How to Identify the Numbers and Marks on Civil War Bayonets
29 SEP 2017
American Civil War bayonets are a point of fascination for Civil War enthusiasts, as well as for historians and collectors. Bayonets from the Civil War, which soldiers used as cooking utensils as well as weapons, can be traced and identified by engraved number markings. A well-preserved bayonet holds much cultural and historical appeal, as well as being a highly coveted collectors item.
Examine the condition of your bayonet. A bayonet from the Civil War that is rusty, scratched, dirty or otherwise damaged by time and use is much more difficult to identify. If your bayonet has only light, superficial damage, it will be much easier to identify, as the engraved numbers on the bayonet will be more visible.
Study your bayonet to ascertain that it is indeed from the Civil War era. Confederate and Union bayonets differ slightly in their markings. A Union bayonet from the Civil War era will usually have the word "U.S.” on its underside, and might have a serial number engraved in the same location. On the other hand, a Confederate bayonet does not have the same standardization in markings. Confederate bayonets were often a mix of "won" bayonets (from Union soldiers), homemade bayonets and bayonets made by blacksmiths. Confederate blacksmiths did not have the same degree of access to harder metals, so many Confederate bayonets were never numbered, or the numbers were worn away over time and use. Homemade bayonets were identified by the type of scabbard used rather than by stamps or engravings on the bayonet itself.
Identify the type of gun the bayonet was attached to if you have access to it. The gun should have a model number. Model numbers range from two to four numbers long, and sometimes also include letters. Guns with specially designed bayonets were specific to either the Union or Confederate sides of the Civil War. For the Union side, there were two types of guns: the 1816 Flintlock Musket and the “Trapdoor” Springfield Rifle. For the Confederate side, there was only one gun: the British Enfield rifle-musket.
Check to see if there is an insignia on the bayonet. The insignia usually represents the company that made the bayonet, but will only be present if the bayonet was produced by a large company. Sometimes there is also be a two-letter stamp on the blade of the bayonet; these are the initials of the inspector. Sometimes only a number will be present. This is particularly true of Union bayonets made outside of the East Coast (away from major cities). The number can represent a maker's particular signature or the year the bayonet was made. Usually a four digit number represents the year, whereas a two digit number is the forger's identification number. Consult a Civil War reference guide if you are unsure.
Check your Civil War reference guide for more information. Your reference guide will have details relating to the numbers on the bayonets and the guns that they were used with. The guide will also be able to tell you something about the history of the bayonet. Remember that bayonets were sometimes made by soldiers who were in the field. This usually happened when there were not enough bayonets to go around. These handmade bayonets tend to exhibit much poorer workmanship and design, but still hold great historical value.