Bows and muskets co-existed on the battlefield for hundreds of years and during that time, there were plenty of battles between the two weapons. This blog was started mainly for the purpose of cataloging eye-witness accounts of those battles. There are some common threads running through all these accounts, facts and eyewitness opinions that keep coming up, and one of the strongest is this: in every case where one weapon is said to outdistance the other, it is the musket which has the range advantage.
I have not found a single instance of a battle where the musketeers were unable to return fire because the archers outranged them. This true of battles everywhere in the world. Some examples:
Capt. John Underhill of the Massachussets colony made a contested landing on Block Island in 1646, enduring a spray of arrows from the Pequot warriors on the beach. Upon making it to the shore, Underhill reported that the Pequot were forced to retreat by the greater range of the New Englanders’ muskets.
…once having got up of our legges, wee gave fire upon them, they finding our bullets to out-reach their arrowes, they fled before us… [Link]
Captain John Smith had a similar experience decades earlier while navigating his shallop on the Chesapeake Bay. Eight canoes of Indians attacked, lodging over a hundred arrows in his boat and his men’s shields. None of the English were hurt, and they were able to force the Indians to abandon first their canoes and then the river shore.
Our Muskets they found shot further then their Bowes, for wee made not twentie shot ere they all retyred behind the next trees. [Link]
In Europe, the most famous archers by far were the English and their longbows. Virtually all extant longbows come from the Mary Rose, an English warship which sank in 1545. A French soldier named Blaize de Montluc left an interesting account in his memoirs regarding a battle he fought against English archers a few days after the Mary Rose sank. Montluc’s soldiers were outnumbered, but they were not worried about the English archers- the Italian harquebusiers supporting them were the real threat. Montluc ordered his own harquebusiers “not to shoot, till they came within the distance of their arrows,” and then, “so soon as they were come up within arrow shot, our Harquebuzeers gave their volley all at once, and then clapt their hands to their swords,” and ran the English archers off the field. Montluc remarks:
They all carried arms of little reach, and therefore were necessitated to come up close to us to loose their arrows, which otherwise would do no execution; whereas we who were accustomed to fire our Harquebuzes at a great distance, seeing the Enemy use another manner of sight, thought these near approaches of theirs very strange, imputing their running on at this confident rate to absolute bravery. [Link]
The English were not slow to notice that their national weapon had been outclassed by modern firearms. Barnabe Riche, a warrior poet who had the distinction of living to be the oldest captain in the English military, spilled more ink that anyone else in his time on the bow vs. musket topic, and was the first to opine in a published work in 1574, where he argued:
I dare undertake that if one hundred of those thousande [archers] doo shoote above ten score , that ii hundred of the rest, wyll shoote shorte of ix score , and is not this a piece of advantage thinkest thou ? when every Calyver that is brought into the feelde wyl carry a shot xviii score  and xx score , and every Musquet xxiiii  and xxx score . [Link]
Some of the fiercest bow vs. musket combat occurred during the Imjin War, a Japanese attempt to invade China by first passing through Korea, which lasted from 1592-1598. When the war began, the Japanese had large numbers of muskets and were well-trained in their use. Chinese handguns were mostly still of the pipe-on-a-stick variety, and the Koreans lacked muskets at all. A Korean minister who was there at many of the battles, Ryu Seong-ryong, wrote a book about the invasion known as the Book of Corrections.
After a short while a number of enemy soldiers suddenly emerged and started attacking us with ten or more muskets. The ones hit by the bullets were killed instantly. Yi immediately ordered the archers to counterattack using their bows, but their arrows fell far short of their target. [Link]
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. [Link]
If anybody can find an example of a battle where musketeers were helpless to fight back against archers who outranged them, please let me know! Right now, the evidence seems pretty clear that that musketeers always had the range advantage.
Again Champlain came to the aid of the Montagnai (Innu) and Algonquin against the Iroquois. This battle is larger than the one from my first post, and this time the Iroquois barricaded themselves in a fortress.
