Espontoon in the Corps

link to photo of espontoon Espontoon, or spontoon, is the French name for a type of thrusting weapon or spear also known as a halbred, or halbert. It was sometimes called a half-pike because it was about six feet long, or roughly half the length of the medieval weapon called a pike. It was made of wood, with a double-edged blade at the business end, and an iron tip at the other.

During the Revolutionary Era the espontoon was carried by infantry officers as a symbol of rank, and as a sort of baton, or signalling device, for use in directing their men. It was an officer's primary weapon, since it allowed him to keep his eyes on the battle at all times, whereas the loading of a flintlock firearm demanded close attention, took anywhere from twenty to forty seconds to load and fire, and had to be done while standing still. Furthermore, his signals could be seen from a distance in the din and disorder of the battlefield, when voice commands might be indistinguishable.

For Lewis and Clark the espontoon also served as a walking-stick on rough or slippery terrain, as a prop to steady a rifle for a long shot, and as a weapon. Lewis killed a rattlesnake with his (May 26, 1805), and Clark killed a wolf (May 29, 1805).