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Saluting with the sword?

Whilst at a recent event I noticed that sundry officers when saluting with the sword do so with the sword in the right hand, and with the left hand being brought up to the left eye simultaneously. Some also appear to draw back the left foot in a similar way to the OR's General Salute. I presume this practise is after the well known picture of an officer saluting in just that manner?

However I have been following the instructions contained in the Regimental Companion 1800. Vol 2. in which the salute is performed only with the sword, pretty much in the manner still used today.

Anybody know if this double salute is an earlier form? Or is it just an extrapolation of the picture?
John Waller

As you say 'The Regimental Companion' describes saluting thus:-

Instructions with regards to the Sword Salute, &c.
p. 200

WHEN officers are ordered to fall in, or take post in the battalion, they will repair to their several companies, divisions or sections, and without waiting for any verbal direction or word of command, draw their swords. The ranks being at close order, every officer, except the supernumary ones, will dress by the men, from the right and left of the several companies.

Carriage of the Sword at close Order.

1. Grasp the sword lightly by the hilt, in your right hand, on a level and close to your hip bone, there let it rest, as the soldier does his musquet, casting the blade into the hollow of your right shoulder.

Carriage of the Sword at open Order.

2. Grasp the sword by the hilt in your right hand, in front of your hip bone, drop the blade, four inches from the point, in your left hand, keeping the left elbow bent, and place your thumb along the blade upwards; bring your right arm somewhat forwards, so as to allow the blade to remain in a diagonal direction across the chest without constraint; your left hand being opposite to, and about three inches lower than the left shoulder.

Salute of the Sword

Four motions 1st. Bring your sword briskly up in a perpendicular direction, the point upwards, and the flat side of the blade opposite to the right eye; the guard even with the right nipple, and the elbow close to the body. The instant the left hand quits the blade it must be briskly dropped to the left thigh; the thumb being kept flat upon the seam of the breeches, and the rest of the hand close to the thigh.

2d. Drop the blade by briskly stretching your arm, so as to bring your right hand close to the right thigh,* and remain steadily in this position until the person you have saluted shall have passed you two paces at least.

3d. Bring your sword briskly up, as in the first position: and,

4th. Sink it in a diagonal direction across the chest, as described in open order.

At the word of command Rear ranks take close order &mdash officers face to the right, recovering their sword as in 1st position of the sword salute; they march in ordinary time to the different intervals in the battalion, come to the right about, and by one motion bring their swords as in No. 1 of the carriage of the sword at close order.

* This mode, in our humble opinion, is better calculated to preserve that squareness of chest, (which is so essentially necessary to the correct appearance of every officer and solder) than what is generally followed. It has the sanction of the old French regulation, and on that account ought at least to have as much weight with us as their manner of dancing has. If the sword be dropped in the front of the thight or knee, the right shoulder must unavoidably project; whereas, by dropping it along the outside of the thigh, both shoulders will be kept in a line.

No mention of moving the feet. Perhaps a general salute is different?

No mention of moving either the feet or simultaneously saluting with the left hand.
John Waller

Bryan wrote:
No mention of moving either the feet or simultaneously saluting with the left hand.

However in A treatise on the British drill and exercise of the company... 2nd ed pub in 1816 (not yet seen the 1st ed pub 1814) it states:-

Salute while Halting On the words Present Arms and while the men perform the second motion of that command the officers recover their swords as before explained the left hand quitting at the same time the blade and being brought along the left side At the third motion officers drop their swords by stretching their right arm the point a little advanced and a few inches from the ground the guard preserved to the left the left hand is at the same time to be brought in front to the peak of the cap

Salute while on the March When this opening the ranks is performed in order to pass in review order and salute a superior officer the officers thus in front of a division when at about six paces from him and at the signal of the one placed on their right Recover their Swords as explained for the first motion the salute when performed while halted executing however here while they advance the left foot so as drop their swords while stepping to the front with right at the same time they bring their left hand front to the peak of their cap

So quite different but still no mention of moving the feet when at the halt.