On the following day, we all set out together, and continued our route until the morning of the next day, the 19th of the month [of June, 1610], when we arrived at an island off the river of the Iroquois, and waited for the Algonquins, who were to be there the same day. While the Montagnais were felling trees to clear a place for dancing, and for arranging themselves for the arrival of the Algonquins, an Algonquin canoe was suddenly seen coming in haste, to bring word that the Algonquins had fallen in with a hundred Iroquois, who were strongly barricaded, and that it would be difficult to conquer them, unless they should come speedily, together with the Matigoches, as they call us.
The alarm at once sounded among them, and each one got into his canoe with his arms. They were quickly in readiness, but with confusion ; for they were so precipitate that, instead of making haste, they hindered one another. They came to our barque and the other, begging me, together with my companions, to go with them in their canoes, and they were so urgent that I embarked with four others. I requested our pilot, La Routte, to stay in the barque, and send me some four or five more of my companions, if the other barques would send some shallops with men to aid us ; for none of the barques were inclined to go with the savages, except Captain Thibaut, who, having a barque there, went with me. The savages cried out to those who remained, saying that they were woman-hearted, and that all they could do was to make war upon their peltry.
Meanwhile, after going some half a league, all the savages crossing the river landed, and, leaving their canoes, took their bucklers, bows, arrows, clubs, and swords, which they attach to the end of large sticks, and proceeded to make their way in the woods, so fast that we soon lost sight of them, they leaving us, five in number, without guides. This displeased us ; but, keeping their tracks constantly in sight, we followed them, although we were often deceived. We went through dense woods, and over swamps and marshes, with the water always up to our knees, greatly encumbered by a pike-man’s corselet, with which each one was armed. We were also tormented in a grievous and unheard-of manner by quantities of mosquitoes, which were so thick that they scarcely permitted us to draw breath.
After going about half a league under these circumstances, and no longer knowing where we were, we perceived two savages passing through the woods, to whom we called and told them to stay with us, and guide us to the whereabouts of the Iroquois, otherwise we could not go there, and should get lost in the woods. They stayed to guide us. After proceeding a short distance, we saw a savage coming in haste to us, to induce us to advance as rapidly as possible, giving me to understand that the Algonquins and Montagnais had tried to force the barricade of the Iroquois but had been repulsed, that some of the best men of the Montagnais had been killed in the attempt, and several wounded, and that they had retired to wait for us, in whom was their only hope. We had not gone an eighth of a league with this savage, who was an Algonquin captain, before we heard the yells and cries on both sides, as they jeered at each other, and were skirmishing slightly while awaiting us.
As soon as the savages perceived us, they began to shout, so that one could not have heard it thunder. I gave orders to my companions to follow me steadily, and not to leave me on any account. I approached the barricade of the enemy, in order to reconnoitre it. It was constructed of large trees placed one upon another, and of a circular shape, the usual form of their fortifications. All the Montagnais and Algonquins approached likewise the barricade. Then we commenced firing numerous musket-shots through the brush-wood, since we could not see them, as they could us.
I was wounded while firing my first shot at the side of their barricade by an arrow, which pierced the end of my ear and entered my neck. I seized the arrow, and tore it from my neck. The end of it was armed with a very sharp stone. One of my companions also was wounded at the same time in the arm by an arrow, which I tore out for him. Yet my wound did not prevent me from doing my duty : our savages also, on their part, as well as the enemy, did their duty, so that you could see the arrows fly on all sides as thick as hail.
The Iroquois were astonished at the noise of our muskets, and especially that the balls penetrated better than their arrows. They were so frightened at the effect produced that, seeing several of their companions fall wounded and dead, they threw themselves on the ground whenever they heard a discharge, supposing that the shots were sure. We scarcely ever missed firing two or three balls at one shot, resting our muskets most of the time on the side of their barricade. But, seeing that our ammunition began to fail, I said to all the savages that it was necessary to break down their barricades and capture them by storm ; and that, in order to accomplish this, they must take their shields, cover themselves with them, and thus approach so near as to be able to fasten stout ropes to the posts that supported the barricades, and pull them down by main strength, in that way making an opening large enough to permit them to enter the fort.
