Andrew Battell of Leigh in Angola

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.

Fort Massangano, where Andrew Battell spent six years.

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.

Samuel Champlain, Part 1

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.

The translator notes that “This mode of fighting, in close array, shown also in a drawing which in the original accompanies this portion of the text, contrasts strongly with that which the Indians followed after they became acquainted with fire-arms.”

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.”

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.

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.

Bows Vs. Muskets in the Imjin War, part 1

The Imjin War was an invasion of Korea by the Japanese between 1592-1598. Although the Koreans were initially no match for the Japanese armies, the Japanese were eventually driven out thanks to Chinese military assistance and several decisive naval battles.

At the beginning of the war, the Koreans had virtually no firearms. The Japanese, on the other hand, had large numbers of them, and had trained their musketeers to perfection in their own civil wars. As a result, we have a lot of accounts of battles between the two weapons. The results are consistent with what happened elsewhere in the world: the bow was handily outperformed. Like the English, the Korean’s experience with firearms caused them to slowly but completely phase bows out of their armies and replace them with muskets. For a great write-up of this transition, see “A Korean Military Revolution?: Parallel Military Innovations in East Asia and Europe” by Tonio Andrade, Hyeok Hweon Kang, and Kirsten Cooper.

To start with, here are some exerpts from Choi Byonghyon’s translation of “The Book of Corrections”. The Book of Corrections was a collection of memoirs from a Korean minister, Yu Songnyong.

p. 27

At last, our envoys left for Japan in April 1590 [March 1590 lunar] with Yoshitoshi and others. At the moment of their departure, Yoshitoshi presented His Majesty with two peacocks, a spear, and a sword as a gift. His Majesty  ordered the peacocks to be freed in the islands of the Bay of Namyang and the musket to be kept in the armory. This was the first time that Korea came to possess a musket.*

*At first, King Sonjo and his officials and military commanders did not realize the importance of muskets, the major weapon of the Japanese army. That is why the king simply ordered the musket presented by the Japanese envoy to be put away in the state armory. A few years later, however, King Sonjo’s view of the new weapon radically changed. When Minister Kim Ungnam said that bows were superior to muskets in power, the king tried to correct him with this comment: ‘The power of muskets is five times greater than arrows’.

p. 60

The officer rode on a horse, and two soldiers from the post station walked by him slowly, holding the bridle of the horse. Hiding in ambush under the bridge, Japanese soldiers with muskets shot down the officer from his horse and cut off his head and ran off with it. Upon seeing this, our soldiers lost all their fighting spirit.

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.

p. 88

Han Kukham, the provincial army commander of North Hamgyong province, led the soldiers of the Six Garrisons and met the enemy at the Haejongch’ang warehouse. Our soldiers of the northern province being skilled at archery and horsemanship, and its flat and wide ground good for riding horses, those who were on horseback discharged arrows at the enemy, attacking them by turn from the left and right. Unable to withstand our attack, the enemy retreated to the inside of the warehouse.

By that time, it was already dark. The general opinion was that our troops should rest for the night and continue their attack on the following day, waiting for the enemy to come out. However, Han Kukham would not listen and commanded his army to surround the enemy. Using stacks of grain from the warehouse for their cover, the enemy defended themselves from flying arrows and rocks and simultaneously fired their muskets at our forces. Our troops surrounded the enemy standing close together like the teeth of a comb or stacks of firewood. Therefore, when the enemy muskets were fired, they never failed to hit their targets and, furthermore, knocked down three or four men at a time. So our army at last collapsed.

p. 101

Six or seven of the enemy took their position at the edge of the river and discharged their muskets toward our fortress. The sound of their muskets was terribly loud and intimidating, and the bullets crossed the river to fall down in the fortress. Some of the longest shots, flying over a distance of more than a thousand paces, fell on the roof tiles of Taedonggwan Hall. Some of them even drove as deep as several inches into the wooden columns of the battlements.

The enemy soldiers with red uniforms approached and saw a small group of our people sitting at Yon’gwangjong Pavilion. They mistook us for our military commanders and, crawling over a sand hill, fired their muskets, hitting two among us. However, because of the long distance, the two were not hurt seriously. I ordered Officer Kang Saik to retaliate with p’yongjon arrows*, protecting themselves with a shield. As his arrows flew all the way to the sandy beaches on the other side of the river, the enemy was surprised and eventually retreated.

* A small arrow so sharp and fast that it was able to easily penetrate armor and helmets.

p. 119

At midnight of the same day [1592.7.19 lunar], Zhao set out from Sunan and launched an attack on P’yongyang. There was heavy rain, and no guards were seen on the walls of the fortress. The Ming army entered through Ch’ilsongmun Gate, but the roads inside the walls were so narrow and circuitous that it was hard for them to pass through while riding their horses. The enemy soldiers concealed themselves and viciously discharged their firearms at their opponents. The showering bullets hit General Shi Ru and killed him, as well as many of his soldiers along with their horses. Zhao Chengxun finally ordered a retreated, but the Japanese did not chase them speedily. However, some of the soldiers who were in the rear, especially those who were stuck in the mud, were all caught and killed by the Japanese.

The last one is interesting because the Japanese were able to overcome the Chinese soldiers despite the heavy rain.

I will add a few more incidents from the Imjin War in a future post.

Lindsay Boynton, The Elizabethan Militia, 1967

Boynton doesn’t mince his words. Page 113:

“One of the reasons that firearms superseded bows, it is suggested, is that they could be mastered in a shorter time. Such an argument runs wholly counter to the growing professionalisation of military affairs. Training, in particular, was becoming ever more comprehensive and the specious argument that firearms required less, not more, training, bears all the marks of a propagandist’s sophistry. No contrast could be more pointed between the old assumption that levies were briefly trained en route for battle, and that implicit in the whole conception of the trained bands, that a certain minimum of discipline and instruction were essential.”

The great emphasis placed on sufficiently training shot is so clear that anyone seriously asserting that muskets replaced bows because the muskets could be passed out to a great untrained rabble clearly has not done their research.