The history of warfare is surprisingly complex due to the ever evolving arms-race. Even as we approach technological singularity, I still hear in the news about innovative weapons; drones, lasers, hypersonic missiles, cyber warfare, and mine sniffing giant pouched rats. So I wanted to look into how military strategies and the weapons associated with them evolved.

Sidenote: Much of this is going to be short and simple, since I already discussed some of these warriors in greater detail in previous blogs. I will need to ignore some warriors and weapons for simplicity sake. I will also be avoiding naval combat, since I do not know much about it.

Early Homo / Neanderthal Stone Age

‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ is playing, a fetus floats in space and a black monolith lands near a tribe of apes. Early man has been gradually evolving away from living in trees towards walking on the ground. This bipedal body allows the hands to be irrelevant in basic movement, thus being free to pick objects off the ground: the Sperm Whale might have the largest brain in the world, but it can’t be a blacksmith or a swordsman. The first Homo probably just carried food at first, but soon picked up bones, sticks and stones as the first weapons. Any early Homo who attempt to build tools would simply be modifying rocks into handaxes or sharpening sticks.

Warfare was just upclose and violent, not really considering organized formations. Wolves confirm that ambushes and encirclements are tactics that animals use, so I would assume that this tactic would be the norm for the early stoneage.

I will also mention that warpaint was a good way to both identify warriors and create an intimidating appearance. Other methods like ordainments and other forms of body modification (tattoos, teeth sharpening, ear stretching) could have also been used. Various types of camouflage could have also been used.

Pre-10,000 BC: Stoneage Projecitles

Slings, Javelins and Atlatls gave mankind an advantage over the other species of Homo primates. A Neanderthal is bulkier than a person; but as a result, they do not have the same dexterity in their arms. Human arms exchanged strength for dexterity to allow overhand movements that could be used with these projectiles. Close ranged combat was still necessary, but could be complemented by long ranged assistance.

Projectiles also made it difficult to stay in a stationary defensive formation, which could have led to early leather shields and armor to block the projectiles.

Copper Age

Copper was the first metal used by man to make weapons, but had several imperfections that made it frail. However it was still hard and sharp enough to make dagger or spear points and was blunt enough to be used as axes and clubs. The introduction of the sword began during this time. I will mention that swords for most of their history (especially the copper age) were very expensive while also more commonly used as a side-arm, but they still made an impact. But two-handed or long swords were too frail if made of copper, and an axe is almost as efficient as a sword but with less metal needed to make it. Since sword edges would blunt so easily, many copper swords were stabbing weapons only.

And while technically a Stone Age weapon, I will mention that the bow and arrow became widespread; even if not every army used it. Volley fire was also commonly used for any projectiles, but became the norm as agriculture formed the earliest city-states, kingdoms and empires.

Early Bronze Age

The importing of tin allowed the creation of bronze, a metal far sturdier than copper. Weapons got more advanced and were structurally strong enough to have larger and more complex designs. Swords could now be curved to allow better hacking, and axes could have a back spike for piercing. Armor also became more advanced, to the point where almost everyone had a chest plate or helmet if they could afford it.

Chariots were also introduced, now that nails and fasteners could be made out of metal, and thus make wheels. Chariots are slower and more expensive than basic horseback riding, but could use horses that were too small to carry a rider on their back. Either way; cavalry continued to be a vital part in any army. The fact that horses are 3 times faster than people means that they can chase down fleeing opponents (making routs far more self-destructive as a result) and made flanking and encirclement maneuvers far easier. And while some Chariots are slower than riding horseback, it is still much faster than foot soldiers.

Wagons also were introduced, giving armies superior logistics. The construction of paved roads was more important as a result; allowing armies and their supplies to move long distances without worrying about getting lost or having a dirt road turn to mud if it rains.