I told them that we would meanwhile, by our musketry-fire, keep off the enemy, as they endeavored to prevent them from accomplishing this; also that a number of them should get behind some large trees, which were near the barricade, in order to throw them down upon the enemy, and that others should protect these with their shields, in order to keep the enemy from injuring them. All this they did very promptly. And, as they were about finishing the work, the barques, distant a league and a half, hearing the reports of our muskets, knew that we were engaged in conflict; and a young man from St. Malo, full of courage, Des Prairies by name, who like the rest had come with his barque to engage in peltry traffic, said to his companions that it was a great shame to let me fight in this way with the savages without coming to my assistance ; that for his part he had too high a sense of honor to permit him to do so, and that he did not wish to expose himself to this reproach. Accordingly, he determined to come to me in a shallop with some of his companions, together with some of mine whom he took with him. Immediately upon his arrival, he went towards the fort of the Iroquois, situated on the bank of the river. Here he landed, and came to find me.
Upon seeing him, I ordered our savages who were breaking down the fortress to stop, so that the new-comers might have their share of the sport. I requested Sieur des Prairies and his companions to fire some salvos of musketry, before our savages should carry by storm the enemy, as they had decided to do. This they did, each one firing several shots, in which all did their duty well.
After they had fired enough, I addressed myself to our savages, urging them to finish the work. Straightway, they approached the barricade, as they had previously done, while we on the flank were to fire at those who should endeavor to keep them from breaking it down. They behaved so well and bravely that, with the help of our muskets, they made an opening, which, however, was difficult to go through, as there was still left a portion as high as a man, there being also branches of trees there which had been beaten down, forming a serious obstacle. But, when I saw that the entrance was quite practicable, I gave orders not to fire any more, which they obeyed. At the same instant, some twenty or thirty, both of savages and of our own men, entered, sword in hand, without finding much resistance.
Immediately, all who were unharmed took to flight. But they did not proceed far; for they were brought down by those around the barricade, and those who escaped were drowned in the river. We captured some fifteen prisoners, the rest being killed by musket-shots, arrows, and the sword. When the fight was over, there came another shallop, containing some of my companions. This, although behind time, was yet in season for the booty, which, however, was not of much account. There were only robes of beaver-skin, and dead bodies covered with blood, which the savages would not take the trouble to plunder, laughing at those in the last shallop, who did so ; for the others did not engage in such low business. This, then, is the victory obtained by God’s grace, for gaining which they gave us much praise.
The savages scalped the dead, and took the heads as a trophy of victory, according to their custom. They returned with fifty wounded Montagnais and Algonquins and three dead, singing and leading their prisoners with them. They attached to sticks in the prows of their canoes the heads and a dead body cut into quarters, to eat in revenge, as they said. In this way they went to our barques off the River of the Iroquois.
We see similar themes to the other early New World battles. A few musketeers are able to hold their own against a great number of archers. The musketeers multiply their firepower by loading extra bullets. The lethality of the archers is low. Even though an arrow wound through the neck sounds very serious, it did not even put Champlain hors de combat. The muskets, on the other hand, were powerful enough to blast right through the wooden walls of the barricade.
The Indians however were cunning, and successfully adapted to resist Champlain’s muskets, as we will see in the next post.
A follow-up the earlier fire arrow post. Nathanael Nye’s 1670 book “A Treatise of Artificiall Fire-Works for War and Recreation” contains another recipe. The illustration demonstrates naval use, but the description makes clear that it is also intended to be used against individuals.
