Saukamappee: Plains Indians Use Guns in Battle for the First Time

This is an account by the Peigan Indian Saukamappee, whose life and times were recorded by the explorer David Thompson. Saukamappee describes the radical effect of firearms on Plains Indian warfare. Before, battles were fought with stone clubs and bows, and ended in stalemate unless one side was much larger. With only a handful of guns, Saukamappee’s side was able to turn what looked like a sure defeat by a numerically superior enemy into a victory.

After some singing and dancing, they sat down on the ground, and placed their large shields before them, which covered them : We did the same, but our shields were not so many, and some of our shields had to shelter two men. Theirs were all placed touching each other ; their Bows were not so long as ours, but of better wood, and the back covered with the sinews of the Bisons which made them very elastic, and their arrows went a long way and whizzed about us as balls do from guns. They were all headed with a sharp, smooth, black stone (flint) which broke when it struck anything. Our iron headed arrows did not go through their shields, but stuck in them ; On both sides several were wounded, but none lay on the ground ; and night put an end to the battle, without a scalp being taken on either side, and in those days such was the result, unless one party was more numerous than the other.

Later, when they had guns:

When the War Chief had viewed us all it was found between us and the Stone Indians we had ten guns and each of us about thirty balls, and powder for the war, and we were considered the strength of the battle. After a few days march our scouts brought us word that the enemy was near in a large war party, but had no Horses with them, for at that time they had very few of them. When we came to meet each other, as usual, each displayed their numbers, weapons and shields, in which they were superior to us, except our guns which were not shown, but kept in their leathern cases, and if we had shown[them], they would have taken them for long clubs. For a long time they held us in suspense ; a Chief was forming a strong party to make an attack on our centre, and the others to enter into combat with those opposite to them.

We prepared for the battle the best we could. Those of us who had guns stood in the front line, and each of us had two balls in his mouth, and a load of powder in his left hand to reload.

We noticed they had a great many short stone clubs for close combat, which is a dangerous weapon, and had they made a bold attack on us, we must have been defeated as they were more numerous and better armed than we were, for we could have fired our guns no more than twice ; and were at a loss what to do on the wide plain, and each Chief encouraged his men to stand firm. Our eyes were all on the tall Chief and his motions, which appeared to be contrary to the advice of several old Chiefs, all this time we were about the strong flight of an arrow from each other. At length the tall chief retired and they formed their long usual line by placing their shields on the ground to touch each other, the shield having a breadth of full three feet or more. We sat down opposite to them and most of us waited for the night to make a hasty retreat. The War Chief was close to us, anxious to see the effect of our guns. The lines were too far asunder for us to make a sure shot, and we requested him to close the line to about sixty yards, which was gradually done, and lying flat on the ground behind the shields, we watched our opportunity when they drew their bows to shoot at us, their bodies were then exposed and each of us, as opportunity offered, fired with deadly aim, and either killed, or severely wounded, every one we aimed at.

The War Chief was highly pleased, and the Snake Indians finding so many killed and wounded kept themselves behind their shields ; the War Chief then desired we would spread ourselves by two’s throughout the line, which we did, and our shots caused consternation and dismay along their whole line. The battle had begun about Noon, and the Sun was not yet half down, when we perceived some of them had crawled away from their shields, and were taking to flight.

https://archive.org/stream/davidthompsonsna00thom/davidthompsonsna00thom_djvu.txt

Lindybeige: Fire Arrows

 

Lindy proposes several different possible compositions of fire arrows, and why he believes they wouldn’t work. I don’t know how common fire arrows might have been in the classical period or middle ages, or how they would have been constructed. Fortunately however we do have a recipe for fire arrows from 1628, titled A New Invention of Shooting Fire-Shafts in Long-Bowes. Published anonymously, this short pamphlet advocates for the use of small explosives attached to arrows for use against musketeers, cavalry, ships and enemy fortifications.