Greek City States

Greece wasn’t a single nation like it is today; the classical age was full of infighting between the city-states. This lead to an arms race that created one of the first ‘heavy armored’ military units; the early Greek hoplite. As demonstrated by the Spartans; these early hoplites had a medium sized one handed spear (primarily the Dory), a massive Aspis shield, leg greaves, and a heavy Corinthian Helmet. The greaves and helmet managed to protect the head and legs to a degree that the Aspis could not. Heavy hoplites were so great defensively that footmen, archers and horsemen could do very little against them in a frontal engagement. This was a factor in preventing the lighter Persian armies from conquering Greece, so long as the Greek armies could mount a good defense. The problem is that the immobility of these hoplites made it easy to get outflanked: which is why Thermopylae required the Spartans to block a narrow path between a mountain and the coastline. Once the Persians outflanked the Spartans (using a mountain path), the Persians were able to win.

Macedonian Empire

Phillip II and Alexander the Great used their military reforms combined with excellent strategies and tactics to make Macedon a Classical Age superpower. To do this, the Greek style of Hoplites were replaced by Phalangites. The main difference between the two units is that the Phalangites focused more on longer pikes (Sarissa) in exchange for lighter armor and shields. This made the Macedonians more mobile than Greek Hoplites, but could outperform Hoplites in combat with the overlapping rows of pikes both keeping enemy soldiers at a safe distance and compensating other Phalangites if an enemy gets around the first row of pikes.

Companion Cavalry also perfected the idea of lance (Xyston) horsemen. Horsemen are much more mobile than chariots, which sometimes gave Alexander an advantage when he fought Persian chariots. And while some Chariots did have Wheel Scythes; the Xyston (about 12 ft long) is long enough to avoid the reach of the Scythes (about 2ft long) while still being able to strike. I will also mention that the later Cataphract Cavalry would dominate Greece and the Middle East by improving horse armor, becoming Classical Knights.

Celtic Ironage

While bronze is still good in its own right, steel was the future of warfare; we even still see steel used today in warfare for a variety of purposes. Longswords could finally began to take shape, and the Celts became famous for their swordsmen. With that said; the Celts were never unified as a single empire, and instead frequently fought amongst each other. This was far more fragmented than the Greek city-states; Celts didn’t have the same degree of warm climate for agriculture or land and naval trade routes necessary to create or maintain the grand cities seen in the Eastern Mediterranean. Because of this, Celts and other ‘Barbarians’ limited their steel use; especially in how they avoided armor. To compensate; many barbarians used wooden shields that had some steel, like in the Shield Boss. I am aware that Celts did have access to chainmail: but this was rare due to costs. Some Celts avoided armor for mobility; with many tribes fighting naked to not get their paints stuck in bushes or other obstacles.

Roman Empire

The Celts and Greeks both were conquered by the Roman Empire, who were inspired by these two warrior nations during their many battles. The Romans initially mimicked the Hoplites with the Triarii, but decided to make some modifications to make the iconic Legionnaire. From the Celts, the Romans mimicked their javelins and swords. From the Greeks, they mimicked their armor. And from both; the Romans mimicked their shields. Yet the Legionnaire managed to outperform their opponents regularly.

The Pilum allowed the Romans to either disable shields (by getting the Pilum stuck in the shield, weighing it down) or attack a pikeman by being able to throw the Pilum outside of the range of the pike. This could counter both the heavy Hoplite by disabling their massive Aspis shield or the Phalangites that could not use a heavy shield due to needing two hands to use a Sarissa. The mostly unarmored Celts were even more vulnerable to such a weapon, with their weaker wooden shields (if they are using them).

The Gladius/Scutum combo is excellent for close combat and countering spears. The Scutum can deflect both projectiles and spears easily with its large size, and the Gladius allowed the Legionnaire to fight closer and more aggressively than what a spearman can do. The fact that the Scutum gave the majority of the Roman’s defensives, and the Roman’s weapons were relatively light meant that the Legionnaire could move slightly faster and more effectively than Greek spearmen. Unarmored Celts could be slightly faster than a Legionnaire, but the Legionnaire’s superior yet still light armor can be enough to outlast a Celt in combat. Legionnaires also had the option to fight in loose formation or in dense forests, while spearmen didn’t have the mobility due to how large their spears were.