Get a long shaft of wood ; and joyne unto it an iron head, after the manner of the figure in the margen; and about the middle of that head make first a linnen bag, in form of an Egg, leaving open at the end before a hole, that it may be fitted with the composition following. Take one pound of [salt]Peter, half a pound of Gun-powder, and as much Brimstone in powder, all these ingredients being well mixed, and mingled with oyle of Petrioll : with these fill the bag round about the arrow head : then let all be bound about with wire, and for the priming of these, dip Cotton-week into Gunpowder wet with water, let the Cotton be well dried again before it be applyed. Now for the joyning of your wooden shaft to the arrow head, it ought to be done so slightly, that being fastened into any thing, those may be deceived, and pull it onely away, & to hinder that one may not pluck out the head with their hands there may be made a small hole quite thorow backwards, and so a man will be prevented in assaying to pull it off, although it stick in his fellows clothes.
Not sure what “oyle of Petrioll” is, unless Nye means petroleum. The “cotton-week” probably means cotton wick. Again, not sure why the wick should be cotton. Nye’s matchcord recipe calls for hemp or tow.
Andrew Battell was an English trader who spent a very long time as a prisoner and conscript in Portuguese West Africa. He made multiple failed escape attempts.
After Battell’s first attempt to escape by stowing away aboard a Dutch ship, he was sentenced to military service. He spent six years in Fort Massangano before making a plan with some of the Portuguese and Egyptian soldiers to desert.
The fifth day, at night, we came to the river Dande, and travelled so far to the eastward that we were right against the Serras, or mountains of Manibangono, which is a lord that warreth against the King of Congo, whither we intended to go. Here we passed the river, and rested half the night. And being two leagues from the river we met with negroes, which asked us whither we travelled. We told them that we were going to Congo. These negroes said that we were in the wrong way, and that they were Masicongos,and would carry us to Bambe,where the Duke of Bambe lay
So we went some three miles east, up into the land, till we perceived that we were in the wrong way, for we travelled by the sun, and would go no further that way, and turned back again to the westward; they stood before us with their bows, arrows and darts, ready to shoot at us. But we, determining to go through them, discharged six muskets together and killed four, which did amaze them, and made them to retire. But they followed us four or five miles, and hurt two of our company with their arrows.
Battell was captured again two days later, and again sentenced to life in military service.
At that time the governor sent four hundred men, that were banished out of Portugal, up into the country of Elambe. Then I was with proclamation through the city banished for ever to the wars, and marched with them to Sowonso, which is a lord that obeyeth the Duke of Bamba; from thence to Samanibansa, and then to Namba Calamba, which is a great lord, who did resist us. But we burnt his town, and then he obeyed us, and brought three thousand warlike negroes to us. From thence [we marched] to Sollancango, a little lord, that fought very desperately with us, but was forced to obey; and then to Combrecaianga, where we remained two years. From this place we gave many assaults and brought many lords to subjection. We were fifteen thousand strong, and marched to the Outeiro, or mountain, of Ingombe. But first we burnt all Ingasia, which was his country, and then we came to the chief town of Ingombe, which is half a day’s journey to go up.
This lord came upon us with more than twenty thousand bows, and spoilt many of our men. But with our shot we made a great spoil among them, whereupon he retired up into the mountain, and sent one of his captains to our general, signifying that the next day he would obey him.
Battell is frustratingly brief in describing this long campaign, especially the battle against the twenty thousand archers. I would like to find another eyewitness for this battle, but I’m not sure it even has a name. The translator notes that “Battell seems to have been among the reinforcements despatched after the disastrous campaign in the spring of 1596. The “General” of Battell was João de Velloria, a Spaniard, who was Capitâo mór do Campo.”
Battell’s Portuguese comrades soon abandoned him as a hostage to the “Jagas”, a predatory warband, but Battell’s skill with the musket won him the respect of the Jaga’s leader.
