolutionary War. During the earliest years, the swords worn by Marine NCOs are believed to have been based on Army patterns, though not necessarily the exact swords used by Army NCOs. By approximately the mid-1820s, however, Marine NCOs began wearing distinctive short sabres with cast brass eaglehead hilts and curved blades. About this same time, in 1826, Marine Corps officers also began wearing a distinctive new sword of the Mameluke style, similar to those worn today.

In 1859, a completely new sword pattern was introduced for Marine Corps officers, who were instructed to wear the same sword then worn by Army foot officers since 1850. In addition, in 1859 a similar sword was authorized for wear by Marine NCOs, so that the swords worn by Marine officers and NCOs appeared to share very nearly the same pattern and characteristics. The Marine NCO version, though similar to that worn by Marine officers, had several differences. Among the most noticeable, NCO swords had plain brass hilts and scabbard mounts, whereas officers’ hilts and scabbard mounts normally were gilt. In addition, the grips on NCO swords were wrapped with leather, whereas those for officers were usually covered with sharkskin. Finally, NCO scabbards had only two scabbard mounts, consisting of a top mount with frog stud and a scabbard tip, whereas officers’ scabbards bore three mounts, including upper and middle mounts fitted with carrying rings.

The sword worn by Marine NCOs since 1859 was also carried throughout the American Civil War. With only slight modifications since that time, it has maintained its distinctive and traditional appearance. Even though the Navy Officer Sword is older, 1852, it was discontinued until reauthorized during the (1900s) the M1859 Marine NCO sword is the oldest weapon in continued (unbroken) service still in U.S. inventory.

Marine Corps Commandant Archibald Henderson adopted the Mameluke sword in 1825 for wear by Marine officers. After initial distribution in 1826, Mameluke swords have been worn except for the years 1859-75 (when Marine officers were required to wear the U.S. Model 1850 Army foot officers' sword), and a brief period when swords were suspended during World War II. Since that time, Mameluke swords have been worn by Marine officers in a continuing tradition to the present day.

History of the United States Navy Cutlass

First cousin to the longer, lighter cavalry saber, the naval cutlass was designed for sea-fighting as the saber was adapted to land-battles. Because boarding actions were fought on the crowded decks of small vessels amid tangles of shrouds and splintered spars and struggling shipmates and foemen, Jack Tar's blade had to be short for easy control, and heavy enough to provide its own momentum in slashing. (Unlike the cavalry trooper's trusty saber, Jack's cutlass did not have the weight of  a galloping horse behind it!) 

The cutlass had a straight or slightly-curved blade designed both for cutting and thrusting. A large, enclosed guard shielded the swordsman's hand. The cutlass issued to enlisted men of the Continental Navy and the United States Navy was a highly-specialized weapon which evolved slowly from the falchion, a medieval cutting-sword with a broad, slightly-curved, single-edged blade.

From about 1740 to 1780, the cutlass was a simple, sturdy sword with an imported blade and a crude wooden cylinder for a hilt. The single-edged blade was curved so slightly that it appeared straight at first glance. A colonial armorer named Richard Gridley made several of these weapons.

At the onset of the American Revolution, the cutlass had acquired its distinctive features, but American-made models were still crude. When possible, rebelling colonists captured and used the superior British cutlass, which had a straight, single-edged blade and a hilt of blackened iron. The grip was a hollow, forged-iron cylinder wrapped around a wooden core.

By the Secretary of the Navy's order of October 15, 1942, the cutlass was discontinued as a part of the uniform for the Navy. In 1954 the officer's ceremonial sword was officially restored as part of the uniform to be worn on prescribed occasions. However, three years before this, a group of enlisted men at Bainbridge Naval Training Center independently brought back the use of the cutlass on the parade ground and drill field. In fact, the cutlass has been an instrumental device at Bainbridge since it re-openend recruit training in 1951.

History of the United States Air Force Sword

The Air Force Sword is the ceremonial edged weapon carried by enlisted airmen for special ceremonies. This sword borrows its design from the Air Force Academy Saber which was designed in 1955. The Air Force Sword is identical to the USAFA Saber in every way with the exception of the "US Air Force Academy" inscription on the blade. The Air Force Sword replaced the Model 1840 NCO Sword as the official ceremonial edged weapon for enlisted Airmen sometime within the last decade, although the transition was so gradual that I am having trouble pinpointing exactly when the change occurred Despite the numerous bad information given by Internet sources the Air Force Sword is not the weapon carried by Air Force Officers. 
Air Force officers still carry the Model 1902 Saber. In 1948, one year after the USAF separated from the Army, the Air Force Honor Guard was born. Citing the need for ceremonial edged weapons, they used the same weapons as the army due to their availability. This tradition has remained unchanged for Air Force Officers. The USAF currently does not have its own manual of arms and references Army FM 22-5 as the reference for drilling under arms. As of yet, the only published information outlining which weapons are to be used by either enlisted or officer, is the Honor Guard Manual.