The publication of the pamphlet was timed well. The bow had been ordered out of service in 1589 after seeing little combat during Elizabeth’s reign. Nonetheless there were still frequent calls to reintroduce archery. A major attempt to do so was undertaken in 1627, when counties were suddenly ordered to arm 24% of their levies as archers for the Il de Re Expedition. French sources record that English arrows were shot over the walls during the siege of St. Martin. The next year, with the encouragement of Charles I, the privy council ordered that William Neades’ invention of a bow fastened to a pike, known as the “Double Armed Man”, be given a test run in the Artillery Garden. The author of A New Invention intended that the fireworks be used in tandem with  Neade’s bow.

It is not clear whether fire-arrows were ever constructed and used in the manner described by the pamphlet, quoted below. However, fire-arrows were used during this period, for example, by Royalist besiegers to burn down buildings in Lyme Regis during the civil war.

(The source for all of the above is E.T. Fox, Military Archery in the Seventeenth Century.)

This is the construction Anon describes for his proposed fireshafts:

Let the Fire-shafts have one end feathered and shaped, after the manner of an ordinary arrow, and the other end fitted with a pipe of latten, ten inches long or more, at discretion, a bearded head of iron fast glued into it, with a socket of wood, & a touch-hole made close by it, with some little reverse to stop the arrow from piercing so deepe into a mans cloaths, the flanques of a horse, or other marke of easie passage, as to choake the fire. The shaft may be made fast within the pipe (if men so please) with hard waxe; which melting as the pipe groweth hote, will make it very difficult to draw the arrow from where it lights.

Arrowes to make a blaze by night, as also those that are to shoote into the sailes of a ship or enemies tent, must have the touch-hole within an inch of the shaft, and the reverse a little above the touch-hole, to stay the arrow while the marke takes fire.

The pipe must be filled with this mixture bruised and very smal & hard ram’d in; Gunpowder & salt-peeter a like proportion, & brimstone halfe so much, with some small quantity of camphir (if men please) to make it operate more strongly where the mark is wet. If the mixture burne too quicke, adde brimstone, if too slowe, adde powder.

To stop the touch-hole that the mixture runne not forth, & to take fire when you mean to shoote, seeth cotten-candlewicke in vinegar and gunpowder bruised very small; and when it is throughly soaked and well dryed, take a small quantity (rolled a little in the former mixture) and stop the touch-hole therewith.

The Fire-shaft being made, and filled in this manner, take the Bowe with a match well lighted into your left hand, after the manner of Musquettiers; then hold the Arrow ready nocked in the Bowe, after the manner of Archers. Lastly, give fire, return your mach, and deliver the Arrow.

What is described is a pipe fastened to the shaft of an arrow with wax. The pipe would be made of latten, an alloy of copper and zinc common in this period, with an iron arrowhead fastened to the top. filled with gunpowder, saltpeter, sulfur and camphor and ignited by means of a fuse made from a candlewick soaked in gunpowder and vinegar.The addition of salt-peter and camphor made the gunpowder burn faster and hotter. The addition of sulfur, “brimstone”, made the mixture easier to ignite. The archer lit the fuse by means of a “match”, a gunpowder-soaked rope which was also used by musketeers to ignite their priming powder.

Lindy argues that fire arrows would not have been useful because they wouldn’t have penetrated well, but Anon designed his fire arrow specifically so that it would not penetrate deeply and thus extinguish the fire.

Would the fireshaft have functioned more like a simple incendiary, or a small grenade shooting out fragments of copper to wound men standing close to where the arrow landed? Either way, the flaw of a such a weapon is obvious. It could prove as dangerous to one’s own side as the enemy. Military men considered poorly-trained musketeers, clumsily trying to juggle their musket and match in one hand in and powder charge in the other, more hurtful than commodious. An archer with a bag full of twelve or twenty-four fireshafts would have posed an even greater risk of accidental explosion.

Recusants

While skimming through the Calendar of State Papers, Volume 3, 1591-1594, I found this.

