How did melee soldiers in the front rank of a formation fight without getting tired?

How did melee soldiers in the front rank of a formation fight without getting tired?

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The Romans used a system of rotating out the front rank through a shield push. But how did other soldiers, for example the Greek Hoplites, fight in battles which often lasted hours without getting rest? If they didn't get rest, then does this mean that being placed in the front rank is a sure death sentence since the soldier would eventually get tired?

who says they didn't get tired? Of course they did, but so did their opponents.
And who says they didn't get rotated? Most of those battles were not slugging matches with people bashing swords and shields (or lances) together for hours and hours on end. They were position games, each side's phalanxes marching across terrain trying to get an advantage, then eventually closing for an engagements.
Often there would have been extended rest periods that way, chance for the formation to change too.
Don't think of ancient battles being like the 24/7 fighting we have today, and even there each individual unit isn't in action constantly, they're pulled back to the rear after a few hours, there's lulls in the action as it moves to another corner of the field, etc. etc.
And without the mechanised forces we have now, the pace was slower. On a field a few kilometers on a side, it could take hours to jostle for position before the actual fighting started (except maybe for some harassment by cavalry or archers dashing in and out at times).

The quick answer is that they did get tired.

If they wanted to rest, the two sides would recoil back and stop fighting for a time.

One of the advantages of Roman discipline and tactics was they could rotate in new troops and take advantage of the exhausted men on the other side.

One Hundred Years Ago, the Harlem Hellfighters Bravely Led the U.S. Into WWI

Private Henry Johnson of Albany, New York, held tight his French Lebel rifle and stared into the darkness of no-man’s-land, listening for German raiders. Beyond the parapet, he could make out shapes and shadows under the waning moon.

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Johnson was a 25-year-old railroad baggage porter, the son of North Carolina tobacco farmers. Under French command, he manned the front line of the Great War about 115 miles east of Paris on the early morning of May 15, 1918.

He heard a sound and turned to his partner in their tiny observation post, Needham Roberts, who gestured toward the direction of the noise. They heard it again: the snip of barbed wire being cut.

Johnson fired an illumination rocket into the sky, then ducked as German grenades flew toward him. The grenades exploded behind him, and pain struck his left leg and side. Roberts, bleeding from his head, threw grenades of his own back over the parapet.

The German forces rushed into the Americans’ dugout. Johnson shot one German in the chest, point-blank, then swung his rifle to club another. Two enemy soldiers tried to haul Roberts away, until Johnson drove his nine-inch knife into one of their skulls. Another German shot Johnson in the shoulder and thigh Johnson lunged with his knife and slashed him down. The enemy soldiers ran. Johnson chucked grenades as they fled.

Reviewing the carnage the next day, a U.S. Army captain estimated that Johnson had killed four of at least 24 German soldiers. Days later, Johnson and Roberts became the first Americans to receive the French Croix de Guerre – the first of many honors awarded to the 369th Infantry Regiment, better known as the Harlem Hellfighters.

The Hellfighters, the most celebrated African-American regiment in World War I, confronted racism even as they trained for war, helped bring jazz to France, then battled Germany longer than almost any other American doughboys. (Their nickname’s origin is unclear: it was possibly coined by enemy soldiers, the American press, or both.) Like their predecessors in the Civil War and successors in the wars that followed, these African-American troops fought a war for a country that refused them basic rights – and their bravery stood as a rebuke to racism, a moral claim to first-class citizenship.

They were mostly New Yorkers, the first black troops in their state’s National Guard. After years of lobbying by civic leaders from Harlem, Manhattan’s celebrated black neighborhood, Governor Charles Whitman finally formed the all-black unit, first known as the 15th New York National Guard Regiment, in 1916, as the U.S. prepared for possible entry into World War I.

The majority of the enlistees actually came from Harlem, which was home to 50,000 of Manhattan’s 60,000 African-Americans in the 1910s. Others came from Brooklyn, towns up the Hudson River, and New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Some were teens, some in their mid-40s. Some were porters, doormen, or elevator operators, some teachers, night watchmen or mailmen. Their motives included adventure, patriotism and pride. “To be somebody you had to belong to the 15th Infantry,” wrote enlistee Arthur P. Davis of Harlem.

Whitman named his former campaign manager, William Hayward, a white attorney and former Nebraska National Guard colonel, as commander. Hayward hired a mix of white officers, to please the governor, and black officers, to build support for the regiment in Harlem. Hayward told white officer candidates to “meet men according to their rank as soldiers,” and warned that if they “intended to take a narrower attitude, [they] had better stay out.” In the years to come, he would repeatedly advocate for fair treatment for his regiment within the Army.

Hayward also recruited African-American bandleader James Reese Europe to form a first-rate marching band for parades, recruitment and fundraisers. Europe, a classically trained violinist and ragtime performer, enlisted as a lieutenant and convinced top Harlem musicians to join.

Even before combat, the regiment faced unjust challenges from fellow Americans. In October 1917, six months after the official U.S. entrance into the war, they trained for combat in Jim Crow-ruled Spartanburg, South Carolina. There, the regiment pledged to follow an unusual military discipline: Hayward asked them to respond to racist insults and threats with “fortitude and without retaliation,” but to report any incidents to military authorities.

“There had been all kind of insults hurled at our body who were on duty in town,” wrote musician Noble Sissle in his memoir. “Our boys had some pretty bitter pills to swallow.” Sissle himself was kicked and called a racial slur by a hotel’s proprietor when he stopped in to get some newspapers. A hundred black and white soldiers gathered at the hotel’s entrance, “bent on seeking restitution,” Sissle wrote, but Lieutenant Europe’s calm intervention defused the confrontation until military police arrived. “He really showed his mettle and ability to handle men in that very unpleasant episode,” Sissle recalled.

“As a direct result of such repeated confrontations (not despite them),” wrote Peter N. Nelson in A More Unbending Battle, a history of the Hellfighters, “a bond was forged among the men of the 15th, a fighting spirit they hoped would serve them well when they got to France.”

The 2,000 troops arrived in Brest, France, on the first day of 1918. On the docks, they surprised French soldiers and civilians with a jazz rendition of “La Marseillaise.”

“As the band played eight or ten bars, there came over [the French people’s] faces an astonished look, quickly alert, snap-into-it-attention, and salute by every French soldier and sailor present,” wrote Sissle in his memoir. Though some Parisians had heard American jazz music before, the syncopated beats were likely new to Brest, a port town in Brittany.

Renamed the U.S. 369th Infantry Regiment, they were assigned to the U.S. Army’s Services of Supply, unloading ships and cleaning latrines, a typical assignment for African-American soldiers at the time. But General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, soon offered the 369th to the French army to solve a political problem. The French and British were demanding American reinforcements for their badly depleted divisions. Pershing, under orders from President Woodrow Wilson, had insisted on forming an independent American force in France, to preserve troop morale and accountability for American casualties and to strengthen Wilson’s clout in eventual peace talks.

New York's famous 369th regiment arrives home from France (National Archives Catalog) Unidentified African American recruits for the 15th New York National Guard Regiment heading to Camp Upton (Library of Congress)

Yet Pershing made an exception for the black soldiers of the 369th, reassigning them to the French on March 10. (Pershing’s attitudes toward black troops were complicated he served with the all-black 10th Cavalry in 1895, from whence he got his nickname “Black Jack,” but wrote in his 1931 memoir that black soldiers needed more training because of “lower capacity and lack of education.”) Hayward, who had lobbied Pershing to let his troops fight, captured the ironies of the general’s decision in a letter. “A fairy tale has materialized,” wrote Hayward. “We are now a combat unit…. Our great American general simply put the black orphan in a basket, set it on the doorstep of the French, pulled the bell, and went away.”

After three weeks’ training by French troops, the 369th entered the combat trenches on April 15, 1918 – more than a month before the American Expeditionary Forces’ first major battle. For three months, as the German spring offensive raged dozens of miles to the northwest, the 369th manned the front line and fought occasional skirmishes, including Johnson and Roberts’ battle against the German raiding party.

American reporters’ accounts of their heroics reached home within days. “Two New York Negro Soldiers Foil German Assault,” declared the New York World’s lead headline on May 20, 1918. “Pershing Praises Brave Negroes,” read a New York Sun headline the next day. Such stories made Johnson and Roberts two of the best-known American soldiers in World War I, at a time when most U.S. troops either hadn’t yet arrived in France or were training away from the front lines.

At the front on July 15, the 369th withstood heavy bombardment as Germany launched the Second Battle of the Marne, its final offensive of the war. The Hellfighters took part in the French counterattack, losing 14 members of the regiment, with 51 more sustaining injuries.

For the Hellfighters, like the war’s millions of soldiers, front-line combat was a nightmare of shelling, fear of chemical-weapons attacks, and the terror of going “over the top” – charging out of the trenches to face enemy fire. “For two nights they gave us shell fire and the gas were thick and the forest looked like it were ready to give up all its trees every time a shell came crashing through,” wrote Horace Pippin, a private from Goshen, N.Y. who later became a prominent painter. “We barely knew what to do for we could not fight shells, but we could the Germans. We would rather face the Germans to come over the top than to have their shells.”

As part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, in which more than a million American and French troops attacked the German lines, the 369th suffered some of the worst casualties suffered by an American regiment in the war, with 144 killed and almost 1,000 wounded. “What have I done this afternoon?” wrote Captain Arthur Little in his memoir, From Harlem to the Rhine. “Lost half my battalion—driven hundreds of innocent men to their death.”

Lieutenant Europe, gassed at the front, wrote his best-known song, “On Patrol in No Man’s Land,” from a hospital. Ruled unready for combat but fit to serve, Europe took the 369th’s band to Paris, and at the request of AEF headquarters, the band spent eight weeks in the city, playing for troops and dignitaries. At a concert with British, Italian, and French bands at Paris’ Jardin des Tuileries, Europe’s band played W.C. Handy’s “Memphis Blues” and “St. Louis Blues” for an enormous crowd that was shocked by jazz’s rhythms. “Everywhere we gave a concert, it was a riot,” Europe told a New York Tribune reporter. “We played to 50,000 people [at the Tuileries], at least, and had we wished it, we might be playing yet.”

Histories of the regiment say the troops spent 191 days on the front, more than any other Americans. On February 17, 1919, a massive crowd filled Fifth Avenue for a victory parade honoring the Hellfighters. The band kicked off the procession with a French marching song, full of “bugle fanfares,” reported the New York World, as well as “saxophones and basses that put a new and more peppery tang into it.” The soldiers marched in a French formation, 16 abreast. Johnson, who’d become one of the war’s most famous American soldiers, rode in a convertible, holding a bouquet of red and white lilies and bowing to the crowds.

