Musketeers are cheaper than archers. Archers take years of training, musketeers take weeks. Musketballs and gunpowder are cheaper than arrows. In addition, shooting a bow takes a lot of effort. It’s going to wear anybody down sooner or later because your muscles are doing all the work to power the projectile. Reloading and shooting a musket takes less physical effort, so you can pretty much do it all damn day if you have to. Shooting a longbow for 12 hours straight would be a near herculean feat. Not so much with a musket.
I’ve always wondered about this. Years of StarCraft has taught me the best way to win a head on fight (especially I’d imagine with weapons that penetrate through their targets) is to get a concave arc around your opponent. If he stays in the high density blob formation he’s screwed. Especially since muskets are so inaccurate it seems insane to stand shoulder to shoulder. You should spread out and get lots of gaps so they can actually miss.
Now the problem with that is infantry charges and cavalry. Well, you can usually see that coming, right? So that’s when you form up into your own blob and reduce your formation’s surface area. Maybe that wouldn’t work well with a ragtag force, but why not a highly trained professional army?
Yes, it was standard practice to mix pikemen with musketeers. Then along came the bayonet, which transformed the musket into a half-assed pike, and suddenly all your musketeers were pikemen too. But note that pike formations require discipline. Back in the feudal era cavalry dominated because footmen were by definition second class citizens.
Yes, body armor was still sometimes in use at this point, although mostly by heavy cavalry, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuirassier. But cavalry units switched back and forth between armor and no armor, which is evidence that no one could decide whether armor was worth it or not.
Yes, archers could be more deadly than musketeers. Except, it took decades to train longbowmen to pull heavy bows, whereas in a month of drill you can teach a peasant with dung on his boots to march where he is told, reload his musket, and pull the trigger on command. People frequently noted that skilled archers were better than musketeers, the problem was finding those skilled archers.
One of the things you have to remember, it’s hard to train pikemen. Like musket armed troops, every man in the pike unit must feel he can count on his mates to stay in place with him - a pike is an effective defense only so long as it’s part of a unit, otherwise it becomes a spear that’s too damned unwieldy to use effectively in single combat.
Having cavalry charging down on you is terrifying. The urge to run can be overwhelming. At least until a bayonet charge begins, standing in line for a musket battle is far less stressful.
Without the time to train up as a unit most scratch groups of pikemen won’t hold against a cavalry charge. Once the formation breaks, it’s all over.
For that matter, standing up and taking it, a la the line musket tactics described here isn’t that simple, either. It’s one of the reasons that US militias did not do very well against regular troops in either the French and Indian War, or the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. Looking at the ‘battles’ at Concord and Lexington can highlight things.
Where the Minutemen and the Lobsterbacks stood and faced off against each other, Old North Bridge and Lexington Green, the Minutemen got off one volley, ragged at that, and then pretty much broke. I can’t recall at the moment what the casualties were at Lexington, but at Old North Bridge just two Hessians were killed, compared to I think eight or so Minutemen. It was the march to and from Boston where the column took most of its casualties, as the Minutemen reverted to skirmish tactics - taking a shot from cover along the route, then scurrying off to find a safe place to reload, and finding a new place to fire from. There the casualties were skewed far more in favor of the Minutemen.
In Starcraft, there is no reloading. In real life, there is. The square formation gives protection to those who are reloading. Also, there’s no sense in getting a bigger concave when you can’t support that many people firing at once.
But imagine you’re in skirmish order, while your enemy is formed into a line. Muskets have very short range, which means that all his guys can shoot at the same section of your troops, while your troops on the far ends of the line are out of range of his tight formation. So if you’ve both got 100 men, all 100 of his men can fire at an enemy in range, while only 50 of yours can. That means he can tear a hole in your line, and then his cavalry breaks through the line and hits your troops in the flank or rear. And it’s not like the only way a shot can miss is if it goes between two soldiers. It can go over their heads or hit the ground.
As for forming up to receive cavalry, yes, that’s exactly what you’d want to do. Except you can’t do that if your troops are dispersed in a skirmish line. Remember that with the effective range of a musket, you’ll have one, or maybe two effective volleys at the cavalry before they hit you.
Of course, this method of warfare means that if two well-matched and well-disciplined armies meet, the casualties will be horrific because the soldiers have been drilled and drilled and drilled that they have no choice but to stand in the face of enemy fire.
The other main reason nobody liked skirmish lines is because the techniques for command and control were primitive. You had shouted orders, messengers with written orders, bugles, drums, and rockets. So the only way to command and control your troops was to keep them together and have officers literally watch over their shoulders. Anything else and God knows what they’d do.
Given our current military involvement in Afghanistan, I think the next stanza is equally apropos.
This remains true up to a point in line-of-battle. Outflanking an enemy remained a valid tactic. However, outflanking runs a couple of particular risks: first, if you surround an enemy on two or three sides, missed shots from your own men can fly straight through and hit your troops on other sides. In previous eras, that wasn’t an issue except in very close combat because arrows tended to drop the ground shortly after their targets. (This applies to Starcraft too- no friendly fire.) Second, surrounding an enemy might work if the enemy is badly outnumbered. However, if you don’t outnumber the enemy, you must thin your lines relative to his in order to surround him, and that means that he may be able to shatter your thin lines in the center, dividing your forces. This is multiplied by the lousy communications of the era that others have mentioned; divided forces can’t work together very well because they cannot communicate.
