Musket instead of Bow and Arrow, why?

Discussion in 'History' started by jay dogg, Dec 21, 2004.

  1. jay dogg Registered Member

    This is my first time here so I thought I'd start off with a question that's been bothering me for some time. Why were muskets used instead of Bow and Arrows during the Revolutionary War and any other wars during that time period. Muskets were very inaccurate and were only shot within 50 yards of the enemy ("shoot when you see the whites of their eyes"). Wouldn't a long bow be much more effective? or at closer range, wouldn't a regular bow and arrow be much faster than a reloading a musket?

    So is there a specific reason or advantage for using muskets instead of long bows and regular ones?
  2. Communist Hamster Cricetulus griseus leninus Valued Senior Member

    Maybe the commanders were wowed by the bang and the smoke. They had never seen anything like it before.
  3. vslayer Registered Senior Member

    it was the start of the american love of guns, i mean, without those muskets, the yanks might not have the same gun totin' trigger happy society that it loves so much
  4. Thersites Registered Senior Member

    Firearms had several advantages over bows and arrows. Probably the main one was that an archer had to begin learning as a child, was too old when still quite young and had to spend most of their time training and practising. If you wanted arquebusiers, just haul in a few civilians and give them a few weeks' training. it's worth noting that crossbows- which were similarly low-skilled weapons- were replaced by firearms before composite bows or longbows. Similarly with the weapons: with an industrial base firearms could be made quickly and comparatively cheaply whereas composite bows could take a year or more to make.
  5. Spyke Registered Senior Member

    Not to mention with troops advancing 'in line' towards the enemy line, massed shoulder to shoulder, if you aimed in the general direction you should hit somebody. And a hit from a miniball form a musket, especially the British Brown Bess, could do extensive damage to the body. The weapons of the Revolutionary War weren't yet able to be mass-produced, but by the time of the Napoleonic Wars, a French gunsmith, Honore Blanc, was producing 10,000 guns a year with interchangeable parts for the French army.
  6. marv Just a dumb hillbilly... Registered Senior Member

    Thersites is correct. It takes many years to train an archer with the equipment then available to even equal the "accuracy" of the musket. The musketeer could be trained in a few weeks with emphasis mostly on the speed of re-loading and not the aiming.

    Tactics were still reminicent of the English long bowman armies, though; volley shots rather than aimed shots. In the American Revolution, aimed shots were limited to militia armed with their own personal 'Pennsylvania' (later called 'Kentucky') rifles which had rifled barrels instead of military issue smoothbores.
  7. vslayer Registered Senior Member

    but i can hit a target the size of a head from 100m no problems using a 50lb pistol crossbow, i have to factor in wind and everything aswell, i have had no training. its pretty straight forward to just grab a crossbow and shoot away, once you know the range of your bow ond the weight of your arrows then fire away
  8. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    I generally agree with the above statements, but disagree with marv talking about "taking years to "equal" the accuracy of guns. Anyone with some coordination and a few months of practise could hit a target from a reasonable distance. The trick is the 17 arrows a minute over 300 yards business, thats when it takes skill and practise. Crossbows are quite easy to use, but have a slow rate of fire. They were banned once or twice in Medieval Europe partly because they made it easy to kill knights, which obviously wasnt the point of warfare at that time, (well, it was sometimes, but anyway) and one suggestion as to why China never really developed a knightly class was the early development of the crossbow, something like 1500 years ago.
  9. Thersites Registered Senior Member

    Vslayer: you forget; you are using a modern composite bow made with modern synthetic materials in conditions you choose. Even so, you may have hit a target the size of a head at a hundred metres once or twice: if you can do it regularly in windy conditions you are a phenomenal shot. I used to be an excellent pistol shot and it'd be good shooting to do that with a target pistol on a range. A fifty pound-pull crossbow would not have been much use in mediaeval times: it wouldn't have enough force to penetrate armour.
    There's a lot of debate about the actual accuracy of archers: given that there were a lot of them shooting at a lot of people closely packed together they didn't need to be pinpoint perfect.

    Guthrie: You're right about someone with a crossbow learning to hit a target from a reasonable distance quite quickly, but the bows which were decisive in battles were composite bows and the longbow and the only people who could fire those at all, let alone accurately, had to begin learning as children. When the wreck of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's warship, was brought up the archaeologists could tell the archers by the deformities of their bodies.
    I don't know about the Chinese, but the Romans had crossbows too, but they were very heavy weapons used in sieges- given the weight of pull they were probably accurate enough to use as sniper weapons. Where did you find out about the Chinese? Certainly the history of China, being repeatedly invaded by horse-riding nomads, makes it even odder that they didn't develop effective cavalry: is central Chinese territory- the traditional heartlands of China- unsuitable for horse breeding perhaps?
  10. Roman Banned Banned

    China developed cavalry, but not the equestrian feudal system that Europe had.