Steppe Horseback Archery

The Scythians, Parthians and Huns all showed the devastating efficiency of horseback archery. The 53 BC Battle of Carrhae is the best example I know of a horse-archer army successfully dominating a golden-age Roman army. Horsearchers were light weight, allowing them to maintain a safe distance from their opponents as they fired their bows. Although these units normally fired in volleys, the precision of horse archers was significant enough to aim at specific weakspots in a warrior’s armor (assuming they were not as heavily armored as a Knight). Horsearchers did still have the capability of fighting in close combat if they had to, but the heavy cavalry (like the Cataphracts) were better designed for it; Heavy cavalry was able to compensate for the horsearcher’s weaknesses while still maintaining the speed of a horse (even if heavy cavalry was slightly slower).

The primary reason why this style of warfare wasn’t universally adopted was because of its inefficiency at sieges (Attila needed to use Battering Rams to compensate), the high costs and high skill of the horsearchers (regarding both horses and bows), and the inflexibility of operating in certain terrain (mud, dense woodlands, mountains). It also should be noted that the hit-and-run tactics of horse armies require most or all of the army to be horsemen, and most empires like Rome did not have a horse population to match their human population; this is also seen with Mongolian armies when the Mongol Empire became too big to be only horsemen and so had to use foot soldiers more frequently.

Viking Age

As the Roman Empire fell, many kingdoms began to form simultaneously throughout Europe, each adopting similar styles of warfare due to constant fighting between the kingdoms. The Vikings proved to be so deadly that this Age was named after them. Vikings had some similarities to the Legionnaires; chainmail, heavy javelins, large shield. The most obvious difference is the Viking’s use of amphibious raiding and axes; both allowing the Vikings to strike fast and hard. The Viking axes were cheap yet could do damage to light armor; allowing a horde of Vikings to be all deadly and ruthless. This began an arms-race between armor penetration and armor defense. The Vikings saw a change as well, with Viking nations like Russia, France and England becoming significant military superpowers from the Medieval Age to the present day.

I will also mention that the Greeco-Roman shield wall did temporarily leave the battlefield, only for the Kite Shield to revive the tactic. These shields were designed for cavalry (hence why they were a longer raindrop shape) but did offer protection for the basic foot soldier. The issue is that the shield was very cumbersome due to being so tall.

Hundred Years War

The Medieval Age lasted about a millennium, but the climax of medieval warfare is often seen with The Hundred Years War. The arms race between England and France went parallel with the successes and declines of both kingdoms during the conflicts.

The iconic image of a Knight is their heavy plate armor. The segmentation of the armor allowed it to be more mobile by maintaining the Knight’s natural limb flexibility. Greco-Roman armor rarely had arm armor due to such complexities. I have seen multiple examples of people maintaining normal mobility and stamina in Knight plate armor because of how precise the shape of each piece of plate was for its owner. The quality of the armor was so advanced that other warriors needed to use weapons specifically designed to get around the armor. It was possible for a Knight to not need a shield, or at least not something as massive like a Kite Shield. The iconic Heater Shield was essentially a Kite Shield that didn’t obstruct vision, was mobile, and was efficient both on foot and on horseback.

Even with heavy plate armor, the Knight was never invincible; you just needed the right tool to fight back. Sabers and axes became uncommon in Europe; they are designed to cut, but don’t impact with enough force to crack through plate. Yes poleaxes are axes, but can either have a hammerhead opposite of the axe head or have the hammerhead replace the axe head entirely: becoming a maul. Maces, flails and warhammers were heavy and sloppy compared to the finesse of a sword, but finesse means nothing if it can’t get around armor; what made these clubs excellent one-handed weapons was their ability to crush through armor with relative ease.

Yes the iconic image of a Knight is one using an Arming sword. While the aforementioned weapons were just as good, if not better, at taking down enemy Knights; it should be noted that the Arming sword was also specifically designed for armored combat. Now I frequently hear people say that Samurai swordsmen were faster and ‘had more skill’ than the ‘clumsy’ Knight. However as seen with the mace and flail; it’s more about getting through or around armor rather than flashy Kung Fu stunts. The two most noticeable Knightly fencing techniques are Half-Swording and Mordhau. Half-Swording involved using an armored glove to grab the sword blade to forcefully stab at an opponent, while giving more control in the precision of the stab; this allow stabs to pierce through or around armor more effectively. The Mordhau also involved grabbing the blade, but having the sword upside-down so that the pommel acts like a mace.

