The Face of Battle

Historiography seems to be a popular choice, so I’ll start off our discussion of battle with an off-the-top-of-my-head overview of the literature on early modern battle. (I should probably note that I’ll define battle here in its traditional sense, i.e. as combat in the open field between main armies – we can discuss sieges, small war and naval combat elsewhere. Also, as usual I’ll limit myself to English language works.)

Appropriate to the battle theme, I recently heard of this blog focusing on the mechanics of pike and shot tactics in the early modern period. As of today it only has three posts and seems to have gone dormant awhile ago, but the posts are rather long and set out a question of interest not only to re-enactors and buffs, but to academic military historians as well. In a nutshell: how exactly did the mechanics and physics of pre-modern combat work? Below I’ll provide a cursory historiographical overview of how historians have addressed this issue, and end with a few questions for discussion.

For decades wargamers have turned to publishers like Osprey to provide details on the weapons, equipment and tactics used in battle. Though these topics have usually been considered too buffish for academics looking for approval from their colleagues, John Keegan’s Face of Battle offered academic military historians the opportunity to approach the subject from a more analytically-respectable perspective. In this seminal work Keegan dissected the ‘rhetoric of battle history’ and sought to uncover the face of battle, the experience of combatants on the battlefield across several centuries. Since then numerous scholars have applied this social history of combat to their own periods. Victor Davis Hanson’s The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece spawned a debate among Ancient historians over whether Greek hoplite warfare resembled a crash of charging walls of hoplons, a rugby scrum, or the poking and prodding of pikes past shields. Even earlier, medieval historians like Verbruggen had sought to slay the stereotype of medieval battles consisting of individual duels, and pointed to the discipline and training required for medieval combat. In the early modern period, Michael Roberts’ military revolution emphasized the distinction between shock vs. firepower, and arcane terms like tercio, countermarch, caracole and platoon fire have been popularized as the Military Revolution debate reignited under Geoffrey Parker’s instigation. Historians of the 17C and 18C such as John Lynn have summarized the gradual shift from column to line, as firearms became more reliable and their rate of fire increased. Matthew Spring’s With Zeal and Bayonets Only has recently analyzed how the rugged North American theater influenced British tactical doctrine in the American Revolutionary period. John Lynn’s earlier work on Bayonets of the Republic analyzed the reality of line vs. column with French Revolutionary arms. Roy Muir’s Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon asked this same question of the British combat experience during the Napoleonic Wars. In other words, interest in the mechanics of battle remains high across all periods.

The role of mounted warriors has been less examined by military historians, perhaps because they and their mounts are more foreign to modern men than the foot soldier? Several works have, nonetheless, sought to remind us that the horse still played a dominant role on early modern battlefields. Gervase Phillips highlighted the difficulty finding clear patterns of tactical evolution in his ‘Of Nimble Service.’ As cited in a recent post, Gavin Robinson’s recent article on English Civil War cavalry inquires more directly whether cavalry actually charged and crashed into the enemy (displaying skepticism akin to Keegan’s regarding the physical impact of the bayonet charge); he similarly inquires whether they actually used the caracole – another one of those terms that sets off debates at Society for Military History conferences.

An important aspect of the mechanics of battle is drill, training and tactical doctrine (if that’s not too anachronistic a term). Historiography has focused here primarily on the extent to which various national establishments were using the most ‘advanced’ techniques, whether they were fully a part of the tactical Military Revolution or not. The stage for this debate was set by Robert Quimby’s early account of the 18C debate over line vs. column set off by iconoclasts like the chevalier de Folard. Prussia’s Frederick the Great has been (perhaps unjustly?) famous for his iron discipline. Houlding’s Fit for Service approached the topic a bit more broadly, looking at how the British army trained its troops across the 18C. David Lawrence’s recent The Complete Soldier applies the history of the book to the topic, looking at the context of English manuals as much as their content. One of the main debates within this subfield revolves around dating the advent and spread of specific tactical maneuvers. For example, who developed the countermarch: was it the Dutch, as Parker and others have argued, or instead the Spanish, as González de León has recently claimed? A similar debate exists regarding platoon fire: are the British stealing Dutch credit for this ‘innovation’?

Some scholars have argued for particular ‘national’ ways of war on a tactical level. Most notable in this regard is the work of the (interesting to say the least) J. Michael Hill, who argued for a Celtic way of war based on the famous Highland charge. Other scholars have discussed the difficulty of countries facing opponents in very different theaters, such as the Russians (Christopher Duffy) or Austrians (Alexander Balisch), who faced both ‘modern’ Western European powers like Sweden and France, while at the same time needing to defend themselves against the steppe warrior tradition along their wilder border, threats embodied by the Tatars and Turks. Historians of the American colonies have been the most active contributors to the “ways of war” debate, with scholars from Patrick Malone to John Grenier emphasizing the tension between bravely fighting like ‘civilized’ Europeans vs. skulking and scalping like brute savages.

In short, lots of historians have addressed these issues of the mechanics of tactics. What have we learned from this? What is left to study?

Specific questions to discuss:

  • What general lessons have we learned about the methodology required for reconstructing the face of battle? For example, what should be the proper relationship between eyewitness accounts, theoretical training manuals and appeals to the ‘universal’ physics of combat (and what sources allow us access to that)? How do we balance what the manuals and accounts tell us vs. what our “common sense” (tactical Inherent Military Probability?) tells us about things like the push of pike, etc.? As an example, how convincing do you find Keegan’s argument that it was impossible for bodies to pile up around a defensive position (as described in contemporary descriptions) because film footage of Holocaust camp bodies illustrate the physical impossibility of such piles? Or Robinson pointing to modern footage of thoroughbreds colliding on the racetrack to illustrate the impossibility that cavalry charges crashed into the enemy? Or modern test firings of period weapons (as descried by Bert Hall among others)?
  • How do we explain these tactical practices? To what extent were they shaped by ‘paradigm’ tactics, or were they dictated instead by theater-specific considerations (climate, terrain, troop-type availability…)? How much of this change over time is explained by the military quest for tactical perfection (responding to specific threats), vs. cultural views of which tactics best fit a particular people?
  • More broadly, how useful is such a discussion of the details of battlefield tactics to academic military history? How important are battlefield tactics for the academic field of EMEMH? Are we spending too much time on it, at the expense of other factors?

So, what do you think?

Suggested Readings:

  • Hanson, Victor Davis. The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Quimby, R. The Background of Napoleonic Warfare: The Theory of Military Tactics in Eighteenth Century France. New York: Columbia University Press, 1957.
  • Nosworthy, Brent. The Anatomy of Victory: Battle Tactics 1689-1763. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1990.
  • Jörgensen, Christer, et al. Fighting Techniques of the Early Modern World AD 1500 – AD 1763: Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2005.
  • Houlding, J.A. Fit for Service, The Training of the British Army 1715-1795. Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • Lawrence, David R. The Complete Soldier: Military Books and Military Culture in Early Stuart England, 1603-1645. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2008.
  • Lynn, John. “Tactical Evolution in the French Army, 1560-1660.” French Historical Studies 14 (1985): 176-191.
  • Lynn, John. The Bayonets of the Republic: Motivation and Tactics in the Army of Revolutionary France, 1791-94. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996.
  • Parker, Geoffrey. The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996 (orig. 1988).
  • González de León, Fernando. “‘Doctors of the Military Discipline’: Technical Expertise and the Paradigm of the Spanish Soldier in the Early Modern Period.” Sixteenth Century Journal 27, no. 1 (1996): 61-85.
  • Muir, Roy. Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.
  • Verbruggen, J.F. The art of warfare in Western Europe during the Middle Ages: from the eighth century to 1340. Woodbridge: Boydell, 1997 (orig. 1954).
  • Rogers, Clifford. “Tactics and the face of battle.” In Frank Tallett, ed. European Warfare, 1350-1750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Phillips, Gervase, “‘Of Nimble Service’: Technology, Equestrianism and the Cavalry Arm of Early-Modern Western European Armies.” War and Society 20, no. 2 (2002).
  • Spring, Matthew H. With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783. University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.
  • Duffy, Christopher. Russia’s Military Way to the West: Origins and Nature of Russian Military Power 1700-1800. London, UK: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.
  • Balisch, Alexander. “Infantry Battlefield Tactics in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries on the European and Turkish Theaters of War: the Austrian Response to Different Conditions.” Studies in History and Politics/ Etudes d’histoire et de politique 3 (1983): 43-60.
  • Malone, Patrick. The Skulking Way of War: Technology and Tactics Among the New England Indians. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
  • Grenier, John. The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Robinson, Gavin. “Equine Battering Rams? A Reassessment of Cavalry Charges in the English Civil War.” Journal of Military History, 75, no. 3 (2011): 719-731.
  • Hill, J.M. “The Distinctiveness of Gaelic Warfare, 1400-1750.” European History Quarterly 22 (1992): 323-345.
Advertisements

Tags: ,

42 responses to “The Face of Battle”

  1. Gene Hughson says :

    How do we balance what the manuals and accounts tell us vs. what our “common sense” (tactical Inherent Military Probability?) tells us about things like the push of pike, etc.?

    Given the illiteracy of the class of those on the pointiest of the pointy end of things during this period, I believe that tactical IMP has value in filtering the literature of the time. On the other hand, that “common sense” must be informed. Experiments, if well designed, can be useful for this. Likewise, valid analogies can be drawn from periods before and after (e.g. the effect of musketry in the Seven Years War is unlikely to be different than that of the Napoleonic period). Care should be taken when choosing analogs, however: I’d expect equine crowd control procedures to be a better predictor of the interaction between horse and foot than what happens on a race track.