The Hellfighters’ story of wartime valor brought mixed results as the veterans reentered American society. Europe launched his Hellfighter Band on a tour of the Northeast and Midwest, but two months in, after a concert in Boston, he was stabbed to death by the band’s deranged drummer. Noble Sissle carried on the band’s legacy as a songwriter and vocalist his 1921 musical Shuffle Along, co-written with Eubie Blake, became one of the Harlem Renaissance’s major works.

Johnson himself became a champion for his fellow troops, testifying before the New York legislature in early 1919 in support of a bill to give veterans a preference in government hiring. But he soon tired of public speaking. “Henry Johnson was expected… to grin, laugh, show good cheer, and talk about what he’d done that night in May as if it had afforded him the thrill of a lifetime,” wrote Nelson. “He’d become, to his own race, a symbol of black manhood, but to whites, he was expected to be a voice for racial harmony.”

Instead, after a fiery speech in St. Louis in March 1919, in which he accused white soldiers of racism and cowardice, Johnson disappeared from the public sphere. He spent part of 1920 in the Army’s Walter Reed hospital and later grew sick from tuberculosis. He died in July 1929, at age 39, of an enlarged heart.

“America can’t change what happened to Henry Johnson,” said President Barack Obama in 2015. “But we can do our best to make it right.” Ninety-seven years after Johnson’s battle in France, Obama awarded him a posthumous Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award.

About Erick Trickey

Erick Trickey is a writer in Boston, covering politics, history, cities, arts, and science. He has written for POLITICO Magazine, Next City, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, and Cleveland Magazine

History [ edit | edit source ]

Troopers defend the planetary ion cannon of Echo Base during the Battle of Hoth

With the proclamation of the New Order 19 years before the Battle of Yavin, discontinued military equipment from the former Grand Army of the Republic often wound up in the hands of rebelling factions in a variety of star systems. ⎘] With many resenting Galactic Emperor Sheev Palpatine's expansionist policies into the galaxy's periphery, many came to form loose, unorganized cells against the Emperor's reign. Cham Syndulla's Free Ryloth Movement ⎙] epitomized the ferocity of early resistance movements four years into Imperial rule, while smaller actions orchestrated by groups such as Berch Teller's rebel cell and the Corellian Resistance ⎚] continued to prove a nuisance to Imperial authorities well into the Age of the Empire. ⎘]

At least five years before the Battle of Yavin, a loose rebel network came into existence that opposed the Galactic Empire on a near galactic scale. However, it was unorganized, with many groups not knowing the existence of one another in order to ensure each group's individual survival in case one was compromised. One group known as Phoenix Cell utilized CR90 corvettes and a Republic-era Pelta-class frigate along with RZ-1 A-wing interceptors that would continue to be used by Rebel forces well into the Galactic Civil War, while soldiers wore uniforms that were visually similar to those worn by later resistance fighters. Ζ] ⎖]

General Han Solo commanded his strike team, the Pathfinders, during the Battle of Endor.

With the formation of the Alliance to Restore the Republic, Rebel troopers would see wide use and variations in armor and equipment. They were deployed on worlds as far flung as Sullust, ⎛] Coyerti, ⎛] and Haidoral Prime, ⎛] as well as in major battles such as the Battle of Hoth Δ] and the Battle of Endor. Ε] Following the establishment of the New Republic, Rebel troops were transitioned into the role of New Republic soldiers. Η]

Why Did the Battle of Zama Happen?

The Battle of Zama was the culmination of decades of hostility between Rome and Carthage, and the final battle of the Second Punic War — a conflict which had almost seen the end of Rome.

Yet, the Battle of Zama almost didn’t happen — had attempted peace negotiations between Scipio and the Carthaginian Senate remained solid, the war would have ended without this ultimate, decisive engagement.

Into Africa

After suffering humiliating defeats in Spain and Italy at the hands of Carthaginian general Hannibal — one of the best field generals of not only ancient history but all-time — Rome was almost finished.

However, the brilliant young Roman general, Publius Cornelius Scipio, took over operations in Spain and there dealt heavy blows against Carthaginian forces occupying the peninsula.

After retaking Spain, Scipio convinced the Roman Senate to allow him to take the war straight to North Africa. It was permission that they were hesitant to give, but in the end proved to be their salvation — he swept through the territory with the assistance of Masinissa and was soon threatening the capital of Carthage itself.

In a panic, the Carthaginian Senate negotiated peace terms with Scipio, which were highly generous considering the threat they were under.

By the terms of the treaty, Carthage would lose their overseas territory but keep all their lands in Africa, and would not interfere with Masinissa’s expansion of his own kingdom to the west. They would also reduce their Mediterranean fleet and pay a war indemnity to Rome as they had following the First Punic War.

But it wasn’t quite that simple.

A Broken Treaty

Even while negotiating the treaty, Carthage had been busy sending messengers to recall Hannibal home from his campaigns in Italy. Feeling secure in the knowledge of his impending arrival, Carthage broke the armistice by capturing a Roman fleet of supply ships that was driven into the Gulf of Tunis by storms.

In response, Scipio sent ambassadors to Carthage to demand an explanation, but they were turned away without any sort of answer. Even worse, the Carthaginians set a trap for them, and laid an ambush for their ship on its return journey.

Within sight of the Roman camp on shore, the Carthaginians attacked. They were unable to ram or board the Roman ship — as it was much quicker and more maneuverable — but they surrounded the vessel and rained arrows down upon it, killing many of the sailors and soldiers aboard.

Seeing their comrades under fire, Roman soldiers rushed to the beach while the surviving sailors escaped the encircling enemy and ran their ship aground near their friends. Most lay dead and dying on the deck, but the Romans managed to pull the few survivors — including their ambassadors — from the wreckage.

Infuriated by this betrayal, the Romans returned to the warpath, even as Hannibal reached his home shores and set out to meet them.

Why Zama Regia?

The decision to fight on the plains of Zama was largely one of expediency — Scipio had been camped with his army just outside the city of Carthage before and during the short lived treaty attempt.

Enraged by the treatment of the Roman ambassadors, he led his army out to conquer several nearby cities, moving slowly south and west. He also sent messengers to ask Masinissa to return, as the Numidian king had gone back to his own lands after the success of the early treaty negotiations. But Scipio was hesitant to go to war without his old friend and the skilled warriors that he commanded.

Meanwhile, Hannibal landed at Hadrumetum — an important port city south along the coast from Carthage — and began to move inland to the west and north, re-taking smaller cities and villages along the way and recruiting allies and additional soldiers to his army.

He made his camp near the town of Zama Regia — a five day march west of Carthage — and sent out three spies to ascertain the location and strength of the Roman forces. Hannibal was quickly made to learn that they were camped nearby, with the plains of Zama being the natural meeting place for the two armies both of which sought battle ground that would be conducive to their strong cavalry forces.

Short Negotiations

Scipio displayed his forces to the Carthaginian spies that had been captured — desiring to make his opponent aware of the enemy he would soon fight — before sending them safely back, and Hannibal followed through on his resolve to meet his opponent face to face.

He asked for negotiations and Scipio agreed, both men having the utmost respect for one another.

Hannibal pleaded to spare the bloodshed that was coming, but Scipio could no longer trust a diplomatic agreement, and felt that a military success was the only sure way to a lasting Roman victory.

He sent Hannibal away empty handed, saying, “If before the Romans had crossed to Africa you had retired from Italy and then proposed these conditions, I think your expectations would not have been disappointed.

But now that you have been forced reluctantly to leave Italy, and that we, having crossed into Africa, are in command of the open country, the situation is manifestly much changed.

Furthermore, the Carthaginians, after their request for peace had been granted, most treacherously violated it. Either put yourselves and your country at our mercy or fight and conquer us.”

Comparing land and sea [ edit | edit source ]

There are obvious similarities between the Greek naval and army. [ citation needed ] The tactics are similar enough that we can assume that they naturally flow together. Xenophon tells us that an enomotiai (a column of 36 men) converts into a phalanx or metopon. The two terms are interchangeable, though one is borrowed from the army and the other the navy. It seems safe to say that the connection between the two kinds of fighting is stronger than initially thought, at least at a vocabulary level. There are also several references to images of the army behaving as a naval fleet. For instance, Morrison tells us that “they wheel each company like trieres to face the enemy bow on”. Ε] When facing the enemy, the hoplite army seemed to turn and face toward the opposing army in a movement associated with the trireme. It is also documented that “each lochos like a ‘trireme head-on to the enemy’” advanced toward the battle. ⎭] The images of movement associated with the navy have become synonymous with the army as well. Conceptually, the actions of the hoplites and the movements of naval ships are similar as they move into battle. The basic directional qualities are similar. There exists parallelism between using the word phalanx and metepon once the ships are in battle lines. “Phalanx” can be “transferred directly from military to naval context” indicating the “similarity of the tactical concepts, and the movements, in each”. Ε] Thus terms and tactical moves are interchangeable between land and sea. They are no longer clearly defined as one kind of fighting technique or another because the lines formed in the same way. Also, the formation of the metepon facing in the direction of the line of sailing takes place in the same way Xenophon describes foot soldier’s movements. In other words, the ship leader “would rest on its oars while ships behind came up one by one and took station on the left side of the ship in front.” just as a hoplite soldier waits for his fellow soldiers to approach his left, albeit without the oars. Ε] Even the way the preparatory sailing lines are executed in the navy resembles the movements of foot soldiers. Like the brilliant ever-adapting minds of Greek military tacticians, the Greek naval commanders seemed to know which of the two fleets was “the slower” and “adapted their tactical dispositions accordingly”. ⎘] Tactics were ever changing. Spears and arrows had similar purposes on both land and sea. Hand-to-hand combat of the marines was crucial and often won the wars at sea. Great time went into training the army and the navy. The hoplites practiced moving into single-line formations daily. The navy rehearsed difficult maneuvers beforehand as well, like executing the diekplous amongst friendly ships. ⎮] Thus, both took great time, precision, and execution to achieve success in battle. The fighting techniques of the marines and hoplite foot soldiers were extremely similar. With the small adaptation of the grappling hook, little had changed. The fate of several sea battles still depended on the skill of the melee fighters. Thus, the similarities between land and sea ran much deeper than a common mother nation. They stem from similar military minds.

Ancient Weapons

Ancient Weapons: The Game Changers
To discuss the entire arsenal of ancient weapons could, and has, filled volumes of books. For the scope of this series, we will discuss the general categories, game changers and those that are interesting and odd. While these weapons are in reality horrific and have caused untold suffering to humanity, they are still worth our attention. Advancements in ancient weapons could be the nuclear weapon of the ancient world, giving on society the edge and dictating the course of history.

