Quantcast
  1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

"Guns proliferated in spite of themselves..."

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by TarDevil, Mar 23, 2012.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. TarDevil

    TarDevil Member

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2009
    Messages:
    1,481
    Location:
    NC Coast
    ... or something like that. It was in the Historical notes of Bernard Cornwell's The Archers Tale.

    The Battle of Crécy was one of the earliest recorded battles where guns (cannons, to be more precise) were used, but the French with their cumbersome guns were soundly defeated by the salvos of arrows from the English.

    In two other of Cornwell's series (Sharpe Series and The Starbuck Chronicles, some of most favorite books), we are treated to some accurate and graphic portrayals of frontloading warfare. Again I wondered how those soldiers would've fared if hundreds of arrows were raining down while they were stuffing powder, wadding and lead down the barrels of their Springfield muskets and Baker rifles.

    So what was the biggest motivator in gun development? I submit that concealment drove the advances in firearm technology. Carrying a bow was no more difficult that carrying a long flintlock, powder, lead, etc., but a bow certainly could never be concealed. Those first crude handguns offered the first and best (short of edged weapons) manner of self defense that could be carried under outer garments.

    Have you ever thought about this? Advanced societies are all about making new and better wheels, but there had to be an objective in those early years to staying with a weapon so troublesome to employ.

    Alas, my work day is slow... hence such meandering thoughts!
     
  2. Library Guy

    Library Guy Member

    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2006
    Messages:
    130
    Location:
    Millersville, MD
    Guns replaced bows on the battlefield long before guns became concealable.

    It’s faster and cheaper to make a musketman than an archer. To bend a war bow takes a prodigious amount of strength and requires uncommon skill to hit a distant target. Archers are specialists and thus are unruly and prone to democratic ideas. (So are riflemen.) Musketmen are cogs.
     
  3. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Member

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2002
    Messages:
    23,648
    Location:
    Los Anchorage
    I actually had a little on-line debate with the good Mr. Cornwell about this years ago. I bow to his knowledge of the long bow, but he's not all that knowledgeable about smoke poles. With early modern stuffers the powder was really powder, not grain, and it burned poorly. Velocities were low, impurities were high, projectiles were sometimes stones! Accuracy was abysmal. The early arms were not effectively used on the battlefield, either. And as a consequence in those days a soldier with a stuffer would be easy pickings for the bowmen.

    But firearms evolved, black powder got much better, and tactics improved. The development of the Swiss pike and shot formations was very successful, and the advent of better firearms made the pike unnecessary. There's a universe of difference between a Brown Bess of the 18th century and a crude gonne of the 16th, particularly when you consider powder and projectile evolution. The initial appeal of firearms may have been the minimal training need to use them, but technology soon eclipsed bows. And that's not even considering the advances made to artillery in that period, which turned them from semi-fixed siege tools to fast moving instant death to anyone in their way.

    Now, here's where Bernard overstates the case for his beloved bowmen. He was claiming that trained longbow archers could lay waste to *ANY* era of smokepole shooters. But as you get into the later 18th and particularly mid-19th centuries, there is no way that would happen. By the time you get to the rifle muskets of the Civil War era, you have firearms that would utterly annihilate any group of archers within visual sight. They're man accurate for hundreds of yards and deliver wounds far more wicked than any bow's iron warhead. They also have a much faster rate of fire than primitive arquebus.

    Another big issue--maybe the most significant--is the overall tactical position of the longbow units on the battlefield. Put simply they're darned vulnerable and need constant protection. In close combat they have much less firepower because only the front rank can fire. Their weapons are fragile and cavalry can sweep right through them. Musket units, on the other hand, can stack their ranks, form a block and decimate mounted charges. That's why the musket balls are so big--to stop a charging warhorse. Instead of having to protect fragile bow strings, their arms are also de facto spears in close combat, and darned effective ones at that. So if you charge a unit of infantry armed with 18th century muskets you're asking for a world of hurt at long, medium, short AND contact range.

    Artillery was the real queen by that time, and the science had evolved enormously by the 18th century. Artillery engineers could drop cannon ball with great precision and even "skip" them through ranks or bounce them off objects to veer back into targets. The generals loved them for it. They also had a variety of projectiles to choose from. No longbow can outshoot a cannon, which means longbows cannot be used at all in siege warfare of the 18th century. And if they made trouble on the open field they'd be nailed with artillery fire they could not respond to.