    • jostwald says :

      Thanks for the thoughts. Presumably as long as the officers/NCOs were literate, they could drill even the most illiterate of soldiers to point their pointy stick in the right direction and move to the voice/drum commands. Trainers certainly tried to make it easy by breaking down the steps into the smallest possible motion possible. I vaguely recall Christopher Duffy saying at some point that the automaton training of the modern military was lacking in the early modern period, but I don’t know how accurate this is, since I don’t recall when exactly he thought the change occurred, and I haven’t read through all the literature looking at drill manuals.

      I share your hesitancy regarding ‘cavalry charge = racing horse collision’ as the best modern analog. Were destriers (or whatever type of horse they had in battle) bred and trained in the same way that modern thoroughbreds are? Animals seem to be pretty malleable when it comes to artificial selection and training; today we still have a huge variety of horses from Shetland ponies to thoroughbreds to Clydesdales, so I remain a bit skeptical. (I was really struck by the Novosibirsk silver fox breeding experiment). Presumably there’s been study of the DNA/lineage of historical horse breeds that could provide more evidence? In any case, it seems like much more evidence is needed, because I could see hypothetical claims and counter-claims going each way.

      • Gene Hughson says :

        I’m honored that the second part of my comment would lead to a separate post. At the same time, I’m humbled that the first part completely lacked clarity. What I was trying to say was that the chance of literacy on the part of a soldier increased in proportion to his distance from the front rank (an officer would almost certainly be educated, an NCO might, a ranker likely not). This presents the risk that a contemporary account may have some distance from the details that is glossed over. Tactical IMP may yield some value in evaluating the accuracy of those accounts.

        My knowledge regarding the training and breeding of military horses is nearly non-existant, for the most part limited to the fact that the different types of cavalry used different breeds depending on their duties. With Percherons the “heavy” designation applies to the animal as well as the trooper and equipment, while the Arabian, less sturdy but with better endurance, was used by light cavalry. From what I’ve read of thoroughbreds, their breeding and training (focused solely on speed) would make them poor military mounts.

      • jostwald says :

        Ah, I see. Less literacy among the rank and file = fewer sources from the ‘boots on the ground’ perspective. That seems reasonable; the commander is most likely to have a view of the big battle picture, whereas an individual down in the fracas will have a front-row seat of his particular part of the fray, and perhaps a more ‘representative’ experience of battle (if only because there are a lot more privates than generals). Along these lines, Kim Kagan’s book The Eye of Command argues (with Ancient history examples) that Keegan’s Face of Battle isn’t that important if you want to explain battle (vs. describe it).
        It might be interesting to look at how different participants described combat, i.e. was the ‘rhetoric of battle’ dependent on their rank, location during the battle, etc.? It’s conceivable that there were conventions when describing battle that most authors adopted, regardless of their actual conduct in the battle. My recollection is that even the memoirs of lower ranking officers and NCOs (for the Spanish Succession at least) tended to include later research, i.e. they wrote a hybrid memoir/history as much as a strict memoir of personal recollections. Maybe something for me to look at for my book.

  2. Gene Hughson says :

    How do we explain these tactical practices? To what extent were they shaped by ‘paradigm’ tactics, or were they dictated instead by theater-specific considerations (climate, terrain, troop-type availability…)?

    I’d suggest that command and control as well as morale would be major considerations in the long life of close order formations.

    Within the limits of eye and earshot, visual and verbal signals travel at the speed of light and sound, respectively. Beyond those limits, the lag between transmission and reception increases dramatically (speed of runner/rider). The more compact the formation, the more tactical flexibility will be available to its commander. Dispersed units must rely more heavily on doctrine and training (as well as initiative of subordinate officers and NCOs) to respond to changes in circumstance. Traditional light infantry tasks are more amenable to this than those requiring coordination of large numbers of troops.

    The morale aspect is probably obvious, but bears mention. The individual derives comfort from proximity to his compatriots and is likewise deterred from skulking by that same closeness.

  3. Erik Lund says :

    My understanding of early modern warfare is that action occurs along a spectrum from the little war to the siege. In this spectrum, “decisive battle” rarely occurs, as people have been complaining, under the rubric of “dynastic wars,” since the days of Napoleon. Supposedly, certain political systems make decisive battle impossible; and since decisive battle is desirable in its own right, the dialectic yokes it to desirable political orders. Liberal national states produce decisive battles; decisive battles are good; so, then, are liberal national states.

    And if you want to ask why decisive battles are desirable, you need only point to the desirability of the liberal national state! Of course, this is an argument that can be taken anywhere that you want to go. Indeed, this very day on the web, we have someone reading Ernest May on the “Strange Victory” of 1940 and proposing that the problem with fighting Nazis is that their ideology made them superior in battle.

    A modest proposal: that we pretend, just for a second, that it’s all politics, all the way down. And so we look for the roots of the discursive construction of individual “decisive battles” in political history. An example that we’ve already discussed is Leuthen. What does it mean for Adam Smith, for example, to say that Frederick the Great’s troops had superior discipline in 1757?

    Smith is clear that the King in Prussia has brought the science of war to a high peak. That being said, he’s not talking entirely about technique when the word is used, because, in the Scotland of the latter half of the eighteenth century, you can’t say “discipline,” classicising connotations aside, without thinking of “church discipline.”

    Hence my modest proposal that making a fuss over the Prussian army (the army, mind you, of a Reformed ruler presiding over a Lutheran state) is a skillful way of endorsing the presbyterian church order. Or, from a south-of-the-border perspective, endorsing Dissent.

  4. jostwald says :

    Forgot to include this article (admittedly on Ancient history), which contrasts the Greek use of materialistic metaphors (tactical focus on topography and movement, “pushing”) in its rhetoric of combat vs. the Roman preference for describing/explaining battle in terms of psychology: bravery, courage and morale.
    Lendon, J. E., “The Rhetoric of Combat: Greek Military Theory and Roman Culture in Julius Caesar’s Battle Descriptions,” Classical Antiquity, 18, no. 2 (1999): 273-329.

    • Campmaster says :

      Interesting that you mention Lendon, prof. Ostwald. Are you familiar with Soldiers and Ghosts? In that book he deals with developments within the Greek and Roman traditions of war, and in particular he identifies a continuing dichtonomy between ‘virtus’ and ‘disciplina’. This dichtonomy and the way it expressed itself in antiquity has some parallels with your distinction between ‘efficiency’ and ‘vigour’ in the context of early modern history, perhaps a comparative study would be helpful in the development of our understanding of the nature of strategy?

      Admittedly, however, ‘virtus’ and ‘disciplina’ expressed themselves, in Lendon’s eyes, as more of a clash between the soldier and the general, while ‘efficiency-vigour’ is presented more as a distinction between the engineer and the general. Perhaps Lendon’s dichtonomy would be more appropiate in distinguishing the approach of a Wallenstein or an Alba from that of a Gustavus Adolphus or a Henry IV. While your dichtonomy would be more useful from distinguishing a Vauban or Coehoorn from a Marlborough or Eugene.

      • Gene Hughson says :

        Based on this post, it seems to me that when Dr. Ostwald speaks of ‘vigour’ or ‘honor’, that the concept is very close, if not identical to ‘virtus’. It’s the tension between the warrior and the soldier, and goes beyond the differences between tooth and tail.

        I do like the characterization of ‘virtus’ vs ‘disciplina’ as a clash between the soldier and the general. I’ve argued in the comments to the post referenced above that I see ‘virtus’/’vigor’/’honor’ as traits to be cultivated in field officers and tempered in flag officers (though there have been plenty of instances where even the generals have given in to the call of glory when discretion may have been the better option).

      • jostwald says :

        It would be interesting to have a study of ideals of military leadership in the early modern period – I am trying to do that on a much smaller scale for late 17C English manuals and treatises on the art of war. You do see a continuation of the neo-stoic idea of prudence in these, but I need to explain why that ideal is nowhere to be found in the press or even among all the praise of Marlborough. It’s almost like you praise a general for being prudent if he doesn’t get defeated (William III being an example), but the truly great ones (e.g. Marlborough) have to go beyond that and be vigorous (this goes back to my ‘battle-as-norm’ idea).
        The only work that I can think of off-hand is Carpenter, Stanley D.M. Military Leadership in the British Civil Wars, 1642-1651: ‘The Genius of this Age’. (London: Frank Cass, 2005).

      • jostwald says :

        I have a copy of Soldiers and Ghosts, but haven’t had a chance to look through it yet. I will definitely try to look at it this summer though.
        Regarding soldier vs. general, I have noted that the discipline so often mentioned was first and foremost intended for the soldiers and officers. The generals needed it, but I think you see much less emphasis on it for the generals, though I’m still looking through the various prescriptive manuals. Certainly well into the 17C you see lots of problems with general officers not obeying orders – of course Rob Citino associates that with the ‘German way of war.’

  5. Gavin Robinson says :

    My work on cavalry charges has developed over a long period and changed a lot in that time. It started with my BA and MA dissertations in the mid-90s, then became a series of blog posts which sparked off a lot of debate and led me to some new evidence, then changed even more as my JMH article went through peer review. Early on I was heavily influenced by John Keegan and Frank Tallett but in the published article I developed my own perspective and now think Keegan’s arguments were a bit weak because they relied too much on common sense and assuming the conclusion. When I was under the influence of Keegan I concentrated more on the question of whether horses could/would crash into each other but I’ve since decided that the question can’t be answered satisfactorily because we don’t have enough evidence. The basic problem is that absolutely nothing is analogous to a cavalry charge in a battle and I can’t see any way to recreate one in a controlled experiment. It’s also not clear whether cavalrymen thought they were trying to crash into the enemy as even the most aggressive drill books and treatises (eg Warnery) tend to be surprisingly vague about what would happen at the end of a charge.

