Is that a sword or are you just happy to see me?

Take a gander at this:

While it may appear to share in the Platonic ideal of what we know as a ‘sword’, upon closer inspection, I’m not sure how well it fits within that categorization. It is referred to as a ‘hanger’ and while it looks like a pretty run of the mill sword it is much more.

Swords were going out of style in the late 18th century and few armies were willing to spend the time training soldiers in a form of combat that no one engaged in anymore. Still, I suspect old habits die hard and there was a need for some sort of melee weapon among some troops and that’s where the hanger came into play.

Rather than a cutting or piercing weapon what was needed was a weapon that could break bones. A broken wrist or collar bone can’t hold a musket. A soldier unable to lift a musket is out of the fight. The amount of skill required to bring a heavy object down upon a foe’s arm or neck is pretty limited. If you can hack, you can do it. So, while the hanger looks like a sword, functionally I think I heard it described to be a bit more like a cleaver.

And while I don’t have a great deal of experience with swords, the weight and balance of the hanger feels ‘off’ if your interested in doing a bunch of parry and thrust or cutting. It feels like a lot of it’s weight is forward of the hilt, which seems like it would hinder precise maneuvering with the wrist. Think of trying to fight with a baseball bat (or maybe even a baseball bat with a weight at the end). That seems to be about how much precision dueling you’ll be able to accomplish with a hanger.

It’s not entirely clear to me when a soldier would resort to using their hanger. After all, they all had their muskets for distance and their bayonets for close in combat. A hanger would force you to get even closer to the enemy and could put you at a serious disadvantage against an opponent with a musket and bayonet. During the American Revolution, many colonial soldiers had non-military muskets that were unable to accommodate a bayonet which might mean that if a grenadier lost his musket you might have a hanger vs. musket sans bayonet situation. I’d feel better there as I have to think the shorter hanger (as clumsy as it appears to have been) would give more control than a musket lacking a pointy end.

According to my good captain:

There are no standardized drills for the men regarding fencing and the use of the hangars themselves in actual combat may have been almost non-existent. In 1784, hangars were abolished, so I imagine little thought was given to them at all in the years prior.

In the years prior to their abolition, hangers were only used by grenadiers.  So, it may be that they were one of those pieces of kit that served no other purpose than to accentuate that elite swagger.

 

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