Confederate Naval Cutlass          


Description and Photograph




     The Confederate Naval cutlass shown here was made by, or for, the Confederacy.  The sword is made on the Model 1841 United States pattern.  These swords were originally intended to be used by Naval boarding parties.  The idea being that when two ships engaged in close quarters combat, the attacking party would leap from their own ship onto the enemy ship.  The cutlass would then be used in hand to hand combat, but more importantly they could hack through the enemy ship’s rigging, thereby disabling the ship.

     By the time of the War Between the States, rifled cannons made boarding parties obsolete just as the rifled musket had made smoothbore musket tactics obsolete.  Though obsolete, these cutlasses were issued to Confederate Naval personnel serving with the James River Squadron based in Richmond, Virginia. 

     Over the years, several of these cutlass’ hilts have been excavated along the banks of the James River in Richmond.  I am unaware of field recoveries in any other locale.

     For many years this cutlass was thought to be a product of Frederick Heyer of Richmond’s Navy Hill, but recently a researcher found documents in the National Archives, four of which specifically note 1100+ Naval Cutlasses delivered to the Confederate States Navy Office of Ordnance and Hydrography in Richmond between September 1861 and March 1862.  The first delivery specified a ship of the James River Squadron.  The maker was Charles Carter Wellford of Catherine Furnace, near Chancellorsville.

     William Albaugh noted in 1951 that when un-hilted a W can be found on the guard and handle of these cutlasses.  I think this pretty much settles who manufactured these CSN and Anchor marked cutlasses.  Wellford also delivered edged weapons to Army Ordnance, bulk grain to the Quartermaster Department and bulk iron to Richmond Arsenal.  There is a pike, known as a “Richmond Pike” that has a W stamped on the ricasso.  These pikes must be some of the edged weapons that Wellford delivered to Army Ordnance.

     This particular CSN example is totally natural and uncleaned.  The blade has no rust, just a mellow dark patina.  The guard is perfect but has the slightest bit of play in the grip, just enough to make a “tick” when jerked back and forth.  This is an excellent example of this rare and desirable cutlass. 




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