Spears - Primative Weapon of Choice
Spears are one of humankind’s earliest weapons and they reigned supreme for a hundred thousand years. The material culture of our Paleolithic (500,000 BC – 8,000 BC) ancestors covers 99% of the total time that man has been making tools and weapons. This undoubtedly makes the spear mans most produced weapon. The spear has been credited with creating 450,000 years of peace on earth, as even an outnumbered man holding a spear would be deadly to attack without ranged weapons.

The spear offers its user a level of protection due to its long reach and found a place in many ancient armies. The simple spear is a cheap and effective, ancient armies often combined it with a shield when equipping the ranks of their heavy infantry units. Spears units were found in many, many ancient armies from the ancient Sumerians and Egyptian weapons, to the military of ancient India and Japan, and indeed around the world.

Spear warfare hit its pinnacle of perfection when used by the Greeks and Macedonians. Spear armed Greek warriors, called Hoplites, mastered this style of warfare as their city states battled each other over hundreds of years. The terrain of Greece is broken up by rough terrain so Greece never developed the Chariot or Cavalry warfare, but instead focused on the use of infantry. During the Bronze Age Greek warriors battled in the heroic style, each man fighting for his own glory independently. They considered the use of range weapons to be cowardly so their focus was primarily on heavy infantry. By the classical age of Greek civilization they had developed formation tactics. The Phalanx was developed, were rows of hoplites formed a shield wall, the left side of one hoplites shield protecting the man on his right. Heavily armored, spear wielding armies would form up and fight set piece battles. Casualties were generally light until one force’s formation was broken, then slaughter ensued as they fled. (See Spartan Weapons for mor detials)

The next strategic development took advantage of this when an astute Theban general, Epaminondas (ca. 410 BC – 362 BC), realized that battles between phalanxes were essentially giant shoving matches. Whichever phalanx had the strength to put enough pressure on their opponent caused them to break formation, route and loose the battle. It was correctly reasoned that if he loaded up one side of his line and had his weaker side trailing behind them in an echelon formation that by the time the week side engaged the enemy the strong side would have already broke their formation, winning the battle.

Greek hoplite tactics dominated the battlefield of their time two massive Persian invasions, the super power of their day, were defeated by the numerically inferior Greeks. However, the next major development would be made by their neighbors to the North. Phillip of Macedonia, who paid attention to Epaminondas' innovations, doubled the length the spears of his army (to over 18 feet!) and reduced the size of their shields so his soldiers could hold the long spears with both hands. This allowed the spears of the first five ranks to protrude from the formation instead of just the couple ranks like in a Greek phalanx. Enemies faced an impregnable wall of spear tips. Phillips son, Alexander the Great, then used this formation to conquer the known world (335 BC – 326 BC).

After reaching its zenith in the conquests of Alexander the Great , the phalanx began a slow decline. Phillip and Alexander understood that a phalanx was could easily be destroyed if not supported Soldiers could not defend themselves from attacks from the flanks, the ponderous phalanx lacked maneuverability and had difficulty holding formations on rough ground. Calvary, light infantry and skirmishers were deployed in combination with the phalanx. The tactics of Alexander and his father were gradually replaced by a return to the simpler assault tactics of the hoplite phalanx after his death.

The Roman military dropped the inflexible phalanx during the early Roman Republic in favor of a more flexible system after suffering major setbacks in their decade’s long war against the Samnite hill tribes. Around the year 315 BC adopted the system of the Samnites, called the maniple system, that allowed for more flexibility in the rugged hills of Samnium where the Romans were forced to fight. The maniple system has been called a phalanx with joints, each square maniple, about 120 men, could function as an independent unit. The maniples were arrayed in a checker board pattern this allowed space for skirmishers to retreat through the gaps when the heavy infantry closed on their enemies. The front two rows of maniples would then form a single line and battle the enemies. When this line tired it could then retreat through the spaces of the maniples behind it without disrupting their formations, and a fresh line of soldiers would take up the fight. Maniples could also be detached to protect flanks or any other task. The Roman heavy infantry was organized into three lines, the first two lines used short, double edged stabbing swords and the last armed with spears. The youngest men formed the first line, the hastati , after they tired they would fall back through gaps in the next line, the principes. The more experienced principes would then continue the fight, if they were having trouble they could then retreat behind the Triarii. The triarii were the final line and most experienced soldiers.

In the Pyrrhic War (280� BC) Rome proved that they were capable of competing with the armies of the Hellenistic kingdoms — the successor kingdoms of Alexander and the dominant Mediterranean powers of the time. The legions fought the Hellenistic, Macedonian style phalanxes to a bloody draw, forcing Pyrrhus of Epirus to leave Italy. Seventy five years later the Romans fought the Macedonians and their phalanx in the Second Macedonian War (200� BC). They employed a variety of tactics to break up the massive formations. They chose uneven ground to fight on, attempting to break the cohesion of the massive phalanx. Before the front lines met in battle the Romans let loose with their pila, harpoon like throwing spears that caused gaps in the enemy formation that could be exploited. They used a wedge shaped formation to attempt to break through the wall of spear points. The well armored Romans with their large, curved shields were able to exploit the gaps in the wall of spears and get to the Macedonians in order to break up their formations. Once inside the spears the longer swords and better armor of the Romans gave them a distinct advantage over the lightly armored Macedonians whose secondary weapon was a short sword was little more than a dagger.

In the end the Macedonians were repeatedly defeated on the battlefield. Their defeat is often held to have demonstrated that the Macedonian phalanx, formerly the most effective fighting unit in the ancient world, had been proven inferior to the Roman legion. Others have argued that the loss was actually due to a failure of command on the part of Perseus, the Macedonian king. They also dispute weather the Roman maniples ever succeeded in breaking the Macedonian phalanx by engaging it frontally. We will never get the opportunity to know how a Macedonian phalanx using combined arms tactics in the style of Philip or Alexander would have sized up against the Roman legions.

The Roman legions eventually standardized the sword as its main weapon, but they also carried the pila that could be used as spear in certain situations. Pila could be employed in hand to hand combat or as protection from mounted troops. The pila, like the maniple system, was adopted from powerful Semite hill tribes. The legions conquered the Mediterranean world with sword in hand, but spears remained a common weapon throughout the world. Roman auxiliaries and cavalry also continued to years throughout the period of Roman military domination. (See Roman Weapons for more details.)

From around 117 AD to the Western Roman Empires collapse around 476 AD the Roman army slowly changed. The sprawling empire was difficult to defend so the Romans became more and more dependent on barbarian troops. Additionally, a greater emphasis was placed on speed. The Romans concentrated on ranged weapons and cavalry at the expense of the heavy infantry. The infantry became more lightly armored as well and they acquired a heavy thrusting-spear which became the main close order combat weapon. Roman infantry had come full circle. During the 5th century, large portion of Western Rome's main military strength lay in barbarian mercenaries known as foederati. Between losing control of their mercenaries and hunnish invasions the Western Roman Empire collapsed.

In the years that followed, called the dark ages, spears continued to be used widely. Barbarian armies used shield wall tactics reminiscent of the Greeks as they jostled for their places in the new world order. Spears also offered an excellent defense against ascending military power of cavalry, if braced against the ground a charging enemy would impale himself. The Huns had introduced the stirrups to the roman world this allowed a spear armed man to deliver a blow with the full power of the horse, couching the weapon under their armpit instead of stabbing overhand as was done in antiquity. This was the beginning of the medieval knights, but even if a plate armored knight wanted to charge into a wall of spears, his horse might not share his sentiment. When a spear was braced against the ground a charging enemy would impale himself.

During the Viking age and medieval period spears developed into a variety of polearm weapons, such as the bill, the halberd and the lance. The long, two-handed Macedonian style spear also made a comeback during the medieval times. During renaissance and age of exploration Pikes had another heyday and were used extensively by close order infantry formations both for attacks on enemy foot soldiers and as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults. Pike and firearm formations worked together the pike men defending the slow loading and vulnerable gunners from enemy infantry and the deadly cavalry while the gunners provided a powerful ranged weapon. The fact that large pike formations were vulnerable to artillery and improved firearms eventually ended the era of pike formations. Although pikes and spears were still used, usually due to the lacking of quantities of more modern weapons, up through the 1800’s.

The spear had a very long history, from the dawn of man and even into the first several hundred years of the gun powder era. Today spears are manufactured and used for hunting by humans, chimpanzees and orangutans.

The ancient weapons series will continue with the other game changers, the sword, axe and bow. The final article will be about unique, strange and interesting weapons.

13 Answers 13

Clubs, maces, and warhammers. Blunt force trauma in general.

So instead of a gladius they would use a weapon of the above. Smashing weapons would allow to break the bones into many pieces that would be picked by other soldiers to be disposed off.

Also if they depend on their head to fight then getting the heads off would be smart as you can neutralize their ability to actually hit you. Same with the general skeleton construction of the body. Will they collapse if you remove their spine? What about the rest of the connecting bones. etc.

Hooks. Imagine making some sort of contraption that has a hook on a strong wire that grabs the skeleton and puts then into cages or grinding wheel or something like that.

Archers and cavalry will cease to be useful of course. Also something like a phalanx won't have any use.

Elephants. Well. Heavily armored and armed elephants were a formidable force in the ancient world. You could only defeat them with strategy and I'll assume that the skeleton don't have much of that. So just armor an elephants and let it simply smash the opposing line. Don't focus on breaking the line and moral of the opponent. Just smash them to pieces and start collecting them.

Water. Could them swim? I'd imagine a moat being very useful.

Specialized artillery. Instead of the scorpions and similar ones you would primarily focus on throwing rocks of a certain size to break the skeleton into separate parts.

Perhaps instead of the traditional light infantry of the world you would have bone collectors. A blunt force weapon + a shield and no armor. They go around with sacks and once a skeleton is broken they hurry to collect the important pieces of bone away to be disposed of. If people risked their lives throwing javelins at heavy infantry then collecting bones is not a problem.

I don't think we can answer magic without understanding the magic system. The easiest way I'd say if you can cast corrosive spells or fire spells in such magnitudes as to simply melt the bone.

Skeletons pushed together get tangled up with each other easily. The protruding ribs tend to cross the ribs of other skeletons and once that happens it is tricky for the two to extricate themselves from each other. If you add more skeletons it gets trickier.

Bare foot bones have almost no traction.

A mans skeleton weighs 10-15 kg. That is 30 lbs max.

So we have a formation of very light beings which have little traction against the ground and which will get tangled with one another if they bump into each other.

You will have a long rope, each end tied to a team of horses. You will pull the rope into the front of the skeleton formation, pushing them into each other. You will drag the squirming mass of skeletons into a ditch you have prepared full of wood and pitch. You will light it on fire.

Loose bones will be collected by specially trained dogs, and other regular dogs.

Skeletons are very light - about 10 kg for adult European males. In fact, their equipment is likely to weigh more (gladius, 1 kg Roman shield, 10 kg). This low weight can be used tactically, especially as they will be rather top-heavy, with almost all weight above their hips.