I will also mention that mounted Knights were devastating as heavy cavalry due to combining a horse’s speed with heavy plate (with horses having armor as well). Polearms and pikes could probably knock of a Knight from his horse, but the Knight could still survive the impact. Even then, a mounted Knight was probably the most dangerous warrior in the pre-gunpowder world (other than Indian/South East Asian War Elephants).

And since I am mentioning the Hundred Years War, I have to mention the clash of the English Longbow vs the French Crossbow. To put it simply; the bow had higher rate of fire and the crossbow had higher armor penetration (due to a stronger string pull). The English longbowmen were all professional troops (archery required years of experience to be effective), while the crossbow could be given to anyone and so crossbowmen could be recruited on a larger scale. Range varied greatly, but from what I understand; short bow < small crossbow < longbow < windlass crossbow. The English Longbow was superior on a normal battlefield thanks to its reload time being way superior compared to a windlass crossbow, and its range being superior to anything else (other than a siege weapon). However the crossbow was superior at sieges for two reasons.

First; aiming with a bow fatigues the archer due to maintaining a pull of the string, while crossbows have a mechanical locking mechanism to do that. Second; hiding behind a castle wall (if you’re defending) or a massive yet portable pavise shield (if you’re on the field or attacking) compensates for a slow reload time, since sieges can take months anyways and your protection makes reloading speed irrelevant. Aiming was necessary in order to wait for your target to reveal themselves; because it was still impossible to fight a battle by hiding behind cover indefinitely.

Side note: slings and javelins became very uncommon at this point. Javelins did exist in the Iberian Peninsula during the Medieval Ages, but the combination of crossbows (who had superior range) and plate armor (which could resist javelins) made javelins ineffective. Slings were certainly still used as a portable sidearm, but could do nothing against the evolving armor. You try throwing a rock at a fully armored Knight, it’s not going to work.

Maybe you can use cannons; great range, downright overkill, and effective at assassinating Thomas Montagu. Or you could use a mini-cannon; the hand cannon. Now this technology was new at this time, so it had plenty of issues; however it did have armor penetrating abilities that eclipsed what a bow or crossbow could do. It proved that it had potential to change the future of warfare…

Pike & Shot

The Renaissance is seen as the transition from the ancient world to the modern world. Several inventions revolutionized the world forever; the printing press allowed literacy and the spread of information, naval navigation and sail technology allowed Juan Sebastián Elcano (under Ferdinand Magellan) to travel around the world, and various ideas of economics, art and Protestantism that are still relevant today.

Militarily speaking; the advancements in gunpowder weapons was also considered to be a turning point in history. The clunky, awkward and flawed hand-cannon was surpassed by a more improved Arquebus. The main differences were a longer barrel (for more accuracy as the bullet is forced down a longer path, maintaining that direction longer), a trigger mechanism (allowing the Arquebusier to aim, without fumbling with the fuse to fire the gun), and a gradual increase in bullet caliber and muzzle velocity (increasing range, lethality and armor penetration).

So many people point out that the use of the Arquebus made no sense when bows and crossbows had many advantages in comparison; superior rate of fire, precision, angled volley fire (allowing archers to be safely behind the front lines), and issues with wet powder and match. I will mention that there were armies that did still use bows and crossbows during Pike and Shot warfare, but muskets became the norm as gunpowder technology evolved. With that said; let’s look at each argument.

Bows clearly have superior rate of fire than a windlass crossbow or an Arquebus. However plate armor has reached its peak, and arrows didn’t have enough power to pierce such armor or guarantee a kill without a precise hit. Even the Tercio/Conquistator style of armor (which frequently did not include face, arm or leg protection) was still efficient: especially with the wedge shape design of the Cuirass chestplate and Morion helmet made specifically to deflect impacts away.

The most important issue with bows is that archery was a professional skill; meaning that even if archers had a higher rate of fire, they had fewer numbers due to how time consuming it was to train archers. This is why very few Medieval kingdoms perfected archery (the English being an obvious exception) and why the crossbow was the more common projectile weapon. Likewise, small crossbows would have the same issue of sacrificing armor penetration for rate of fire. Meanwhile; the Arquebus’ ‘point and shoot’ performance meant that it took only hours to learn how to use the weapon.

