|One of John Brown's pikes. Credit: Hugh Talman (Smithsonian Institution)|
When the Civil War started in 1861, most Americans had no experience with warfare and were completely unprepared. This led them to use some weapons that wouldn't have looked out of place in the Middle Ages.
This started even before the war, when radical abolitionist John Brown raided the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry in 1859. His wanted to steal the weapons to arm a planned slave insurrection. Before the raid, Brown had a blacksmith make 500 pikes like the one pictured above. They had a 9 ½ to 10-inch long double-edged blade of forged cast steel and a 4 ½ inch wide iron guard fitted onto a six-foot ash handle. Brown and his followers used these pikes (as well as some more effective guns) to take the armory, but were soon captured by troops commanded by Robert E. Lee (!) and the planned insurrection never happened.
Once the actual war started in 1861, volunteers showed up with whatever weapons they could get. A report from the Battle of Lexington, Missouri said one rebel carried a corn scythe. At the Battle of Athens, Missouri, that same year, the rebels had a cannon made from a hollowed out log. It blew up the first time it was fired.
|Rebel with "knife" (Library of Congress)|
The Civil War was a savage conflict, and the savagery of the medieval battlefield, with its fearsome weapons, was part of that grim reality.
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Jimmy Rawlins is a teenaged bushwhacker who leads his friends on ambushes of Union patrols. They join infamous guerrilla leader Bloody Bill Anderson on a raid through Missouri, but Jimmy questions his commitment to the Cause when he discovers this madman plans to sacrifice a Union prisoner in a hellish ritual to raise the Confederate dead.
Richard Addison is an aging captain of a lackluster Union militia. Depressed over his son’s death in battle, a glimpse of Jimmy changes his life. Jimmy and his son look so much alike that Addison becomes obsessed with saving him from Bloody Bill. Captain Addison must wreck his reputation to win this war within a war, while Jimmy must decide whether to betray the Confederacy to stop the evil arising in the woods of Missouri.