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Dan Tucker




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PostPosted: Sun 28 Mar, 2004 9:11 pm    Post subject: Musket vs. Crossbow & Longbow         Reply with quote

I was just looking over the 'sword you'd take into battle post' and I noticed a little discussion going on about the effectiveness of early firearms. I also recall that I've read and heard from various sources about how the muskets in, say, the American Revolution were lacking enough in accuracy and were slow and tedious enough to load, etc.,etc., that a good crossbow or longbow in the hands of a skilled operator would have been at least as effective (even heard that there was nothing more effective than the best crossbows until the Colt 44, but I'm not sure about that...). I've also read about how in spite of this, the musket was used because it was loud, frightening, and technologically new and advanced.

I'd be very thankful for any insight you guys can offer on this interesting subject Big Grin
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Joel Chesser




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PostPosted: Sun 28 Mar, 2004 10:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

OMG! I can't believe that i'm not the only one to think about that.
I have always wondered why no one opted to use bows in the revolutionary or civil war, the advantages to that seem enormous to me. I mean, think about it, you could fire off like ten arrows in the amount of time it would take you to fire one bullet. I do realize there are certain dis ads to doing such a thing, mainly that not very many people would have had to have been trained to use such a thing, and people would have probably had to be stronger, but is you ask me the advantage out weight the dis ads.
If some one who know knows what they are talking about (unlike me) would answer this tat would be SO awesome.

..." The person who dosen't have a sword should sell his coat and buy one."

- Luke 22:36
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Sun 28 Mar, 2004 10:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is pretty far from my area of expertise, so take my comments with a large grain of salt. From my understanding, though, arrows were actually more expensive and difficult to make that the cast lead ammunition of firearms. Even in the heyday of the longbow, volley fire was used at strategic times, rather than simply archers shooting constantly throughout the battle (otherwise there would be little need of foot soldiers).

Also, firearms were a little easier to train a militia to use effectively. I have no doubts that the longbow is more accurate in skilled hands compared to early black powder rifles, but you can train more people in a shorter time to use firearms to great effect.
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Dan Tucker




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PostPosted: Sun 28 Mar, 2004 11:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

as far as I know:
Training: crossbow was said to be quite easy to learn to use, longbow took a great deal of strength and skill, musket--I'm not an expert but I imagine it would be harder than a crossbow

Rate of Fire: both musket and crossbow took long to reload, while longbow could loose several arrows a minute (in the hands of a skilled archer)

Accuracy: I've heard the muskets were pretty inaccurate, and I imagine a longbow or especially a crossbow would be capable of a fair degree of accuracy, although I've read that longbows were fired at an upward angle so that the shafts arced upward and came down with the aid of gravity like rain, killing indiscriminantly.

Range/firepower: I'm not so sure here, although I know all through were relatively quite powerful and capable of easily killing unarmored men at I'm not sure what disrances.

Noise: while longbows and crossbows were not silent, they could not be heard from far off like the roar of musket-fire, thus perhaps preventing an enemy from easily ascertaing their location. then again, the noise was a major part of the musket's intimidation and appeal.

Smoke: as far as I know muskets produced smoke that both hid your targets and obscured you from view. longbows and crossbows of course made nothing like it.

Ammunition: like Bill said, arrows are harder and more complex to make than cast lead musket balls, and I'm not sure as to how retrievable they were--probably not at all most of the time. as for gunpowder, it would have to be kept dry, and could perhaps produces dangerous misfires under some conditions.

Production: of the three, the musket woiuld have been most complex to make I imagine, then the crossbow, then the longbow

Psychological effect: the roar, smoke, and flash of musket fire would be more terrifying than the nocking of arrows I think, and as I said before, this intimidation factor probably played a part in the choice of musket over crossbow or longbow. then again, the longbow's rain of arrows would be frightening to see as well.

I have, however, no hands-on experience with any of these three weapons, and little specific knowledge on the subject, so by all means pass the salt shaker
Big Grin
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Kenneth Enroth




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Mar, 2004 3:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't think the idea of using bow and arrow instead of muskets would have been met with much acceptance. The bow was probably seen as something outdated and its use would be seen as a step backwards. They didn't have the historic perspective we do now but probably tought themselves the pinnacle of evolution so to speak and would have been contemptous of bows.