    Given these problems I’ve increasingly focused on a different question: if horses crashed into each other, or into people on foot, what would happen? That’s where accidents in modern equestrian sports come into it. It’s true that present day thoroughbreds aren’t exactly the same as early modern cavalry horses, but they’re still horses so their bodies are similar shapes and move in similar ways. Footage of accidents shows that horses fall over very easily even in fairly low speed collisions, and that at high speed they can be seriously injured or killed. Usually both horses in a collision end up on the floor. Sometimes one stays on its feet but it’s impossible to predict which one. There are links to lots of videos here and here, including some examples that I didn’t cite in the article. Along with Newton’s third law I think this shows that crashing horses into each other isn’t likely to give any advantage (although as I said in the article, things are a bit different against infantry if they don’t have pikes). That still doesn’t tell us whether anyone tried to crash horses into each other, but it at least poses a problem for historians who suggest that they did and that it worked.

    • jostwald says :

      Thanks for the response – I think we could really use more on cavalry tactics, given their foreignness to most moderns’ experiences. Since there’s little written on cavalry, I’ve only ridden horses a couple of times (I was literally just along for the ride), and am proud to say I haven’t mucked a single stable, I have just oodles of questions.

      One of the things that I was struck by reading your JMH article (and feel free to disown it as needed!;) was that you couched it in terms of whether there was change or not in the 17C. It seems that what you’re arguing is that there really couldn’t ever be any change (at least as far as the charge is concerned), because it was an impossibility in ANY time period for cavalry to intentionally crash into each other, since the horses fragile bodies are always basically the same. This strikes me as a radical and puzzling conclusion, since anybody’s first thought of cavalry is the charge (at speed). Why would we associate the cavalry with the least likely used tactic, particularly as our memory of horse combat is relatively fresh (i.e. it lasted well into the 19C)- is this just a modern mid- to late-20C misconception? I sure hope you’re not trying to tell me that either 1) the cavalry charge had nothing to do with the William Tell overture, or 2) that it did, but we’ve sped the tempo of the overture up to make it fit! Maybe that’s just the Lone Ranger theme music merging with horses in my brain…

      From a cavalry tactician’s perspective, why bother charging at all if losing control is extremely dangerous? Or is the charge always given at a trot? I think I’ve read about close-order stirrup-to-stirrup formations – does herd instinct prevent them from colliding into their neighbors in these situations? Contemporaries that I’ve read c. 1700 talk a lot about flat plains being better than broken terrain – I always assumed that this was because they could charge faster on even ground, but maybe it’s because there are fewer things to collide with? What’s the minimum speed needed for cavalry to be tactically effective on the early modern battlefield?

      I can see swordplay on horseback at a relatively slow pace and probably lots of fancy dressage footwork (those Lippizaners). But how did medieval warhorse combat work, especially heavy lancers? In jousting you might have a barrier separating the two chargers, but do medieval cavalry tactics indicate a concern to leave spacings in order to avoid head-on collisions? Given the dangers of collisions, you would expect the cav manuals to be full of concerns about CONTROL, is the type of control they emphasize informative? Accounts talk about shattering (wooden) lances a lot, which seems to indicate relatively high speed or at least a lot of force – has anyone tested the force that would be needed to shatter wooden lances, and estimate the probable speed from that (F=MA)? How did they regulate their formations so as to strike with enough force to unseat a rider (or skewer a horse) and shatter a lance without risking colliding – I’d thought that they were couched in their saddles pretty securely by the late middle ages, so it would require a LOT of force? I know each man-at-arms had multiple mounts (destriers I think) – how high were the horse casualties in combat, and does this tell us anything about collisions?
      You mention that early modern cav manuals were aggressive yet they didn’t describe the collision event itself. I would think that that would be clear (but indirect) evidence that they in fact *didn’t* worry too much about collisions, otherwise they wouldn’t encourage maneuvers that would increase the likelihood of such dangerous collision. What am I missing?
      Also, to what extent was charging fast used as a way of breaking the morale of the enemy and forcing them to flee before contact? Was there time to slow up if the enemy didn’t break? That would seem to be putting your formation into serious confusion, opening up to a counterattack, and risking all sorts of fatal collisions.

      Is there a lot more data for late 19C or WWI cavalry? Any crashing there (I assume they’re still using sabres/swords for cav even if they have firearms)? Are the manuals more specific than in the 17C on this topic? How many cav casualties are there usually in a battle – does this tell us anything about how in or out of control they were?

      As one commenter wondered, have you looked at how police horses are trained, how they react in real situations with crowd control and the like? Presumably they’re not built for charging at speed but of shrugging off contact (nudging crowds, etc.). How much work do they have to put into that kind of training? Is this something medieval and early moderns might have considered?

      How do Clydesdales crash into things – do they fall over and break legs? How much do we know about the breeds/genetics of modern spindly-legged horses (Arabian thoroughbred types I presume) vs. medieval/early modern horses, particularly the war horses – are they actually very similar in body type, especially in the legs? I think it’s surprisingly easy to breed aggressiveness into animals (see the Siberian silver fox experiment), so I’d think the question would be about training them to accept contact. I recall my adviser (Joe Guilmartin) telling a story of how an officer would teach his infantry not to fear a cavalry charge by sticking a pike in a horse’s face and watch it shy away – was this common? Or maybe he just used a chicken horse? I also assume horse vision is good enough to espy an obstacle and avoid it long before it’s too late?

      Apologies for all the questions.

      • jostwald says :

        And like I need to ask another question, but what’s the point in riding fast at the charge only to slow down at the end? (Do they do that?) Is it about crossing the battleplain as quickly as possible?

        Anyone is free to chime in. I don’t want to burden Gavin too much.

      • Gavin Robinson says :

        I’ve finally got time to answer now. I’ll try to keep it short but there are so many questions that they’re still going to be long comments.

        With the JMH article I was trying to make the strongest possible case for the English Civil War without going into other wars too much, although in practice the peer revieweres wanted me to discuss some 16th and 18th century examples. Some of my arguments and evidence can transfer to other times and places, but some can’t. I haven’t yet done other periods in as much detail as the ECW so my claims there aren’t as strong. I am arguing that it’s impossible (or at least extremely unlikely) for one side to gain an advantage by crashing horses into enemy horses. It would be easier to gain an advantage against infantry who don’t have pikes because it only takes one horse to break a square (even Keegan conceded this). I’ve increasingly tried to avoid arguments about whether it’s possible to achieve a massed collision between horses because it’s very hard to prove either way and people on both sides of the debate have opinions which are very hard to change. I’m suspicious of arguments based on training because people who desparately want to believe in shock charges often use that as a deus ex machina to wave away other arguments. But people on the other side use common sense and conjectures about what horses ‘would’ do in the same way, so I’m suspicious of that too. While I’m arguing that ‘shock’ charges could never work in the way that some historians have implied, I’m also arguing that the idea of them was largely absent from mid-seventeenth-century England and that it seems to be more common in other times and places (and that it takes different forms). So even if some cavalry somewhere tried to do it, there’s no evidence that they were trying it in England in the 1640s. Note that trying and succeeding are two very different things.

        anybody’s first thought of cavalry is the charge (at speed)

        And that thought would be wrong. Charging the enemy in battles was a relatively small part of what cavalry did. EM armies only spent a minority of their time fighting major battles. As Erik is always saying, recconnaissance and screening are major roles of cavalry but they don’t get written about enough. Gene pointed out that this is usually seen as a light cavalry role, but as the comments from Campmaster and Tiberius Clausewitz make clear there were lots of different types of cavalry, and definitions changed over time. For example, in the early 17th century ‘arquebusiers’ (armed with back and breast plate, helmet, sword and often carbines, but confusingly not arquebuses!) were likely to be classed as ‘light’ horse because they were lighter than men-at-arms and ‘cuirassiers’ (who confusingly wore three-quarter armour). By the mid-18th century, the same equipment would have classed the former ‘arquebusiers’ as ‘cuirassiers’ (who by this time did just wear cuirasses) and made them the heaviest cavalry around. As Tiberius Clausewitz said, nearly all English cavalry in the ECW were ‘horse’ who were basically the same as ‘arquebusiers’ but were less likely to have carbines (in pay warrants they are often described as ‘arquebusiers’, but narrative sources usually just call them ‘horse’). They had to perform all the roles of cavalry, from scouting and raiding to massed charges in battle and pursuit afterwards. I think the association of cavalry with charging at speed is a big part of both myths that I mentioned before. For the pro-cavalry myth it’s the most exciting and heroic part of what they do, and for the anti-cavalry myth it’s the most futile. If charges didn’t work like they were supposed to, that doesn’t mean that cavalry were useless. Basically the shock charge debate is a side issue of a side issue, but it interests me and apparently a lot of other people.

        From a cavalry tactician’s perspective, why bother charging at all if losing control is extremely dangerous?

        It’s not clear whether anyone recognised how dangerous horse collisions would be or whether anyone was trying to achieve them. More on that later probably.

        Or is the charge always given at a trot?

        Sometimes but not always, but it’s often hard to know. I showed in the JMH article that there’s surprisingly little evidence of what pace was used in the ECW and that what we do have is very ambiguous. Later drill books that go into more detail often say that the charge should start at the trot, gradually increase pace, and only break into a full gallop for the last 100 yards or so. That makes it harder to interpret eyewitness account, because what if they’re only desribing part of the elephant? When Cromwell says ‘we came on at a pretty round trot’ does he mean they started at a trot and got faster later, or that they stayed at the trot all the way? The accounts from Richard Atkyns that I quoted in the article suggest practice varying in the same regiment in a short period, so it’s not safe to generalize from any example.

