Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: NC, U.S.A.
Both Jim and Glenn pointed out that the slashing attack with the cutlass wasn't practical. This makes total sense when we remember that ship's decks were extremely tight quarters and overcrowded. Although some longer swords made it to sea, the primary edged weapons were short hangers, cutlasses, dirks, etc. Thrusting weapons were the item of choice, evidenced by the reemergence of the ancient pike, much shortened to fit on a crowded ship's deck. The point is that it makes sense that the cutlass could be used as a sharpened bludgeon, but worked better as a stabbing implement like the pikes and dirks.
As a medical person, I would say that a jab to the face or neck could obviously be lethal, penetrating the airway, severing the trachea, carotids and jugular. To the chest, there is penetration of the lungs, bronchus (all fatal), heart and great vessels (aortic arch), abdominal cavity with its vascular liver and pancreas.
Also consider the cutlass in the use for DEFENSE of the ship vs the aggressor boarding party. Netting was placed over the ship to discourage boarders, with the pikemen stabbing through the netting as the enemy attempted to clamber onto the deck. Again, a cutlass would work far better here as a thrusting defensive weapon, stabbing through the tight ropes at those on the other side. It stands to reason that this is why, as Jim astutely pointed out, the cutlass became more of a blunt tool over the years.