Muskets had a poor reputation regarding precision; the bullet would bounce around in the barrel, causing it to turn randomly during flight. Some muskets gained the reputation of ‘not hitting the broad side of a barn’. Meanwhile stories like Robin Hood created the legends of archers being extremely accurate; always striking directly between the eyes from a very safe distance, consistently without any issue. While plenty of these statements are sometimes exaggerated, the fact remains that sniping individuals is not the same as facing an enemy army. When facing an enemy force of hundreds or thousands of soldiers densely packed soldiers, it doesn’t matter if you miss an individual target so long as the enemy army is hit. I will also mention that the issue with the bulletin turning off course only occurs outside of its effective range, which would be an issue with any projectile. And from what I understand; the Arquebus had a range similar to that of a bow or crossbow. And as the Musket evolved, so did its effective range.

Angled volley fire allowed archers to maintain their capability on the battlefield without fear of getting charged by an enemy. Realistically; an enemy army is not going to stand 20ft away and just do nothing, by that point the archers would have no reason to be on the front lines still using their bows. Cavalry charges can cross the battlefield fast enough to hit a front line before that front line can react (due to the slow reload time of any Ancient projectile weapons). Archers need to stay in the back lines so the front line takes any direct blows like this. So then why use an Arquebus if the Arquebusiers need to be in the front lines? Actually this wasn’t always an issue; primarily because the Arquebusiers can have pikemen protecting them. Pikes are able to reach over an Arquebusier to protect him from a cavalry charge. And the Arquebusier is a relatively light unit that could retreat to the back line if necessary. There are also various firing drills that allowed the Arquebusiers to rotate in a way to allow other soldiers to protect them. Other large weapons like the Zweihänder and Bardiche would also be used instead of a pike, and many Renaissance Halberds had a longer pike design compared to Medieval Poleaxes.

Side note; this was also the age of the Rapier. Now what a Rapier technically is and how frequently it was used in actually combat (outside of personal duels) is up to debate; but I have noticed that the long and narrow design of the sword is specifically designed to pierce through gaps in plate armor while maintaining a reach advantage compared to other single handed swords. However foot swordsmen did quickly die out, probably because swords are expensive and the pike was arguable the more effective melee weapon with its much longer length. Finally, the match of the matchlock. The argument is that on a rainy day, the match would be extinguished and the open flashpan would get its powder wet. This is true. However; stormy weather will mess up any projectiles. For bows; the string loses a significant amount of tension in humidity, becoming soggy and limp. Rain creates mud, which would slow down soldiers anyways; so most armies avoided advancing during a rainy day.

I also need to mention the rise of Cannons. Now it is true that Cannons existed in the Medieval Age. However the advancements and evolution of Cannon technology allowed it to be more effective against armies. Cannons began having larger wheels and smaller barrels (on average) to allow more mobility; allowing Cannons to be better positioned. The added height of the wheels made cannons able to fire farther distances and offered better aiming. Anti-infantry ammunition, especially grapeshot, could hit dozens of enemy soldiers in one shot. Cannons were relatively small in number compared to other units, but became mandatory due to their massive range compared to all other projectile weapons. An enemy army without a cannon could be bombarded indefinitely from a safe distance if the cannoneers know they won’t be counter attacked. Cannons still had to be protected, their high weight made retreat difficult. The 1808 Battle of Somosierra demonstrated just how vulnerable cannons are to a cavalry charge; the Spanish army routing after Napoleon’s Hussars obliterated the Spanish cannoneers.

This was the beginning of the transition away from both armor and armor piercing melee weapons (like the mace and flail). The reload of the Arquebus was just slow enough to allow Medieval Knights to still exist on the battlefield; but the Knight was now no longer the invincible tank it was previously. Faster light cavalry could be more effective against armies with Arquebusiers; since at least the light cavalry have a better chance of avoiding gunfire with their superior mobility, and the fact that they didn’t wear as much armor made them easier to recruit in larger quantities due to their cheaper costs.