        What’s the minimum speed needed for cavalry to be tactically effective on the early modern battlefield?

        It depends on what they’re trying to do, which we often don’t know. I’d guess that the momentum of a trotting horse would be sufficient to make the point of a sword or lance very dangerous to an unarmoured man.

        But how did medieval warhorse combat work, especially heavy lancers?

        If you’re charging with a couched lance, your horse might collide with an enemy horse, but it doesn’t have to, and it’s better if it doesn’t. The Rule of the Templars said that knights should stick very close together, but maybe circumstances were different in the east. In 16th century debates over the effectiveness of lancers both pro (Mendoza) and anti (La Noue) writers agreed that the lance would usually break on first use. I don’t know if anyone has tried to calculate the stress needed to break a lance and work back from that. It’s too complicated for me but I know enough to know that F=MA isn’t directly relevant to collision forces and that you need to know lots of other variables that are hard to discover (eg collision duration). Basically all military historians should read a physics textbook.

        how high were the horse casualties in combat, and does this tell us anything about collisions?

        I don’t know that for the middle ages. In the JMH article I cited one ECW example to show that horse casualties in big fights could be very low. There are some higher claims, but one is definitely fraudulent and in other cases it’s not clear what part the unit played in the battle and what exactly the captain means by ‘lost’.

        You mention that early modern cav manuals were aggressive yet they didn’t describe the collision event itself. I would think that that would be clear (but indirect) evidence that they in fact *didn’t* worry too much about collisions, otherwise they wouldn’t encourage maneuvers that would increase the likelihood of such dangerous collision. What am I missing?

        The question is more ‘what are the manuals missing?’. The ones I’ve looked at generally don’t explicitly say whether horse collisions are likely or unlikely, desirable or to be avoided. Even fairly detailed official 19th century drill books can be very reluctant to spell out exactly what happens at the end of a charge.

        There is a ‘meme’ in early 17th century English books (which seems to come from Walhausen) which says that you should avoid an enemy charge by dividing your cavalry in two and wheeling off to the sides, but this seems quite implausible and the books that include it are often unreliable in other ways.

        Also, to what extent was charging fast used as a way of breaking the morale of the enemy and forcing them to flee before contact?

        This seems to have happened quite a lot in practice but it’s not certain whether it was intentional or a side-effect of trying to do something else. Rupert’s instructions at Edgehill clearly show that he was expecting close combat, so the fact that Essex’s wings ran off without much of a fight must have been an unexpected bonus.

        Was there time to slow up if the enemy didn’t break?

        There apparently was in the ECW as charges often resulted in prolonged hand to hand combat if neither side ran away first. In the 18th and 19th centuries there are examples of cavalry going through each other without stopping. Anti-cavalry historians have sometimes used this as evidence of how useless cavalry were, but it seems to me that this is the correct way to use lances and swords as shock weapons. David Kenyon’s thesis on British cavalry on the Western Front from 1916-18 shows that they were using fire and movement tactics (their rifles and machine guns were just as important as their swords and lances). When they charged German infantry in the open they passed through them and stabbed them on the way. By this time increased firepower had forced infantry into looser formations which were more vulnerable to cavalry charges.

        As one commenter wondered, have you looked at how police horses are trained, how they react in real situations with crowd control and the like?

        I think we’ve established that this isn’t analagous to a cavalry charge because nothing is. It might be able to tell us something but we need to be clear about exactly what that is. With racing accidents I tried to isolate one very specific thing. I’m not interested in ‘how they react’ because psychology is much more problematic than physics and the ‘but things were different in the past’ counter-argument carries much more weight there.

        Some of the eyewitness accounts I quoted in JMH do mention horses pushing against each other during close combat. I didn’t go into that because it was obviously nothing to do with the shock of impact, but it would be worth investigating in its own right.

        How do Clydesdales crash into things – do they fall over and break legs? How much do we know about the breeds/genetics of modern spindly-legged horses (Arabian thoroughbred types I presume) vs. medieval/early modern horses, particularly the war horses – are they actually very similar in body type, especially in the legs?

        It’s not just about leg injuries. From the video of Lot O Love and Pacific Wind I’d guess that they died of broken necks and/or brain injuries. Raspberry Kiss got a broken pelvis. That was probably because Doctor Rap fell on top of her, but if your horse falls on top of the enemy and can’t get up then you haven’t gained an advantage by breaking the enemy horse’s pelvis. If the enemy horse falls over in front of you then your horse is very likely to trip over it and it’s hard to see a way around that.

        Gaining an advantage over the enemy is the crucial point, and diachronic change is irrelevant to any synchronic moment. If cavalry horses at a particular time were equally unlikely to fall over then there’s still no advantage. To undermine my argument it would have to be shown that a certain trait varies enough to make horse significantly more or less likely to fall over and that this trait was unevenly distributed between sides that fought each other at a particular time. I think I’m on safe ground with the ECW because nearly all of the cavalry were of the same type, and overall the horses on both sides were probably similar (cavalier gentry versus decayed serving men and tapsters is just a stereotype and not supported by evidence).

        I think someone somewhere mentioned differences in speed. The closing speed in the Prescott Downs collision between Pacific Wind and Lot O Love was much higher than EM cavalry were likely to achieve. I mainly cited it to show that maximizing the shock of impact would be a bad idea. Raspberry Kiss was standing still when Doctor Rap hit her, so the closing speed can be no more than half that of the Prescott Downs collision. That’s the same as two horses moving towards each other at half the speed of modern thoroughbreds in a race (not just analogous but mathematically equal). It’s worth watching all of the videos I linked to here and here as they include a variety of horses, speeds and situations. I privileged thoroughbred racing in the JMH article because those accidents are the best documented in printed sources and I didn’t feel like I could get away with just citing YouTube.

        I think it’s surprisingly easy to breed aggressiveness into animals (see the Siberian silver fox experiment)

        Which makes them more aggressive towards everything in every situation so maybe counterproductive considering how little time cavalry spent charging compared to other things, and the risk of ‘friendly fire’.

        I also assume horse vision is good enough to espy an obstacle and avoid it long before it’s too late?

        They have a very wide field of vision but a blind spot in the middle, so it’s possible that they failed to see obastacles directly ahead. Also trying to avoid an obstacle can sometimes cause them to fall over and still crash into it, so there’s plenty of scope for accidental collisions even if ‘the horses would turn away’.

      • jostwald says :

        Thanks for detailed responses. Looks like there’s still lots of work to be done! Glad I don’t have to do it…

      • Gene Hughson says :

        In the 18th and 19th centuries there are examples of cavalry going through each other without stopping. Anti-cavalry historians have sometimes used this as evidence of how useless cavalry were, but it seems to me that this is the correct way to use lances and swords as shock weapons

        That makes sense. I wonder if this might also be the reasoning behind Frederick the Great’s order that cavalry commanders receiving charges at the halt would be brought up on charges (a stationary target being easier to hit).

    • Gene Hughson says :

      Dr. Robinson,

      Great site. There’s a lot to digest, but just what I read this afternoon (the four part Cavalry Charges series, Which War Horse, and When Horses Collide) was extremely interesting. Not to mention, it’s always good to see another ‘Hark! A Vagrant’ fan.

      Thanks for clarifying how you’re using the racing collisions to reason about cavalry action. For horse vs horse, that does make sense. For what it’s worth, my impression of “shock” action by cavalry has always been more figurative than literal, with units colliding rather than individuals (at least on purpose). Having troopers packed too tightly together would seem to inhibit both maneuver and the ability to use the sword.

      I’m less sure regarding horse vs foot (when attacked in the flank or rear or when disordered), but then again I don’t see those collisions taking place at racetrack speeds. That situation might be more analagous to crowd control by mounted police, though I don’t see trampling as the primary attack. In other words, it seems like the lance or sword would be employed by the trooper and incidental contact between the horse and any infantryman not able to get out of the way wouldn’t be that detrimental to the horse. Of course, when attacking formed infantry, it seems like the only hope for a successful outcome would for the target to lose heart and break.

  6. Gavin Robinson says :

    One of the things on my to do list is write yet another series of blog posts on cavalry tactics because there’s still so much to say. The quick answer is that cavalry combat is very mysterious, perhaps even to the people who took part in it, which makes it very hard to find out what really happened. Another problem is folk physics: what seems intuitive to a lot of people is actually wrong according to science. Then there’s mythology. It seems to me that there are two competing (and equally inaccurate) myths of cavalry: one that they’re super-special and can ride anything down with their shock charges, the other that they’re a militarily useless conservative social elite who just waste resources. Given all that, most of your questions can’t be answered very well, but I’ll try when I have more time.

    It’s important to stress again that my JMH article argued that it’s impossible for collisions to guarantee an advantage. I’m not (yet) making strong claims about whether they could happen, whether people at the time thought they could or couldn’t happen or whether they thought it was desirable. It’s very hard to say what cavalry thought they were trying to do and why.

    I don’t have any detailed data but I’d say that variations in height, build and proportions of horses (at least horses likely to be used by cavalry) probably aren’t big enough to break the generalization that horses are likely to fall over during a collision, even if they’re not seriously hurt by it. Again this is a thing that drill books don’t seem to talk about. As a thought experiment I’d say that the best way to knock over an enemy horse is to approach fairly slowly (trot or slow canter) and carefully at right angles and pull your horse up to a halt right at the point of impact so it doesn’t trip over the fallen enemy. And it helps if your horse has short legs and a wide body and the enemy is on a tall thin horse. But I’ve never seen any contemporary writers in any period recommending anything like that, and the things that often are recommended (knee to knee formation, full gallop) would just get in the way.