That’s true, isn’t it? I hadn’t thought about it, but in the World Wars armor beyond helmets was out of fashion. I wonder if it’s related to the rising cost of labor and training relative to manufacturing-- individual soldiers represent a bigger time and money investment than they used to, while assembly line manufacture has reduced the cost of the armor.
Not only has armor made a comeback, it’s actually come full circle. The type of armor used by troops today is essentially the same as one of the more primitive forms of armor: a brigandine. A brigandine was a heavy cloth coat with steel plates sewn inside it.
After centuries of increasingly sophisticated suits of full plate armor with fully articulated joints, we eventually came back to the simpler style.
Smoke was another reason they stayed in a tight line. You wanted to make sure you weren’t helping the enemy out by shooting at your own guys, which did happen.
I wish I could recall when and where it was- I think it was the Napoleonic era- but there’s a first hand account of a naval battle where the smoke was so thick two men were saber fighting for several minutes before realizing they were not only on the same side but friends. There are numerous accounts of the smoke on Civil War battlefields being so thick you had no idea if the enemy was advancing, rereating, or breaking into a big Bollywood style dance number, and those horses and men you hear riding towards you might be the enemy or they might be reinforcements. Friendly fire was probably just as big of an issue with single-shot weapons as with rapid fire machine guns.
Another thing that’s strange to us is that most battles stopped at night. It’s strange to think of “quitting time!” being called for a battle, but it was too hard to tell who you were shooting at. There were raids and surprise attacks at night, but very few pitched battles. It also gave both sides a chance to tend to their wounded, rest as much as you can on a battlefield, and the battle might well resume at first light but the night would usually have at most a few skirmishes. During the Civil War Stonewall Jackson was killed because at night the sentry could not recognize him and, depending on the source, hesitated before giving the password or gave the wrong one. In daylight he’d have probably been instantly recognized.
As an aside, the yelling of “FORE!!” on the golf course started with these lines of battle. It was the guys in the back warning the guys up front that they were about to fire.
Besides training, communication was a problem. It’s hard to coordinate movement and attacks when you’re limited to signal flags, trumpets, voice commands, and runners to relay messages. Magically drop in modern comm equipment that allows personal-to-person and one-to-many communication, and I’ll bet you’d see a dramatic change in tactics much more along the line of modern warfare. Formations were practically necessary if for no other reason than it’s hard to get people into the right position when you’re so limited in the range and fidelity of information transmission.
I think it had more to do with materials technology; the old “steel pot” helmet was about the most practical weight of armor a person could wear with some hope of reasonable protection, even if they didn’t do much good against direct bullet impacts.
But there were flak jackets which did offer some protection against shrapnel, and, to a much lesser degree, bullets.
Advances in material technology has advanced personal body armor back up to the point where it is (relatively) light enough to be worn in combat, and at least marginally effective against even direct bullet impacts. There has been debates over whether the added weight/bulk and resultant loss of mobility was worth it. As in most things, I think it may be a matter of whether or not one of the goddamned hot, bulky, heavy sons-a-bitches stops the bullet with your name on it, in which case the goddamned hot, bulky, heavy son-of-a-bitch becomes your new best friend in combat.
The wiki article on ballistic vests is actually pretty good. Goes into the early history of bullet proof vests. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballistic_vest
There were several attempts to design bulletproof armor for soldiers in the first half of the 20th century. The reason they were never implemented on a widespread basis seems to always be the same. If they are capable of stopping a bullet, they’re too damn heavy, and it’s not worth the trade off to the soldiers’ mobility. Apparently, this argument is still being waged regarding the current body armor our soldiers wear.
Ah, yes. As I recall, it goes something like this:
“Get me another gin, you goddamned miserable darkie!”
Kipling: truly the poet of his age.
One notable proponent of body armor at this time was Bashford Dean, curator of arms and armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and also a biologist of some renown. Dean wrote a very interesting article, which you can view here (warning- pdf file) in which he makes a case for equipping troops with armor (the ideal model he uses is based loosely on 17th century siege armor.) This was published in 1915.
Another film (not the same level as Barry Lindon, but certainly better than “The Patriot”) is “Revolution”, with Pacino.
Here’s a battle sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s08ucJsHVgE
But, the best movie if you want to se this kind of battles, this kind of formations, and not think “Wow, they were so dumb in the past” is “Waterloo” with Steiger and Plummer. Awesome film, the director had, as extras, 17000 soldiers, I can assure you you’ll get a better understanding of why they fought like that than any other movie (and certainly more than “The Patriot”)
It’s watchable in its entirety on youtube:
Oh yes, Waterloo is a fantastic movie. Barry Lyndon is great too.
I wasn’t editorializing on the man.
But thank you for taking a steaming shit all over my post, which was merely an aside to silensus, who quoted Kipling as color commentary to bump’s post about the sort of courage and discipline it took to stand in the “line of battle” in the 18th and 19th centuries.
People just wanting to see battles won’t like Barry Lyndon because the film is exceptionally long and, by modern standards, drags at times. I, personally, love it, have seen it more than a dozen times and vastly prefer it to almost any movie made in the last 20 years, but it’s not for everyone. Cromwell is another good one, although it takes place about 100 years prior, but again, it has moments where it drags. The battle scenes are extremely good though, and Alec Guinness is amazing.
I can’t really tolerate any current day historical battle movies because of the shaky-cam, obnoxious overdone orchestral scoring/choir music, and totally over-the-top dirt and grime (there’s this idea that everything in the past has to be dirty, brown and gray or else it’s not historically accurate.) I can pretty much only enjoy older battle movies. Flesh and Blood is another good one. Ingrid Bergman’s Joan of Arc, also.