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Model 1860 Naval Cutlass

By Patrick McSherry  
Two crewman practicing naval cutlass drill

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The naval cutlass, though antiquated for purposes of naval warfare in the era of the steel vessels of the new American Navy, was still officially in use. The crews of the Spanish American War period were drilled in cutlass exercises, known as "single stick" drill.


The 1860 naval cutlass was apparently adopted by the U.S. Navy in approximately 1860. The new U.S. Navy cutlass was based on the cutlass then in use with the French navy. The word "cutlass" is derived from the term "curtal axe", an ancient heavy, but short weapon. The cutlass has the same characteristics. The cutlass was used in ship-to-shop melee, in boarding parties and to repel boarders.

Naval cutlass, sheath and a "single stick"

At top is the naval cutlass, just above the leather scabbard. At bottom is a wooden practice cutlass, or "single stick"
(photo from the Doug Howser Collection)


The cutlass was an excellent weapon for it intended use of fighting in onfined areas. However, by the time of the Spanish American War, the combatants seldom, if ever, met face to face. The weapon was outdated.


Overall length:
32 inches
Blade length:
26 inches
Blade width:
1-1/8" at hilt
Blade type:
Single-edged, with a rudimentary double edge within 5

inches of point. A broad fuller (groove) runs from the

hilt to within 7 inches of the point. The blade is curved.
Broad "half basket" guard of sheet brass, generally unornamented.
Wood, covered with leather, wound with twisted brass wire.
Most commonly Ames Manufacturing Co., Chicopee, MA.


Farrow, Edward S., A Dictionary of Military Terms. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1918).

Howser, Doug (photo of cutlass, scabbard and single stick).

Peterson, Harold L., The American Sword. (Philadelphia: Ray Riling Arms Books Co., 1965).

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