    • jostwald says :

      Be sure to let me know when those posts are up – I’ll link to them here.

      As a general point to focus on, I can imagine that collisions could be dangerous, but I’m still having a hard time believing that generations of cavalry manuals continued to encourage aggressive practices that would lead to lots of chaos and ineffective battlefield results in battle after battle (if my supposition is even true – I haven’t looked at the manuals). Shouldn’t all these yahoo cowboys die off in their headlong charges and serve as a lesson to the survivors? This leads back to a discussion in the Battle as honor post – to what extent can we credit the (to borrow a phrase I’ve heard from John Stapleton) “what fools they were” school of history? This often equates to the idea that early moderns were so enmeshed in their cultural assumptions that they couldn’t “objectively” measure the utility of their actions and modify their behavior as a result.

      My tendency is to believe that it’s not realistic to expect a variety of military practitioners from different countries to continue to do things unsuccessfully for decades of active warfare, unless it is truly impossible for them to do it any other way (due to hard limits of technology, logistics…). I would think there would have to be some kind of learning, if only because those dullard military practitioners will get replaced after a few disasters, either killed off by their rash charges or replaced for their ineffectiveness and excessive casualty rates (or the king who relies on them overthrown I suppose, or die in any case and the successor will probably have learned a thing or two in the meantime). Or, the war will end very badly for those who refuse to learn, and everybody else will copy the victor (referring to Lynn’s idea of paradigm armies, whether Louis XIV or Frederick the Great). We certainly see various early modern military organizations trying to learn from past disasters (the British after the Austrian Succession, the French after the 7YW to name two) – sometimes they actually improve. And I’ve certainly seen a fair amount of dissemination of military ideas across borders (e.g. English translations of what they call the “better” French method of discipline). So it looks like early moderns were taking notes and making comparisons, at least some of them, including manual writers. I briefly mention in Vauban under Siege that it’s hard to believe a social-status-based argument for tactical military behavior when the mercantile Dutch are doing the same things that the aristocratic French are (i.e. we’re probably looking at convergent evolution, driven by an external reality of combat effectiveness). But there are of course some national differences in some areas – I’d argue that those are neutral regarding the real fitness of success on the battlefield (just like our appendix – note the utility of an evolutionary framework). For example my Vauban book argues that Vauban’s siegecraft could be successfully ignored in large part because there was enough money and guns and men to get the job done without it, by using brute force to supplement any failings in technique. And then technology changes, and people start thinking about how to avoid siegecraft, and rely less of fortifications for their defense, and more people mean more food for armies to skirt fortressess…

      Note that there were a lot of qualifications in my belief in military professionalism (defined very loosely, with lots of individual exceptions no doubt), because it’s quite possible that: peacetime eliminates any serious drive to get things right and ‘mistakes’ don’t get tested and corrected until a later proof of combat; that individuals will inevitably make mistakes (but presumably this can’t last over the long term because the winner will have learned some lessons in order to have won); that winning in war is always about being just a little bit better than your enemy (don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than the slowest runner – a relativism that Epstein emphasizes in “Napoleon’s Last Victory”); and that there are many possible lessons to learn (tactical changes, logistical ones, command ones, strategic ones, weapon systems, etc.), so it may take some time before you hit on the right one (witness the French continuing to accept battle in the early stages of the 100YW – eventually after Agincourt they figure out they should abandon the lure of honorable battle altogether and stick to siegecraft). And as external conditions change (logistics, population, tech…) the fitness of any given tactical system will become more or less effective, eventually altering to fit the new conditions. Lynn addresses this issue in his Battle book – arguing for example that star fortifications and powdered wigs and ungainly uniforms were used in the 18C not because they were particularly (or at least uniquely) effective, but because they fit the cultural construct of the Enlightenment era. I’ve never personally liked this because they’d been doing star forts since the Renaissance, which didn’t have much to do with Enlightenment ideals, and Renaissance engineers are pretty explicit about the geometrical advantages of having a regular star fort (I think J.R. Hale has a whole short book on fortifications as art or engineering). Not to mention the Montalembert fortifications Lynn references as a perfectly sensible alternative to the trace italienne 1) weren’t adopted very much, and 2) were only possible because they could count on a huge increase in garrison artillery (i.e. an external factor changing the environment in which they could operate). But I suppose if you haven’t read the Lynn book, you have no idea what I’m talking about, so I’ll stop blathering.

      Now if one could show that cavalry officers/manuals did have a goal, but one that wasn’t necessarily tied to the shocking charge or a modern conception of battlefield effectiveness, then that would be something. I assume that’s what your ‘ineffective social elite’ comment is referring to. Maybe part of it is that (from what I know of the early modern period), the cavalry tended to be used at the end of a battle to pursue the broken foe, or at least deliver the final coup de grace, hoping they’ll break before actual contact. In that case, the enemy would already be on the verge of fleeing, so there wouldn’t be the solid formations of infantry to worrying about running into. But they’re also skirmishing throughout with the other sides’ cav formations, and you’d think that would lead to all sorts of collisions (any modern evidence of a rodeo with 10 horses in the ring at the same time?). Or, maybe early modern cav didn’t even bother trying to test the solidity of a pike square, just ignoring them altogether? Or, is it possible that the cav saw their true role not on the battlefield, but on picquet, scouring the countryside, gathering fodder? It seems too crazy for me to contemplate, but it might be worth exploring whether our confusion about cavalry tactics comes from our battle-centric modern view of cavalry existing to fight field battles. They could do them, but it wasn’t really their thing. That might be interesting to look at, although I’d be astounded if that was the case.

      Another possible explanation is to go back to a previous discussion about the History of the (Military) Book – do we know that these cav manuals were actually written by experienced horsemen (vets), and used by actual military practitioners? Can we tell anything from which manuals remained popular over the decades, e.g. is it the more aggressive ones, or the ones that focus about control more that last? And, as we see with the ways in which Vegetius was interpreted, was what was useful about manual X? The battle parts, or other parts, maybe where he talked about how to take care of your horses? I’d have to go back and check D. Lawrence’s book – I think he has a chapter on cavalry manuals.

      Just my immediate reactions.

      • Gene Hughson says :

        Or, is it possible that the cav saw their true role not on the battlefield, but on picquet, scouring the countryside, gathering fodder? It seems too crazy for me to contemplate, but it might be worth exploring whether our confusion about cavalry tactics comes from our battle-centric modern view of cavalry existing to fight field battles.

        It’s my understanding (bearing in mind that most of my reading has been in the Napoleonic era) that those activities, along with pursuits and raids, were the province of the light horse/hussars, with dragoons used when necessary. The heavies, lacking the speed and endurance for scouting, skirmishing, and pursuit were generally reserved for battlefield use.

      • Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus says :

        Or, is it possible that the cav saw their true role not on the battlefield, but in picquet, scouring the countryside, gathering fodder? It seems too crazy for me to contemplate, but it might be worth exploring whether our confusion about cavalry tactics comes from our battle-centric modern view of cavalry existing to fight field battles.

        This in itself is an interesting subject worth a post (or a whole blog!) on its own, because the reality is never simple. The prime example of medieval cavalry–the mounted man-at-arms–is popularly seen as the epitome of heavy cavalry, steamrolling the enemy with their lances and the weight of their horses and armour, while in reality they were a multirole force that frequently also took on the jobs we (being the ignorant moderns that we are) would normally assign to light cavalry and/or mounted infantry. Consider that a normal campaign for an English man-at-arms in the Hundred Years’ War probably consisted of riding light over the French countryside, sacking and burning villages that could provide supplies to the enemy, occasionally dismounting to teach a lesson to peasants who offered resistance. Not much like the kind of thing we would have expected from a major battle like Agincourt.

        By the second half of the 15th century, the growing trend towards the regularisation of military organisation also led to a more pronounced separation of roles between light and heavy cavalry, while at the same time both types of cavalry became less and less likely to fight dismounted. However, the more I look into the primary sources, the more I think that the medieval/traditional multirole paradigm persisted longer in practice than in theory, as troops normally regarded as heavy cavalry (gendarmes, cuirassiers, etc.) were rather frequently mentioned as taking part in daring “enterprises” (raids)–something we would have expected of light cavalry–and even dismounting to execute the final motions of the plan in some of these enterprises (hello, mounted infantry). Of course, my familiarity with the sources (and that’s still limited, seeing as I’m a rank amateur) only extends to the end of the Thirty Years’ War and the English Civil War for the most part, and we all know that these events had an effect rather similar to World War I in that their pervasive brutality led people to look to the idea of a “cleaner,” more chivalrous war, and that this idealism might also have had an effect in motivating a move towards a more “ideal” and clearer separation between light and heavy cavalry roles (as well as between that of cavalry and mounted infantry/dragoons), but to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if the old multirole paradigm (or the blurring of boundaries between the roles, whatever you call them) still lasted somewhat into the second half of the 17th century and beyond.

      • jostwald says :

        Thanks for the comment. In general what you say makes sense to me – it fits with one of those major assumptions of modern military history – that modern military organization mirrors past structures.
        My personal favorite conflation of different military branches would have to be those medieval illuminations where they have mounted men-at-arms charging straight at castle walls. Cavalry (if that isn’t itself a modern anachronism) + Military Engineer. Classic.

