- Historic Sites
The End Of Formalized Warfare
Military science was very rigid in the 1600’s. It quickly changed when Americans began to fight Indians
August 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 5
The method of attack favored by the Indians was the hit-and-run raid. Striking an isolated cabin or small settlement by surprise, they killed the inhabitants, looted, and then disappeared into the forest. When the settlers organized small bands to pursue the raiders, the Indians ambushed them. Even when he acquired firearms, the Indian did not alter his method of fighting, simply substituting the missile action of the musket for that of the arrow. Moreover, he was now dependent upon the white man for his supply of ammunition.
Against these methods the settlers slowly built up their own system of defense. The transition from the early palisades to permanent forts at strategic points along the frontier was accomplished in rapid order. The first and most important improvement was the blockhouse with its overhanging second story. Placed at the corners of the palisade, it enabled the defenders to enfilade the entire front and to fire down upon the attacker below.
The settlers did not rely wholly on forts and blockhouses but sought to gain advance notice of raiding parties by sending out scouts. Already wise in wood lore, they adapted their methods to this technique readily. But the system worked even better when the scouts were Indians—members of a friendly tribe. The white man learned the value of surprise and stealth, too, fighting in open formations and raiding Indian villages when they least expected it—at dawn and in the winter season when the Indian preferred not to fight. In some respects the Indian, who refused to post a watch at night, made the job easier. Time and again he was attacked at dawn by the white man, his village destroyed, his crops burned, but he never learned the value of security. The two severest defeats he suffered followed from this failure. In each case the Indians had retired to what they thought was an impregnable stronghold—a camp surrounded by a log palisade in the midst of a swamp—and in each case they were surprised.
This struggle for survival between red man and white, fought without rules along the outermost fringe of civilization, reflected its primitive and savage setting. The arrival of the white man did not alter the Indian custom of torturing prisoners of war before putting them to death. One man named Tilly was tied to a stake, his skin flayed off, hot embers placed between flesh and skin, and his fingers and toes cut off one by one. At this stage, mercifully, he died. Nor was this an isolated case.
Though the Seventeenth Century is filled with the noise of battle, most of the fighting was done by small groups in individual and often isolated settlements along the frontier. Unimportant in themselves, these conflicts with the Indians had enormous significance in the aggregate, for they paved the way for the conquest of a continent. Once established along the Atlantic seabord the English settlers moved slowly westward, pushing the Indian back, in the first great wave of migration that ultimately reached the shores of the Pacific, 3,000 miles away.
The wars that followed continued intermittently for over a century, and, as the course of empire moved westward, were resumed on every frontier. But after the first years, the cause of the red man was doomed. The whites were too numerous and their superiority in weapons and equipment too great for the Indian. And the initial advantage he enjoyed from fighting on his own ground and on his own terms, he soon lost when the white man proved himself a quick student in the art of forest warfare with its emphasis on surprise and speed, open formations, and cover and concealment. It was a lesson the white man never forgot.
A classic example of formalized warfare was the Battle of Naseby, which decided the first English civil war in 1645. The panorama on the following pages, engraved by a Seventeenth-Century artist, shows the two armies lined up, face to face, on an open plain, ready for battle. Across the top of the scene stretches the Royalist army of King Charles I. In the center of the line, each infantry regiment is composed of a battalion of pikemen (their pikes seeming to form a solid block), flanked by two battalions of musketeers. The wings of the line are held by cavalry. In the foreground of the panorama, ranged in identical formation, is the army of Parliament, commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax, whose portrait appears at upper right.
At the shock of battle the Royalist infantry gained ground and the Royalist right wing of horse, commanded by Prince Rupert, routed the Parliamentary horse under Colonel Ireton. But while Rupert raced on to capture the Parliamentary baggage train at the lower left of the scene, Oliver Cromwell’s right wing of horse saved the day for the army of Parliament. Plunging through the Royalist cavalry of Sir Marmaduke Langdale, Cromwell’s “godly horsemen” wheeled and overwhelmed the King’s infantry from the rear.
Elaborate manuals of arms governed the use of the complicated captions in French, English, German and Dutch. Only by rigid weapons of the Seventeenth Century. These illustrations are from co-ordination of each movement could the soldiers execute the Maniement D’Armes, published by Jacques de Geyn in 1608, with precision maneuvers which were required in formalized battle.