1592?
103. [The Council to the Justice of Peace]. Transmit schedules of recusants in their respective counties; their principle houses they are themselves secretly and suddenly to visit, and take possession of their arms and armour, to be restored to them at such time as they shall dutifully conform themselves to the laws, in resorting to the church. They are to appoint honest persons in like manner secretly to disarm recusants of the meaner sort, leaving fitting proportions of bows and arrows and black bills for defence of their houses. They are to bestow the armour in their own houses till further directions. Any recusant suspected of conveying away armour should be examined on oath. Any recusant not in the schedule is to be proceeded against; the yearly revenues and the value of goods of recusants are also to be impartially certified.

A recusant was someone who refused to attend Anglican services. The imposition of the Anglican religion on England had caused rebellion in the past, and that was why the council confiscated the weapons and armor of the recusants. It is interesting that they were allowed to keep their bows and bills for self-defense. It seems that by 1592 the government had no fear of an uprising of bowmen and billmen against its army of pikemen and musketeers. The rebels of Kett’s Rebellion and the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549 had been made up of mostly bowmen and billmen and they were crushed by a combination of cavalry, pikemen and harquebusiers.

John Smythe on archers at Kett’s Rebellion and the Prayer Book Rebellion

The fiercest advocate of the longbow during the period of the Elizabethan bow vs. gun debates was John Smythe, a nobleman and a cantankerous soldier of long experience. Smythe had first served in France during the short reign of Edward VI, and afterwards had fought in the Netherlands (on the side of the Spanish) and against the Turks in eastern Europe. The first book Smythe wrote in defense of the bow, titled Certain Discourses, based much of its authority on the historical triumphs of archery- biblical, classical, medieval, and a few from Smythe’s own time. Those from the 16th century are the only ones really of interest to us.

Let’s take a look at some of the victories of longbowmen over harquebuzers and musketeers Smythe presents, and then see if we can reconcile them with the historical record.

Continue reading

Bows Vs. Muskets in the Imjin War, part 2

More incidents from the Imjin War. These are taken from Firearms: A Global History to 1700 by Kenneth Chase. Bizarrely, Chase takes the typical position that bows were a superior battlefield weapon to firearms despite his book being full of evidence to the contrary. This quote by the Korean official Yu Song-nyong, for example, is pretty damning:

In the 1592 invasion, everything was swept away. Within a fortnight or a month the cities and fortresses were lost, and everything in the eight directions had crumbled. Although it was [partly] due to there having been a century of peace and the people not being familiar with warfare that this happened, it was really because the Japanese had the use of muskets that could reach beyond several hundred paces, that always pierced what they struck, that came like the wind and the hail, and with which bows and arrows could not compare.

The Japanese were in agreement that their musketry was a great advantage. One of the Japanese commanders wrote home in 1592:

Please arrange to send us guns and ammunition. There is absolutely no use for spears. It is vital that you arrange somehow to obtain a number of guns. Furthermore, you should certainly see to it that those person departing [for Korea] understand this situation. The arrangements for guns should receive your closest attention.

More from Yu Song-nyong:

However, the musket is a very intricate instrument, and very difficult to produce. The Jixiao xinshu [written by Qi Jiguang in 1560] says one month for boring the barrel is optimal- that is, one musket takes the labor of one person for one month before it is ready for use. The difficulty and expense are like that. In recent days, the muskets used by the supervisorate have all been captured Japanese weapons. There are not many and they frequently burst, becoming fewer by the day.

I wonder why the captured Japanese muskets were bursting. Maybe the Koreans, lacking instructors to teach them how to safely use the muskets, were overloading them with powder or were failing to fully seat the bullet against the powder.

Although the musket is superior to the bow and arrow, it is slow and clumsy when loading powder and shot, lighting the match, and aiming and shooting. As for advancing and withdrawing at will, responding to opportunities with leisure or haste, being convenient for both infantry and cavalry, and being suitable for all situations, then it is not equal to the bow and arrow.

When Yu Song-nyong talks about firearms being inconvenient for cavalry, keep in mind that he is talking about matchlock weapons. In Europe at this time, cavalry firearms were of the far more convenient snaphaunce or wheellock variety.

Today, the Japanese exclusively use muskets to attack fortifications. They can reach [the target] from several hundred paces away. Our country’s bows and arrows cannot reach them. At any flat spot outside the walls, the Japanese will build earthen mounds and “flying towers.” They look down into the fortifications and fire their bullets so that the people inside the fortifications cannot conceal themselves. In the end the fortifications are taken. One cannot blame [the defenders] for their situation.

