Fix Bayonets:  Famous Leader Commands

By | August 2, 2020

[August 2, 2020]  Standing in line to get my field issue from the Supply Sergeant, I was given an M5A1 Korean-War era bayonet.  I had to sign for it, of course.  Asking what it was for, I was told to ask my Platoon Leader.  Later that week, my Infantry Company was part of an extensive Field Training Exercise that tested our fieldcraft, fighting capabilities, and small unit tactical skills.  One of the leader commands we practiced was Fix Bayonets.

What I did not realize at the time, being a new Private in the Army, was that Fix Bayonets was a famous command that goes back as far as the introduction of black-powder muskets in warfare.  It usually meant one of two things when ordered to fix bayonets; 1) prepare to charge the enemy in close-quarters or 2) get ready to defend yourself from an imminent enemy assault.  Either way, it was for close-in fighting, where you could see the whites of their eyes.  This was what the common foot soldier was all about and renowned for in the history of combat.

Fix bayonets was the sign that something important was about to happen, and you personally were going to be part of it.  Anyone hearing such a command would have an immediate heightened sense, one’s pulse rate would increase, and would have a greater awareness of your surroundings.

In the attack, there is nothing more intimidating than soldiers attacking a position with bayonets fixed.  This explains, in part, why so many Civil War soldiers broke into a disorganized retreat when faced with a determined enemy with bayonets fixed on their rifles.  The psychological factor has always been part of the war.  The terror of being stabbed with a bayonet would be thought of as a more significant threat than a bullet, the bullet technically being a superior killer on the battlefield.

Two of the most famous attacks in American history occurred with the fixed bayonet.  The first was when Revolutionary War General “Mad” Anthony Wayne ordered his men on July 16, 1779, to charge British defenders at Stony Point in a night charge with fixed bayonets and sabers.  The second was on July 2, 1863, when Union Colonel Joshua Chamberlain ordered an attack into Confederate forces that were about to overrun his position on Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg.  Both battles using the bayonet were successful.

“A revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets.” – Napoléon Bonaparte

A bayonet is a tool, but it is more than a simple Infantry knife.  It is symbolic of a winning attitude.  It is about the psychological effect it renders both its users and those who it would be used upon.  More information can be found on the use of the bayonet in America’s fighting forces at The Mighty website (see link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Fix Bayonets:  Famous Leader Commands

  1. Dennis Mathes

    These are TACTICAL commands, obviously. Great article. Made my blood circulate faster.

    Reply
    1. Big Al

      Yes, but makes the point that Gen. Satterfield was making that such commands have an immediate, important, and yet significant impact psychologically upon the individual.

      Reply
  2. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    From historical writings to current day, morale has always been regarded as a major determinant of success on the battlefield. The management of morale is thus also important. Leader commands play into this idea by providing additional motivation as well as direction on the battlefield.

    Reply
  3. Harry B. Donner

    Excellent article, Gen. Satterfield. I’ve enjoyed your mini-series on leader commands. I would suggest you continue with it. I find it very worthwhile.

    Reply
  4. Max Foster

    Most of us have been in jobs long enough to understand what our “boss” has to say in directing us at what we are doing, to understand that there is a mental factor tied up in it. Whether we are talking sports or the military where commands are obvious (relating to their usefulness in particular). But this idea extends to other areas of our lives as well. Like in the family, at church, or just walking in the part, a command can make us do things we would not ordinarily do. Thanks for reading my comment. This is all just my humble opinion.

    Reply
    1. Randy Goodman

      Good stuff here. Thank you. I would take you idea further and say that we start the practice of “commands” well into pre-school. It’s not just restricted to adults.

      Reply
  5. Newtown Manager

    Gen. Satterfield, another excellent blog post on an interesting topic. I agree that there is a psychological component that we don’t have sufficient understanding of but only that it works. That does matter but thanks just the same getting this info out to us all.

    Reply
  6. JT Patterson

    Even under the most extreme circumstances, undesirable emotions can be managed. The sports world realized that a long time ago, which is why today mental training is incorporated into nearly every professional sport. This is why the role of leadership is so important and HOW they carry it out thru commands can make the difference betw/ victory and defeat.

    Reply
    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Yes, excellent point. More of us should study the problems and benefits to the commands, in some regular detail, that Gen. Satterfield talks about here.

      Reply
    1. Greg Heyman

      The authors were looking at a fundamental question: Is the fear that you feel in the Super Bowl the same fear as the fear you feel in combat? The answer, it turns out, is yes. That’s huge.

      Reply
      1. Tom Bushmaster

        Very interesting, Greg. Thank you for giving us a little insight into fear. Gen. Satterfield has written a number of blog articles about the idea of fear and what it does for and against us.

        Reply
  7. Tomas C. Clooney

    Wow, another great article for my early-morning pleasure reading. All kidding aside, I do think you nailed it again with your short mini-series on famous leader commands. The fact that you point out the psychological impact of these commands, makes for more informative and entertaining reading. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Janna Faulkner

      I agree with you Tomas. Perhaps some of us could give Gen. Satterfield some more examples. If not, at least make a comment about what you think the main theme is.

      Reply

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