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Grand Rapids Public Museum Collections : : [34116]

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Bayonets in this style were introduced to the scene of warfare in the 17th century France. Fitting on the end of the barrel, and resting underneath the barrel, bayonets were used as a defensive weapon or siege weapon. Since a bayonet is essentially a large knife attached to the firearm, its implementation was to provide a soldier with melee weapon as a backup to the firearm. The earliest form of a bayonet was first seen in China during the 14th century, where a spear was attached to the bottom of a firearm. As time progressed, so did the evolution of a military bayonet in its form and function. By the 20th century, bayonets were found to be different shapes, lengths, and were fitted for different sized barrels. The bayonet displayed here could have fit on a Springfield Rifled Musket, a lever-action rifle that was very common in the United States. A common barrel size at the time of this bayonet’s implementation was between 13 and 16 inches. Bayonets were also attached to single-shot pistols, but were shortened and smaller to fit on the barrel of a pistol. During the Civil War, a bayonet was an essential piece of weaponry, as much of the warfare was in close quarters, storming houses and forts. Bayonet charging was a relatively common technique used during the Civil War to catch the opposing side off guard when reloading a musket (this process could take up to one minute). While bayonets were not attributed for a significant amount of casualties during the Civil War, their use was still a vital part of Civil War battles, such as the Battle of Gettysburg, most notably the second day of battle. The psychological effect of bayonet charging was more significant than the casualty count, especially when hundreds of men charge on one’s position, and they have no other option than to run for their lives. Bayonets similar to the one displayed were also used by soldiers as an everyday tool; cutting their food or shaving their face with the sharp blade. As it was seldom used in combat unless in dire situations, bayonets were more a handy tool to have around than a weapon used in battle. John Buell, 11/11/2017