Originally Posted by M ELEY
Excellent thread on my favorite type of weapon! Nothing to add to what's already been said other than the fact that many of the naval pattern cutlass had surprisingly blunt edges. If one remembers that the chief initiative of naval boarding was for the capture of the ship, one can assume that many of the blows from these weapons was to incapacitate the enemy vs. downright kill him. Rest assured, a cutlass blow could kill, but in the descriptive battle CC mentioned, casualties from edged weapons were indeed low.
I read a book on 19th c. cutlass practice and learned the chief target was the opponent's head, thus the development of the unique leather head gear developed by the Americans. A cutlass slamming into your skull would certainly split the scalp, get blood in your eyes, stun or knock you senseless and take the fight out of you, but not necessarily deliver a mortal wound. Cannon balls, shivers/splinters, grenades and musket shot, on the other hand, was more deadly and caused the most trauma.
When boarding, the boarders were often the last attack plan, with the cannons, grapeshot and musket fire from the tops sweeping the deck first. The 'party' were the finishing-up crew.