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The Cavalry Saber
As of March 13, 2012



CPT Jerome “Jerry” Koltz
545th MP Company veteran and a member of the unit association

The 545th Military Police Company can trace its origins bock to the western plains of Texas in the old horse cavalry and since it is the only Cavalry MP Company in the United States Army it is not uncommon for the Officers and NCOs of the unit to utilize the Cavalry Saber in formal functions and ceremonies. This photo history of the Cavalry Saber is a humble effort to document the history of use of this weapon.

This weapon can be traced back to the Crusades where the weapon was a bit heavier and double edged and is a cousin of the cutlass which was also slightly curved like the Cavalry Saber. Swords on the other hand tended to be straight and much lighter. Both the saber and the cutlass were slash and hack weapons meant for close in mean fighting – not to be utilized in the gentlemanly swordsmanship of the other branches. The Navy with its cutlass and the Cavalry with its saber were used to the melee and close in, man to man fighting in the days when most units were lined up like toy soldiers on parade to do battle


This is a drawing of a typical Cavalry Sergeant of the 1870’s 1880’s notice the Cavalry stance – the swagger. Photos and drawings of the same time frame of Infantrymen show them at rigid attention weather sitting or standing. Not so the Cavalryman. The Cavalryman also tended to be a bit bow legged and it is said that you could spot a Cavalryman a mile away by his swagger and his bow legs. They had extreme pride in their units and themselves as well, but they were not going to be “pegged” as rigid toy soldiers at attention. These were men of the same ilk as James Cody and George Armstrong Custer, the famous Indian fighters and not only did they know it, they showed it by their body language. They were to a man lean and mean and weathered brown by the sun and wind and hours in the saddle. This was the attitude and appearance of all Cavalrymen including the Provost Sergeants and what was later to become the Cavalry MP’s

The saber evolved from the falchion design and bears many similarities to the backsword and cutlass.
The saber was a European and American sword developed following the demise of heavily armored infantry on the battlefield. By the 1600s, firearms had been developed and the use of swords declined as a result. However, cavalry soldiers continued using sabers well into the 1900s.



The saber was originally a very heavy, curved sword, but a lighter, more easily wielded weapon with only a slight bend was developed in Italy late in the 19th century for dueling and fencing.

The modern fencing weapon is straight, like the foil and epee, but it still has one cutting edge, which can be used to make hits on an opponent.
Single edged, slightly curved, and sharpened on the convex edge, the saber was primarily a slashing weapon but could also be thrust. The saber was especially popular among cavalry soldiers of Europe and America. As time and warfare progressed, the saber became more a ceremonial weapon and affectation of military officers.

Today, some military officers still wear swords as a sign of authority. The weapon is also used in modern sport fencing, with saber fencing becoming an official Olympic event in recent years.
This weapon follows its ancestor's tradition of having a target only from the waist up. Fighting with the saber demands speed and agility as well as the ability to make a strategic light touch on the target.
Cavalry Combat and the Sword




Napoleon's Cavalry
There were dozens of types of saber used by cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars.
Britain had two main styles, the 1796 pattern light-cavalry saber (pictured) and the straight-bladed 1796 heavy-cavalry saber, but this did not stop a whole host of various weapons being used at the whim of the men who led their regiments.
Unwieldy and poorly balanced, the 1796 patterns were used as hacking weapons and while they would cause terrible wounds the use of the edge of the blade rather than the point resulted in fewer killing strokes.
French horsemen preferred to use the points of their swords and run the enemy through so there was a large disparity in casualties between the two styles. The French suffered more vicious wounds, while the British more initial deaths.

The Lance
The main proponents of the lance - a 30-centimeter point on the end of a 240-centimeter shaft - were the Poles, Austrian Uhlans, and Russian Cossacks, whose fighters had used the weapons for centuries.
Napoleon Bonaparte's famous lancers were excellent for pursuing fleeing infantry, or trying to break up squares by outreaching bayonets.
Other cavalry, however, were seemingly not too worried by the longer reach as once past the razor-sharp blade of the lance the swordsman had the advantage.




During the Civil War, the saber was the traditional weapon of the cavalry. It had a curved, single-edged blade, about 36" long and was designed to be used while mounted. It was held in the right hand and was swung in heavy, hacking or slashing blows, much like swinging an axe. The saber is often confused with a sword, which has a straight blade and has sharpened edges on both sides. When the military leaders realized that the cavalry would not be fighting European-style battles with massed charges, the saber’s importance began to diminish. The saber is still in use today by the United States Army, although only for ceremonial purposes.


Photo: National Archives

This corporal proudly shows off the uniform and weapons of the cavalry. His shell jacket is trimmed in yellow braid on the cuffs, back, edges and collar. The crossed saber insignia of the cavalry is visible on his cap. He is holding the M1860 cavalry saber in his left hand and has a Colt revolver tucked in his belt. 