Also a commander making a decision to use bows would take a huge personal risk. He would have to be very brave to stick his neck out like that.
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Nathan Cole




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Mar, 2004 6:36 am    Post subject: Why not use bows?         Reply with quote

I am fairly sure there would be a number of people on the American revolutionary and Civil wars armies that could use bows (hunting or sport). But bows and crossbows might not be as easy to mass produce as muskets. Is there any reason to think that bows were never used in "covert ops". I am thinking of the Swamp Fox, night raids and hit and run. Just my thoughts.

Nathan Cole
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Allen W




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Mar, 2004 7:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I believe guns won out by logistics as bullets are both smaller and cheaper and could exploit the supply chain of artillery. However there are other elements in their favor. Their longitudinal axis may have simplified integration into pike squares and they can be both fired and reloaded from prone. A crossbow can certainly be fired from prone but reloading even with a cranequin would be more cumbersome than the muskets ramrod after withdrawing the gun the length of one's body. Archers must obviously do their work upright. Also guns were probably easier to store and ship (especially overseas to the colonies) and may have been easier to produce in artillery friendly markets.

As to power, I understand that some windlass spanned crossbows had draw weight of around twelve hundred pounds and would thus negate the image of guns outpenetrating them in regards to armor. And one last caveat regarding proofing armor by shooting it-most wheellocks were of .40-.45 caliber while many early arquebuses had bores of roughly 1 1/4". Armor proofed with the former would not suffice for the latter.
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Eric Myers




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Mar, 2004 1:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can add a little to this discussion, having studied it to some degree, and having used all three weapons in question.

Guns are easier to use for the average person, a little bit of training goes alot further than with either a bow or crossbow. Part of the reason for this is that the trajectory of a bullet is flatter than bows and crossbows.

That said, many armies using muskets (English civil war to American revolution, possibly later) did not want soldiers to spend much time aiming at individual targets. A volley would simply be fired in the direction of the enemy. Many military muskets of the time did not have any sort of sight on them for this reason.

Ben Franklin actually lobbied for the use of longbows in the colonial armies, but was turned down. IIRC, firearms could not compete with longbows on accuracy, range, and rate of fire until Napoleon. Note that it was a combination of all these factors that I am talking about, not each one individually. Firearms had a slower rate a fire, but a longer range, so a charge would still have to face the same number of volleys, but starting from further away. I think it was during the napoleonic wars that it got to the point where even horses could not move fast enough to cross the effective range of firearms.

I agree with what several people have stated, that the logistics and/or cost of supplying bullets was also a major factor for deciding to use firearms. I don't have any sources to site on that, but it makes sense to me.

As another side note, the American Cavalry was quite leery of some of the Native American bows and arrows - they had enough power to knock men out of the saddle.

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Felix Wang




PostPosted: Mon 29 Mar, 2004 3:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric has hit on the critical point - ease of use. Guns were easy to use, and thus could be used by poorly trained men. This meant you could raise a force of arquebusiers much faster than crossbowmen; and if you wanted a large group of longbowmen, you had to start training many years in advance. You can raise a lot of gunners, even if they are individually less effective than bowmen. Since early guns were inherently inaccurate, marksmanship was not an issue.

Another way of looking at it is cost. The cost of weapons and ammunition are not that much different, but the cost in manpower is considerable - less well trained men who are soldiers for a short period (gunners), as opposed to longer-training men who have to be fed and lodged while training or in peacetime (bowmen). Yes, bowmen could be mercenaries, and hence temporary, or militia, and hence not supported in peacetime, but the costs were still there, merely hidden as something else (either the price of hiring the mercenaries or the training time/costs for militia, which reduced economic productivity and hence taxes).

Guns don't rely on strength. Even an underfed, sick, small woman or youth can kill you with a musket. A longbow requires good physical condition to use effectively. The crossbow is inbetween, but still needs strength to use it. In times when logistics and camp hygiene were very irregular, a weapon that didn't rely on physical conditioning had real advantages.

