Wednesday, October 5, 2011
A sailor’s typical day on a Union Navy blockading ship was filled with drill; fire drill, general quarters, gun drill, small arms drill, and on and on. Part of this repertoire was cutlass drill using “single sticks,” pieces of wood the same dimension as the standard 1861 Ames cutlass. Use of these prevented accidental (or purposeful, if you didn’t like your sparring partner) injury, plus they were a lot lighter in weight than the actual cutlass; an important consideration when the cutlass drill lasted up to two hours each day.
The drill involved learning both defensive and offensive sequences with the cutlass. According to the 1869 drill manual, the defensive phase of the drill was “le fort” and the offensive phase was “le faible.” Footwork was as important as the wielding of the edged weapon, with the sailor generally advancing aggressively towards his opponent on offense and backing up on defense.
When we are in camp as the USS Ft. Henry at events, we put on demonstrations of single stick drill for the public, which is always a big hit.
Photos from the Library of Congress Civil War Drawings collection (online) and the USS Ft. Henry.