The cutlass and its direct descendant — the cavalry saber — played a powerful role in American history. When the first European ships landed parties on American shores, the cutlass landed with them. Many of us think of the cutlass as the pirate sword, but it has a much broader history. This blade began as the weapon for the common seaman — who had very little training in sword play but lots of experience at chopping things. The Navy issued short heavy cutlasses to sailors shortly before hand to hand confrontations, while officers carried their more slender and deft sabers at all times.
The distinctive basket hand guard of the cutlass carried over to cavalry sabers, the swords carried by mounted soldiers throughout the Civil War and the many conflicts that followed. Cutlasses also found use in peaceful applications, and were the preferred tools for harvesting sugar cane on Caribbean plantations.
Today’s cutlasses are usually reproductions of museum antiques, though some are more fanciful, influenced by movies as well as the inaccuracies of romantic literature. The concept of a short, heavy chopping sword still finds practical application from time to time, as modern companies recreate new versions of this old military blade. The cutlass is a working man’s sword, only slightly more refined than a machete and as well suited to chopping brush as to repelling the occasional boarding party.
Cold Steel makes a US Navy officer’s cutlass. It’s a replica, of course, but it’s combat-quality.
With the same clean lines as the Cold Steel, this Cavalry Cutlass matches the kit of the typical Civil War Cavalryman.
For those who love the Pirate trade, here’s a costume version of a pirate cutlass that really is pretty good.