When the Japanese invaded Korea for the second time, there were more firearms on both sides.

The Japanese vanguard of a hundred or more arrived under the fortifications. They fanned out and took cover in the fields in groups of three and five. They fired their muskets at the top of the fortifications for a while, then stopped. They left and then returned again. The men on the fortifications respond with [Chinese-style] “victory guns,” and the Japanese main body sent out skirmishers from a distance to engage them. They advanced cautiously so the guns fired but did not hit them, while the Japanese bullets hit the men on the fortifications, many of whom fell dead.

The combined Korean and Chinese army launched a failed attack on the Japanese base at Ulsan:

At the foot of the hill were rotting fields; our soldiers had no place to plant their feet. The Japanese used their guns from the loopholes, and every shot struck its target…. If [the besiegers] lay prone the guns could not reach them easily; if they stood up they had to move in a crouch to avoid [being shot]. And those who lay prone suffered from the mud that covered their knees. Night and day they surrounded the fortress, and the ice and snow cracked their skin.

The Japanese commander Asano Yukinaga wrote home to his father:

When the troops come [to Korea] from the province of Kai, have them bring as many guns as possible, for no other equipment is needed. Give strict orders that all men, even the samurai, carry guns.

Christine de Pizan, The Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry, 1410

Christine de Pizan, a French noblewoman, is notable not only for her poetry, but for having written this book on the virtues of martial training. The work is largely based on Vegetius’s De Re Militari, but Christine adds in plenty of commentary unique to the military situation of 15th century France.

Most interesting is her section on archery, as the book was coincidentally written just a few years before the disaster at Azincourt.

Vegetius says that as carrying a sling is very light, it is a very useful thing. It sometimes happens that a battle takes place on stony ground, or that it is necessary to defend a mountain. Even in the assault or defense of a fortress a sling can be very useful. It was formerly held in such high esteem that in some of the Greek islands mothers would not give food to their children until they had struck their meat with a slingshot blow. Along with this they taught them how to shoot with a bow or crossbow. Their teachers instructed them to hold the bow on their right side with the left hand, and then the cord was drawn by the right hand with great force and skill, the arrow near the ear, the heart and eye fixed steadily on the mark and attentively aimed. In this art young Englishmen are still instructed from early youth, and for this reason they commonly surpass other archers. They can hit a barge aimed at from a distance of six hundred feet. Vegetius says that this art must be practiced constantly even by skilled masters, for practice is necessary. Cato says in his book of arms that good archers are very useful in battle. Claudius testifies to this when he says that archers and those trained in throwing darts overcame their enemies with relatively few men; so does the valiant fighter Scipio the African.

It is rare to find a contemporary source which gives quantitative information on just how accurate archers were, or were expected to be. It is not clear if Christine had ever seen an English archer first-hand, or was repeating received knowledge. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable that an experienced archer would be able to consistently hit a “barge” from 200 yards. How big was a medieval barge? Certainly bigger than a man, probably smaller than a formed battalia.

This is practice-range accuracy, however. On the actual battlefield we could expect accuracy to drop precipitously. In the age of musketry, the percentage of bullets which could be expected to hit, both on the practice range and on the battlefield, are well documented. There is scarce information for either on arrows.

English Books on Bow vs. Musket Issue

Here is, I hope, an exhaustive list of every published English writer who commented on the bow vs. musket debate up until the start of the English Civil War. Included is a short summary of their position and a link, if available, to a transcription.

