This is the sword of Sergeant Charles Ewart of the 2nd (Royal North British) Regiment of Dragoons, better known as the ‘Scots Greys’. Sergeant Ewart fought with exceptional courage and ferocity at the Battle of Waterloo, capturing a precious Eagle standard from the French. His sword is a 1796 pattern British heavy cavalry sabre.
The 1796 pattern was a brutally heavy cavalry sword, specifically designed as a cutting weapon. Ewart’s sword, with its hatchet point design, is typical of those issued to the heavy cavalry. Their owners often modified the blades and Ewart’s is no exception. There is evidence that some slight adjustments have been made to the cutting edge, which has been filed into a more pronounced point. This enabled the blade to be used for thrusting, as well as cutting.
Despite its clear cutting power, the 1796 sabre did have some disadvantages against its French cavalry counterpart. Primarily it was much shorter than the French sword. Coupled with the French preference for thrusting, this meant that Napoleon’s cavalrymen could strike their opponents long before the British could retaliate. However, in the hands of a consummate swordsman like Ewart, or Corporal John Shaw of the 2nd Regiment of Life Guards, the sword was a formidable weapon which more than challenged the French cavalry sabres length advantage.
Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in Ewart’s capture of the Eagle standard of the French 45th Regiment de Ligne at the Battle of Waterloo. Ewart was appalled at the events surrounding the death of Cornet Francis Kinchant, an unfortunate officer who was shot by a surrendering French officer and his retaliation was swift and final. He rode into the melee, located the French officer and struck off his head with a single blow.
In further testament to the devastating combination of Ewart’s strength and skill, and the 1796 sabre’s brutal power, he then rode deeper into the ranks of French infantry, where he came upon the standard-bearer of the 45e Regiment. He parried the Frenchmen’s thrust before cutting his opponent down. A lancer then charged at Ewart, who again covered his opponents thrust before slashing up through the lancer’s teeth across his face. Finally a foot soldier fired his musket at Ewart. Fortunately it missed its mark and as the infantryman charged with his bayonet, the Scotsman parried his opponent and cut him down before retiring with his prize. The capture of the Eagle and Ewart’s gallantry earned the “Scots Greys” the nickname of the “The Birdcatchers”
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This object is in the collection of Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum