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1796 Sword Exercise


As part of my research into British cavalry I have started trying to learn the 1796 Sword Exercise devised for British cavalry by Le Merchant. It is not easy. I am having to use an American Civil War sabre that is a little longer and, I think, a little heavier than a 1796 Light Cavalry Sabre, but lighter than the Heavy Cavalry Sabre. Although the illustrations show a Light Dragoon with the Light Cavalry sabre the Exercise is clearly meant for both Heavy and Light Cavalry.

What has helped considerably is doing exactly what the manual says and marking the lines of the six cuts on a wall at the correct height. The cuts are actually quite short, but that’s all they need to be, given the size of the target, another person on a horse and that they need to be kept high to avoid your own horse.

The hardest bit is keeping the arm straight and the hand above shoulder height, it is all in the wrist. there are a couple of key quotes;

‘In opposing cavalry the arm becomes a pivot, round which the wrist wheels the sword independent of any other action but what may be derived from the shoulder.’

‘It should be always remembered that the force of the stroke against a person on their own level, must be derived from the sweep of the blade, and not from the motion of the arm.’

Still, it is hard work. Half an hour at a time is the most I can manage at the moment and my arm aches.



  1. Was the 1796 Sword Drill the first one used by British cavalry? Was there any drill used by other European cavalry that they could have copied?

    • It was the first authorised drill for use by all the British cavalry. There may have been other drills used by individual regiments, which is something I shall be looking for. It seems rather strange that there is an apparent lack of sword training in the cavalry prior to the 1796 Exercise. I don’t know about other nations, but the genesis of the 1796 Exercise suggests it is entirely home grown. It was devised by John Gaspard Le Marchant when he was the Major of the 16th light Dragoons.

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