CMH Home
CMH Home
CMH News and Features
U.S. Army Center of Military History

Shock and Awe by Musket Fire and Bayonet Charge

Turning Point at Chippewa in 1814

Bayonet

Circa 1808 Harper's Ferry manufactured bayonet used during the War of 1812. Photo: US Army

  • The Canadian Theater - 1814 The Canadian Theater - 1814
    by Richard V. Barbuto
    The early years of the War of 1812 saw a number of disappointing performances by the U.S. Army. By 1814, the Army was showing marked improvement. By halting the British invasion at Plattsburgh, New York, in September 1814, the Army favorably influenced the outcome of the war-ending peace negotiations in Ghent, Belgium ...

On July 5, 1814, U.S. troops of the Army of the Niagara efficiently moved into position opposite the British line at Chippewa, Canada. The skill and discipline exercised by the American rank and file allows historians today to celebrate the War of 1812 as a turning point in US Army history. On that day, the 22d U.S. Infantry demonstrated that the American republic could field a professional army capable of tactically defeating the British Army on a conventional battlefield.

Indeed, the success at Chippewa can be attributed to the leadership of Brigadier General Winfield Scott, commander of the Army of the Niagara. Under British artillery and musket fire, Scott maneuvered the disciplined American regiments to form a line opposite the British. The command to fire caused great devastation and the collapse of the British line. The 25th Infantry that moved to envelope the British left flank was ordered by Scott, at the right moment, to charge with bayonets and thus achieved victory.

American Soldiers at the Battle of Chippewa generally carried the Third Pattern of M1795 Springfield musket, an American arsenal-manufactured version of the.69 caliber French Charleville smoothbore. Engaging the enemy with musket fire at an effective range of 50-75 yards afforded only a slow rate of fire of 2-3 shots per minute. However, when several hundred muskets within a line-formation fired simultaneously, it delivered a single volley of fire with devastating results. A subsequent charge with bayonets, made obvious by the terrifying cry in unison of hundreds of men charging across the terrain at full speed and wielding 15-inch long steel bayonets, struck fear into the hearts of any recipient. The disciplined troops under Scott were the real victors that emerged from the battle, bravely engaging the enemy in close-quarter combat by reaching the enemy line before it could recover from the initial volley. The combination of musket fire and a well-timed bayonet charge provided the shock and awe needed to rout the British formation.

The depicted steel socket bayonet, manufactured at the second national arsenal at Harper's Ferry around 1808, was designed for quick mounting on the end of a musket barrel. The socket body, measuring 3-inches in length and 1-inch in diameter, fit over the musket barrel. The notch and bridge at the base of the socket body fit over a stud on the barrel and locked into place by turning the bayonet. The overall length of the bayonet is 17.25-inches, with a blade measuring 14.25-inches long and one-inch wide at the base. The triangular fluted blade allowed for easier insertion and extraction, as well as the 6-inch long blood groove on the face of the blade. Both the blood groove and the bridge at the base of the socket were the two primary modifications made to post-Revolutionary War bayonets designs.



1 Richard W. Stewart, General Editor, American Military History, Volume 1, The United States Army And The Forging Of A Nation, 1775-1917, CMH Pub 30–21 , (GPO, Washington DC: 2005), 137, 149-50.

2 Michael A. Bonura, “A French-Inspired Way of War: French Influence on the U.S. Army from 1812 to the Mexican War,” Army History, Winter, PB 20-14-1, No. 90 (GPO, Washington DC: 2014), 10.



Bayonet

Detail of the fluted triangular base of the bayonet migrating to the socket body. Photo: US Army

Bayonet

Above: A 6-inch long flute or blood groove etched or ground into the face of the blade. Photo: US Army

The above Harper Ferry bayonet circa 1808 is part of the US Army Core Collection, which documents the material culture of the US Army Soldier.


Related CMH Publications

  • The Canadian Theater - 1814 The Canadian Theater - 1814
    by Richard V. Barbuto
    The early years of the War of 1812 saw a number of disappointing performances by the U.S. Army. By 1814, the Army was showing marked improvement. By halting the British invasion at Plattsburgh, New York, in September 1814, the Army favorably influenced the outcome of the war-ending peace negotiations in Ghent, Belgium ...
  • The Canadian Theater - 1813 The Canadian Theater - 1813 »
    by Richard V. Barbuto
    The War of 1812 is perhaps the United States' least known conflict. Other than Andrew Jackson's 1815 victory at New Orleans and Francis Scott Key's poem "The Star-Spangled Banner" written in 1814 during the British attack on Baltimore, most Americans know little about the country's second major war. Its causes are still debated by historians today ...
  • The Campaign of 1812 The Campaign of 1812 »
    by Steven J. Rauch
    In June 1812, the United States invoked the war powers of the Constitution for the first time and declared war against Great Britain. The three-year conflict between the United States and Great Britain, known as the War of 1812, had its origins in periodic, yet persistent, confrontations between the two nations throughout the first decade of the nineteenth century ...
  • Defending a New Nation Defending a New Nation, 1783-1811 »
    by John R. Maass
    From the closing days of the Revolutionary War in 1783 to the beginning of the War of 1812, the United States Army faced one of its most challenging periods. During this era, American soldiers confronted threats from Great Britain, France, and Spain. On the western frontier, hostile warriors from American Indian nations battled U.S. Army and militia troops north of the Ohio River ...


artwork

H. Charles McBarron, Jr., Battle of Chippewa, US Army Center of Military History