The Armes Sword - Model 1862

The Ames Sword Company delivered two sample swords of a "new pattern" based on the French Light Cavalry Saber of 1822 to the U.S. Ordinance Department in January, 1858. In 1858 Ames received their first order for 800 of the "new pattern" sabers. This saber became known as the Model-1862 Light Cavalry Saber, and eventually replaced the Model-1840 "wrist breaker."
It became the standard issue saber for enlisted men during the Civil War period and later. With a 1" wide and 30" long blade, this was truly a formidable weapon to be used by the cavalry.

Now that you have had a little history of the Saber you can file it away with all the other items of not so frequently used information in the back of your brain. If you do come across a circumstance where you will be required to use a Saber, it will more than likely be to cut a cake with it during a reception, birthday, cocktail party or a military wedding. Just make sure that the blade is washed off before you use it to cut the cake as it probably has a light coat of 3 in 1 or gun oil on it and that does not taste too well mixed with the cake icing. When you are done with the saber and before you return it to the scabbard, please wash it off once again and reapply a light coat of oil.

On the other hand, if you are required to use a saber as a side arm and in command of a formation of troops, you may want to learn the manual of arms for this weapon and please use the same precautions you would around children as you would with any other weapon and it is a dangerous item to leave laying around for children to get their hands on.

To assist you with learning the Manual of Arms for this weapon, I have provided a extract of FM 3-21.5: Drill and Ceremonies, Appendix F.


Field Manual 3-21.5: Drill and Ceremonies, Appendix F


  • When performing Manual of Arms, please keep these important points in mind:

  • Blade tips are relatively sharp; exercise care during use.

  • Sword and saber manual of arms is a developed and practiced skill. Do not be flamboyant when handling a drawn sword.

  •  Current available swords and sabers are intended for ceremonial use only. Horseplay, re-enactment fighting, and sword-to-sword impact is dangerous and can result in damage to the blade and personal injury.

  •  Children have a natural fascination with swords and often mistake a ceremonial sword for a weapon. Supervise children closely and teach them that the misuse of a sword is dangerous.

Army Sabers/Swords Manual of Arms
As a quick reference the 545th MP Company Association is providing the applicable FM relating to Army Sabers/Swords Drill.

The saber is worn by officers while participating in ceremonies with troops under arms, or as directed. It is carried on the left side of the body attached to the belt by the scabbard chain with the guard of the saber to the rear. The sword is worn by all platoon sergeants and first sergeants while participating in ceremonies with troops under arms, or as directed. It is carried in the same manner as the officer’s saber.

The nomenclature for the saber is saber for all officers, model 1902. The blade is 31 inches long (more information about sword lengths). The nomenclature for the sword is noncommissioned officer’s sword, model 1840. Figure F-1 shows the nomenclature for pertinent parts of the saber (sword) and scabbard.


 Figure F-1. Nomenclature, saber and sword.

Execute Standing with the saber (sword) using the following procedures:

a.     Attention. This is the position before the command Draw, SABER (SWORD) and after the command Return, SABER (SWORD). The hands are behind the trouser seams and the thumbs touch the first joint of the forefingers (Figure F-2).


Figure F-2. Position of Attention.

b.     Draw Saber (Sword). Figure F-3 shows the sequence for executing Draw Saber (Sword).


Figure F-3. Draw Saber (Sword).

  (1)      At the preparatory command Draw, grasp the scabbard with the left hand turning the scabbard clockwise 180 degrees, tilting it forward to form an angle of 45 degrees with the ground. Take the saber (sword) grip in the right hand and pull the saber about 6 inches from the scabbard. The right forearm should now be roughly parallel to the ground.

  (2)      On the command of execution SABER (SWORD), the saber (sword) is pulled out of the scabbard and held in the position of Carry Saber (Sword). The saber (sword) should be held with the inner blade-edge riding in a vertical position along the forward tip of the right shoulder (Figure F-4).

 c.        Carry Saber (Sword). The Carry Saber (Sword) position is assumed under the following situations:

  • To give commands.

  • To change positions.

  • By officers when officially addressing (or when officially addressed by) another officer, if the saber is drawn.

  • By NCOs when officially addressing a Soldier, or when officially addressed by an officer, if the sword is drawn.

  • Before returning the saber (sword) to the scabbard.

  • At the preparatory command for (and while marching at) quick time.

  (1)   At Carry Saber (Sword) (Figure F-4), the officer (NCO) is at the Position of Attention. The saber (sword) is held in the right hand; the wrist is as straight as possible with the thumb along the seam of the trouser leg. The point of the blade rests inside the point of the shoulder and not along the arm. The saber (sword) is held in this position by the thumb and forefinger grasping the grip and it is steadied with the second finger behind the grip.

   (2)   Present Saber (Sword) may be executed from the carry when serving in the capacity of commander of troops or serving in a command that is not part of a larger unit. On the preparatory command of Present, the saber (sword) is brought to a position (at the rate, of two counts) approximately four inches from the nose so that the tip of the saber (sword) is six inches from the vertical (1, Figure F-5). At the command of execution ARMS, the right hand is lowered (at the rate of two counts) with the flat of the blade upward, the thumb extended on the left side of the grip (2, Figure F-5), and the tip of the saber (sword) about six inches from the marching surface.