    As to muskets vs. bows, I too have also wondered this. I wonder what led early armies to make the switch from bow to ball, seeing as how the most trained soldiers in the world could only fire 4 rounds a minute.

    When you think about it, guns would be a hassle. The powder must be kept dry, the powder is dangerous to store and transport, powder would be more difficult to procure than wood, muskets would be harder and more complicated to make (as well as more expensive), and muskets always had the chance of blowing up and killing the user.

    However, guns antiquated metal body armor. If you get hit by a musket at close range, even if you've got plate mail on, you're going down. Musket balls have greater momentum, and hence a greater potential for damage, than arrows.

    Muskets were also compact and easy to use, and could be whipped out quick. It'd take years of training to have someone shoot a bow from a horse, but training a dragoon wouldn't be nearly as costly.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2004
  11. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    I am not totally sold on composite bows and longbows being the only bows decisvie in battle. Why else were the so popular, even if the genoese/ milanese (I forget which) crossbowmen the french hired not much use in the hundred years war. At various times, crossbows could certainly pierce most armour, just as much as longbows could (though it also depended on which head was being used, range, angle, etc.) But at other times they had arrow proof armour.
    I read about the CHinese in at least 2 different books, the idea being that the use of the crossbow gave an advantage to peasants and masses greater than that of having a knight on a horse, and since horses were a bit smaller, they had poorer armour, and probably the entire imperial ethos, it just wasnt worth develioping a heavy cavalry of knights, which were a pretty local western invention anyway, that necessitated the use of stirrups (which were 7th century AD I think) and a lot of land ot support the knights and the horses. Knights were expensive.

    As for muskets versus bows, the actual composition of armies changed over time. During the 1460's to 1480's war of the roses, armies were over half archers, the rest were billmen, pole axe armed knights in armour, etc. Meanwhile on the continent, halberds and pikes were developing, and these were good against cavalry. Over the medieval period, teh main arm of battle changed from being a heavily armed knight with a few supporters tagging along, into masses of men armed with pole weapons, against which men on horses have little chance. However, if you then match up cavalry, pikes and archers, you have a robust and flexible force that is very capable.

    Anyway, where I was going was to say that it was masses that counted. Even in the 17th century english civil war, the main mass of the army was pikemen. They also had musket men, one of whose purposes was to drive off cavalry, who were usually reduced to firing their pistols into the ranks of pikemen.

    Anyway, the resons for the decline in longbow are complex, but essentially revolve around the expense of the bows, arrows and trained men, and the evolution of the gun as an effective weapon.

    As for the MAry Rose skeletons, they had I think incredibly well developed left shoulders and arms. They also worked out that some of the bows went up to about 185 pounds pull! Which doenst mean much to most people, but I've used 40 pound pull bows quite a bit, and tried 80 pounds, and could hardly bend it. No wonder they were deformed.
  12. Thersites Registered Senior Member

    I'd be interested in the books, Guthrie. I'd always understood that stirrups were invented by nomads, so I'd have thought the Chinese would have got them- like Europeans- from the invaders.
    Like the old "paper, scissors, stone" routine. The Scots also used billmen against cavalry, but at Halidon Hill and Flodden they were destroyed by archers. It's worth remembering that the archers had to be protected from cavalry by dismounted men at arms, so they weren't absolutely lethal at long range. In the early sixteenth century the Spanish [re]introduced swordsmen: they could deal with the halberdiers, who could keep off cavalry at close range, protecting the arqubusiers, who could deal with cavalry at longer [not much] range, while the cavalry could destroy the swordsmen...

    Not necessarily "reduced". Marlborough used columns of cavalry riding up to the line of infantry, wheeling, riding back and reloading and firing again and again: it meant that higher rates of fire could be concentrated on a vulnerable point. At a guess the introduction of effective bayonets- which meant a higher proportion of firearms than pikes in infantry units- altered this. aslo the cavalry, as an aristocratic- or would-be aristocratic- arm, probably preferred to gallop off madly in all directions and do a bit of looting.
    They also couldn't do much else than fire bows.

    Roman: bowstrings were as vulnerable to wet as gunpowder and you need particular wood- well-matured yew- for long bows; for composite bows you need quite a few other things, including animal horns that were big enough, glue and over a year for the glue to dry under steady stress. Before corned powder was invented there was the problem that the ingredients in gunpowder separated by weight in the barrel so that it was useless unless very carefully looked after.
    One reason for the introduction of arquebusses was probably the fact that armies had a load of gunpowder anyway for cannon, which were much more effective than trebuchets and such as siege weapons. Probably smaller handguns were used similarly, then were used in battle because they were available and then theywere used because they'd already been used. Much more things happen by chance than by planning, i suspect.
  13. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    So do I, but the problem I am now having is that looking in my most easily accessible wee book on china, I cant find any mention of crossbows, and since my lirbary is somewhat disorganised, I cant find any other references to the Chinese crossbow/ knights thing, so it may be more what antiquarians with little weapons knowledge think.