    So if a longbow unit were to have appeared at Waterloo, it could have made some trouble at first but would have been driven off by musket fire, canister shot and lance charges. In a few minutes all those lifetimes of hard training would be gone forever.

    In the end, longbows fell out of favor for both economic and technological reasons. Even with the best of training, they would have been of little use for more than hit-and-run skirmishes by the 18th century.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2012
  4. GambJoe

    GambJoe Member

    Joined:
    May 24, 2010
    Messages:
    226
    Location:
    Richmond TX
    Maybe a very small part but....

    From what I read it took allot of training learn how to shoot a bow. Also it took a life time practice to maintain your skill. An archer would have to be rather strong (large) to shoot a bow so you need to eat more than the average peasant. Hard to do in medieval times. If he were in a battle he would probably be at a disadvantage when foot soldiers managed to break their position. Hence no one wanted to be an archer.

    When the musket came along practically anyone could learn to shoot. Put two armies facing each other at 50 yards and let it rip. Around revolutionary times the govenments were asking builders to design a long gun with interchangeable parts. It took until our pre-civil war to get that technology.

    Funny thing, a long time ago there was a NYT's article about revisionist historians who were coming up with some questionable answers about the usefulness of long gun's during the revolutionary war. They went over documents showing how much lead was procured for long gun which came to about 20,000 rounds for every British soldier killed, proving that the long gun was useless.
     
  5. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2002
    Messages:
    18,372
    Location:
    Deep in the Ozarks
    That's essentially correct -- the famous English archers (who were mostly Welsh, by the way) were professional soldiers. They trained from childhood, and were difficult to replace when lost in action.

    The bow itself was an expensive weapon -- you have only to look at English surnames to see that. People named Boyer, Bowman, Shafter, Fletcher, Arrowsmith, Stringer, and so on are descended from people who specialized in making the parts of the system -- the bowstave, the shaft, the arrowhead, the string and so on.

    People who lived at the time of transition explained it very well -- after a month or two in the field, with all the attendant diseases of campaigning, there were few archers "who can make strong shoots." But musketeers, as long as they could stand, could shoot just as hard as ever.

    Also tactics changed -- the pikeman emerged, a product of growning towns, where men could earn enough to afford breasplates, helmets and so on, and where they could drill together. The pike itself was a protection against arrows -- the longbow had an arching trajectory, so the arrows came down on their targets and struck or ricocheted off the staffs of the pikes held above the formation before reaching the men holding them.
     
  6. TarDevil

    TarDevil Member

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2009
    Messages:
    1,481
    Location:
    NC Coast
    Interesting. Much can be learned from the fertile minds in this place! (That was NOT sarcastic)
     
  7. Tinker

    Tinker Member

    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2004
    Messages:
    547
    Location:
    Alabama
    "Guns replaced bows on the battlefield long before guns became concealable."

    I would agree with that as a general rule. Save for one exception, during a certain time frame.

    In the Eastern Woodlands, when whites first brought firearms, the local archers (Eastern Indian tribes) dropped the longbow like a bad habit and picked up smoke poles. Those were hunter/warriors who marched on foot (like the English longbow archers)

    The exception was later, during the indian wars on the plains. Those horse archers did not give up bows until repeating arms came on the scene. The rate of fire was why they kept the bow so long in that time/place.
     
  8. Dr.Rob

    Dr.Rob Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2002
    Messages:
    14,474
    Location:
    Centennial, CO
    Making a lethal archer takes time. ANY conscript with a firearm was potentially lethal from the get-go.
     
  9. Robert

    Robert Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2006
    Messages:
    10,050
    Location:
    Texan by birth, in Colorado cause I hate humidity
    I moved this to General from Handguns as it is not really Handgun realted. This is a great topic and may see more traffic here.
     
  10. medalguy
    • Contributing Member

    medalguy Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2009
    Messages:
    3,190
    Location:
    New Mexico
    "Guns proliferated in spite of themselves..."

    That's what I keep telling my wife about the vault.....

    Hey, seriously, really interesting post and followups.
     
  11. AlexanderA

    AlexanderA Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2011
    Messages:
    2,859
    Location:
    Virginia
    The bows of the Native Americans, at the time of the first contact, were in no way comparable to the English longbows. In fact the Jamestown settlers were deathly afraid of the natives obtaining English longbows. When the Virginia Company sent out a shipment of longbows to the settlers, the settlers intercepted the ship carrying the longbows and had them offloaded in Bermuda. (The settlers weren't as afraid of the Indians obtaining firearms, because they knew the Indians had no easy way of getting powder and lead. Arrows were a different story.)
     