The time when guns really were able to stop cavalry was a little later than the Napoleonic wars. Cavalry charges were still standard in those wars, and frequently effective. In the mid-19th century, the rifled musket appeared, and greatly enhanced the range and accuracy of guns. The first case of a cavalry attack broken by firepower alone was probably in the Crimean War. This is the origin of the "thin red line" - a Highland regiment received a charge of Russian cavalry without forming square, and repelled them while still in line formation. Throughout the wars of the mid-19th century cavalry charges become more and more futile.
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Mar, 2004 4:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As others have said, becoming a good longbowman required years of practice and muscle development.
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Gary Venable




PostPosted: Tue 30 Mar, 2004 6:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the training issue is the key. For a slightly different look at the topic look at feudal Japan and the introduction of the arquebuses in 1542. The Arquebusiers soon became a common site on the battlefields. At Kajiki in 1549, they were first used in battle by Shimazu Takahisa. Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen used them in their periodic battles a Kawanakajima, as did the Mori against the Sue at Miyajima in 1555. Oda Nobunaga made an order for 500 arquebuses in 1549 and by 1575 his armies contained 10,000. Takeda Shingen grew so fond of the weapon that in 1569 he issued a proclamation to his troops:

Hereafter guns will be the most important. Therefore decrease the number of spears and have the most capable men carry guns…

The popularity of the arquebus grew as the size of the armies did. One reason was that it was simple to learn. It took years to become skilled in the use of bow, but in a short time a peasant could be taught to fire an arquebus "with all the accuracy which the weapon was capable of."

Another reason for the popularity was the superior range it had over the bow. While the Japanese bow had a maximum range of 380 meters, the arquebus had a range out to 500 meters, though hitting a target was slim to none. Effective killing range for the bow was only 80 meters, whereas the gun had a range of 200 meters. By 1582 only 40 years later most armies contained one-third arquebuses.

Felix Wang wrote:
The time when guns really were able to stop cavalry was a little later than the Napoleonic wars. Cavalry charges were still standard in those wars, and frequently effective. In the mid-19th century, the rifled musket appeared, and greatly enhanced the range and accuracy of guns. The first case of a cavalry attack broken by firepower alone was probably in the Crimean War. This is the origin of the "thin red line" - a Highland regiment received a charge of Russian cavalry without forming square, and repelled them while still in line formation. Throughout the wars of the mid-19th century cavalry charges become more and more futile.


I have to disagree with Felix here. At Nagashino in 1575. Nobunaga had positioned 3,000 arquebus in his center. When the Takeda cavalry charged they were mowed down.

I think this illistrates what happen in Europe as well but over a longer period of time. The firearms had greater range, a greater leathel range, and were easier to train with thus the ability to field a larger army.

Gary

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Allen W




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Mar, 2004 6:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good post Gary but I think you're over selling the qualities of the Japanese bow. The two translations I've read of Musashi's Five Rings(one Chambala Press I forget the other) quote the effective range at no more than 40yrds. That the yumi is typically drawn with an unprotected thumb also argues for low draw weights.
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David Quivey




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Mar, 2004 8:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think my answer has pretty much already been stated: being a reenactor and having fired (live) muskets and rifles, as well as done some archery, the amount of training and upkeep required for an effective longbowman makes the change superfluous. It takes quite a while to train an archer just how to aim and judge distances, let alone for him to build up the strength to keep firing for a long period of time. The arquebus, and the later musket, is so much simpler, and beyond having a somewhat sore shoulder, you can fire them all day without ever having picked them up before.
Also, a few slight observations: the bow is only good for ranged combat, but a musket, or arqubus, can be used in a pinch as a very heavy club, or with the invention of plug bayonets, a nasty kind of polearm.

Also, try and imagine, as a soldier, going up against a line of firearms for the first time. The noise, the smoke, the feeling of death striking without cause (although it is possible to "see" incoming fire from these low velocity weapons, it takes some getting used to). One can easily imagine why the Swiss ranks broke so quickly at Bicocca in 1522.

