1796 Pattern British Infantry Officer's Sword
The 1796 Pattern British Infantry Officers Sword was carried by officers of the line infantry in the British Army between 1796 and the time of its official replacement with the gothic hilted sword in 1822. This period encompassed the whole of the Napoleonic Wars.
The sword was introduced by General Order in 1796, replacing the previous 1786 Pattern. It was similar to its predecessor in having a spadroon blade, i.e. one straight, flat backed and single edged with a single fuller on each side. The hilt was of gilt brass or gunmetal, with a knucklebow, vestigial quillon and a twin-shell guard somewhat similar in appearance to that of the smallswords which had been common civilian wear until shortly before this period. The pommel was urn shaped and, in many later examples, the inner guard was hinged to allow the sword to sit against the body more comfortably and reduce wear to the officer's uniform. Blades were commonly quite extensively decorated, often blued and gilt.
The 1796 Pattern Sword was not renowned as a great fighting sword. The blade was weak and the hilt gave very little protection to the hand. General Cavalie Mercer of the Royal Artillery, who wore the same sword stated that:
"Nothing could be more useless or ridiculous than the old infantry regulation [sword]; it was good for neither cut nor thrust and was a perfect encumberance. In the Foot Artillery, when away from headquarters, we generally wore dirks instead of it".
Influence on United States Army swords
Regardless of its weaknesses as a fighting weapon, according to Robson, a nearly identical sword was carried by the Army Corps of Engineers in the early nineteenth century and in turn similar swords were adopted by the United States Army in 1840 for foot officers and (with a simpler, unhinged guard) for NCOs.
- Withers, Harvey J.S: British Military Swords 1786-12912 The Regulation Patterns, The Regulation Patterns 1788 to 1914, First Edition 2003, Studio Jupitor Military Publishing ISBN 0-9545910-0-3
- Robson, Brian: Swords of the British Army, The Regulation Patterns 1788 to 1914, Revised Edition 1996, National Army Museum ISBN 0-901721-33-6