Fantasy, mystery, thrillers, horror, historical. . .I write it all, and review it too!

Nov 21, 2011

Medieval weapons in the American Civil War

One of John Brown's pikes. Credit: Hugh Talman (Smithsonian Institution)
Today I'm proud to host the first stop on a book tour for A Fine Likeness, a historical fantasy novel set in the Civil War. It's written by Sean McLachlan, a historian who guest blogged here before about medieval handgonnes. Today he tells us how the American Civil War still saw the use of some very medieval-style weapons. Take it away Sean!

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)
Soldiers also carried swords and long knives that often saw use in hand-to-hand combat. Notorious rebel guerrilla Bloody Bill Anderson, who is a character in my novel, carried a tomahawk and a Bowie knife; the latter he used to scalp his victims. In the Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma) and the Far West, native Americans fought on both sides. They also operated independently, taking advantage of the war to raid white settlers. While many had guns, some still used tomahawks, spears, and bows and arrows.

The Civil War was a savage conflict, and the savagery of the medieval battlefield, with its fearsome weapons, was part of that grim reality.

A Fine Likeness is available as an ebook at Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon DE, and Amazon FR and will soon be available in print and on Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. the back cover blurb is below:

A Confederate guerrilla and a Union captain discover there’s something more dangerous in the woods than each other.

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.



  1. Thanks for hosting me A.J.!!! Hi Alex!

    One thing I forgot to mention was that in 1862, the Confederacy discussed raising 20 regiments of pikemen. This Confederacy had a shortage of firearms at this time so that's probably the reason. Nothing came of it, however.

    Both navies used boarding pikes, a shorter version of the pike not dissimilar to the medieval spear. These were common in navies of the time.