However, one can't pooh pooh the rate of fire that a longbow has over a musket Wink I can get off a good 4 shots a min, with lubed patches and no incoming fire. Against a good 6 aimed shots a min with a bow, if the odds were the same, the musket would easily be "outgunned" Wink
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Felix Wang




PostPosted: Tue 30 Mar, 2004 11:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
At Nagashino in 1575. Nobunaga had positioned 3,000 arquebus in his center. When the Takeda cavalry charged they were mowed down


The Takeda cavalry were stopped, true, although the battle continued for several hours more, in typical Japanese hand-to-hand combat. Oda Nobunaga was also fighting from a prepared position, with a palisade in front of his arquebusiers; which tends to make a lot of difference.
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Gary Venable




PostPosted: Tue 30 Mar, 2004 12:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allen W wrote:
Good post Gary but I think you're over selling the qualities of the Japanese bow. The two translations I've read of Musashi's Five Rings(one Chambala Press I forget the other) quote the effective range at no more than 40yrds. That the yumi is typically drawn with an unprotected thumb also argues for low draw weights.


That's quite possible. I was quoting from memory one of Stephen R. Turnbull books but I don't recall which.

Quote:
The Takeda cavalry were stopped, true, although the battle continued for several hours more, in typical Japanese hand-to-hand combat. Oda Nobunaga was also fighting from a prepared position, with a palisade in front of his arquebusiers; which tends to make a lot of difference.


Agreed there were other contributing factors to the victory there always are. I believe it was also one of the first times large scale volley fire was used. Also remember that of an army of 32,000, 10,000 were arquebusiers. There are other examples. I was mainly refereing to looking at Japan as a "condensed view" of why the musket replaced the bow. In Japan this conversion happened rapidly in a relatively short time. In Europe you could refer to the musket and pike formations invention by Gonzalo de Cordoba in 1503, or the Spanish "Tercio."

Gary

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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Mon 10 May, 2004 5:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you could use an army of genuine14th/15th century English archers supported by Men at Arms against a Napoleon era army, that QUALITY of archers could slaugther any 18th century army. (Sci Fi or fantasy concept, I agree that an 18th century army based on archery could not be improvised successfully. I am also discounting the psychological effects of musket fire on the archers. This might be interesting as a computer simulation or game.)

Rate of fire of at least 6 arrows per minute maybe up to 12 per minute versus a rate of fire of 4 Max per minute for the muskets.(Also after 12 to 24 shots the foulling of the muskets would slow down the rate of fire even more? Anyone with actual musket experience please feel free to dispute or confirm this.)

Effective range of 200 yards, very accurate at medium to short range: The archers would decimate the musket line infantry at long range with volume of fire, at closer range superior accuraty would also contribute to rapidly reduce the numbers of the musketers. (No armor to pierce makes the arrows even more effective than they were against another Medieval army!)

At the range the 18th century musket fire would start becoming effective the numbers of surviving infantry would be much reduced!
At this point, hand to hand fighting, the Men at Arms would cut though the Un-Armored bayonnette armed infantry like a knife through butter!

The only real threat to the archers would be Field artillery or rifle equiped skimishers.

If we advance in time to the early American civil war period: Rifled muskets outclass the archers because of much longer accurate range even if the rate of fire advantage is still with the archers, at least until repeating firearms become more common towards the end of the war.

(I'm also assuming a large supply of arrows per archer.)

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David Quivey




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PostPosted: Mon 10 May, 2004 7:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the battlefield norm was 25 arrows per archer - anything above became too cumbersome and too expensive (alas, I have no proof at hand - anyone care to back this up?) - compare this to the forty rounds minimum of a Napoleanic cartridge box Wink

As regards the fouling, it depends on the type of muzzle loader - rifled rounds tended to fit the barrel more snugly, whereas smoothbore rounds tended to be rather loose, so it depends. After six shots on any musket, however, fouling became a serious problem... glad you brought that up.