For instance, two groups of soldiers running with a rope between them could bowl over the entire skeleton army, and soldiers with maces could come running behind the rope to crush skulls before the skeletons could get back on their feet. And no, it really isn't very easy to sword cut a rope suspended in air. If you think this is a problem, use a chain.

Similarly, soldiers with long staffs could knock skeletons over, partnered with soldiers with maces to knock skulls in.

The Roman soldiers could also use water (rivers, lakes, beaches) to strategic advantage. Skeletons don't float, as their density is greater than that of water. Their equipment will make them very unbalanced, since the water almost cancels the weight of the bones.

Muddy or marshy ground will also work. Bony feet are more likely to sink deep into mud than fleshy feet, and Roman sandals are unlikely to fit very well on bony feet, so they have likely been discarded.

The top-heaviness of armed skeletons will also make them very unstable on slopes and rocky ground. If the Roman soldiers could lure the skeletons to attack along a slope or in rocky terrain, this could make a major tactical advantage.

I really like the idea of war dogs chewing up skeleton’s leg bones. It is a pretty entertaining image to me.

The roman military was very adaptable. They consistently revised their tactics and formations to deal with the unique properties of their opponents.

I think that they’d form their units around small numbers equipped with either tower shields and billhooks — a common farm implement in the days of the Roman Empire or flails and heavy iron boots.

Imagine an outer ring of a dozen soldiers with the shields and billhooks. They pull a couple of skeletons into the center of their formation. Then like 5 soldiers armed with flails and boots pulverize the skeletons.

The human soldiers would have the mass advantage over the skeletons. Assuming they have equal strength, the higher mass would mean that the humans would generate all lot more force — proportional to the ration of the square of their respective masses. I think this fact would allow the Romans to push through the skeleton forces and selectively pull them into the swarm of Roman formations.

Metabolic acidosis induces calcium efflux from bone and in the process buffers the additional hydrogen ions. Initially metabolic acidosis stimulates physicochemical mineral dissolution and then cell-mediated bone resorption. Acidosis increases activity of the bone resorbing cells, the osteoclasts, and decreases activity of the bone forming cells, the osteoblasts (Bushinsky et al., 2000)

It is possible that throwing boiling acid on bones can liquefy said bones (good luck with protecting your army during the boiling process). I'm guessing that the liquefied bones will still fight (unless that 'the skeletons can have a magical weakness' comes into play - the inability to morph/shift into fluid figures, or function in a fluid state). Another magical weakness could be: absorption into the earth. What came from the earth, must return to the earth.

If that doesn't work, then the strategic warfare answers are your best bets!

A pitchfork, a lance, a pillum, trident. And net. Retarius gladiator type of equpiment.

You catch the skeletons, with nets, then load them with pitchfork into mills.

Or you take a roller, give it to the Turtle formation and just, well, roll over the skeletons.

Destroying skeleton is easy, the don't have meat, or tendons or skin that would disurb weapon. When you stab persons leg they might still wak it of. The stab might be just badly placed. With skeleton you have one bone to crush to stop it.

@Willk has the right idea, I believe. Tangle them up! It doesn't matter how strong that pile of bones is, if it weights 20kg it can be pushed around by a child, let a lone a fully grown, fully trained roman soldier. The problem is cheap solutions will probably have unreliable results, so forget the rope and horses.

How did melee soldiers in the front rank of a formation fight without getting tired? - History

Battle of Breitenfeld (1631 AD)
Fast Play Rules for Students

Historical Background: Thirty Years War ( 1618-1648)

The Thirty Years War was a complicated period of military conflict in Europe. The war was fought primarily in Germany as the various German Principalities allied themselves with the Holy Roman Empire or their opponents, France, Sweden, and Denmark. A religious conflict between Protestant and Catholic forces was an important factor early in the war, but later it developed into a struggle for power among the great nations of Europe. During the war armies fought in massive, slow moving formations called Tercios. The Tercio consisted of a large oblong formation of pike men with smaller formations of musketeers at the corners. During battle the Tercios would trudge together and battle it out "at push of pike" until one side broke. King Gustav of Sweden changed everything, however, by introducing revolutionary tactics that relied on smaller formations and emphasized movement and firepower instead of brute strength. The genius of his innovations was demonstrated in 1631 at the battle of Breitenfeld when his Swedish army handily defeated Tilly's larger old style Imperial army.

Battle 1: The Imperials deployed with their cavalry on the wings and their infantry in the center. The Swedish deployment mirrored the Imperials but with detachments of musketeers mixed in with their cavalry (one of Gustav's innovations). After an ineffective artillery duel the battle began. The powerful Imperial Tercios lumbered forward while their cavalry advanced swiftly on the enemy. When the cavalry got to within pistol range they were hit with a devastating volley from the Swedish musketeers. In short order the Imperial cavalry was crushed on both wings, freeing the Swedish cavalry to maneuver freely. On the Swedish right the cavalry retreated to await further developments. On the left the more aggressive Swedish officers sent the cavalry and commanded muskets around the flank to attack the Tercios. After a short and bloody series of charges they were wiped out. In the center the Tercios continued forward while trading musket fire with the Swedish infantry, getting the worst of the exchange. As the infantry came together the burden shifted to the pike men. In some encounters the Swedish battalions smashed the battered Tercios, but more often the Imperials clobbered their opponents with their massive pike formations. The Swedes began to retreat under the constant pressure. As the battle ended the outcome was unclear and the decision was left to the judges. The Imperials were awarded a slim victory since they had outperformed their historic counterparts.

Battle 2: : In the second battle the Swedish artillery were more active. They started by winning a decisive victory in the artillery duel that preceded the battle. Once the armies began to move the immobile Imperial artillery was useless, but the Swedish commanders managed to shift their lighter guns into more favorable positions and continue to fire on the Imperials. This did little damage to the Tercios but it infuriated the Imperial commanders who vowed to capture the Swedish guns. On the wings the Swedes were again victorious thanks to the careful coordination between their cavalry and musketeer detachments. The Swedish cavalry prowled the battlefield like hungry wolves, picked off any infantry units that looked vulnerable. The musketeers nimbly maneuvered onto the flanks of the plodding Tercios and harassed them without mercy. Still the brave Imperial Tercios continued to advance, grinding down the Swedish battalions in front of them. It was another very close contest, but slowly the Swedes gained the upper hand. Sensing the change in momentum Tilly himself entered the fray, rallying the Tercios as his veterans fought for their lives. It wasn't enough. As time ran out Gustav led the Swedish cavalry across the field to capture the Imperial artillery and turn it against its former owners, as he had done in the real battle. Only the clock prevented him from recreating this bit of history. This battle was a narrow victory for the Swedes.

The Miniatures: The figures used were 1/72-scale plastics from Revell - eight boxes of #2567 Swedish Cavalry were used for the cavalry of both armies, boxes of #2556 Imperial Infantry and #2557 Swedish Infantry made up the rest of the armies. One box of #2566 Imperial Artillery provided enough gun crews for both armies, but only three cannons, so I also used some cannons from an IMEX civil war set. The infantry sets are very nice, but have too many musketeers and too few pike men. I compensated by mounting the musketeers two per stand, but the pike men (and drummers, flag bearers, etc.) one per stand. I also used some of the Swedish pikes on the Imperial side. The cavalry were mounted two per stand on a 1.5" square base. The musketeer bases were 1.5" wide by .75" deep. The pike men were mounted singly on a base .75" wide and 1.5" deep. Gun crews were mounted like the musketeers. I did not deploy any Saxons since they ran away without putting up much of a fight. Here are some paper soldiers you can print and use. Fabrizio Davi has created some very nice paper soldiers for the battle of Lutzen which could be used for this battle. You can find them at, look for the "TYW Lutzen Project."

Formations: Cavalry units should have six stands (double rank line) but I didn't have enough stands so I deployed them in lines of three and treated each stand as two (when they take a casualty turn one stand backwards and count that one as a single stand). Imperial Tercios are made of six stands of pikes with one stand of musketeers at each corner. I made 6" x 5" movement trays for them out of illustration board to make it easier to move them. Swedish battalions have three pikes at the center with two musketeers stands on each end. Swedish commanded muskets are four stands in size in a double rank line.

Left Wing:
Commander: Pappenheim
5 cavalry units (3 stands each, each stands counts as two)

Commander: Wilhelm
17 Tercios (10 stands each, 6 pike + 4 musketeers)

Right Wing:
Commander: Furstenberg
4 cavalry units (3 stands each, each stands counts as two)

King Gustavus Adolphus (Overall Commander)

Left Wing:
Commander: Horn
4 commanded muskets units (4 stands each)
4 cavalry units (3 stands each, each stands counts as two)

Commander: Torstenson
12 Battalions (7 stands each, 4 musketeers + three pike)

Right Wing:
Commander: Baner
5 commanded muskets units (4 stands each)
5 cavalry units (3 stands each, each stands counts as two)

The Board: A 7.5 X 5 foot table was used. This table was wider than necessary, so use a narrower table if you can. The terrain was flat.

Deployment : Both sides deploy as indicated in the diagram and order of battle. Each side also gets six cannons which should be deployed behind the first line of infantry.

Sequence of Play:
Preliminary Bombardment
1. Imperials Move
2. Imperials Shoot
3. Swedes Move
4. Swedes Shoot
5. Melee

Preliminary Bombardment: Before the battle begins both sides get to bombard the enemy with their cannons. The Imperials roll 2D6 per cannon (12 dice total) and the Swedes roll 4D6 per cannon (24 dice total). Hits are scored on a roll of 5 or 6. Remove one enemy stand for each hit, spread the hits over the infantry in the center. Each side rolls three times. The Preliminary Bombardment phase is not repeated after the battle begins.

Movement: All cavalry and commanders move 12", Swedish infantry moves 6", Imperial Tercios move 3". Spanish cannons can move 3", Imperial cannons cannot move at all.

Shooting: Cavalry can shoot 3", roll 1D6 per stand and remove one enemy stand for each 5 or 6 rolled. Musketeer stands can shoot 12". The Swedish musketeers roll 2D6 per stand, the Imperials roll 1D6 per stand, both hit on a 5 or 6. Pike stands may not fire. If any unit in a formation is in range then all the musketeer stands in the formation may fire. Cannons have unlimited range and roll 1D6 per cannon, hitting on a 5 or 6. Cannons cannot fire between friendly units unless they have at least a 3" gap, they may not fire over units. Once a unit has fought a round of melee they may not shoot, or be shot at, until the melee is finished (note this means that both sides can shoot at each other during the turn that the units move into contact, but not on subsequent turns if the melee continues past the first round.

