View Full Version : Espontoons

Ursa Major
01-13-2000, 12:19 PM
In Stephen Ambrose's book on Lewis & Clark, he makes mention of an espontoon that Lewis carried with him on his trek across North America. An espontoon is identified as "a sort of pike, about 6 feet in length, with a wooden shaft and metal blade. It was a medieval weapon still in use as a symbol of authority for infantry officers in the US Army. Aside from being a walking stick and a weapon of last resort, the espontoon had a crosswise attatchment at shoulder height that served as a rifle rest".

I have never heard of such a thing, and I consider myself fairly well-read in military history. The closest thing, I'm familiar with would be the props used for blunderbuses in the 16th and 17th centuries. Ambrose gives the impression that infantry officers carried these unwieldy 6' pikes around the same way modern officers do with riding crops. The whole image just does not jibe with my mental picture of an 18th or 19th century infantry officer. They must have been a pain in the ass to carry into combat (along with one's sword, side arm and perhaps even a musket).

Can anybody direct me to a picture of such a device or better yet to an illustration of an officer sporting one? Were they as common as Ambrose seems to think?

01-13-2000, 12:25 PM
Better yet, a picture of Lewis (http://lewis-clark.org/weapon_espontoon_pic.htm) himself sporting one.

I think espontoon is another word for the thing that is more usually called a halberd.

01-13-2000, 12:30 PM
That link is broken. Try this one instead (http://www.lewis-clark.org/weapon_espontoon_pic.htm).

01-13-2000, 12:31 PM
Here is one.

espontoon (http://www.walika.com/sr/uniforms/p21.htm)

I've never heard of them either.

If you can't convince them, confuse them.
Harry S. Truman

Arnold Winkelried
01-13-2000, 12:36 PM
Please note that the Swiss Guard at the vatican still includes 70 halbardiers.

01-13-2000, 12:43 PM
Well, lots of places seem to think they were common. From Uniforms of the American Revolution ( http://www.walika.com/sr/uniforms/p1.htm )

As a badge of rank, the officers wore a short hanger or sword, but of no regular patterns, or perhaps some had acquired a gorget or espontoon...

From http://www.dcmilitary.com/army/stripe/june6/str_c060697.html

The drum major is the only U.S. Army soldier authorized to salute with his left hand. ... and issues silent commands with an espontoon, a weapon which officers carried in the 1700s.

From the AMM discussion list ( http://www.xmission.com/~drudy/hist_text-arch/1417.html )

Anyhow, by the time of the revolution the spontoon was carried by officers of foot (infantry) and non-com's carried pikes as their badge of rank. In the
American army this was by direct order of George Washington, because he felt an officer would be to preoccupied loading his musket to properly direct his men. In this respect he was copying the British, except in
combat during the revolution the British officer discarded his spontoon for a light musket, because the spontoon made him a target for those nasty Continental riflemen who were inclined to shoot officers on purpose. The spontoon continued to be carried by infantry and artillery officers as a badge of rank and as a ceremonial weapon well into the 1820's, so knowing this we realize that Lewis and Clark carried
spontoons in 1803 because they were still badges of rank. Lewis was a Captain in the U. S. Infantry, and was accustomed to carrying a spontoon.

From Uniforms of the Army (1774-1895) ( http://www.qmfound.com/changes_in_the_army_uniform_1895.htm )

A badge of office of company officers was the espontoon or half pike, about six feet long.

So, to answer your question, they do seem to have been quite common. I am finding lots of references to the Lewis and Clarke expedition too.

Ah ha! Found a picture of one! http://www.walika.com/sr/uniforms/p21.htm

"Drink your coffee! Remember, there are people sleeping in China."

Dennis Matheson --- dennis@mountaindiver.com
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb --- www.mountaindiver.com (http://www.mountaindiver.com)

01-13-2000, 12:50 PM
Ya know... when I started my search there were no replies to this topic. Guess I need to get faster on my searches...

Ursa Major
01-13-2000, 12:50 PM
God, I love this board! Thanks to all.

The pictures are nothing like what I envisioned. I think it was the bit about it being used as a rifle rest that threw me. All in all the thing looks better suited for Swiss mercenaries than American infantry officers.

01-14-2000, 03:27 AM
The pictures are nothing like what I envisioned. I think it was the bit about it being used as a rifle rest that threw me. All in all the thing looks better suited for Swiss mercenaries than American infantry officers.[/B]

Pikes and halberds were pretty common right up to the Civil War. One of the local factories in my neighborhood made pikes for John Brown when he attacked Harper's Ferry. Given what a pain in the bleep it was the manage a musket in terms of reloading time and damp powder, a 6' length of hardwood with a knife on the end could come in handy in close combat. Not too handy against machineguns, repeating rifles and modern artillery though.

BTW...if you catch the "George Washington" flick playing on A&E this month, you'll spot an espontoon near the end when the Americans are rounding up the Hessian prisoners. Getting prodded with one of them things musta been pretty persuasive. :)

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