[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).