Melee: If two opposing units have been moved into contact then they will fight a melee. All stands in a formation participate in the melee. Roll 1D6 for each musketeer stand, and 2D6 for each pike stand or cavalry stand. Rolls of 5 or 6 are hits and remove one enemy stand. Both sides should roll at the same time. If both sides still have stands remaining they remain locked in melee and cannot move or shoot. The survivors will fight again in the next melee phase. Cannon crews will not fight for their cannon, the crew is removed if they are contacted by an enemy unit. The enemy may assign one stand to operate the cannon. The captured cannon may fire in the shooting phase (1D6 only), but it cannot be moved.

Commanders: Commanders are represented by single cavalry figures on white horses with a flag. They may join a unit to help them in melee. A unit with a commander attached rolls an extra 2D6 in the melee phase. Commanders participating in a melee can become casualties. Roll 1D6 after the melee rolls, he is a casualty on a roll of 6. This is the only way that a commander can be eliminated, they may not be shot or attacked in melee if they are not with a regular unit.

Removing Casualties: When a Spanish battalion or Imperial Tercio loses stands the casualties should be evenly spread among the pike and musketeer stands, with the owner deciding which to lose if there are an odd number of casualties.

Remove the Last Stand: When a unit is reduced to a single surviving stand this last stand is removed.

Caracole: The Imperial cavalry were still using the caracole - stopping in front of the enemy to fire their pistols. The Imperial cavalry may not move directly into contact with an enemy unit. They must stop at pistol range (3"). After firing their pistols for one turn they may move into contact with the enemy on their next turn. Swedish cavalry may move directly into contact with an enemy unit, they don't have to stop and caracole.

Resources: This scenario was developed with several useful suggestions from Dan Frater. A search of the Internet, library, and Magweb, turned up some useful resources for wargaming Breitenfeld and the Thirty Years War.

What did ancient/medieval battles look like?

I have always wondered what an ancient battle would have looked like.

Of course we have all seen the films, read the Iliad, Gates of Fire and Caesar's Bello Gallica, but I find these depictions either unbelievable or lacking in detail. Many of us are no strangers to violence ourselves.

How were orders given? What percentage of armies engaged in the actual business of killing? Certainly not all. What percentage of the armies actually fought and what percentage simply milled around throwing things?

How could such high levels of exertion be maintained for more than 20 minutes? Certainly not everyone gave the same effort?

How practical was it to even rely upon a plan?

How much influence did commanders actually have?

What did the aftermath look like? How did battles end? Certainly not all at once.

I have my own ideas and opinions that draw upon life experience, yet I would really appreciate getting professional and amateur feedback as to what the experience of battle for a Legionary, Cavalry Soldier, Archer or Pikeman was like on a minute to minute basis.

Personally this video always struck me as authentic portraying the whole what the heckis going on? Is this real? aspect of violence.

looking forward to reading your views

Your question really varies on a case by case basis. If you observe the campaign of Alexander the Great it is going to look a lot different than the warfare the Gauls applied against Julius Caesar. Alexander's army was so disciplined they could do complex maneuvers that other armies could only dream of. They could turn their whole front line at an angle at the last minute and throw off the enemy like at the Battle of Gaugamela. The Persian front line could not be rearranged due to the size of their army and the fact the soldiers were not as well drilled.

What percentage of the armies actually fought and what percentage simply milled around throwing things?

Depends on the army. Some armies used range weapons in much larger proportions and their effectiveness depended on if they were fighting light armored of heavy armored units. It also depended on the technology of the ranged units and what kind of armor they could penetrate. At the Battle of Agincourt an army made up of 80% archers that was outnumbered heavily by the French was able to destroy a French army using the longbow. You wont see a lot of armies made up of 80% foot archers in history though.

The Persian ranged units were not anywhere near as effective at the Battles of Marathon and Thermopylae against Greek heavy infantry. Despite the fact their armies were of many orders of magnitude larger than the Greeks.

At the Battle of Marathon the Greeks brought only heavy infantry and did not bother with ranged units.

Battle of Marathon (Part 1/3)

Check out minute 7:00 of this documentary The Mughals it compares the armor penetration abilities of the longbow and the mongol composite bow. Both bows were very effective in warfare but the mongol bow was powerful and could be used on the back of a horse making it a killing machine.

How were orders given?

The Mongol armies fought with their generals safe behind enemy lines using a flag system to give orders. Alexander the Great lead his own cavalry charges and gave orders from there. Alexander made his plans ahead of time though and his generals knew what the strategy was. Alexander and his generals used messengers on horseback or foot to send messages during the battle.

How much influence did commanders actually have?

Depends on how much influence the head of the army gave to the commanders under him. One of the reasons the Macedonians were beaten by the Romans was because a Roman commander took the initiative to exploit a weakness in the Macedonian phalanx and won a famous battle the Romans almost lost. This is one of the reasons the Greek/Macedonian warfare style faded out in favor of the Roman style of warfare. It allowed individual commanders to maneuver on the field.

Great Battles of the Ancient World - Lecture 19 - Legion versus Phalanx-Six Pitched Battles

History channel Total War engine- Battle of Cynoscephalae 1/3

What percentage of armies engaged in the actual business of killing?

Some armies may bring a lot of non combatants and others not so much. It all depends on the food supply chain (how many people you can feed) and how fast you want your army to be traveling. The Macedonians limited the Greeks from bringing a lot of slaves with them because their army was a fast and mobile one. The Greeks were shocked at how fast the Macedonian army could move and Thebes learned this lesson the hard way when Alexander the Great showed up at their gates in record pace after they rebelled against him.

In the second invasion of Greece it is estimated the Persians brought with them 300k too 500k men. Of those only about 100k were combat troops. that included a navy as well they brought with them though.

What did the aftermath look like? How did battles end? Certainly not all at once.

The aftermath of a battle did not mean everyone was dead. Lots of men may have ran away and they could always regroup. The Battle of Cannae was ended with Hannibal's troops surrounding the Romans and butchering them for hours. Even though they had already won they had to spend a long time killing all the remaining men they surrounded. Other battles like Battle of Gaugamela ended with tens of thousands of Persian troops running away and Alexander had to regroup so that he didn't lose his smaller army in the end of the battle chaos. The Mongols would often retreat tricking armies into letting their guards down and chasing them and then the mongols would turn around and pick apart an army that broke formation.

How practical was it to even rely upon a plan?

It was always practical to rely on a plan. A good general always had a plan to exploit a weak point or trick the enemy into making a mistake he could exploit. This is of course assuming you have an army who has had some training. Alexander The Great did not just show up for battle then make up a plan after the battle started. Mobile armies like Mongol horse archers can change plans on the fly using their system since they can flee danger but most armies consisted of men stretching a mile plus long and it is hard to move them last minute. So once your army is engaged you cant just have them retreat easily and form a new plan.

You could normally see the layout of the enemy forces before battle and since they were often miles long they could not just rearrange their lines last minute. It could take many hours to set up a battle line.

Sometimes armies meet each other in tricky situations. During the Mongol invasion of Europe the Mongols did battle with The Hungarians at a river and ended up building artillery equipment and a makeshift emergency bridge so they could flank the Hungarians.

How could such high levels of exertion be maintained for more than 20 minutes?

Depending on what kind of troops were being used a disciplined army could rotate troops in and out of the front lines.

"When the Cimbri and the Teutons invaded again, Marius and his legions were ready. The endurance of the Roman soldiers in battle was unmatched anywhere in the world. Marius also rotated the battle lines more frequently, putting fresh troops into the battle, not waiting for a battle line to be beaten before sending another in. "

A good army expected it's troops to be in great shape. Good troops were also taught to converse energy intelligently. At the Battle of Pharsalus Caesar's men actually stopped halfway through their charge to take a break.

"But seeing that Pompey's army was not advancing, Caesar's men, without orders, stopped to rest and regroup before continuing the charge. Caesar, in his history of the war, would praise his own men's discipline and experience "

Alexander the Great fought Battle of Gauamela is a straight forward day attack on an open plane . The Battle of Hydaspes involves deception and a secret river crossing in a jungle setting. The Battle of the river Granicus required another river crossing by Alexander and he was able to lure the Persian cavalry out of position and cause the to rout abandoning their Greek mercenary heavy infantry.

Watch the 20 minute Battle of Gaugamela from the movie Alexander

Watch the 25 minute documentary on Battle of Gaugamela using the total war engine

Watch the 40 minute lecture using visual diagrams on the battle of Guagemla from the teaching company

Then watch the 15 minute clip from the Battle of the Hydaspes from the movie Alexander

Then watch the 40 minute lecture using visual diagrams on Battle of the Hydaspes

From the movie Alexander we have the Battle of the Hydaspes and the

Here is the Battle of Gaugamela from the movie Alexander

You should check out the teaching companies series on Alexander the Great because it goes into detail about his battles and the logistics of his conquest.

Here is a 15 minute lecture on the The Battle of The Granicus with 3d diagrams of the troop movements.

The rest of the lectures on Alexanders campaign can be found here

Here a clip from HBO's Rome showing the Battle of Battle of Philippi at minute 2:10.

Notice how Roman soldiers are grouped into square and there are gaps in between the squares so that the Roman troops don't get too crushed together. At the battle of Cannae the Roman troops all rushed in and got crushed together and did not have enough room to use their weapons properly.

Total War engine documentary battles

Battle of Carrhae (Part 1/3)

Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (Part 1/3)

Battle of Thermopylae (Part 1/3)

Battle of Adrianople (Part 1/3)

The quality of this answer has me floored. The writing is excellent, the sources are all fantastic and so is your formatting. Sexual.

Hey thanks for the long reply.

Just to pull out a few points.

As far as who was fighting.

I meant it this way. An army of 20,000 faces an army of 20,000.

Their lines could be as long and as deep as they like, but only the first few ranks would be fighting. What about the guys in rank 5, they could see the enemy and be quite close to him, but still to far to strike. What did they do?

What did the other guys in ranks 10 or 20 do? Seems like with 40,000 guys trying to kill each other only a few get the opportunity to even try.

As far as battles ending

What occurred on the left flank where your troops were getting their asses handed to them, could be entirely different from the fellows on the right flank who were holding their own.

So what do you do when the battle ɾnds' differently and at different times depending on where you are standing?

Plans I am still inclined to believe this "master of strategy" thing is more the result of propaganda and modern interpretation. I am guessing leaders were like football coaches. Organizers, responsible for training, logistics, campaign objectives and determining the general thrust of a battle. But once battle was joined, he would not have so much influence how things went down minute by minute at the small unit level.

To mention Alexander. Would not your battle plans depend on how the enemy arranged their forces? So how could one really plan a battle-winning maneuver the night before? How could on make quick adjustments on the fly. I'm guessing most of the time they just couldn't. It was a result of small units taking initiative. Or maybe not?

I jut dont get this idea of Generals giving battlefield speeches and shit. I just dont get it.