Personally, I think a skilled and battle hardened Grenadier might have an almost even chance against a fully armoured man-at-arms. A bayonetted musket is a pretty frightening weapon for hand to hand: the bayonet is thick enough to go through some armour, and if the musket is wielded like a club, no man could keep his feet against that 11 pound brute! Still, not all Napoleanic soldiers were Grenadiers, so you are probably right about them being at a disadvantage if time-traveling men at arms rode in...
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Steve Fabert




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PostPosted: Mon 10 May, 2004 8:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
If you could use an army of genuine14th/15th century English archers supported by Men at Arms against a Napoleon era army, that QUALITY of archers could slaugther any 18th century army.


If what you suggest is factually correct, you must then ask why the longbow ever fell into disuse. The English would have continued to train archers to use the longbow, if it had remained the obviously superior weapon that it was before the arrival of muskets. But they did not, which suggests that they may have concluded that the weapon was no longer as comparatively effective as it once had been, or at least was no longer cost effective.

Are you suggesting that the English abandoned the longbow for no really good reason, or did so in error, or did so in spite of its clear superiority for reasons unrelated to the battlefield effectiveness of trained longbowmen?

Obviously it is difficult to reintroduce the use of the longbow once it has fallen out of use. Archers needed to train for years in order to become effective and stay that way. So the obsolescence of archery might have resulted from a conscious decision to let the skillset lapse, or it might have come from extraneous circumstances that prevented a new generation of archers from replacing a prior generation. Archers were still in use in England for at least some decades after the initial introduction of gunpowder weapons, so the introduction of cannon and muskets was not enough, by itself, to cause the bow to fall into obsolescence.

One possible motive for undervaluing the bow for a generation was its availability to both sides during the Wars of the Roses. It would be a strange circumstance if the English abandoned their best battlefield weapon just because they could not use it to particular advantage against domestic enemies, but only against foreign foes. If archers were still used in quantity by the English even after 1500, another explanation would be needed for their later abandonment.
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Mon 10 May, 2004 12:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David,
You may be right about the quantities of arrows carried by each archer, although I think the standard number carried was 48. In my scenario I would assume a large reserve of arrows that would be distributed as needed to the line of archers.
Also I would expect a heavily armored Man at Arms to be experienced at fighting against pole arms at least as deadly as a bayonnette equiped musket.

Steve,
I think that plate armor was effective in stopping a lot of the arrows and as long as there was no alternate weapon the long bow was still considered the best missile weapon available.
Firearms had one advantage they could pierce the best armor: The arquebus started the process of making armor useless,
the much heavier musket finished the job (The big ones 1" bores needing a forqued rest to manage the weight.) When armour was largely abandoned the weight and caliber of the muskets was reduced to a more managable weight.

During this transitionnal period the bow would seem less & less effective in comparison to muskets. (And as said in other post training large armies is much easier with muskets than training large numbers of archers.)

So in the evolution of things you are right there were good reasons to abandon the bow, and when the skills were lost it was impracticle to revive them.
Now , In my post I bring back fully competent archers facing unarmored foes that have abandonned the best protection to arrows.
Maybe they did make a mistake abandonning the bow: In an alternate reality they could have retained the bow for volume of fire combined with precision while adopting rifled muskets for extreme range and armor piercing instead of massed musket fire. (Or rifled muskets could have being adopted much earlier,16thcentury, drastically changing tactics.)

I think the Japanese retained the use of archers (Could be wrong about that?) while at the same time adopting the matchlock musket. ( I think they also put more emphasis on aimed fire than European armies.)

Very good arguments here, I really have to work hard to defend my theory.

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David Quivey




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PostPosted: Mon 10 May, 2004 1:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's a good theory, Jean! As a longbow fan, I sometimes fail utterly to see just what induced armies to abandon it completely!

Another advantage of the musket has popped into my mind. Despite the "ability" of a longbow bolt to penetrate armour plate at varying distances, we often forget to take into account the deflection on impact. As powerful as they are, the length of the bolt makes it highly suceptible to air deflection, and the shock upon impact, traveling from the head to the fletchings, can make any but a head on hit harmless.
On the other side, the musket, firing a hot lead blob, looses none of its velocity on impact, and the result is that even a hit at odd angles with armour results in penetration as opposed to deflection.
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