It is not clear at what point in time the US Army started to codify and specifically train the infantry in bayonet drill and exercises. The general belief is that the training became standard during the late 1820s or very early 1830s. The first actual American military text on the subject of bayonet training was the 1852 Bayonet Exercises for the Army by Captain (and later General) George B. McClellan. This book was little more than a translation of the French military bayonet exercise manual of the era. The manual did include some new illustrations and plates, and among those was the first documentable US fencing bayonet, designed for use in “force on force” training. While it is one thing to teach a recruit to lung, parry and recover with a bayonet and musket, while screaming the associated commands in French (yes, they bayonet training used French commands through the Civil War era in America”.), it is quite another thing to actually fight with another man, one on one, with musket and bayonet. Obviously the use of real bayonets was quite dangerous, and was likely to result in injury or death. The solution found by the US military was to create a “fencing” bayonet that looked like a bayonet, and for the most part functioned like a bayonet, but was not lethal. The bayonet depicted in McClellan’s text is the one most collectors refer to as the M-1816 Fencing Bayonet, or simply as the Type I fencing bayonet, from the typology assigned to the four identified patterns of socket fencing bayonets identified by bayonet collector, researcher and author Robert M. Reilly. The M-1816 Fencing Bayonet utilized the socket from a M-1816/22/27 socket bayonet, and had the blade removed, with a short rectangular receptacle replacing the blade. The receptacle accepted the end of a flexible bayonet “blade” made from baleen (referred to a “whalebone” in the period). The baleen was used to make items that were lightweight, but also strong and flexible and it served to make such menial every day items as corset stays, collar stiffeners, parasol ribs and buggy whips. The baleen blade was topped with a rubber ball, covered in leather. This made for a relatively safe, flexible bayonet blade for fencing exercises, and the 1 ““ ball reduced the chances of someone having their eye put out! The receptacle on the bayonet socket incorporated a setscrew to tension the baleen practice blade into place, and allowed it to be removed and replaced should the practice blade break. The bayonets appear to have been produced in rather limited quantities for practice purposes, although the altered M-1816 bayonet sockets do appear for sale from time to time. What rarely appears for sale is the complete fencing bayonet with the whalebone “blade” and the leather covered rubber ball. This is apparently due to the fact that baleen is a particularly tasty treat for rats and other rodents, and it is believed that the majority of the practice blades in storage were simply consumed by the scurrying pests. The general belief is that the practice bayonets were manufactured during the National Armory Brown Period (c1822-1831) as all known examples of the socket and receptacle are browned. The baleen blades, when encountered have the same basic brown color, but it is not clear if this is a finish or the color of the baleen. The leather covered rubber ball tip is secured to the end of the practice blade by a combination of brass wire wraps and glue. Over the last 2 decades, I have seen about a half dozen complete examples of these bayonets, most of which have been in long time personal or museum collections. Rarely do complete examples appear for sale. In the past five years I am only aware of two examples available for sale, and the practice bayonet offered below is one of those two.
The US M-1816 Fencing Bayonet (Type I) offered here is extremely rare and in about FINE overall condition. The bayonet is 100% complete, correct and original and is quite scarce. The repurposed socket of the bayonet bears its original mating code to match it to the musket that it was fit to, and is marked B / b next to the number 16, forward of the mortise cut. The rear of the socket is marked W 85, behind the mortise cuts. Most known examples of the fencing bayonet have this second mating code at the rear of the socket and it is believed that this code was applied during the alteration to fencing bayonet and mated the bayonet to the appropriate fencing musket. The socket retains about 85%+ of its original National Armory Brown finish, with some minor fading and wear and some lightly scattered surface oxidation and minor roughness. The original tension screw is present in the receptacle, and functions smoothly and correctly. The original baleen practice blade is present with the bayonet, an item that is almost never encountered for sale. The practice blade is in VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. It is full length, measuring about 16 “, including the ball tip. The ball is just under 1 ““ in diameter. It is original to the blade and appropriately secured with a combination of glue and wire wrap. The blade remains strong and flexible and has a thick chocolate color that matches the socket well. The baleen does have some small pieces missing along its length. These do not appear to be chips, but rather “nibbles’ from hungry rodents. The rawhide ball retains its original stitching, which is quite secure, but does show one small area where the stitching and leather have separated, forming a very tiny gap. Even thought the baleen practice blade is sturdy and in sound condition, unnecessary bending and force should be avoided, as the this thin piece of whalebone is about 185 years old and is somewhat fragile to do its age.
Overall this is a really wonderful example of an extremely rare US socketed fencing bayonet c1830, the first fencing bayonet known to be used by the US Army. These complete examples rarely come up for sale, and when they to they are usually priced in the $2,500+ range. This one is more reasonably priced and is a great opportunity for a bayonet collector to add one of the rarest 19th century US bayonets to their collection. It is worthy of being a centerpiece in a truly advanced bayonet collection.SOLD