And as blackpowder weapons improved, new types of guns were produced. Muskets were designed to have high range by having a long barrel and high lethality and armor penetration by having a thick round (and thus a wide barrel). However using a Musket on horseback, while possible, is an extreme hassle due to its size and weight. Aiming at full gallop is also chaotic; the bouncing experienced during horseback riding is why you never see snipers on horseback (standing still is an option, but then that makes your massive horse a standing target).

Dragoon units were noticeable for being cavalry who used blackpowder weapons. The Pistol was the most commonly used during the Thirty Years War; but the Dragoon (a short barreled shotgun) would also appear later on. Either way, they had the same tactic; ride close to the enemy (preferably at Pikeman or when an Arquebusier is reloading.), fire at point blank range, then flee to reload or to pull out their sword and engage in combat. As Musket technology improved, so did the Musket’s rate of fire; so riding at point blank range just to fire a singleshot and very imprecise Pistol wasn’t worth it at that point. However; Carbines were small enough to hand from the saddle or leg (so the cavalryman could still use a sword as well), but were long enough to have a range almost as good as a normal Musket. Pistols would still exist as sidearms, and did have the advantage of being light enough to carry multiple pistols into battle (sometimes with a bandolier or belt).

Napoleonic Warfare

The Musket is considered to be different than an Arquebus for many reasons, primarily; the Arquebus was heavy (requiring a rest for proper aiming), used a matchlock firing mechanism (the Musket wheellock, flintlock, or caplock triggers were significantly more reliable for not needing a lit match), and the Arquebus had inferior armor penetration (steel armor was effectively useless against Muskets, although elite cavalry did still continue to wear a steel cuirass).

However the Musket still has the issue of being vulnerable after firing. So in close combat, while you are still able to buttstroke (bludgeoning someone with the Musket), it’s not as deadly as a sword. The Stretsly attempted to compensate this by making their Bardiche act as a rest for the Arquebus and Musket, allowing both weapons to be deployed simultaneously; but this just meant that a foot soldier would be carrying a heavy Arquebus and a very heavy Axe.

The Tercios (meaning thirds) were split as 1/3 pikemen, 1/3 swordsmen and 1/3 Arquebusier in order to compensate each other’s vulnerabilities. But this forced Tercio formations to be mixed. This meant that a unit of only Pikemen would have a slight advantage in melee combat, and a unit of only Arquebusiers would have a slight advantage in long range.

Yet in Napoleonic warfare, the Musketeer is the primary foot soldier; Spearmen and Swordsmen become horsemen almost exclusively. The reason is that the Musket became its own melee weapon with the Bayonet. It is a detachable blade that can be put at the end of a Musket; making the Musket into a shaft. The Bayonet has many designs, including sword and axe; but the pike and spear (or knife) bayonets were the most common. This meant that the Pike and Shot formation technically still existed, it’s just that the Musketeers are both the PIKEmen and SHOOTers. This both simplified the armies and made them more adaptable; you can shoot a Pikeman from a distance, or exploit the close combat vulnerability of an Arquebusier reloading. And as a result; the Pikeman and the Arquebusier became quickly obsolete, as the Bayonetted Musket combined the two.

An interesting thing to note is that there were 4 types of Bayonets. The first is a ‘Pre-Attached’ Bayonet, some kind of spike already permanently attached to the firearm. I don’t see many examples of this other than the Hand Cannon, which can has the spike act like a handle; then the Hand Cannon can be swung like a club, with the spike acting like a pickaxe head.

The debut of the Detachable Bayonet is the Plug Bayonet; which blocks the barrel of the Musket (like a plug). This does guarantee a tight fit for the spearhead, but prevents the Musketeer from reloading. As a result, the Plug Bayonet is typically attached after the Musket is fired and right before an infantry charge.

But a Musket would be more effective if it didn’t waste time swapping the Bayonet blade in order to reload. The Ring Bayonet works like a finger ring, but attaches to the Musket’s barrel. As a result, it does not block the barrel, allowing the Musketeer to fire. The problem is that Bayonet combat can be very rough and aggressive, and a loose ring could easily be knocked off in the chaos. I would assume that buttstroking the Ring Bayonet would guarantee it getting knocked off.