  12. throdgrain

    throdgrain Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2007
    Messages:
    829
    Location:
    South of London
    Bernard Cornwell writes some great books dont he? :)

    My favourite are the Warlord Chronicles, and the 5th century legendary King Arthur period, and the take-over of Christianity. Please read 'em, I'm sure you'll love em!

    I recently read one called The Fort, about the war of Independance, worth a look too.
     
  13. gunnutery

    gunnutery Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2009
    Messages:
    1,682
    Location:
    Iowa
    To go along with what others have said, it not only takes time to train a bowman but it takes plenty of time to make arrows VS. pouring hot lead into a mold.

    I'll have to check out the books.
     
  14. JRH6856

    JRH6856 Member

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2011
    Messages:
    3,828
    Location:
    Flower Mound, TX
    Early assault weapons ban with import restrictions? Was there a checklist?
     
  15. mortablunt

    mortablunt Member

    Joined:
    May 1, 2011
    Messages:
    2,590
    Location:
    Deutschland
    It's really easy to train a gunman. It's really easy to train 100 gunman. It's really easy to train 10000 gunmen. It's hard to train even a single archer.
     
  16. exavid

    exavid Member

    Joined:
    Dec 22, 2010
    Messages:
    645
    Location:
    Medford, Oregon
    I believe the crossbow was developed more for its ease of training crossbowmen than its effectiveness which was for the most part less than the long bow.
    One advantage for the Indians of the new world was that the bow was nearly silent and didn't give away the shooter's position which was a valuable attribute since woods dwelling Indians didn't fight on open ground in mass formations as Europeans did.
     
  17. Patriotme

    Patriotme Member

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2009
    Messages:
    584
    Bernard Cornwell is a one of my favourite authors. His books are like an addiction once you discover them.
     
  18. gunsandreligion

    gunsandreligion Member

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2009
    Messages:
    435
    Location:
    West Michigan
    I believe that the English longbow had no sporting purpose under 922r.:p This discussion has really sparked my interest in the weaponry of that time, now I have a lot of reading to do.
     
  19. medalguy
    • Contributing Member

    medalguy Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2009
    Messages:
    3,190
    Location:
    New Mexico
    Amazon.com for printed or e versions.:D
     
  20. TarDevil

    TarDevil Member

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2009
    Messages:
    1,481
    Location:
    NC Coast
    Indeed!
     
  21. twofifty

    twofifty Member

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2007
    Messages:
    1,611
    muskets from fighting tops

    Glad I stumbled onto this great thread.

    I recall accounts of muskets and later on rifles being used at sea by embarked Marines of various European navies. The marines would fire from vantage points high up the rigging, sometimes called fighting tops.

    That is exactly how British Admiral Lord Nelson met his fate -a French musket ball to the chest- at Trafalgar in 1805. The British devastated the French-Spanish armada, but Nelson came back home in a pickling barrel.
     
  22. Pfletch83

    Pfletch83 member

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2011
    Messages:
    354
    This thread has got me thinking.

    How well would a rifle squad of WW2 era U.S. G.I.'s (or their later Vietnam era counterparts) do against a dark age army (Granted those G.I.'s would have twice the ammo loadout as usual)?
     
  23. throdgrain

    throdgrain Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2007
    Messages:
    829
    Location:
    South of London
    One of our greatest heroes of all time I reckon, the victory at Trafalgar ensured our domination of the seas for another hundred years, saved our country from possible invasion by the Frenchies and defeated a fleet twice as big as our own :)

    Nelson could have hidden out the way during the battle, but stood there like a great big shiny target for everyone to see. He developed a new strategy too -

    Or something like that :)
     
  24. 545days

    545days Member

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2007
    Messages:
    180
    Location:
    TX
    Don't forget that humans tend to be frightened off by the display of power. The gun with it's loud report, muzzle flash and smoke production made a far more impressive display of power than a bow.

    This display had as much to do with initial success of guns (especially when facing cultures that had never faced guns or cannon in warfare) as their lethality did. It is far easier to win a battle when significant portions of the enemy have broken ranks and run away.
     
  25. parsimonious_instead

    parsimonious_instead Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2010
    Messages:
    791
    I was less than happy about the mean things Cornwell said about 1911s in his book Wildtrack... :(
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page