So forgetting the feet for the moment, if that book is dated 1816 it looks as if both forms of the salute probably existed throughout the period.

Of course given the fact that we are referring to books which are not actual army manuals in the strict modern sense but rather books privately published by informed ( usually serving ) individuals it's perhaps not surprising.

But the obvious question would be what happened when regiments paraded together? Did officer devotees of the 'Companion' salute with the sword only whilst followers of the 'Treatise' doggedly whipped their left hands to their cap peaks as well? The mind boggle's at the thought of what it must have looked like, and God only knows what the General being so saluted must have thought!
Paul Durrant

Plate from the British Military Journal at the British Library, dated c1800 showing an officer of the then newly formed Corps of Riflemen.

Not sure if it's showing him stepping back...?
The Sarge!

Cheers Paul D, was looking for that picture, I beleive he has taken a slight step beck, such as the Riflemen do when they present arms.

Yes, thanks for the picture Paul. I'm sure I,ve seen another like that somewhere. He does appear to have taken a slight step back I agree but you always have to be cautious when taking small details from period pictures. Take a close look at his left hand salute. His fingers are extended right over his right eyebrow!

Someone just sent me a picture of the Waterloo service and sure enough there are both versions of salute being performed at once.

From what's been shown so far I guess there is no correct way as both procedures existed at the same time. Out of interest which one does Dennis use?
Ben Townsend

From the 'Green Book', the standing Orders of the Rifle Corps 1801,
"The salutes by Officers are of two kinds, with the sword and without it; in both salutes the hand is to be placed gracefully along the rim of the helmet, in a horizontal but circular position; the points of the forefinger and thumb meeting the edge of the helmet on the right or left side, according as the salute is given, with or without the sword. To his Majesty, to every branch of the Royal family, to a Viceroy, or to a General commanding in Chief an army wherein the Rifle Cops serves, every Officer will halt, front and salute with steadiness and with grace."

The prevailing sentiment appears to be grace!

"General Order.
10th July, 1812.
All Officers dismounted, wearing Caps, are to Salute in the same
manner as practised by Officers of Flank Companies.
By Command of His Royal Highness
The Commander-in-Chief,

Not sure what that means but may be helpful.
Ben Townsend

I wonder if it is something to do with the caps then? In 1812 centre company Officers are regulated to wear the cap as opposed to the cocked hat. The flank company officers are already supposedly in caps. Perhaps the cocked hat was considered less efficacious for hand saluting? Hmm

I think you might be going up a blind alley with the cap thing. From what I know about the etiquette of later saluting practise you only saluted an officer if he was wearing his hat. it didn't matter which kind of hat. If he wasn't wearing one at all you showed deference by standing to attention but not saluting. I think that might be what that para' is on about.

Bugger all to do with the procedure of sword saluting.

This is a pretty old thread, but it seemed to die off, rather than reach any successful conclusion, so I thought I would offer a bit of an answer.

Before 1811, infantry officers saluted according to the method described in "The Regimental Companion."  Originally printed in 1801, it underwent several versions, and, significantly, the 1811 version still contained the same salute.  However, by 1812, infantry officers were saluting in the manner described in A Treatise.  The difference, as suggested by Ben, was that the headgear for infantry officers had changed from a hat to a Regimental cap.  The 1811 saluting method would have been impossible in a hat.  Further evidence for this chance is the fact that the naval salute for this period did not change because they continued to wear hats, almost universally fore and aft.
Of course this means that you would continue to see two different salutes in this time period, as those in caps would salute one way, and those in hats the other.
As for the foot going back, I have not seen documentary evidence that the foot comes back, only one picture.

Chris McKay
Paul Durrant

Just a theory thrown out there...

Is it possible the 'speculative' step back in the salute is similar to the ranks stepping back for a general salute?

just a thought...

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