sabres & short swords
1846 - 1853
In 1839, the American Minister in Paris was directed to buy 300 French Model 1829 Artillery sabres for possible adoption by the United States Army. In August 1840, the Ordnance Department purchased 500 of that sabre pattern from S & K in Solingen, Prussia, a pattern that came to be known as the M1840 Light Artillery Sabre. Later it was made under government contract by the Ames Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts. In the lifetime of the M1840 Light Artillery Sabre, 24,602 were made. In 1849, only 500 were made, which makes the 1849 production pieces quite rare.
The first Government contract received by N.P. Ames of Springfield, Massachusetts was based on a speculative effort by Ames. When Ames received the first contract from the US Government, they didn't have so much as a foundry to cast the brass hilts. To meet the terms of the contract, Ames subcontracted the hilts to Samuel Huse of Newburyport. The association with Samuel Huse became relatively close, for Ames finally married Huse's eldest daughter, and became part of the family.
Ames had development problems with their new product. The first swords they produced had no rivets to hold the grips to the tang, and the grips soon worked loose. Their response was to add brass to the grips, solving the problem by making the grips fit more tightly. Thankfully, swords are relatively low technology, and their other problems, more minor than this, were as easily solved.
The blade is 31 3/4" of polished spring steel, and the hilt is solid brass. The grip is wood covered with leather and wire bound. It was furnished to US Regular Army soldiers with a polished steel scabbard that measures 37 1/4".
The Ames-manufactured M1840 Light Artillery Saber is recognizable by markings on the front of the ricasso that read something like this:
(or whatever the year of manufacture may be), and on the back will be letters, such as the letters "US/WD". The pommel will likewise have inspection stamps, two of the more common being "WD" (William Dickinson) and JWR (James W. Reilly). The blade markings on the earliest Ames-manufactured blades are all clear because the first model scabbards did not have a collar in the throat.
Although the Cabotville address is an early Ames mark, more pieces were marked with the Chicopee, Massachusetts address. There were many ordnance inspectors and sub-inspectors, whose initials appear on contract arms during various periods. This includes the mysterious "J.F." who has yet to be identified by name. Inspectors' initials can appear on various parts of swords and sabers including: pommel cap, knuckle bow, quillon, ricasso, scabbard throat and scabbard drag.
(Note: The proper description for the
ricasso markings on a knife or sword would be "obverse ricasso" when
viewing the piece with the guard to the left and the point to the right.
The opposite would be "reverse ricasso", with the point to the viewers
Ames was the most prolific supplier of military edges weapons to the U S government and to state militias in the 19th century, both in the antebellum period and during the Civil War. During the peak of Civil War production their address was Chicopee.
Ames was an aggressive marketing organization. In addition to direct contracts with the US government, their products were also marketed through military supply houses. Ames was not the sole sabre manufacturer or marketer, though, nor did Thomas, Griswold & Co. fill whatever "gaps" in the supply line that Ames missed. Many of the sabers marketed during the period used blades imported from Solingen, Germany and France, the blades thereafter assembled in the US and sold by retailers such as Tiffany. During the war, weapons contractors grew in proportion to demand, which was considerable. Other manufacturers such as Mansfield and Lamb; Emerson, Silver and Co.; Providence Tool Co.; and they, along with several other manufacturers, supplied literally thousands of edged weapons.
The 1840 Artillery Sabre was the sabre of choice for the Washington Artillery. It was worn on a white buff leather (rough side out) belt with baldric (a shoulder strap) and a two-piece, raised letter "WA" belt plate. Unlike modern reproductions that are readily available, however, the 1840 Artillery Sabre was different from the US Army-issue artillery sabre in this regard: the scabbard was not steel, but brass.
The best reproduction of the 1840 artillery saber is available through K. Cangelosi of the Washington Artillery. Like the originals, it has a brass scabbard; and like the originals, the sabre has the Griswold manufacture information stamped into the blade (although in a different type from the original, so that it cannot be passed off as an original). It is somewhat more expensive than the 1840 Artillery Sabre with a steel scabbard. Some enlisted men may elect to purchase a sabre with a steel scabbard rather than the brass scabbard, since there are so few opportunities for the men of the Washington Artillery to use a sabre. However, those insisting upon as much fidelity to history and reenacting accuracy as they may attain will find the 1840 Artillery Sabre with brass scabbard a highly satisfying purchase.