 

Barnabe Riche, A Right Exelent and Pleasaunt Dialogue, 1574

“The shotte shall be able to preiudice the Archer, who shal not be able to shoote halfe the grounde towardes him agayne. Farther when the Shotte shal take advantage almost in everi ground to shrowd himselfe, where the Archer must remaine an open mark uppon the plaine or els to occupy his Bow to smal efect…. Archers maye do verye good seruice, althoughe it be not to incounter with shotte.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A10718.0001.001?view=toc

 

Thomas Styward, The Pathwaie to Martiall Discipline, 1582

“These bands of archers being brought to service by the callevers, although that the callevers be counted to be of greater force then they be of, & the archers be not used in the field so much as they have bene, yet having light shafts made to shoot 12, or 14, score, may kepe their place shooting altogither over the heads of the caleevers, to the blemishing and very great anoie of the enemie.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A13122.0001.001?view=toc

 

Roger Williams, Briefe Discourse of Warre, 1590

“Bow men [are] the worst shot used in these days…  I persuade my selfe five hundred musketers are more serviceable than fifteene hundred bow-men.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A15466.0001.001?view=toc

 

John Smythe, Certain Discourses, 1590

“The Long Bowes (which our such men of warre have so much condemned) being in the hands of such soldiers Archers as can well use them, are weapons of singular advantage and effect for battailes and great encounters, both against horsemen and footmen, and chieflie being so evill armed, as all Nations in these our daies both on horsebacke and on foot are, because that the Bowe is a weapon wonderfull readie in all seasons, both of faire & foule weather (which Mosquets and Harquebuzes are not) and doth wound, gall and kill both horses and men, if the arrowes doo light upon anie disarmed parts of them.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A12567.0001.001?view=toc

 

Thomas Digges, An Arithmetical Warlike Treatise Named Stratioticos, 1590

Not to be confused with Digges’s 1579 book, An Arithmetical Militarie Treatise

“If I should place any weapon within the bodie of my battaile but Pikes onely, it should be long bowes, who may in deede when the Pikes are couched, play over their heads upon their enimies faces w’out any danger to their fellowes, which no other shot in truth can wel do, but Bowes only.”

No free transcription available

 

William Garrard, The Arte of Warre, 1591

“The Archer serves to small purpose, but when he is shadowed with some Trench or Bulwarke free from harabuse or musket shot: In that lying a band of Hargabusiers, he doth second them in any invading onset, and then a whole flight of Arrowes, so that they be light and able to flie above twelve score, will mercilously gaule any maine battaile of footmen or Squadron of horsmen…. Unless necessitie constraine, and that harabusiers be wanting, Archers may well be spared.”

 

Gyles Clayton, The Aprooved order of Martiall discipline, 1591

“Wee use not the weapons which hath beene used in olde time, as Cros-bowes, long bows, black Billes, with such other like weapons.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A18959.0001.001?view=toc

 

Matthew Sutcliffe, The Practice, Proceedings, and Lawes of armes, 1593

“Archers in assaults, and defence of townses cannot do like service to mosquetiers, and calivers, for neyther can they hit so right, nor so mortally. In pight fields I thinke them nothing inferiour to them [In fixed fields think bows are not inferior to firearms], for being armed with jackes, as they shoulde bee, when they come to gripes, they drive the shot to his feete, and shooting manie rankes one over an others head twelve arrowes shall fall before one boullet”

No free transcription.

 

Humfrey Barwick, A Breefe Discourse, 1594

“I never sawe any slaine out right with an arrowe, and but with Quarels few, but with Harquebuze and Pistoll shot, I have been at severall times, where 20000. hath beene slaine outright, besides manie wounded and maimed.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A05277.0001.001?view=toc

 

John Smythe, Certen instructions, observations and orders militarie,  1594

This book is much longer than Smythe’s previous work, and he goes into much greater detail of how he would wish his hypothetical archers to be commanded and deployed. Smythe also proposes a plan for equipping mounted crossbowers and archers.

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A12568.0001.001

 

R.S., A Briefe Treatise, To prooue the necessitie and excellence of the vse of archerie, 1596

This small pamphlet is not very interesting as it merely summarizes the arguments of John Smythe, quoting him at length.

Access to the transcription requires a login.

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo2/A11250.0001.001?view=toc

 

Barnabe Riche, A Martial Conference, 1598

Riche revisits the bow vs. gun issue after 24 years. In that time, he has become even less charitable towards the bow. Although Riche goes into as much depth as Smythe and Barwick, unfortunately this work has received no attention, despite being a more enjoyable read due to the many jokes Riche inserts throughout.

