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The First Foot Guards

We are a Revolutionary War reenactment group based in Boston MA,
accurately portraying the royal household regiment that is now known as
The Grenadier Guards

 

Bayonet

'No flints' Grey and his bayonet attack (Philadelphia Expedition, 1777)

Entry in the Major Andre's journal for 20 September 1777


Intelligence having been received of the situation of General Wayne and his design of attacking our Rear, a plan was concerted for surprising him, and the execution entrusted to Major General Grey. The troops for this service were the 40th and 55th regiments, under Colonel Musgrave, and the 2d Battalion Light Infantry, the 42d and 44th Regiments under General Grey. General Grey's Detachment marched at 10 o'clock at night, that under Colonel Musgrave at 11. No soldier of either was suffered to load; those who could not draw their pieces took out the flints. We knew nearly the spot where the Rebel Corps lay, but nothing of the disposition of their Camp. It was represented to the men that firing discovered us to the Enemy, hid them from us, killed our friends and produced a confusion favorable to the escape of the Rebels and perhaps productive of disgrace to ourselves. On the other hand, by not firing we knew the foe to be wherever fire appeared and a charge ensured his destruction; that amongst the Enemy those in the rear would direct their fire against whoever fired in front, and they would destroy each other.

On approaching the right of the Camp we perceived the line of fires, and the Light Infantry being ordered to form to the front, rushed along the line putting to the bayonet all they came up with, and, overtaking the main herd of the fugitives, stabbed great numbers and pressed on their rear till it was thought prudent to order them to desist. Near 200 must have been killed, and a great number wounded. Seventy-one Prisoners were brought off; forty of them badly wounded were left at different houses on the road. A Major, a Captain, and two Lieutenants were amongst the prisoners. We lost Captain Wolfe killed and one or two private men; four or five were wounded, one an Officer, Lieut. Hunter of the 52d Light Company.

This incident was labeled (by the rebels) the Paoli "Massacre".

General Grey has since been referred to as "No flints" Grey. Whether he actually acquired this sobriquet during the Revolutionary War is not known for certain.

The famous aromatic tea, Earl Grey, was not named for him. It was named after the second Earl Grey (1764-1854), British statesman, Prime Minister 1830-1834, who drove the abolition of the African slave trade (1807) through Parliament, ended the tea monopoly of the East India Company, and secured the passage of the landmark Reform Bill of 1832.

The bayonet is a derivative of the polearm. In the 1600s pikemen were used to protect the musketeers from cavalry and foot soldiers when ammunition was spent, or during reloading.


The original "bayonnette" was introduced into the French Army in 1647, from the supposed town of manufacture, Bayonne in southwest France. It was a plug bayonet, with a blade like that on a pike and a conical plug which was inserted into the muzzle of the musket. This had distinct disadvantages: the musket could not be fired once the bayonet was fitted, and the soldier was virtually unarmed while he was fitting the bayonet. Such a disaster overtook the English army at Killiecrankie in 1689, when a rush of Highlanders overwhelmed them as they were fixing bayonets. The plug bayonet had other disadvantages: it might be hard to remove from the muzzle, or might fall out at an inopportune time.

The first official mention of the plug bayonet in the British army is in an account of the operations at Tangiers in 1663. This type of bayonet was utilized in America by British and French forces during the French and Indian War. There were many patterns of knives and sword blades attached as a plug bayonet, but the familiar triangular cross-section was introduced into the British army as a standard in 1715. 

The socket bayonet was developed with an offset blade, attached to a socket that slipped over the muzzle of the musket. The musket could now be loaded and fired while the bayonet was fixed. It is this weapon that was utilized in the Revolutionary War by both sides. Early in the war, the rebels' armaments were likely to be hunting weapons, and were not designed to take bayonets. So too, their owners were untrained in the use of the bayonet. This was a serious disadvantage for them when fighting Crown Forces in the early years of the conflict.

With the design of offset triangular blade and socket established, the form of the bayonet remained almost unchanged for the next 150 years. The triangular cross-sectional blade has now been internationally banned, since a triangular wound is notoriously difficult to suture.

Although it was originally designed as a defensive weapon, in the hands of a trained Redcoat the bayonet was a significant offensive weapon, and often the weapon of choice.

The bayonet charge.
We are very familiar with the "Charge!" of filmdom, but in the Revolutionary War the charge was often executed at a slow pace. This presented a wall of steel, an inexorable advancing rank, which gave the enemy time to think about their impending fate, and time to retreat or flee. This is what happened at Lexington (that, and the fact that the rebels were vastly outnumbered).

On that April morning of 1775, the order of "Fix bayonets!" was given, followed by "Slow march!"

The slow march is performed in perfect step, the advancing foot gliding over the ground before being planted, then followed by the next step.


Attack by "No Flints Grey" at Overkill in Bergen County NJ
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More on the British bayonet
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