Exertion Ive seen the Romans fight in their checkerboard style on TV, with a whistle being used for shift changes. Im finding it really difficult to get my head around this. Just form my experience fighting people in bars and at concerts. you cant just "disengage" when you are tired. A trick like that will get you a rock inthe back of the head. And the idea that whole line would do this is, well, difficult.

First, you have about ten minutes, tops, before you are spent. Professional boxers even need a break after 3.

Second: switching places? Really? I find that hard to picture. So you are fighting a Barbarian, stabbing and blocking, then you hear a whistle and you ɼhange places" are you kidding? What is this musical chairs? I just find it hard to buy.

Its sort of the question I am looking to have answered. There HAD to have been a great deal of space between lines. Some guys fighting, other guy's courage lacking standing back a few feet and poking, but having no real intention of getting close. Other guys pushing each other to attack, but not wanting to do so themselves. "Gt him! Get him! NO,you get him. No, you fucking get him if you think its so easy"

And thanks for uploading those videos, ive seen all those totoal war videos. Finished pretty much every Total War game on 'very difficult' setting at lest twice.

Ok, well, you have to go back to the beginning.

The first battles between villages and small cities were probably fought by fewer than a couple hundred men at most, sometimes not even that many. You would often just meet up in a field or be ambushed in the woods on the way to raiding the other village and fought from there. The leader would scream his commands loud enough where he could be heard and usually you had some basic plans like "we will hide on these rocks behind this hill."

As villages and cities grew into kingdoms and city states, you couldn't simply gather up the guys in the villages and say, "Let's go get ɾm". You had to have a large army, maybe a few thousand to go out there. Well, you can't just grab a sword or axes and just go, so you had to train a bit. It mostly started off as small militias but became a professional army after a while. You would learn techniques to using your weapons, especially as they became more advances and learn how to work as a team.

Well, since you didn't all know each other anymore, you kind of standardized something. Maybe shield markings, or wore traditional clothing for your culture, or started all having the same style breatplate or helmet. Of course the armies were to large so you needed lieutenants and captains to control small groups. These were usually lesser nobles or experienced soldiers. You gave them the battle plan and they would execute.

Well, sometimes you needed to change the orders on the fly. This is where things like horns, drums, and flags came in. Units would mark themselves the same, have a standard (flag), and march together. Certain flags or rhythms or tones would mean something different, turn left, fall back, right flank, charge, retreat etc. Sometimes you would be so far away that you would need runners. People who just ran really fast or horse messengers to relay information. Each unit usually had their designated guy with the general who did that.

Now, what were the make ups of these armies? Interestingly enough, as time has gone on, fewer and fewer soldiers actually fight. Something like 20% of the modern U.S. Army are actual combat soldiers like infantry or tank crew, the rest are all maintenance and logistics. Well, way back when, it was much simpler to maintain the armies. Every soldier knew how to cook, sew, chop wood, sharpen a sword, pitch a tent, find shelter, etc. and you carried almost everything you needed on your back in a kit. Almost every Roman Legionary knew how to build a basic fort from the ground up, from ramparts to watch towers. Part of their standard issue was a wood axe, a pick, and a shovel. You had a few specialists like doctors and blacksmiths, a few leather tanners, etc., but mostly it was the average soldier who did everything. There were actually very few specialists in logistics or administration.

Now, of course the old adage about warfare is "5 minutes of terror 5 weeks of boredom" or something along those lines. Even during battles you weren't always fighting. You had marched to the field and stood and waited if you were on defense, or generally walked until you were within arrow range and then charged if thats what your orders were. The Romans were famous for a style where they would form up about 5 to 10 deep and the front man would fight for a few minutes, the centurion in charge would blow a whistle or something and those men would slip to the back of the line and the next guy would fight. This conserved their strength and energy so they could fight for hours and hours. Many nations had styles that varied on this. The Greeks with their phalanx allowed all the men to point their spears out, but only the outer rank would be the ones taking the brunt of the fighting while the inner ranks would close the gaps. It's interesting to note the Europeans copied this style during the 18th and 19th Centuries in forming infantry squares which allowed men to reload and maintain constant fire against the enemy.

Individuals units could have massive effects on the battle. Many a time a cavalry commander would charge at the wrong time, or under trained auxiliaries would break and run, leaving a huge gap in the line which would allow the enemy to break through. A famous example of this is Agincourt where the French nobility charged wildly not letting the front ranks close fast enough, eventually causing a jam up of French soldiers that was so bad, that they trampled thier own men to death and couldn't maneuver, leading to their slaughter. Individual commanders could be massively decisive in combat. often for the worst. Stupid glory hounds and cowards.

The aftermath kind of looked a lot like you see in the movies tbh. You could see from where the starting lines were where men had dug in at the start, and in between there and where the hand to hand combat occurred, there would be scattered soldiers and arrows or other missiles lying around from where the archers killed them. Heavy fighting would chew up the ground much like you would see on a natural turf foot ball field. Where the worst fighting occurred there would be bodies scattered all about, body parts, pools of blood, that sort of stuff. Creeks really would run red with blood. You could also trace the maneuvering by the number of bodies and paths left in the grass.

Battles mostly ended with one side breaking and running. Not every battle ended with a rout and slaughter. Sometimes it would simply get dark and one side would sneak off. Sometimes the armies were surrounded and wiped out (Cannae). Sometimes the armies would exhaust themselves and simply agree to quit. Occasionally one side would collapse and run and be chased for miles and miles with the enemy forces melting away, a classic style route.. Charles II of England lost so badly after the Battle of Worchester he had to flee England alone, hiding at one point in a tree from enemy patrols.

Primary Sources

(1) Elizabeth Custer, Boots and Saddles (1885)

The general was a figure that would have fixed attention anywhere. He had marked individuality of appearance, and a certain unstudied carelessness in the wearing of his costume that gave a picturesque effect, not the least out of place on the frontier. He wore troop-boots reaching to his knees, buckskin breeches fringed on the sides, a dark navy blue shirt with a broad collar, a red necktie, whose ends floated over his shoulder exactly as they did when he and his entire division of cavalry had worn them during the war. On the broad felt hat, that was almost a sombrero, was fastened a slight mark of his rank.

He was at this time (1874) thirty-five years of age, weighed one hundred and seventy pounds, and was nearly six feet in height. His eyes were clear blue and deeply set, his hair short, wavy, and golden in tint. His mustache was long and tawny in color his complexion was florid, except where his forehead was shaded by his hat, for the sun always burned his skin ruthlessly.

(2) George Custer, My Life on the Plains (1874)

The Indians, who were interested spectators of these preparations for their reception, continued to approach, but seemed willing to delay their attack until the plain became a little more favorable for their operations. Finally, the desired moment seemed to have arrived. The Indians had approached to within easy range, yet not a shot had been fired, the cavalrymen having been instructed by their officers to reserve their fire for close quarters. Suddenly, with a wild ringing war whoop, the entire band of warriors bore down upon the train and its little party of defenders.

On came the savages, filling the air with their terrible yells. Their first object, evidently, was to stampede the horses and draft animals of the train then, in the excitement and consternation which would follow, to massacre the escort and drivers. The wagon master in immediate charge of the train had been ordered to keep his two columns of wagons constantly moving forward and well closed up. This last injunction was hardly necessary, as the frightened-teamsters, glancing at the approaching warriors and hearing their savage shouts, were sufficiently anxious to keep well closed upon their leaders.

The first onslaught of the Indians was made on the flank which was superintended by Colonel Cook. They rode boldly forward as if to dash over the mere handful of cavalrymen, who stood in skirmishing order in a circle about the train. Not a soldier faltered as the enemy came thundering upon them, but waiting until the Indians were within short rifle range of the train, the cavalrymen dropped upon their knees, and taking deliberate aim poured a volley from their Spencer carbines into the ranks of the savages, which seemed to put a sudden check upon the ardor of their movements and forced them to wheel off to the right. Several of the warriors were seen to reel in their saddles, while the ponies of others were brought down or wounded by the effectual fire of the cavalrymen.

Those of the savages who were shot from their saddles were scarcely permitted to fall to the ground before a score or more of their comrades dashed to their rescue and bore their bodies beyond the possible reach of our men. This is in accordance with the Indian custom in battle. They will risk the lives of a dozen of their best warriors to prevent the body of any one of their number from falling into the white man's possession. The reason for this is the belief, which generally prevails among all the tribes, that if a warrior loses his scalp he forfeits his hope of ever reaching the happy hunting ground.

(3) Nelson Miles, Personal Recollections and Observations (1896)

At Fort Hayes, the headquarters of the Fifth Infantry, I found a splendid regiment composed of very intelligent, efficient officers and strong, brave soldiers. A few miles away, in a beautiful valley, was the camp of the Seventh United States Cavalry, commanded by Gen. George A. Custer. He was one of the most enterprising, fearless cavalry leaders the great war produced. General Custer left the West Point Military Academy early in the Civil War. He was most ambitious and enterprising and soon rose to the command of a regiment and brigade, and later commanded, with great success, one of the active cavalry divisions.

We were very near the same age - rivals in the military profession, but the best of friends. Mrs. Custer, a superior and accomplished young woman, who had "followed the flag" whenever it was possible, was pleasantly located in a beautiful camp, and was the constant companion of her gallant husband, as she afterward proved his devoted champion by voice and pen. Mrs. Custer and Mrs. Miles became life-long friends. We all enjoyed the splendid exercise of riding over the plains, and the General and myself frequently went on buffalo-hunts together, but at that time it was never safe to venture out of sight of the garrison or command without a good escort.

(4) General Alfred Terry, orders to General George Custer (22nd June, 1876)

The Brigadier General commanding directs that as soon as your regiment can be made ready for the march, you proceed up the Rosebud in pursuit of the Indians whose trail was discovered by Major Reno a few days ago. It is, of course, impossible to give you any definite instructions in regard to this movement, and were it not impossible to do so, the Department commander places too much confidence in your zeal, energy and ability to wish to impose upon you precise orders which might hamper your action when nearly in contact with the enemy. He will, however, indicate to you his own views of what your action should be, and he desires that you should conform to them unless you shall see sufficient reason for departing from them. He thinks that you should proceed up the Rosebud until you ascertain definitely the direction in which the trail above spoken of leads. Should it be found, as it appears to be almost certain that it will be found, to turn toward the Little Big Horn he thinks that you should still proceed southward, perhaps as far as the headwaters of the Tongue, and then turn toward the Little Big Horn, feeling constantly however, to your left so as to preclude the possibility of the escape of the Indians to the south or southeast by passing around your left flank.

(5) George Custer, letter to his wife, Elizabeth Custer (22nd June, 1876)

I am now going to take up the trail where the scouting party turned back. I fear their failure to follow up the Indians has imperilled our plans by giving the village an intimation of our presence. Think of the valuable time lost! But I feel hopeful of accomplishing great results.

