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Pole-arms were not widely used during the American Civil War, in fact, United States cavalry rarely used lances as did European cavalry. American cavalry was patterned more along the lines of dragoons or mounted riflemen, where the horse was used primarily as transportation to the battlefield. European cavalry, on the other hand, maintained the lance, even until World War I, for close-action cavalry charges. There were, however, a few regiments and companies of lancers organized during the Civil War, the most well known being Rush’s Lancers from Pennsylvania. One problem with lances was that they were only effective in a charge, and the lances were difficult to carry through rugged forests. Rush’s Lancers realized the burden they were carrying and turned in their lances in May 1863.

The Confederacy also used lances and pikes, not by choice, but because they were weapons that could easily be made to arm the troops. There was a variety of pole-arms manufactured by the Confederacy during the Civil War. Some were made with a double-edged blade at the end of a seven-foot pole. Another type was known as a “bridle-cutter pike,” which was similar to the aforementioned pole-arm but with an extension of a crescent-shaped blade at a right angle to the main blade that was used to cut the bridles of enemy soldiers. The most interesting pikes were those made with a retractable blade. A fourth type had a cloverleaf design and were known as “Joe Brown Pikes.” These were named after Joseph E. Brown, the governor of Georgia. In February 1862 he issued a call to the state's mechanics to manufacture 10,000 pikes to arm the troops. They did not have enough firearms to arm every soldier, and the pike was an easy and cheap weapon to manufacture. As the governor stated, "the short range pike and terrible knife, when brought within their proper range, (as they can be almost in a moment) and wielded by a stalwart patriot’s arm, never fail to fire and never waste a single load.”

Division of the History of Technology, Armed Forces History
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Behring Center
Gift of Charles Hickman


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