The final type of Bayonet is the one still in use today; the Socket Bayonet. By locking in place with a socket, it has a firmer grip on the barrel. I will mention that I have seen depictions of Napoleonic Warfare where the Musketeers attached this Bayonet during a battle instead of at the start of a battle; I thought this was odd since it defeats the purpose of having a Bayonet that allows the Musketeer to fire unhindered. I am assuming that reloading with the Bayonet attached can be dangerous, since to use the ramrod you have to ram your hand into the same barrel that the Bayonet is parallel and attached to. Having a bunch of conscripts lacking experience or audacity probably shouldn’t have such a sharp blade with them unless they need to.

The Musket was still, like its predecessors, a smoothbore firearm; meaning that the musketball had nothing to grip onto it while it traveled through the barrel, making the musketball bounce randomly. Rifling was the solution to this flaw. Although Rifling was invented during the Renaissance, it was uncommon on the battlefield until the Age of Enlightenment; when American frontiersmen (who used the Pennsylvanian Long Rifle for hunting) began using it during for self-defense. This led to the Rifle’s use in the French-Indian War and American Revolution, and frequently involved exploiting its long range to ambush at a safe distance or to assassinate high value targets (like officers). Since both the French and English fought against such snipers, they too saw their usefulness and introduced Riflemen into their armies. Now the additional range came at the cost of reloading time, as the tightness of the Rifling made ramming the ammunition into the barrel slower.

Replacing the Musket with the Rifle as the standard firearm for infantry wasn’t a useful strategy since, as mentioned before, the precision of an entire army was not important since your target is another massive army; a musketball moving left or right of the intended soldier will still hit another soldier. However as elite skirmishing units, the Riflemen were great at a support role.

Sieges remained mostly the same; using cannons and tunnels to safely damage enemy walls. However a more audacious and risky tactic was to use Grenadiers. These troops would use early modern grenades that would be lobbed over or at walls to both do damage to the walls and attack the soldiers within the fort. Similar troops could also plant explosives at the base of these walls for additional sabotage. The problem is that; sieges are normally in a clearing (so that the defenders can see their attackers), the defenders are obviously going to have Musketeers attacking anyone who tries to come close by, and grenades at this time were highly unpredictable and could either fail to explode, have a delayed fuse, or be ignited by the weakest spark. As a result; it was very easy for an untrained soldier to panic or screwup with such a dangerous task. Grenadiers became an elite unit as a result; and overtime they would be considered some of the best soldiers within their army. Ironically, the later Grenadiers would focus almost entirely on Musketeer combat with some not carrying grenades at all; Grenadier became more synonymous with ‘elite soldier’ rather than ‘the guy who throws grenades.’

It does need to be mentioned that although elite units still existed during this era, a large percent of the military were conscripts (how high this percent was depends on the nation and the year). Conscripts were always a factor in warfare; but troop quality was far more significant: A peasant Slinger is not going to do much against an elite Cataphract. And the numbers of an army don’t automatically mean victory if every other trait of the units are below par: in the Boudica Revolt (specifically The Battle of Watling Street) the Celtic rebels had significantly superior numbers compared to the Roman army under Governor Suetonius, and yet the Romans won using superior armor, weapons, morale, discipline, and tactical leadership. Suetonius predicted his victory by declaring “[These rebel Celts] are not soldiers—they're not even properly equipped. We've beaten them before and when they see our weapons and feel our spirit, they will crack.”

Yet if we refer back to the elite Cataphract; if he’s facing a conscript Musketeer, then the Musketeer actually has a high chance of shooting and severely injuring or killing the Cataphract with his Musket. The lethality, armor penetration and range of a Musket became an equalizer; close combat skill, weapon quality and armor no longer made an elite soldier nigh invincible. The Boshin War had many battles of skilled Samurai losing to conscript Imperial armies, who used their superior western firearms to defeat the outdated swordsmen. Even when the Shogun’s Samurai adopted the firearms, the best case scenario was to only match the Imperial troops when both sides were engaged at a distance.

I was considering looking into Modern Warfare, but technology became really diverse and evolved really fast. The American Civil War (ending in 1865) still had muskets, while WWII (ending in 1945: 80 years later) introduced the first nuclear weapons. Even a simplified summary could stretch out as a full length book. So this is where I stop for now.

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