(6) The Chicago Tribune (4th July, 1876)

Since the murder of General Canby by the Modocs the country has not been more startled than it was by the announcement that General Custer and five companies of his regiment, the Seventh Cavalry, had been massacred by the Sioux Indians in a ravine . the Indians outnumbering our troops ten to one. General Custer had personal and soldierly traits which commended him to the people. He was an officer who did not know the word fear, and, as is often the case with soldiers of this stamp, he was reckless, hasty, and impulsive, preferring to make a dare-devil rush and take risks rather than to move slower and with more certainty. He was a brave, brilliant soldier, handsome and dashing, with all the attributes to make him beloved of women and admired of men but these qualities, however admirable they may be, should not blind our eyes to the fact that it was his own madcap haste, rashness, and love of fame that cost him his own life, and cost the service the loss of many brave officers and gallant men. They drew him into an ambuscaded ravine. In this instance, three hundred troops were instantly surrounded by 3,000 Indians, and the fatal ravine became a slaughter-pen from which but a few escaped. No account seems to have been taken of numbers, of the leadership of the Sioux, of their record of courage and military skill.

(7) Willard Carlisle, claimed that he was a survivor of the battle of Little Bighorn. He wrote a letter to Custer's widow about what he had seen.

When the redskins made their rush down the valley that morning, I did not know what was going on, but I climbed a hill and there in full sight was the terrible battle going on. The Indians rode around in a circle and kept picking off the horses first. After they had shot all the horses, killed or wounded them, then they started to close in on the men, and they done it slow too. Custer and his men then retreated to a small rise of ground, and there made their last stand.

Those of the redskins who had lost their horses, closed in on foot and slowly but surely they picked off the white men, one by one, until at last only the brave General Custer was left with his comrades dead around him.

One sweep of the saber and an Indians head was split in two, one flash of his revolver, his last shot, and a redskin got the bullet between the eyes, then he fell with a bullet in the breast, the last of that brave band.

I saw him within 15 minutes after he was shot, and there was still a smile on his face. Perhaps he was thinking of his home, his beloved wife or Mother. Who can tell.

(8) General Alfred Terry, report to General Philip H. Sheridan (July, 1876)

I think I owe it to myself to put you more fully in possession of the facts of the late operations. While at the mouth of the Rosebud I submitted my plan to General Gibbon and to General Custer. They approved it heartily. It was that Custer with his whole regiment should move up the Rosebud till he should meet a trail which Reno had discovered a few days before but that he should not follow it directly to the Little Big Horn that he should send scouts over it and keep his main force further to the south so as to prevent the Indians from slipping in between himself and the mountains. He was also to examine the headwaters of Tullock's creek as he passed it and send me word of what he found there. A scout was furnished him for the purpose of crossing the country to me. We calculated it would take Gibbon's column until the twenty-sixth to reach the mouth of the Little Big Horn and that the wide sweep which I had proposed Custer should make would require so much time that Gibbon would be able to cooperate with him in attacking any Indians that might be found on that stream. I asked Custer how long his marches would be. He said they would be at first about thirty miles a day. Measurements were made and calculation based on that rate of progress. I talked with him about his strength and at one time suggested that perhaps it would be well for me to take Gibbon's cavalry and go with him. To this suggestion he replied that without reference to the command he would prefer his own regiment alone. As a homogeneous body, as much could be done with it as with the two combined and he expressed the utmost confidence that he had all the force that he could need, and I shared his confidence. The plan adopted was the only one that promised to bring the Infantry into action and I desired to make sure of things by getting up every available man. I offered Custer the battery of Gatling guns but he declined it saying that it might embarrass him: that he was strong enough without it. The movements proposed for General Gibbon's column were carried out to the letter and had the attack been deferred until it was up I cannot doubt that we should have been successful. The Indians had evidently nerved themselves for a stand, but as I learn from Captain Benteen, on the twenty-second the cavalry marched twelve miles on the twenty-third, thirty-five miles

from five a.m. till eight p.m. on the twenty-fourth, forty-five miles and then after night ten miles further then after resting but without unsaddling, twenty-three miles to the battlefield. The proposed route was not taken but as soon as the trail was struck it was followed. I cannot learn that any examination of Tullock's creek was made. I do not tell you this to cast any reflection upon Custer. For whatever errors he may have committed he has paid the penalty and you cannot regret his loss more than I do, but I feel that our plan must have been successful had it been carried out, and I desire you to know the facts. In the action itself, so far as I can make out, Custer acted under a misapprehension. He thought, I am confident, that the Indians were running. For fear that they might get away he attacked without getting all his men up and divided his command so that they were beaten in detail. I do not at all propose to give the thing up here but I think that my troops require a little time and in view of the strength which the Indians have developed I propose to bring up what little reinforcement I can get. I should be glad of any that you can send me. I can take two companies of Indians from Powder River and there are a few recruits and detached men whom I can get for the cavalry. I ought to have a larger mounted force than I now have but I fear cannot be obtained. I hear nothing from General Crook's operations. If I could hear I should be able to form plans for the future much more intelligently.

(9) Two Moon, interviewed by Hamlin Garland, McClure's Magazine (September, 1898).

While I was sitting on my horse I saw flags come up over the hill to the east like that (he raised his finger-tips). Then the soldiers rose all at once, all on horses, like this (he put his fingers behind each other to indicate that Custer appeared marching in columns of fours). They formed into three bunches with a little ways between. Then a bugle sounded, and they all got off horses, and some soldiers led the horses back over the hill.

Then the Sioux rode up the ridge on all sides, riding very fast. The Cheyennes went up the left way. Then the shooting was quick, quick. Pop - pop - pop very fast. Some of the soldiers were down on their knees, some standing. Officers all in front. The smoke was like a great cloud, and every where the Sioux went the dust rose like smoke. We circled all round him - swirling like water round a stone. We shoot, we ride fast, we shoot again. Soldiers drop, and horses fall on them. Soldiers in line drop, but one man rides up and down the line - all the time shouting. He rode a sorrel horse with white face and white forelegs. I don't know who he was. He was a brave man.

Indians keep swirling round and round, and the soldiers killed only a few. Many soldiers fell. At last all horses killed but five. Once in a while some man would break out and run toward the river, but he would fall.

At last about a hundred men and five horsemen stood on the hill all bunched together. All along the bugler kept blowing his commands. He was very brave too. Then a chief was killed. I hear it was Long Hair (Custer), I don't know and then five horsemen and the bunch of men, may be so forty, started toward the river. The man on the sorrel horse led them, shouting all the time. He wore a buckskin shirt, and had long black hair and mustache. He fought hard with a big knife. His men were all covered with white dust. I couldn't tell whether they were officers or not. One man all alone ran far down toward the river, then round up over the hill. I thought he was going to escape, but a Sioux fired and hit him in the head. He was the last man. He wore braid on his arms (sergeant).

All the soldiers were now killed, and the bodies were stripped. After that no one could tell which were officers. The bodies were left where they fell. We had no dance that night. We were sorrowful.

(10) Lieutenant Jessie Lee, Court of Inquiry (March, 1879)

The well-known capacity, tenacity and bravery of General Custer and the officers and men who died with him forbid the supposition of a panic and a rout. There was a desperate and sanguinary struggle in which the Indians must have suffered heavily. From the evidence that has been spread before this Court it is manifest that General Custer and his comrades died a death so heroic that it has but few parallels in history.

Fighting to the last and against overwhelming odds, they fell on the field of glory. Let no stigma of rout and panic tarnish their blood-bought fame. Their deeds of heroism will ever live in the hearts of the American people, and the painter and poet will vie with each other in commemorating the world-wide fame of Custer and his men.

(11) Red Horse, interview, Cheyenne River Reservation, 1881

Before the attack the Sioux were camped on the Rosebud river. Sioux moved down a river running into the Little Bighorn river, crossed the Little Bighorn river, and camped on its west bank.

This day (day of attack) a Sioux man started to go to Red Cloud agency, but when he had gone a short distance from camp he saw a cloud of dust rising and turned back and said he thought a herd of buffalo was coming near the village.

The day was hot. In a short time the soldiers charged the camp. (This was Major Reno's battalion of the Seventh Cavalry.) The soldiers came on the trail made by the Sioux camp in moving, and crossed the Little Bighorn river above where the Sioux crossed, and attacked the lodges farthest up the river. The women and children ran down the Little Bighorn river a short distance into a ravine. The soldiers set fire to the lodges. All the Sioux now charged the soldiers and drove them in confusion across the Little Bighorn river, which was very rapid, and several soldiers were drowned in it. On a hill the soldiers stopped and the Sioux surrounded them. A Sioux man came and said that a different party of Soldiers had all the women and children prisoners. Like a whirlwind the word went around, and the Sioux all heard it and left the soldiers on the hill and went quickly to save the women and children.

From the hill that the soldiers were on to the place where the different soldiers [by this term Red-Horse always means the battalion immediately commanded by General Custer, his mode of distinction being that they were a different body from that first encountered] were seen was level ground with the exception of a creek. Sioux thought the soldiers on the hill [i.e., Reno's battalion] would charge them in rear, but when they did not the Sioux thought the soldiers on the hill were out of cartridges. As soon as we had killed all the different soldiers the Sioux all went back to kill the soldiers on the hill. All the Sioux watched around the hill on which were the soldiers until a Sioux man came and said many walking soldiers were coming near. The coming of the walking soldiers was the saving of the soldiers on the hill. Sioux can not fight the walking soldiers [infantry], being afraid of them, so the Sioux hurriedly left.

The soldiers charged the Sioux camp about noon. The soldiers were divided, one party charging right into the camp. After driving these soldiers across the river, the Sioux charged the different soldiers [i.e., Custer's] below, and drive them in confusion these soldiers became foolish, many throwing away their guns and raising their hands, saying, "Sioux, pity us take us prisoners." The Sioux did not take a single soldier prisoner, but killed all of them none were left alive for even a few minutes. These different soldiers discharged their guns but little. I took a gun and two belts off two dead soldiers out of one belt two cartridges were gone, out of the other five.

The Sioux took the guns and cartridges off the dead soldiers and went to the hill on which the soldiers were, surrounded and fought them with the guns and cartridges of the dead soldiers. Had the soldiers not divided I think they would have killed many Sioux. The different soldiers that the Sioux killed made five brave stands. Once the Sioux charged right in the midst of the different soldiers and scattered them all, fighting among the soldiers hand to hand.

One band of soldiers was in rear of the Sioux. When this band of soldiers charged, the Sioux fell back, and the Sioux and the soldiers stood facing each other. Then all the Sioux became brave and charged the soldiers. The Sioux went but a short distance before they separated and surrounded the soldiers. I could see the officers riding in front of the soldiers and hear them shooting. Now the Sioux had many killed. The soldiers killed 136 and wounded 160 Sioux. The Sioux killed all these different soldiers in the ravine.