“With three or foure hundred musketiers they would displace two thousand Archers, and without any manner of danger to themselves, by reason of their farre shooting.”

Access to the transcription requires a login.

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo2/A10710.0001.001?view=toc

 

Robert Barret, The Theorike and Practike of Moderne Warres, 1598

“They may shoot thicke, but to small performance, except (as I said) upon naked men or horse. But should there be led but eight hundred perfect hargubusiers, or sixe hundred good musketiers against your thousand bowmen, I thinke your bowmen would be forced to forsake their ground… and moreover a vollie of musket or hargubuze goeth with more terrour, fury, and execution, then doth your vollie of arrowes.”

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A04863.0001.001

 

Barnabe Riche, The Fruites  of long Experience, 1604

This is sort of a second part to A Martial Conference, and Riche does not go into as much length on the longbow debate as he did in his previous book, choosing instead to focus on other military matters.

“For our ancient English weapon the Long-bow, I am sure there be manie that would gladlie maintaine the excellency of theat… yet for my part I could wish they were but half so effectual as some ignorant men would willingly persuade.”

 

John Bingham, Tactics of Aelian, 1616

“And surely it may not bee denied, that the force of fireweapons of our time doth farre exceed the height of all old inventions for anoyeng the enemy. And, when I have given them the first place, I will not doubt to give the second to bowes and arrowes being so farre from casting them of, that I would rather follow the wisdome of the Graecians; whoe albeit they esteemed arrowes the best flieng weapons, yet thought it not amisse to hold in use slinges, and dartes.”

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A05855.0001.001

 

William Neade, The Double-Armed Man, 1625

Neade invented a bow which could be fastened onto a pike. That way, the pikemen would have something to do while the musketeers were shooting at each other. Effectively, bowmen could be added to the brigade without reducing the number of pikes or muskets. The concept was embraced by King Charles I.

“Wheresoever the Pike or the Musket are servicable, there will the bow be servicable also. Besides, in raine or moist weather the Bow is usefull: Also with our showers of arrowes we can shoot into any Towne, Castle, Fort or Trench, as likewise to shoot fire-workes.”

Requires login

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/B14921.0001.001

 

Thomas Kellie, Pallas Armata, 1627

“This Bow is verie steadable in warlike service, and although the use thereof is almost quite extinguished by the furious execution which the Musquet appeareth to make, yet I will prove it to surpasse the Musquet in manie respects.”

Requires login

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A68294.0001.001

 

Anon, A New Invention of Shooting Fireshafts in Long-bowes, 1628

The author argues that the practice of armoring pikemen was wasteful, as armor couldn’t stop a musket bullet, and pikes almost never encountered one another in those days. Money saved on corslets could instead be spent on longbows to shoot fireworks, which the author argues would be more useful, as they could support the musketeers by shooting over their heads.

“I seek not to perswade the use of Bowes in steed of Guns, but that by due accouplement of both, ore hands might in lesse roome bee brought to fight at once; a part of chiefest excellence in marshalling of men.”

 

William Neade, Obiections against the vse of the bovv vvith the pike: and the answers thereunto, 1630

I haven’t gotten a look at this one yet. It would be interesting to know what the objections to the double-armed man concept were. Whatever they were, there must have been some validity to them, as the double-armed man saw very little service.

Requires login

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/B14920.0001.001

 

Gervase Markham, The Art of Archerie, 1634

By this time England had completely replaced the smaller harquebuses and calivers with the larger and more powerful muskets. Markham wished that bows be reintroduced to fill the role which harquebuses once had, to wing the muskets as the muskets winged the pikes.

http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A06902.0001.001

 

William Barriffe, Military discipline, 1635

“Notwithstan∣ding, if one halfe of them had bowes fastened unto their Pikes (being able and well practised men) they might, whilest the Muskettiers are in firing, be dealing of their doles about: and although their arrowes did not happen to wound mortally, yet the whisteling noyse, the terrour of the sight, and the severall hurts (which could not chuse but be many) would be a great abatement to the stoutest courages.”

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A04919.0001.001?rgn=main;view=toc