   (3)   On the command Order ARMS, the saber (sword) is returned to the position of Carry Saber (Sword).


Figure F-4. Carry Saber (Sword).


Figure F-5. Present Saber (Sword).

d.      Parade Rest. This position is assumed without moving the saber (sword) from the Order Arms position. At the command of execution, the left foot is moved about 10 inches to the left (of the right foot), and the left hand is placed in the small of the back, fingers extended and joined, palm to the rear (Figure F-6). At the command of execution ATTENTION, the left hand and foot are returned to the Position of Attention.


Figure F-6. Parade Rest.

NOTE:Whenever the saber (sword) is at the Order Arms position the saber (sword) is straight, not at an angle inward or outward in relationship to the body.

e.      Return Saber (Sword). This movement is executed from Carry Saber (Sword) in three counts.

   (1) At the preparatory command Return of the command Officers (Noncommissioned officers), Return, SABER (SWORD), the saber (sword) is brought to a vertical position (1, Figure F-7). The forearm (wrist) is held parallel to the marching surface about three inches from the body; the guard is pointed to the left.

   (2) At the command of execution SABER (SWORD), three actions take place simultaneously: the saber (sword) is pivoted downward toward the guard, at the same time grasp the scabbard with the left hand just above the upper brass ring mounting. Tilt it forward and turn it clockwise 180 degrees. The scabbard should form a 45-degree angle with the ground, and the saber (sword) bearer turns his head to the left and, looks down to observe the mouthpiece of the scabbard (the shoulders remain squared to the front and level). As smoothly and as quickly as possible, the saber (sword) is inserted into the scabbard and stopped so that about 12 inches of the blade is showing; the right forearm (wrist) is horizontal to the marching surface and three inches from the body (2, Figure F-7).

   (3) At the command of execution CUT of the command Ready, CUT, the saber (sword) is thrust smartly into the scabbard, the scabbard is rotated so that its tip is forward, and the saber (sword) bearer comes to Attention (3, Figure F-7).


Figure F-7. Return Saber (Sword).

While marching, the saber (sword) is carried with the inner blade edge riding in a vertical position along the forward tip of the right shoulder (Figure F-8).


Figure F-8. Marching position.

a.      Eyes Right While Marching. The command Eyes, RIGHT is executed while marching at Carry Saber (Sword). The command Ready is given as the right foot strikes the marching surface (no action is taken). The second time the right foot strikes the marching surface, the command Eyes is given and the saber (sword) is brought to the position (count one position) of Present Arms. No action is taken the third time the right foot strikes the marching surface. The fourth time the right foot strikes the marching surface, the command Right is given. As the foot strikes the marching surface, the head is turned sharply to the right at a 45 degree angle, and the saber (sword) is brought downward (Figure F-9).
NOTE:The initial preparatory command Ready is only used when marching with a guidon bearer.


Figure F-9. Eyes right while marching.

   (1) While marching at Present Saber (Sword), the right arm is swung naturally (nine inches to the front and six inches to the rear) in a vertical plane, flexing the wrist to keep the tip of the blade level (about six inches) above the marching surface. This requires extending the wrist on the forward movement and elevating the wrist on the rearward movement.

   (2) The command Ready, FRONT is executed as follows: The command Ready is given as the right foot strikes the marching surface (no action is taken). The second time the right foot strikes the marching surface, a second command Ready is given (again, no action is taken). The saber (sword) is returned to the Order position while maintaining the arm swing (subparagraph b) as the right foot strikes the marching surface the third time. The fourth time the right foot strikes the marching surface the command FRONT is given. The head is turned sharply to the front as the right foot strikes the marching surface and the saber (sword) is returned to the Carry position the next time the left foot strikes the marching surface.

b.      Port Arms. Port Arms (Figure F-10) is executed on the preparatory command Double Time of the command Double Time, MARCH. This position is assumed only from the position of Carry Saber (Sword). The right arm swings naturally across and 6 inches in front of the body. The saber (sword) is canted 45 degrees from the vertical with the guard pointed to the left. The left hand grasps the scabbard.


Figure F-10. Port Arms.


US Army Cavalry Sergeant 1866

Shown in this photo is the old Model 1840 Heavy Cavalry Saber, fondly known among the Cavalry Troopers as The Wrist Breaker which was still in use in many Cavalry units well after the issue of the newer, lighter model
This was later replaced with the Model 1862 Light Cavalry Saber. This is the model in use today in ceremonial functions.


Corrections, updates or additions should be sent to:

CPT Sam Reinert

Sam Reinert
545th Military Police Company Association
626 1/2 South 9th Street
Richmond, Indiana 47374 USA
(765) 962 4627 phone & FAX