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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Naked Bowie Knife Fighters?

In an article on Stonewall Jackson published in Putnam’s Monthly in December 1868, E. A. Pollard wrote:
Jackson had only the idea of the soldier--to fight, and to fight in the most terrible manner. It is a curious circumstance that he once recommended a night-attack to be made by assailants stripped naked and armed with bowie-knives, suggesting that the novelty and terror of such an apparition would paralyze the enemy. The writer was disposed to doubt an anecdote so remarkable, until it was confirmed to him by the testimony of a well-known and most truthful gentleman; and he must confess that he perceives in it something characteristic of Jacksons gloom and fierceness. It was not a natural cruelty, a constitutional harshness, but a stern conception of war and its dread realities--the soldiers disposition for quick, decisive, destructive work.
In July 1870, the magazine published a letter from  General J. A. "Jubal" Early, CSA, who took it upon himself to set the record straight:
I can undertake to assert, 
with the most perfect confidence, that 
General Jackson could not have made such a 
proposition as that mentioned by Pollard, because 
it was a moral impossibility for him to 
have done it. Gladiators, in ancient times, or 
the members of the prize-ring, in modern times, 
might strip for their brutal contests; but there 
is a sentiment among all civilized, Christian 
people, which would prevent a decent man 
from being as brave, when stripped naked, as 
when his nakedness is concealed by his usual 
covering. A naked sword is more terrible than 
a sheathed one; but there is no reason why a 
naked man should be more terrible than a well-
clad one; and, certainly, at the battle of Fred
ericksburg, in the middle of December, a body 
of naked assailants would soon have become so 
paralyzed by the cold, that the enemy would 
have had no trouble in dealing with them. 
General Jackson not only could not have 
made so foolish, so absurd, a proposition, at 
Fredericksburg, or anywhere else, for these 
reasons; but he could not have done it for the 
simple and conclusive reason that, at no time, 
were the Bowie-knives to be had. In the very 
beginning of the War, some men carried with 
them, into the service, Bowie-knives; but they 
were never very plenty, and the only military 
use I ever knew to be made of them, was in 
aiding to throw up a slight entrenchment, the 
day after the fight at Blackburn's-ford, on Bull Run. After that time, they were generally 
abandoned, or, if used at all, used only for 
chopping beef. I don't think that, in General 
Jackson's entire Corps, enough could have been 
found to arm one Company; and there were 
certainly none in the Ordnance Department.


  1. In spite of General Early`s comments I distinctly remember reading years ago of a Confederate cavalry unit that had made a name for themselves by running quick raids through some Union army camps, one quick gallop through the camp with packs on their back full of rolled blankets as a form of primitive body armor and revolvers and bowies as they weapons of choice because of the close quarters. Wish I could remember the source.

  2. It also reminded me of an interview with an old Chinese Kung fu master (I want to say Chan Tai Shen, but I can`t be sure) who had served in the Chinese army in WW2. They had an entire division of volunteers who were kung fu experts the vast majority of whom died during the war. He said that they fought mostly guerilla actions against the Japanese who were always better armed and supplied. One time they wanted to attack a town occupied by the Japanese to steal rifles at night, but with no electricity and blackout conditions they needed a reliable way to identify each other in the dark.So each man grabbed a large Chinese broadsword, stripped completely and was told that if he ran into anyone the first thing he should do is grab their crotch, and if it was covered with cloth, cut them down.

  3. I don't care who you are, that's funny. And interesting if true!