We entered into the province of Casama, and came to one of the greatest Lords, which was called Langere. He obeyed the great Gaga, and carried us to a Lord called Casoch, which was a great warrior, for he had some seven years before overthrown the Portugals camp, and killed eight hundred Portugals and forty-thousand negroes, that were on the Portugals side. This Lord did stoutly withstand the Gagas, and had the first day a mighty battle, but had not the victory that day. So we made a sconce of trees after their fashion, and remained four months in the wars with them. I was so highly esteemed with the great Gaga, because I killed many negroes with my musket, that I had anything that I desired of him. He would also, when they went out to the wars, give charge to his men over me. By this means I have been often carried away in their arms, and saved my life. Here we were within three days’ journey of Massangano, before mentioned, where the Portugals have a fort: and I sought means, and got to the Portugals again with merchant negroes that came to the camp to buy slaves.
I’m going to make two or three posts on French explorers and their battles against native archery. This post will focus on Samuel Champlain, explorer of Quebec and the Great Lakes region. Champlain fought in several battles against the Iroquois on behalf of his allies, the Huron and Algonquins.
In July 1609, Champlain and two French companions, armed with harquebuses, traveled with their allies up the Richelieu River and met the Iroquois war party.
After this singing, dancing, and bandying words on both sides to the fill, when day came, my companions and myself continued under cover, for fear that the enemy would see us. We arranged our arms in the best manner possible, being, however, separated, each in one of the canoes of the savage Montagnais. After arming ourselves with light armor, we each took an arquebuse, and went on shore. I saw the enemy go out of their barricade, nearly two hundred in number, stout and rugged ‘ in appearance. They came at a slow pace towards us, with a dignity and assurance which greatly amused me, having three chiefs at their head. Our men also advanced in the same order, telling me that those who had three large plumes were the chiefs, and that they had only these three, and that they could be distinguished by these plumes, which were much larger than those of their companions, and that I should do what I could to kill them.
I promised to do all in my power, and said that I was very sorry they could not understand me, so that I might give order and shape to their mode of attacking their enemies, and then we should, without doubt, defeat them all ; but that this could not now be obviated, and that I should be very glad to show them my courage and good-will when we should engage in the fight.
As soon as we had landed, they began to run for some two hundred paces towards their enemies, who stood firmly, not having as yet noticed my companions, who went into the woods with some savages. Our men began to call me with loud cries; and, in order to give me a passage-way, they opened in two parts, and put me at their head, where I marched some twenty paces in advance of the rest, until I was within about thirty paces of the enemy, who at once noticed me, and, halting, gazed at me, as I did also at them. When I saw them making a move to fire at us, I rested my musket against my cheek, and aimed directly at one of the three chiefs. With the same shot, two fell to the ground ; and one of their men was so wounded that he died some time after. I had loaded my musket with four balls.
When our side saw this shot so favorable for them, they began to raise such loud cries that one could not have heard it thunder. Meanwhile, the arrows flew on both sides. The Iroquois were greatly astonished that two men had been so quickly killed, although they were equipped with armor woven from cotton thread, and with wood which was proof against their arrows. This caused great alarm among them. As I was loading again, one of my companions fired a shot from the woods, which astonished them anew to such a degree that, seeing their chiefs dead, they lost courage, and took to flight, abandoning their camp and fort, and fleeing into the woods, whither I pursued them, killing still more of them. Our savages also killed several of them, and took ten or twelve prisoners. The remainder escaped with the wounded. Fifteen or sixteen were wounded on our side with arrow-shots; but they were soon healed.
Loading the musket with multiple bullets was common. John Smith did the same thing in his skirmishes with Powhatan. Contemporary military writers Humfrey Barwick and Thomas Digges both mention the practice. Digges, an experienced artillerist, put the effective range of this “case shot” at 100 paces.
The problem with loading a musket with more than one bullet is that it increased the pressure in the barrel, and with it the chance that the weapon could explode. Indeed, in an earlier skirmish, Champlain’s musket, “bursting in my hands, came near killing me.”
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.
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.