        Acre captured

      • Gavin Robinson says :

        I’m still having a hard time believing that generations of cavalry manuals continued to encourage aggressive practices that would lead to lots of chaos and ineffective battlefield results in battle after battle (if my supposition is even true – I haven’t looked at the manuals). Shouldn’t all these yahoo cowboys die off in their headlong charges and serve as a lesson to the survivors?

        It could be that cavalry never achieved massed collisions and so never found out how counterproductive the results could be. Or maybe even men who experienced a charge couldn’t clearly remember what had happened because it was all too confusing. Maybe there were false beliefs which led to confirmation bias influencing perceptions and memories: a few accidental collisions could create the impression that a general shock had happened and that became a rationalization for victory or defeat. But this is all conjecture so far. The mystery has yet to be solved.

        This often equates to the idea that early moderns were so enmeshed in their cultural assumptions that they couldn’t “objectively” measure the utility of their actions and modify their behavior as a result.

        We shouldn’t assume that people in the past were stupid, but we shouldn’t assume that they were any less irrational than we are. EM cultural assumptions were often different from ours, but we haven’t really overcome them any more than 17th century people did. I mentioned folk physics before, and this is very widespread today. What seems like ‘common sense’ can be scientifically wrong.

        My tendency is to believe that it’s not realistic to expect a variety of military practitioners from different countries to continue to do things unsuccessfully for decades of active warfare, unless it is truly impossible for them to do it any other way (due to hard limits of technology, logistics…). I would think there would have to be some kind of learning, if only because those dullard military practitioners will get replaced after a few disasters, either killed off by their rash charges or replaced for their ineffectiveness and excessive casualty rates

        If cavalry charges don’t work like they’re supposed to (whatever that might be in any given time and place) they’re rarely disastrous against other cavalry (infantry is a different story of course). You might not always gain much by doing them, but you don’t lose much either and there isn’t any alternative tactic that can be relied on to give more advantage (until the early 20th century when very new technology makes fire and movement better than just charging with cold steel). At the very least there are beneficial side effects. Moving faster means less time under fire and makes you harder to hit (this seems to be the main reason for galloping in WW1: it wasn’t always that easy for machine guns to hit charging cavalry). The enemy might run away, which is good for the side that doesn’t run away because they won without a fight. If not then it usually goes into close combat which could go either way. It’s difficult to say what determines the outcome because it’s so complex, chaotic and poorly documented but the example of Roundway Down that I cited in JMH shows that tactics used beforehand (charging or not charging, firing sooner or later) didn’t necessarily have an obvious immediate effect, whether good or bad. Psychology and individual skill were probably the main factors in determining the outcome of cavalry fights, and these are extremely difficult for historians to analyse, military theorists to predict or commanders to influence. It seems to me that cavalry warfare before the 20th century wasn’t, and couldn’t be, very rational. That’s not to say that cavalrymen were idiots, just that the way they had to fight wasn’t very amenable to scientific systems or written manuals.

        Another possible explanation is to go back to a previous discussion about the History of the (Military) Book – do we know that these cav manuals were actually written by experienced horsemen (vets), and used by actual military practitioners?

        Lawrence’s chapter on cavalry is very important if you can get hold of it (The Complete Soldier is the most expensive book I’ve ever bought by a long way but it’s well worth owning). He shows that early 17th century England cavalry drill books were very different from infantry in quality and quantity: very few were published and they were mostly written by unrelialbe hacks. Basically Markham, Cruso, Ward and some parts of Vernon are worthless for finding out about reality. I looked at them only to see if the idea of physical collisions was culturally available at that time, and it seems it mostly wasn’t except with reference to lancers, which were obsolete. If I’d found the opposite I could still have appealed to Lawrence’s authority to argue that it doesn’t count towards reality. I haven’t looked at later periods in detail yet but I’ve skimmed through a few examples. The idea of some kind of physical ‘shock’ has come back in the 18th century and has more arguments in its favour but it’s still debatable whether someone like Warnery is talking about horse collisions or the sword point. If he gets his own way there must be a collision between walls of horses, but it’s not clear if he knows that or if he thinks it’s a good thing or a bad thing. The shock charge also seems to split into a Prussian type which requires a very tight formation and a British type which privileges speed above everything else and says that the horses shouldn’t get too close or they’ll get in each other’s way. But I’ll know more about that in future.

  7. Campmaster says :

    “I assume that’s what your ‘ineffective social elite’ comment is referring to. Maybe part of it is that (from what I know of the early modern period), the cavalry tended to be used at the end of a battle to pursue the broken foe, or at least deliver the final coup de grace, hoping they’ll break before actual contact. In that case, the enemy would already be on the verge of fleeing, so there wouldn’t be the solid formations of infantry to worrying about running into. But they’re also skirmishing throughout with the other sides’ cav formations, and you’d think that would lead to all sorts of collisions (any modern evidence of a rodeo with 10 horses in the ring at the same time?). Or, maybe early modern cav didn’t even bother trying to test the solidity of a pike square, just ignoring them altogether? Or, is it possible that the cav saw their true role not on the battlefield, but on picquet, scouring the countryside, gathering fodder? It seems too crazy for me to contemplate, but it might be worth exploring whether our confusion about cavalry tactics comes from our battle-centric modern view of cavalry existing to fight field battles. They could do them, but it wasn’t really their thing. That might be interesting to look at, although I’d be astounded if that was the case.”

    I have not read these manuals that you are referring to professor, so about that I can’t say much, however, on the use of cavalry during the early modern period(particularly 1500-1648) I can put my two cents.

    During the 80 years’ war in the Low Countries, the spread of artillery fortresses and sophisticated fortification methods in general created a situation where siege warfare predominated. Nonetheless, as Fernando Gonzalez de Leon points out, the numbers of cavalry and its’ importance actually increased during the late 16th century within the Spanish Army of Flanders, because, despite widespread misconceptions about the ‘uselessness’ of cavalry for sieges, their superior speed and mobility, in fact, often made them useful for the important mission of encircling enemy towns and cutting them off from reinforcements as preparation for the siege, as the Duke of Alba did before the siege of Mons. They were also, as you point out, useful for foraging and scouting, which was an essential function within the context of the non-battle-centric strategy of many commanders of this period such as Alba or Parma, who emphasized shadowing one’s opponent and wearing him down in skirmishes and cutting off his supplies until his army broke up or lost the will to fight; a style of strategy that put a premium on fast deployments and intelligence gathering; after all, when one avoided battle it was essential to have constantly fresh reports on the movements of the enemy to avoid being surprised. Talking about surprise, many of the “battles” of the 16C were in fact sudden cavalry attacks on disordered marching columns, as at Gembloux and Turnhout, both cases where a handful of cavalry overthrew larger armies of infantry and cavalry while these were caught spread out in marching order. Catching an enemy on the march with enough cavalry on hand was a way to obtain relatively uncostly victories: witness Henry VI’s shadowing of the Duke of Parma with an all-cavalry force while he left his infantry conducting the siege of Rouen under Biron. His intention was to catch Parma’s army unprepared, but the latter decided to march his army not in the typical marching order but rather in a marching variation of the battle array, so that his pikemen, tightly formed, would be able to deflect any surprise cavalry attacks, at the price of slower marching speed. IIRC Montecuccoli recommends this marching order in one of his writings.

    This is all, of course, anecdotal, but the key point is that while well-formed pikemen were able in battle conditions to repel cavalry charges, no matter how powerful(see cases from the wars of the Swiss, or the Italian Wars, or even Rocroi), when caught unprepared (especially during the march), even crack troops of pikemen such as the Spaniards at Turnhout could be routed by surprisingly small numbers of cavalry. Of course, the knowledge that cavalry charges could easily scatter dispersed or disordered infantry is as old as cavalry itself, but what I’m trying to emphasize is that even though as early as the Italian Wars infantry had achieved the degree of discipline and battlefield cohesion to repel cavalry charges, generals could still hope to secure an advantage over an enemy by exploiting a cavalry superiority, whether, as I mentioned, by trying to catch the infantry ill-formed or, in certain battlefield conditions. In the battlefield, in particular, cavalry still played an important role: allowing a commander to take the offensive. The fact that it became customary for generals to entrench their army whenever they decided to offer battle meant that taking the offensive was risky business, as far as I am aware no frontal assault of earthworks (even at Lutzen) ever managed to break through the defender’s lines and dislodge him from his position,and often (as at Heiligerlee and Cerignola) it ended in utter disaster for the attackers. Therefore taking the offensive had little chance of succeeding (saving those cases in which there was an overwhelming numerial superiority), unless one managed to secure an extra tactical advantage, and the only way to do so was often by outflanking the enemy’s earthworks and attacking them through their weak or poorly defended/fortified flanks or rear.

    A good example of heavy cavalry in successful action would be the battle of Ravenna: an artillery bombardment from the French drew the Spanish cavalry out of its’ trenchworks, the French gendarmerie responded by mowing down the numerically inferior enemy cavalry and then proceeding to attack the entrenched infantry trough the gaps from which the Spanish cavalry sallied while the French infantry kept assaulting(unsuccessfully) the Spanish front. The Spanish pikemen were not broken, however, they retreated; the French cavalry pursued, keeping up the charges vigorously(with the commander Gaston de Foix famously dying in the process) and yet unable to break the retreating pikemen, eventually leaving them alone. I think this battle sums up in a nutshell the relationship between cavalry and infantry during EME:
    Cavalry(not even the heavy full-plated French gendarmerie of the Renaissance) could not break disciplined and prepared formations of pikemen, even when these latter retreated. However, an army which lost its’ cavalry in a cavalry engagement(or otherwise was too inferior in cavalry), no matter how good its’ position, eventually would have to retreat for two reasons: the enemy superiority in cavalry could be used to cut off the camp from supplies, starving it, or, the surrounded infantry would have to endure all-out attacks by all sections of the enemy army in the flanks and rear, as it happened to the Spanish tercios at Rocroi. Rocroi is also interesting in the sense that the Spanish infantry square never broke, despite the cavalry charges(and artillery fire), showing the resilence of which pike squares were capable, and yet, the battle was still lost by the Spaniards. Isolated and surrounded infantry could keep its’ cohesion without cavalry, but it was rendered immobile, while the enemy, due to superiority in cavalry, could maneuver more freely around the field, and bring up slow moving artillery and infantry regiments around the defender’s flanks.

