"Charge your... Bayonets!"1

Many an NWTA battle scenario ends with one side or the other pushing the "enemy" off the field at the point of the bayonet. This can be an effective and exciting way to bring an end to the scenario -- as long as it is performed safely and correctly.

First of all, of bayonets and bayonet charges, the NWTA safety regulations state the following:

NWTA Regulation #02-04- Edged Weapons
A. Bayonet points will be rounded so that no point is present.

The aim of this regulation is to establish minimum standards of safety.
1) CLOSE COMBAT: Bayonet fighting in close combat by individuals or by regiments is prohibited unless such combat has been rehearsed and agreed to by both participating parties, and approved by the Safety Officers as part of the battle script or demonstration.
C. BAYONETS: Bayonets are not to be fixed except within those regiments programmed to "close". (See NWTA Reg. #02-07.) Regiments not programmed for hand-to-hand combat will not close.
2) BAYONETS: Bayonets will only be fixed in regiments with prior approval of Safety Officers before each battle.

That said, here is how to correctly perform a bayonet charge according to Timothy Pickering:

"As soon as they have fired, they must come to a recover; and then the commanding officer will give the word,

upon which the whole battalion advances briskly with a full step [quick step is 120 steps per minute and each step covers two feet of ground]2, the drummers beating the Grenadiers March. When they have marched about 20 paces, or as far as the commanding officer shall think proper, he will give the word,
Upon which the officers and men in the front rank charge their bayonets, and continue advancing briskly; taking great care not to run, nor break, either by closing too much, or opening the files; but preserving their front even, and in exact order [emphasis mine]. The rear ranks must continue recovered, taking particular care to keep up close. When the commanding officer thinks proper, he will give the word, Halt! upon which the drummers cease beating, and the battalion stands fast and dresses, the front rank coming to a recover; and then they half-cock, shoulder, and shut their pans."3

bayonet chargeNote the text highlighted in bold. All too often our re-created bayonet charges become a free-for-all with individual units racing down the field to "get there first". The strength of a bayonet charge lies in numbers. The ultimate goal is to have every point in the line reach the enemy at precisely the same instant. Running out ahead of the battalion (besides being an unsafe practice) simply weakens the impact of the charge.

The easiest way to ensure the bayonet charge is performed correctly, safely and effectively is to simply watch your right-hand man and do as he does. The far right-hand man will typically be an nco or an experienced re-enactor, so if everyone matches the step, dress and level of the bayonet of the man to their right you really can't go wrong!


1) Pickering, Timothy, An Easy Plan of Discipline for a Militia, 1775, p. 33. The emphasis indicated (accent on the italicized portion of the word) is how Pickering suggests the command be given. Though intended for the training of militia, Pickering wrote his book after observing the British performing their maneuvers on Boston Common in the years prior to the war. His book includes many references to other drill manuals of the and period and comments about many practices "common in the Army". Pickering is, in my opinion, the best manual for use by re-enactors. It can be had from King's Arms Press.
2) Pickering, p 44-45
3) Pickering, p 123-4