    If you'll excuse me for getting pernickety, the Scots used spears, of roughly 9 foot long. Held packed together into round multi ranked formations called schiltrons, they are pretty much impenetrable. So as you say, the english used archers from long range. Bastards. The Bill was used to great effect by the english in 1513 at Flodden, according to what I have on the battle what really lost it for teh SCots was that the english were using bills, but were expereinced and knew how to use them. The scots were using a job lot of French pikes, the continental wonder weapon, only the Scots hadnt trained with them and didnt know how to use them properly (ie pack yourselves together very tightly with multiple points all facing your enemy, and trot at them. BEcause the pike is something like 15 to 18 foot long, they all die before you do.) the english broke ino the pikes and killed everyone.
    As for archers, they did have to be protected it was true, if youll remember, crecy and agincourt I think they also had spikes in the ground. But arrows were effective against cavalry, enough so that a combination of pole arms and archers was the majority of an army during the wars of the roses period. Richard the 3rd at bosworth tried to charge Henry Tudor, and failed, mainly because Tudor had french troops who knew how to recieve a cavalry charge, and thus he couldnt get through.

    And so on. Thats what makes war so complex. Then theres Landsknechts, which I dont know much about, but they often had huge 2 handers, the aim being to charge the enemy pikes and get your timing right to scoop the points of the pikes away and crash into the mob. ONce your past the point your all right.

    It might also be worth thinking about the increased efficacy of firearms in general. If your guns are capable of putting cavalry down, why bother with pikes? The bayonet means that your men can defend at close range, or at least it did once they developed the ring kind rather than the plug kind.
  14. Beryl WWAD What Would Athelwulf Do? Registered Senior Member

    As has been stated, muskets were used because it takes less time to teach someone to shoot one and because it takes less strength to pull a trigger than to draw a bow. Bows are more accurate if you know how to aim, many have longer ranges than a musket, and longbows are quicker to "re-load" - crossbows, however, take quite a while, and still take more training than a musket. Bernard Cornwell once mentioned the longbow/Revolutionary War thing in a historical note for one of his Grail Quest books, and he said that had the Americans been using longbows they would have won a lot quicker... that may be true, but only if the Americans had an army that was able to use them properly. A better question than how quickly the Americans could have won is, would the British have won if THEY were using longbows and the Americans still used muskets?
  15. vslayer Registered Senior Member

    hand weapons are bad, they should have used those long barrelled things instead, sure slower firing, but you can take their entire army before they get close enough to shoot back.
    im much better with a rifle than a pistol, i can only get 6-8/10 into a target at 50m, while i can get 8-10/10 with a rifle at 200m
  16. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    Erm, what are you talking about Vslayer? Do you mean that the use of muskets etc should have continued longer than it did, or that the historical musket design was a bad design? Perhaps you could design a more suitable one?
  17. vslayer Registered Senior Member

    i mean that everyone is pormoting muskets for their ease of use, sure they are easy, butthey are too inaccurate, an army of rookie crossbowmen would cut down an army using muskets
  18. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    Warfare is intimately linked to the economic, social and technological aspects of a society. Possibly a bunch armed with crossbows would achieve such a victory. But as for muskets, it depends also on when you are talking about. I think a Napoleonic wars army would be more successful against the crossbows due to improvements in muskets. But then you'll also remember that no army was made up solely of ranged weaponry. No army was made up solely of firearms until into the 18th century. The mix of troops makes an army multifunctional, able to deal with a variety of grounds, opposing forces and situations. Moreover, you are likely overestimating the power of the crossbow. As Thersites has pointed out above, there are other factors in the use of crossbows. One for example is that they did take a little bit of time to load, same as muskets.
    Actually, one of the simplest points it that if crossbows were so good, why werent entire armies armed with them? Just saying an army of rookie crossbowmen would beat an army of musketeers misses a few things out.
  19. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

    Size and availability of ammunition is probably a key factor. Arrows are a much larger pain in the ass to make than a lump of metal.
  20. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    But making good gunpowder and keping it dry and in the proper consistencys as Therisites says is also quite hard.
    Let alone that until quite late on there werent really standard sizes of shot and barrel, that was one reason they used wadding, because the shot and barrels tended to be slightly different in size, and they would also expand a bit in heavy use.

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