    Finally, and this is also within the conditions of battle, there are the cases in which infantry becomes disorganized by pursuit of beaten enemy infantry, and gets consequently moved down by flanking cavalry reserves from the enemy, as at it happened to the Spaniards at Nieuport and to the Austrians at Keresztes. Sometimes, cavalry retreated with the express intention of drawing infantry from a strong position only to strike back when this latter became disorganized, as the Polish did at Kircholm. Here again, there is no mystery, but simply a case of disorganized infantry being unable to withstand a cavalry charge.

    Well, those are some general considerations.One thing that makes the study of cavalry within this period a bit complicated is the fact that there were so many types of cavalry. Luckily, David Eltis in his book on European Warfare of the 16C gives a helpful outline of the general types, the main ones being IIRC the mounted arquebusiers, the lancers, and the pistoleers. The former being light cavalry used for scouting, the latter two being heavy cavalry meant for the charge. However this, of course, doubtless leaves us in the dark as to the actual practical reality of what particular types of cavalry conducted what actions. For that, more data would have to be collected on skirmishes, battles, and actions of all kind. It seems to me though, that the many works on the ‘Military Revolution’ at least provide a good starting point.

    • jostwald says :

      Useful analysis. Your comment certainly does point up the need for a more systematic dataset (something the blog audience might be interested in assembling? I would certainly be willing to facilitate such an endeavor). The comment also highlights how little academic military historians have focused on the operational aspect of early modern warfare, instead looking mostly at the tactical (for the MilRev debate) or the strategic/grand strategic level. In part I’d argue that’s because the operational level is a lot harder history to write, since you can’t just look at a few contemporary manuals or one or two memoirs, but you’d need to get down into the daily correspondence and track movements… Another possible reason is that it smacks too much of old-school ‘drums and trumpets’ military history. FWIW John Stapleton and I have grandiose plans to write an operational history of Louis XIV’s wars one day, once we get our respective current book projects finished.
      Thanks.

    • Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus says :

      Luckily, David Eltis in his book on European Warfare of the 16C gives a helpful outline of the general types, the main ones being IIRC the mounted arquebusiers, the lancers, and the pistoleers. The former being light cavalry used for scouting, the latter two being heavy cavalry meant for the charge.

      It took a while for the various types of cavalry to coalesce into this tripartite division–if I’m not mistaken, it wasn’t quite established until the very end of the 16th century, when infantry was also developing a more clearly defined division of roles.

      Of course, as usual, that’s just the theory, and the reality could be very different. There’s ample reason to believe that, by the time the Lancer/Cuirassier/Arquebusier division was becoming an established paradigm among Western European armies, one of the core types–the Lancer–was falling into extinction with only the Spaniards (and perhaps their Austrian cousins) still having them in any significant numbers. And then there was the “Horse” of the English Civil War and the later parts of the Thirty Years’ War, which was equipped as Arquebusiers and mostly did the light cavalry duties we would have expected of the role but also frequently charged in the manner of Cuirassiers, especially when there was a lack of heavier cavalry! (And, of course, as we may expect, there are examples where the heavier Cuirassiers were defeated by a charge of the theoretically lighter Horse, such as Haselrig’s London Lobsters vs. the Royalist cavalry at Roundway Down.)

    • Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus says :

      Nonetheless, as Fernando Gonzalez de Leon points out, the numbers of cavalry and its’ importance actually increased during the late 16th century within the Spanish Army of Flanders,

      Oi. Forgot to add: this also happened later during the Thirty Years’ War, to the extent that cavalry, Dragoons, and mounted infantry all put together sometimes made up more than 50% of a major campaigning army. Exactly the kind of thing we would have expected when armies wanted to have a deep, extensive screen of scouts so that the enemy wouldn’t have an easy time getting the jump on them.

  8. Campmaster says :

    “It took a while for the various types of cavalry to coalesce into this tripartite division–if I’m not mistaken, it wasn’t quite established until the very end of the 16th century, when infantry was also developing a more clearly defined division of roles.”

    Of course, there weren’t even any pistols during the Italian Wars. The first appearances of this weapon in the battlefield occur somewhere during the middle part of the century, the Battle of Muhlberg being one of the first to feature them in any significant way. Mounted arquebusiers already existed though, the most famous example being those of Giovanni de Medici’s Black Band. The cavalry of the Italian Wars was extremely varied, and included traditions from various places: there were the Balkan stradiots (armed with light lance, shield/cuirass, and mace/sword), the very similar Spanish jinetes, the heavy French gendarmerie along with men-at-arms of other nations, the aforementioned mounted arquebusiers, and mounted crossbowmen among others. Some of these types were used by some nations more than others, and many of them fell into some disuse, like the jinetes(though it is notable that similar troops featured in the Spanish invasion of Portugal in 1580). Some specialization did occur in that the roles of the lighter types of horse(such as the stradiots and jinetes) was recognized as progressively different from those of the heavier shock cavalry such as gendarmes. But the famous cavalry raid by which Bayard and a group of French gendarmes captured the enemy commander Prospero Colonna, something we’d expect of light cavalry, shows clearly that the roles between cavalry clearly still interlapped.

    The situation did not change much by the end of the century, and the many kingdoms of Western Europe developed very different approaches to their cavalry branches. Porfessor Eltis’s classification was, obviously, not meant to be taken literally, as shown by my comment on the need of data on EM operations. However, his overview of the main types is clearly useful as a framework of sorts, so that, when we have more adequate data, we can make some classifications according, if not to what a type of cavalry was always used, at least to what it was meant for and to what it what used for the most.

    Such systematic collection of data is even more essential if what one wants to do is consider the particular effectiveness of a cavalry type for certain functions vis-a-vis another. This is so because individual cases may be affected by factors other than the simple ‘superiority’ of one weapon system to another, for the conducting certain actions. These factors may include troop morale, experience, numbers, terrain, the element of surprise, troop dispositions( prepared vs unprepared), among many others.

    As for lancers, AFAIK, only the Spanish used this particular unit type. However, they clearly had parallels in other armies, such as the men-at-arms that were still used well into the late 16 century (an experienced soldier like Martin de Eguiluz, could, in 1595, still consider men-at-arms to be the best type of cavalry for battle). The French gendarmes featured heavily in the French Wars of Religion(even if their reputation suffered heavily from defeats by pistoleers). The English also had the famous Demi-Lances. The Polish hussar, while not really a ‘lancer’ or a ‘man-at-arms’ as such and had really, as a highly versatile type of horseman, varied functions not limited to the framework of battle, still had as his main weapon the kopia lance. I think also the Hungarian and other Balkan cavalry types of this period used the lance as their main weapon. Perhaps even the ‘Croats’ that the Imperial armies sometimes deployed during the TYW used the lance, though of that I have no evidence. Nonetheless, even in the 18C the lancer would make a return in the form of the Uhlan and other lancer types. Within the context of the 16C alone, the lance, in many forms, seems to have throughout remained a popular weapon. It may have declined somewhat in use during the 17C, but nonetheless, its’ return during the 18C makes the pistoleer seem as the rather more ephemeral type, in regular armies, at least.

    • Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus says :

      The Poles and the Hungarians were the reason why I specifically said “Western Europe”–the lance clearly remained a strong presence in the East and arguably maintained an unbroken tradition (at least in the hands of the Cossacks, who served in just about every army in the region) into the late 19th century. In the West, though, there was a rather interesting sharp drop-off in the popularity of lance-armed cavalry after the end of the French Wars of Religion. It probably had something to do with the pistol’s better penetration against armour, as evidenced by the retention of the lance among the Spaniards who had to deal with large numbers of unarmoured or lightly-armoured Moorish cavalry, but on the other hand it wasn’t as if Western Europe lacked any less-than-completely armoured cavalry. Many Huguenots in the Wars of Religion literally had no armour but their faith….

      The pistol was also not as ephemeral as it seems. After all, it remained a fundamental piece of equipment for many types of cavalry all the way into the 20th century, even if it was relegated to a secondary/emergency role from the late 17th to the mid-19th century. By the 1840s/50s it made a strong comeback with the development of practical revolvers, and some people (Bert Hall? I’ll have to check) have noted certain parallels between the replacement of the lance by the pistol in the late 16th/early 17th century and the defeat of lance-armed cavalry (both Mexicans and Native Americans) by revolver-armed US cavalry in the 19th century. The cavalry historian-cum-reenactor Gordon Frye is probably the person to ask for further details about this matter.

      (Tangentially, I’ve read in secondary or tertiary online sources that Wallenstein and one of his Croat or Hungarian lieutenants might have had small detachments of Lancers in their service, but I haven’t been able to track down the primary source that might explain whether these were actual combat troops or somewhat archaic ceremonial guards. After all, I do have Cruso’s testimony from the same era that Lancers were no longer in use in the West by the 1630s.)

    • Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus says :

      But the famous cavalry raid by which Bayard and a group of French gendarmes captured the enemy commander Prospero Colonna, something we’d expect of light cavalry, shows clearly that the roles between cavalry clearly still interlapped.

      Woah. That’s a very early example! Your point would have been better served by quoting later sources like Monluc (I remember at least two occasions of men-at-arms kibitzing on light cavalry raids in his first book alone). Or De la Noue. By the time of the 30YW or ECW it gets a bit embarrassing since it seemed that everybody was doing this.

    • Gene Hughson says :

      I was reading something recently about the crusades that made mention of the variety of horses and attendants knights brought with them. Did this practice persist into the 16th century? The reason I ask is I’m wondering if the gendarmes who captured Colonna may have lightened up (used the travelling horse rather than the war horse and shed some/all armor) for the raid.

      • Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus says :

        The obligation for a man-at-arms to have (and maintain) several horses was still going strong in the Ordonnances of the late 15th century. I don’t know how long it lasted into the 16th, but the prospects are good that the old practice of keeping multiple mounts was maintained for at least the first few decades.

  9. Campmaster says :

    “In the West, though, there was a rather interesting sharp drop-off in the popularity of lance-armed cavalry after the end of the French Wars of Religion. It probably had something to do with the pistol’s better penetration against armour”

    Well, considering that the FWR ended in 1598(though of course, the effect of the defeats suffered by men-at-arms were surely felt earlier), and admitting for a decreased use(if not complete abandonment) of lance-armed units; it wouldn’t be unfair to consider lance-armed cavalry as an important feature of Western warfare during the 16C. During the 17C as I mentioned, its’ use did indeed decline, but if we take the period of EME as a whole spanning roughly the 16th,17th, and 18th century, and if we consider the return of lancers during the 18th century, it does seem that the lancer had its’ place in Early Modern European warfare taken as a whole, even if that was interrupted during the middle of the period. And clearly, the widespread use of plate armour by pikemen and curassiers alike was also a big factor in this interruption. Perhaps the reason why lancer units were considered viable again in the West during the 18C was the fact that the use of plate armour declined during this period, amongst the cavalry, and more dramatically, amongst the infantry.

    “as evidenced by the retention of the lance among the Spaniards who had to deal with large numbers of unarmoured or lightly-armoured Moorish cavalry”

    Spanish use of the lance can’t be attributed to warfare with Moors. There were some small garrisons in North Africa, such as that of Oran, but in general, the century saw a disengagement of Spain from conflict with its’ southern neighbors, or at least land conflict (sea conflict remained intermittent), and the main force engaging in Moorish warfare were the Mediterranean galley squadrons of the monarchy. It was in the main Spanish standing force of the 16C, the Army of Flanders, that the use of lancers and men-at-arms remained in the greatest use, and appreciated. The reason for their survival is hard to guess, considering that Dutch(having been heavy on German mercenaries) pike and horse units could be expected to be as well armoured as any in WE. Perhaps in practical experience the lance was more useful than it seems from a modern point of view.

    “The pistol was also not as ephemeral as it seems.”

    Well, I didn’t really say it was absolutely ephemeral, but rather more ephemeral than the lance, which seems about right even if we accept that it made something of a comeback for a few of decades in the U.S.A. Besides, the ephemerality of the pistoleer, as a type of troop whose tactics revolve around the use of the pistol, is distinct from the ephemerality of the pistol itself (since, as you said, it remained in use as a secondary weapon).

    “Woah. That’s a very early example! Your point would have been better served by quoting later sources like Monluc (I remember at least two occasions of men-at-arms kibitzing on light cavalry raids in his first book alone). Or De la Noue. By the time of the 30YW or ECW it gets a bit embarrassing since it seemed that everybody was doing this.”

    I was talking specifically within the context of the Italian Wars, and how despite the introduction of a degree of specialization, heavy cavalry remained versatile during those years.

    • Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus says :

      Well, I didn’t really say it was absolutely ephemeral, but rather more ephemeral than the lance, which seems about right even if we accept that it made something of a comeback for a few of decades in the U.S.A.

      Not just in the U.S.; European armies might have kept idolising the sabre for a little longer, but even there by the final decades of the 19th century we see the revolver achieving some sort of parity in status with the sword as the close-combat weapon of choice. Churchill’s account of the British cavalry charge at the Battle of Omdurman suggests that the revolver saw at least as much use as the sword or lance in the furious close-quarters fighting.

      There may also be a case for making a distinction between pistol-armed cavalry as such (which appeared to have gone out of fashion by the second half of the 17th century) and their tactics (which had a great deal more continuity with that of non-pistol-armed types both before and and after the heyday of the Renaissance cavalry pistol). Put simply, the pistol was treated like an unusually long sword or lance, and competent pistol-armed cavalry charged headlong just like earlier lance-armed or later sword-armed cavalry rather than using the so-called “caracole,” which was really the province of arquebus/carbine-armed cavalry (and doesn’t even seem to have been known by that name at all back in the days). The only potentially significant difference is with regards to formation depth–for some reason 16th- and early 17th-century pistol-armed shock cavalry tended to fight in particularly deep formations, rather unlike the shallow line apparently preferred by medieval lancers and later sword-armed cavalry, but this might not necessarily be related to the character(istics) of the pistol itself as La Noue suggested deeper formations not only for pistol-armed horsemen but also for lancers.

      Another trifle that might be of some interest is the composition of the latter-day lancers and revolver cavalry. When the lance came back, it was only used for the first rank of the formation (the rest had sabres and pistols), whereas not long after the revolver’s appearance everybody wanted one (and soon enough everybody had one).

      • Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus says :

        for some reason 16th- and early 17th-century pistol-armed shock cavalry tended to fight in particularly deep formations, rather unlike the shallow line apparently preferred by medieval lancers

        Ouch. Forgot to mention that the deep formations might have originated with late 15th-century German cavalry wedges, which probably had heavily-armoured and lance-armed men-at-arms at the tip, while on the other hand the attack in deep columns was occasionally practiced by the likes of Frederick the Great’s dragoons and Napoleonic French cavalry (particularly in the dramatic “charge” at Eylau). So even this difference might not have been that significant after all.

  10. Campmaster says :

    In general, the point I was trying to make by mentioning Eltis’s theoretical division was to provide ‘ideal’ archetypes of the types of cavalry throughout the period of EME. In his book, Eltis dealt mainly with the 16C, and his classification is meant to be taken to introduce the reader to the major types of cavalry featured in that period, and considering that most of these cavalry types existed simultaneously(except the pistoleer, which was introduced rather late), with the lancer fading away only at the very end of the period, his categorization is quite correct (even if in practice the functions of these types was messier than in theory). My intention, conversely, was to use this trilaleral division to provide an useful framework within which to fit the many types of cavalry observed in the period of EME as a whole, and, as such, was not to be interpreted as implying that these three types always existed simultaneously; though I suppose I should have made that a bit clearer. However, the use of such archetypes, as I can’t stress enough, is merely a theoretical tool, and obviously should not be taken literally.

  11. jostwald says :

    I’d recommend we might want to work on developing a better dataset regarding cavalry types (since that seems to be an interest). I’d suggest we avoid the broad categories at first and focus on specifics, which we can then more safely generalize from.

    Maybe we could start with a list of the different types of horsemen, to get a sense of the population we’re discussing:
    1. Past theoretical types suggested (e.g. Eltis) – any evidence from the cav manuals of the time?
    2. The different names each type of horse goes by (Uhlan, jinete…) and how they fit with #3 below. Maybe an initial listing of early modern cavalry manuals might even help.
    3. What their weapons/armor were (perhaps we should avoid light-medium-heavy distinctions until we see what they were equipped with, because that might be anachronistically imposing a later categorization). I don’t know if we have the info to comment on the type of horses used.
    4. Where they were from (preferably region but at least a country), and maybe who they tended to fight (including the type of terrain).
    5. When they were in use – perhaps we could start with listing specific mentions in primary sources, and then later figure out whether a particular type rose or declined in period X or Y. Among academic historians, revisionists often spend a lot of time revising the trends posited by initial forays into the subject (e.g. whether the English/French aristocracy rose or fell, whether the Military Revolution belongs to period X, Y or Z…) – I think a lot of this effort might have been better spent if the original initiators had set out a methodology and then presented their period/place’s results. It’s always very difficult to determine the first use of any given tactic/unit type.
    6. Numbers of troops, if we have any sense of how many were in use. Perhaps relative to the number of foot soldiers might be useful.
    7. Importantly, the sources for our info. Ideally we’d like to tie it back to primary sources if at all possible.

    This would require a bit more effort than just reporting our accumulated knowledge, but it might be more productive.

    It’s up to you all. I could make this a post to garner more attention if there’s an interest.

    • Gene Hughson says :

      I’m definitely interested.

    • Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus says :

      We may also need a method to estimate how many relevant primary sources have survived compared to how many were originally written/published, and perhaps even how many engagements were covered by the sources as compared to the ones that were never reported at all. This may be an impossible task, but if so then it puts some hard limits on our interpretative capabilities since I’m quite sure that the engagements of the petit guerre (you know, minor skirmishes and raids and the like) were grossly underreported for all periods before World War I.

      • Erik Lund says :

        That’s not necessarily a huge problem if you work from war diaries. The longer campaign histories of the period use these, and the “mentioned in dispatches” effects shines through, Whether published or microfilmed, these volumes are long lists of raids and skirmishes, precisely because very important young men were always going out on raids.

        I’d be tempted to draw in poaching and hunting, but Roger B. Manning has already done it.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Investigations of a Dog » Cavalry Tactics: How did I get here? - August 10, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: