Interesting response re. longbows.


July 11, 2003, 06:14 PM
A bit from Bernard Cornwall's Q&A regarding longbows vs. muskets was posted, and I sent a little letter to him pointing out that his dates were off. Amazingly, he's standing by his assertion that longbows would have had an advantage EVEN AGAINST CIVIL WAR ERA TROOPS!!! Whatever he's smoking, I want some of it. Either Union or Confederate riflemen would have turned a squad of archers into swiss cheese long before the archers could get into range. There's as much difference between an English Civil War musket and a US Civil War rifle musket as there is between a trapdoor springfield and an M-16A2. Probably more.

You said: "I don't think that it's until the 1860's, when breech-loading rifles appeared, that gunmen would have a chance against archers." I think you need to shift that date back a bit. You're apparently forgetting the advent of advanced rifle muskets, which were the primary infantry weapons of the US Civil War. These fired Minnie balls and were accurate out to 400 yards or more. Riflemen on both sides were able to repeatedly mow down thousands of foes long before they reached what would have been effective bow range. No squad of archers would have stood a chance. Indeed, the notion is absurd. So there are muzzleloaders, and there are muzzleloaders. And they are not all created equal.

A: Of course they're not, but I will stand by my absurdity. It's all covered in my previous answer, and if you disagree, fine! And, though I disagree with you, I would not accuse you of absurdity.

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4v50 Gary
July 11, 2003, 07:14 PM
The average rifled musket was accurate out to 500 yards. After 500 yards, the Enfield ruled. Counter against the potential effectiveness of the modern minie gun is the fact that most battles of the Civil War was fought at 75 yards and less. Pickets would entrench within 100 yards of one another and the battle line a hundred or two behind them. From what I can tell, most Civil War units were taught to drill and had very little practice in marksmanship. Neither Casey nor Hardee (drill manuals for the Fed & ConFed respectively) addresses individual marksmanship. Every now and then you can read about a unit practicing marksmanship. Formal Confederate training didn't begin until late in 1862 (Cleburne's Division only) and 1863 for the rest of the Army of Tennessee when Benham's manual was printed. The Army of Northern Virginia didn't get a marksmanship manual until 1864 (Wilcox). I don't think the Feds ever issued a manual. The US Sharpshooters had target practice as part of their training (along with skirmish drill and marching).

To sidetrack on training, a lot of "Western" units in the Federal Army were just as good as the Southern boys. They knew how to hunt and stalk as well as anyone else. It confounded some of the Southerners who believed that one Southerner could whup ten Yankees. In reality, neither side enjoyed a monopoly on marksmanship, hunting or stalking skills.

Returning to armaments, many units early in the war still carried the smoothbore musket (at Big Bethel I don't think any Confederates had rifles and at Dam No. 1 near Yorktown, Magruder only had four companies equipped with rifles. Magruder pleaded for Hood's Texans as they had some rifles among them (and knew how to use it). I don't think it was until late 1863 that most had rifles. Didn't the 69th NY flank one of Pickett's unit and volley fire with buck n' ball?

I believe Cornwall is thinking is that given the normal fighting distance of the Civil War, that archers with their higher volume of fire, could decimate a rifled musket armed unit. Remember, not all soldiers equipped with rifles are sharpshooters who can hit at 900 yards, yet alone 500. The one advantage the riflemen have is in open order tactics and quicker movement and yes, an entire regiment can be assigned to skirmish duties. As a riflemen assigned to skirmish duties, you can crawl and hide behind rocks & trees. The rifle skirmisher may be able to incite "panic" as they proceeed to deal out their own death from afar.

enough babble...

July 11, 2003, 07:29 PM
Actually, it is an intriguing scenario. English longbowmen, capable of delivering barrage fire up to a quarter mile, against Civil War riflemen also delivering fire at a maximum effective range of 400 yards. The big question is, while the Civil War rifled musket is capable of aimed fire to 400 yards, how many Civil War solders could deliver aimed fire to targets at 400 yards? Ten arrows per minute against 3 Minie' balls per minute.


4v50 Gary
July 11, 2003, 08:12 PM
BTW, if we're talking unaimed volley fire (yes you aim but the emphasis is a volley fire against a massed target), well the riflemen could set their sights at 800-900 yards and blast away from there. The Minie ball is deadly even at 1,000 (ballistics isn't good compared to a 30-06), but it'll reach.

July 12, 2003, 01:28 AM
There's an easy way to see what I'm talking about. Look at the number of dead at your average Civil War battle and compare it with the the toll from a Napoleonic battle. My English buddy is thinking in Napoleonic terms. So were a lot of idiotic Union generals, and their troops died by the tens of thousands as a result.

Trained longbow shooters vs. trained reb riflemen = A LOT OF DEAD ARCHERS. This is one reason there weren't any units of archers in the Civil War. Even mounted units were largely relegated to recon rather than front line assault. By 1864, the casualty rates from Civil War battles began to rival those of WWI, and even featured trench warfare.

If you have any remaining doubts about the lethality of Civil War small arms fire, I offer you this list. Granted, primitive artillery accounted for some losses. But before TNT it didn't have the killing power it has now. Rifled muskets did a great deal of this work. Archers have never done anything like this:

Battle of Gettysburg
Casualties: 51,112 (23,049 Union and 28,063 Confederate)


Battle of Chickamauga
Casualties: 34,624 (16,170 Union and 18,454 Confederate)


Battle of Chancellorsville

Casualties: 30,099 (17,278 Union and 12,821 Confederate)


Battle of Spotsylvania

Casualties: 27,399 (18,399 Union and 9)000 Confederate)


Battle of Antietam

Casualties: 26,134 (12,410 Union and 13,724 Confederate)


Battle of The Wilderness

Casualties: 25,416 (17,666 Union and 7,750 Confederate)


Battle of Second Manassas
Date: August 29-30, 1862

Casualties: 25,251 (16,054 Union and 9,197 Confederate)


Battle of Stone's River

Casualties: 24,645 (12,906 Union and 11,739 Confederate)


Battle of Shiloh

Casualties: 23,741 (13,047 Union and 10,694 Confederate)


Battle of Fort Donelson
Casualties: 19,455 (2,832 Union and 16,623 Confederate)


At Agincourt, where the French were shot at will by English archers, they lost 5,000 men. And that was about as bad as it got.

July 12, 2003, 01:39 AM
Pardon me, this is a far cry from my forte, but I was thinking (rare). But if archers were common, wouldn't there most likely be a different set of tactics used for rifle/musket vs archer than those used for rifle/musket vs rifle/musket? If a whole bunch of archers were known to be around, wouldn't the guys with rifles find a big open field with lots of distance and wait so they can send a couple of volleys toward the archers before the archers got in range? Just thinking here. Not that I know squat about group tactics and so forth.

4v50 Gary
July 12, 2003, 11:01 AM
"Weapons affects tactics" - Guderian

Can't assume longbowmen are stupid and if they know what a Civil War Army Corps' capability (infantry, artillery) can do, they'll probably resort to hit & run. A Civil War general will deploy his artillery to "soften" up the target. Once the archers are thought to be disheartened (breaking ranks to skedaddle, formation loses cohesion, then an advance will be ordered and the infantry will probably be supported by light (horse) artillery that will approach enough to open grape shot (and cannister if they can get close enough).

Face it, if it came to long range volleys exchanged in the open, the soldiers with rifled muskets will prevail. If however the general of the rifle armed troops is dumb enough (Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor) advance in the open against and entrenched/fortified enemy, he's asking for a disaster. Given the same circumstances and with troops armed with the older 1841 Springfield smoothbore musket, they would resort to siege warfare to minimize casulties.

July 12, 2003, 06:28 PM
Training. It takes 3 months to produce a musketeer capable of hitting something at 300 yards. It takes 20 years to produce a longbowman who can do the same.

Marko Kloos
July 12, 2003, 06:53 PM
Training. It takes 3 months to produce a musketeer capable of hitting something at 300 yards. It takes 20 years to produce a longbowman who can do the same.


And that is precisely why nobody would use archers anymore, even if the range and rate of fire of the longbow and the rifle were equal.

It takes years and years to train a skilled archer, while it only takes 13 weeks to turn a snot-nosed civilian into someone who can hit a man-sized target out to 500 yards at the rifle range on Parris Island USMCRD.

July 13, 2003, 06:54 AM
Yep ditto the above two posts- -

The bald guy on The History Channel that hosts the combat program (can't remember his name or the program name) had a show about archers last week. He pointed out, not only the time it takes to train, but also the draw weight of a typical longbow @ ~ 150 pounds.

@ 10 arrows a min that would mean drawing 150 lb bow 10 times in a min.
That would make for some pretty short battles I'm a thinkin.

July 13, 2003, 07:06 AM
what about the archers indirect fire capablity?

4v50 Gary
July 13, 2003, 11:02 AM
Indirect fire? Sure they can, but I'm not sure if they had a sophisticated signalling system back in the days of the olde. By the Civil War time, they had semaphore flags (wig-wags), telegraph, balloon reconnaisance, and a primitive form of wireless telegraph (limited to 75 miles - example is displayed by the National Park Service at Chatam House, part of the Fredericksburg NPS) - all of which can allow for quicker communication. BTW, anybody ever do a study of how many arrows an archer had available? I remember that they ran out sometimes.

Makes me wonder if Cornwall was thinking of musket (smoothbore) armed soldiers or minie rifle armed soldiers. A lot of the musket armed soldiers were really disadvantaged when fighting rifle armed soldiers. They'd have to wait until they could march within range (or the other approach close enough) before they could fire.

Leaky Waders
July 13, 2003, 11:09 AM
IMHP Archers have no advantage whatsoever in the Civil War battlefield...

*the technology was available...neither side used it..nor did napolean or wellington...for a reason.

*bow strings get wet..and become ineffective.

*massed bowman are artillery...much better artillery (range and lethality) existed at the time.

*bows are less effective in forested areas, against sunken roads, persons behind fences, little round top etc.

*you can't attach a bayonet to a bow ;)

Sure, in a weird board game where someone can theorize and place troops in little squares a squad of archers may turn the tide in some mock scenario...however, in the era of the american civil war archery as a battlefield tactic had run its course.

My two fletches,


July 13, 2003, 11:18 AM
Yes but what about that new and improved bow called the crossbow? It still offered sights (like the rifle) and was effective to at least 300 yards or better and offered a rate of fire equal the rifle. Low tech weapon that would have been within the South's industrial might to mass produce using local, abundant resources. Not the whole army but a mixture, the arrow(bolt) can be a "terror weapon" as the bayonet is. Flame On!

July 13, 2003, 08:05 PM
lendringser on the training factor, I have heard that was why the medieval Brits banned bowling, because it interfered with archery practice! :)

Then there is the logistics factor. How long does it take to mold a minnie ball versus to forge an arrowhead? How long does it take to purify enough gunpowder for a thousand troops to shoot twenty shots each versus how long would it take to split, shave and fletch 20,000 arrows? I think there would be definite problems in resupplying archers.

July 13, 2003, 09:20 PM
Well, if you can swallow a lot of "IF"s then archers would have the advantage.

IF the encounters took place at short range but not hand-to-hand range.
IF you had equal numbers of equally SKILLED personnel on both sides. (That means capable of equal marksmanship--not simply given the same amount of training.)
IF you had equal numbers of load (balls/powder/caps vs arrows) on both sides.
IF the encounter doesn't take so long that the archers become exhausted.

THEN obviously the archers have the advantage since they can fire lethal projectiles at a higher rate.


Encounters didn't always take place at short range (arrows don't have the range that a rifle does) and when they did, hand-to-hand combat often took place as well. A man with a bow is at a significant hand-to-hand disadvantage against a man with a bayonet equipped musket/rifle.

As pointed out, it's easier to shoot a rifle accurately than a bow.

Any idiot can cast a lead bullet, and although gunpowder and caps aren't necessarily easy to make, they can be made in large quantities as easy as small quantities. Making an accurate and effective arrow is quite complicated, is a one at a time affair, and requires an expert.

Loading and firing a rifle is much less physically demanding than shooting a bow, and a soldier can carry much more ammunition than an archer can carry arrows.

In the real world, rifles win--and it's not hard to understand why. Anyone who thinks differently isn't thinking right...

July 13, 2003, 09:29 PM
"King James II of Scotland had been so concerned that golf was adversely interfering with archery practice that he banned the game in the Scottish Act of Parliament of 1457 - the first documented reference to today's game. Golf was also banned by James III in 1471."


I haven't played a round of golf in years and years and years.

I can believe the English would ban bowling though. :)


July 14, 2003, 03:21 AM
"Yes but what about that new and improved bow called the crossbow? It still offered sights (like the rifle) and was effective to at least 300 yards or better and offered a rate of fire equal the rifle. "

True, but crossbows like damp less than firearms. The sinew making the string of the bow tends to stretch, and will moulder. It's easy to get tangled in certain varieties of spanners, and the spanners still require muscle power to operate. If the spanner fails in mid stretch, the side effects can be embarrasing for the user. (300lb. bow hitting, say, your kneecap:what:...)

Anyone know how long it takes to make a crossbow? One source I have suggested that it probably took 18th century smiths around 80 hours to fabricate the lock, with at least that for the barrel.

July 14, 2003, 05:48 AM
Correct me if im wrong but it seems that crossbows have a signifacantly lower rate of fire than a long bow.

Also, the long bow idea only works if you ignore artillary. Which makes the whole argument silly in the first place. If you suspend enough disbelief and stack the deck enough in favor of one side you can prove anything you want. its when you get into the real world that things get dicey.

July 14, 2003, 06:52 AM
crossbows have a signifacantly lower rate of fire than a long bow

which is one of the factors leading to the phasing out of the crossbow from most major military formations (i think i DID read of the french still having a unit of crossbowmen in WW1!!! but that's just weird).

July 14, 2003, 10:51 AM
For anyone who bow-hunts, what is the longest distance at which you can reasonably expect to kill a deer?

For anyone who shoots black powder, what is the longest distance at which you can reasonably expect to kill a deer?

Most everything I've read recommends that 35-50 yds is the maximum range one should expect out of a bow, of whatever type.
When compared to a black-powder rifles, round balls are accurate out to about 100 yds. and the minnies are supposedly accurate out further (not sure what their limit is).

If bows were better they would have been using them.

4v50 Gary
July 14, 2003, 10:58 AM
I was told (and do) to sight the round ball rifle in for 75 yards and learn Kentucky Windage for other distances. The Minie rifle generally has a ladder rear sight that allows the shooter to adjust up to 500 yards (and the Enfield about 1,000).

BTW, was reading that Gen. Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, lamented in April, 1864 about the poor marksmanship of his troops. He had ammo issued for target practice. 10 rounds. That's a whole heckuva lot of ammo to learn with. :scrutiny:

Mike Irwin
July 14, 2003, 12:19 PM

You're missing the point of true effectiveness of the bow.

It wasn't aimed fire, it was massed fire dropping hundreds, if not thousands, of arrows down on an opposing formation in a matter of a few minutes.

It was either Crecy or Agincourt where a French knight described the sky as "being blackened by English arrows."

This concept didn't die out with the passing of the bow, either.

Take a look at virtually any bolt-action infantry rifle made up until World War I.

The sights will be regulated for distances up to 2,000 yards or more.

The idea behind that wasn't aimed fire, but the massed fire of an entire formation dropping into an enemy formation.

July 14, 2003, 12:22 PM
Cornwall, though no doubt a great writer, reminds me a bit of a lot of Europeans who will swear up and down that arrows are deadlier than bullets and the knights of old could cut men clean in half with longswords. I think there's some national pride mixed in with these debates. They associate firearms with the USA, and don't want to admit that our legendary warriors and outlaws outgun theirs.

July 14, 2003, 01:16 PM
Interesting studies and debate! Three points in the ongoing longbow vs. muzzleloader debate not yet mentioned:

1. You have to be standing or at least kneeling to shoot a bow. No crawling closer to an enemy position or running and "hitting the dirt" with a still available weapon. I've been told that the ability to "hit the dirt" was a major reason for the top-eject of the M1 Garand. It was thought a magazine sticking out the bottom would interfere with infantry tactics.

2. While a hail of arrows may be intimidating, it is fairly silent. Booming lines of gunfire and blue smoke are more likely to intimidate and keep an enemy in position.

3. It is much easier to walk around with any firearm than any bow. I hunt with both and a walk in the woods is much easier with a gun. I assume this especially true if someone is shooting at you.

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