The soldiers charged the Sioux camp farthest up the river. A short time after the different soldiers charged the village below. While the different soldiers and Sioux were fighting together the Sioux chief said, "Sioux men, go watch soldiers on the hill and prevent their joining the different soldiers." The Sioux men took the clothing off the dead and dressed themselves in it. Among the soldiers were white men who were not soldiers. The Sioux dressed in the soldiers' and white men's clothing fought the soldiers on the hill.

The banks of the Little Bighorn river were high, and the Sioux killed many of the soldiers while crossing. The soldiers on the hill dug up the ground [i.e., made earthworks], and the soldiers and Sioux fought at long range, sometimes the Sioux charging close up. The fight continued at long range until a Sioux man saw the walking soldiers coming. When the walking soldiers came near the Sioux became afraid and ran away.

(12) Report on the Court of Inquiry (11th March, 1879)

1. The Court of Inquiry of which Colonel John H. King, 9th Infantry, is President, instituted by direction of the President, in Special Orders No. 255, Headquarters of the Army, Adjutant General's Office, November 25, 1878, on the application of Major Marcus A. Reno, 7th Cavalry, for the purpose of inquiring into Major Reno's conduct at the battle of the Little Big Horn River, on the 25th and 26th days of June, 1876, has reported the following facts and opinions, viz:—

First. On the morning of the 25th of June 1876, the 7th Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel G. A. Custer commanding, operating against the hostile Indians in Montana Territory, near the Little Big Horn River, was divided into four battalions, two of which were commanded by Colonel Custer in person, with the exception of one company in charge of the pack-train one by Major Reno and one by Captain Benteen. This division took place from about twelve (12) to fifteen (15) miles from the scene of the battle or battles afterwards fought. The column under Captain Benteen received orders to move to the left for an indefinite distance (to the first and second valleys) hunting Indians, with orders to charge any it might meet with. The battalion under Major Reno received orders to draw out of the column, and doing so marched parallel with and only a short distance from, the column commanded by Colonel Custer.

Second. About three or four miles from what afterwards was found to be the Little Big Horn River, where the fighting took place. Major Reno received orders to move forward as rapidly as he thought prudent, until coming up with the Indians, who were reported fleeing, he would charge them and drive everything before him, and would receive the support of the column under Colonel Custer.

Third. In obedience to the orders given him by Colonel Custer, Captain Benteen marched to the left (south), at an angle of about forty-five degrees, but, meeting an impracticable country, was forced by it to march more to his right than the angle above indicated and nearer approaching a parallel route to that trail followed by the rest of the command.

Fourth. Major Reno, in obedience to the orders given him, moved on at a fast trot on the main Indian trail until reaching the Little Big Horn River, which he forded, and halted for a few minutes to reform his battalion. After reforming, he marched the battalion forward towards the Indian village, down stream or in a northerly direction, two companies in line of battle and one in support, until about half way to the point where he finally halted, when he brought the company in reserve forward to the line of battle, continuing the movement at a fast trot or gallop until after passing over a distance of about two miles, when he halted and dismounted to fight on foot at a point of timber upon which the right flank of his battalion rested. After fighting in this formation for less than half an hour, the Indians passing to his left rear and appearing in his front, the skirmish line was withdrawn to the timber, and the fight continued for a short time - half an hour or forty-five minutes in all - when the command, or nearly all of it, was mounted, formed, and, at a rapid gait, was withdrawn to a hill on the opposite side of the river. In this movement one officer and about sixteen soldiers and citizens were left in the woods, besides one wounded man or more, two citizens and thirteen soldiers rejoining, the command afterwards. In this retreat Major Reno's battalion lost some twenty-nine men in killed and wounded, and three officers, including Doctor De Wolf, killed.

Fifth. In the meantime Captain Benteen, having carried out, as far as was practicable, the spirit of his orders, turned in the direction of the route taken by the remainder of the regiment, and reaching the trail, followed it to near the crossing of the Little Big Horn, reaching there about the same time Reno's command was crossing the river in retreat lower down, and finally joined his battalion with that of Reno, on the hill. Forty minutes or one hour later the pack-train, which had been left behind on the trail by the rapid movement of the command and the delays incident to its march, joined the united command, which then consisted of seven companies, together with about thirty or thirty-five men belonging to the companies under Colonel Custer.

Sixth. After detaching Benteen's columns Colonel Custer moved with his immediate command, on the trail followed by Reno, to a point within about one mile of the river, where he diverged to the right (or north-ward), following the general direction of the river to a point about four miles below that (afterward taken by Major Reno) where he and his command were destroyed by the hostiles. The last living witness of this march, Trumpeter Martin, left Colonel Custer's command when it was about two miles distant from the field where it afterwards met its fate. There is nothing more in evidence as to this command, save that firing was heard proceeding from its direction from about the time Reno retreated from the bottom up to the time the pack-train was approaching the position on the hill. All firing which indicated fighting was concluded before the final preparations were made in Major Reno's command for the movement which was afterwards attempted.

Seventh. After the distribution of ammunition and a proper provision for the wounded men, Major Reno's entire command moved down the river in the direction it was thought Custer's column had taken, and in which it was known General Terry's command was to be found. This movement was carried sufficiently far to discover that its continuance would imperil the entire command, upon which it returned to the position formerly occupied, and made a successful resistance till succor reached it. The defense of the position on the hill was a heroic one against fearful odds.

The conduct of the officers throughout was excellent, and while subordinates, in some instances, did more for the safety of the command by brilliant displays of courage than did Major Reno, there was nothing in his conduct which requires animadversion from this Court.

(13) Nelson Miles, Personal Recollections and Observations (1896)

We journeyed up the Little Big Horn to the Custer battlefield. On this visit, just two years after the battle occurred, I was accompanied by a body of twenty-five of the principal chiefs and head warriors of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes, who had all been prominently engaged in the battle, and later had surrendered to me. During the time they were under my control they had become reconciled and reliable. They had proved their loyalty by valuable military service in the campaigns against hostile Indians.

What the Indians did at the Little Big Horn, or the Custer Massacre, as it was called, and how the battle was fought on their side, was perfectly familiar to them. What our government and people knew concerning the battle was very vague, for of the two hundred and sixty-two officers and soldiers who fought under Custer not one lived to tell the story. All that was known to the other troops in the field was the orders given and the actions of Custer and his men while they were with them, and the impressions and surmises made from the evidences of the field, as well as the position of the dead bodies after the battle.

Unfortunately, in that campaign the government authorities greatly underestimated the strength of the hostile Indians. They had little knowledge of the character of the country, and sent weak exterior columns, five hundred miles apart, into the field without concert of action against a superior body. The commands from the East and West united on the Yellowstone at the mouth of the Rosebud, under General Terry. He even then divided his force, sending General Custer with the Seventh Cavalry south and west, while with the remainder he moved on the north side of the Yellowstone west and then south. Evidently his object was to inclose the Indians, but he placed at least fifty miles of rough country and an impassable river between the two columns, necessitating the giving of discretionary authority to the commander of the column thus isolated and moving into a country known to be occupied by a powerful body of Indians. General Custer has often been unjustly accused of disobedience of orders. The order referred to is in the nature of a letter of instruction, and not a positive order.

(14) Chicago Tribune (7th July, 1876)

Custer . . . was a brave, brilliant soldier, handsome and dashing, but he was reckless, hasty and impulsive, preferring to make a daredevil rush and take risks rather than to move slower and with more certainty, and it was his own mad-cap haste, rashness and love of fame that cost him his own life, and cost the service the loss of many brave officers and gallant men. He preferred to make a reckless dash and take the consequences, in the hope of making a personal victory and adding to the glory of another charge, rather than wait for a sufficiently powerful force to make the fight successful and share the glory with others. He took the risk and he lost.

(15) President Ulysses Grant, interviewed by the New York Herald (2nd September, 1876)

I regard Custer's Massacre was a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary - wholly unnecessary.

(16) New York Times (8th July, 1876)

The facts as now understood dispose most people here to lay blame for the slaughter upon General Custer's imprudence and probably disobedience of orders. But criticism is kindly and charitable in tone, as it would not be had he not fallen with his command in the thickest of the battle.

(17) Bruce A. Rosenberg, Custer and the Epic of Defeat (1974)

All during June 1876, events and Custer's own mistakes conspired against him. Experience in the plains wars indicated that the problem in fighting the Indians was not so much defeating them as it was getting them to stand and fight at all. This was one of Custer's major worries. Moreover, he had been led to believe by the Bureau of Indian Affairs not to expect more than 800 hostile braves in fact he was probably confronted by over 4,000. Finally, he was not aware that many of his future foes were armed with Winchester repeating carbines, whereas his own men were equipped with single-shot Springfields. Thus of the three major aspects of military intelligence - the number of the enemy, their willingness to fight, and their armament - Custer was ignorant and unprepared.

(18) General T. L. Rosser, Chicago Tribune (8th July, 1876)

I feel that Custer would have succeeded had Reno with all the reserve of seven companies passed through and joined Custer after the first repulse. I think it quite certain that General Custer had agreed with Reno upon a place of junction in case of a repulse of either or both of the detachments, and instead of an effort being made by Reno for such a junction as soon as he encountered heavy resistance he took refuge in the hills, and abandoned Custer and his gallant comrades to their fate.

As a soldier I would sooner today lie in the grave of General Custer and his gallant comrades alone in that distant wilderness, that when the last trumpet sounds I could rise to judgment from my post of duty, than to live in the place of the survivors of the siege on the hills.

(19) Nelson Miles, Personal Recollections and Observations (1896)

The first day General Custer marched twelve miles, and in four days he moved one hundred and eight miles, ten of which were to conceal his command. He frequently called his officers together and urged them to act in harmony and not become separated. He said he did not expect to fight until the 26th. He scouted the country, saw Indians in the distance, and, knowing his command would be discovered and fearing the Indians would escape, he decided to attack on the 25th. He formed his command for action in three parallel columns, within- deploying and supporting distance moving with the right column himself, Major Reno, commanding the center, following the Indian trail, and Captain Benteen on the left. He rode forward to a high bluff. Discovering the location of the camp just before going into action, he sent an order to Benteen, directing the left column, to alter its course, which would have changed the formation and brought this command into the center instead of on the left.

When Reno's troops fired into their village the Uncapapas and Ogalallas rushed for their arms and war ponies, fought Reno, and chased his command "like buffalo" across the plains, over the river and up the bluff. Just at that time the alarm passed among the Indians that another command (Custer's) was attacking their village. The two tribes then withdrew, and, without recrossing the river, passed down along the right bank of the Little Big Horn and massed opposite to the left of Custer's troops. The Minneconjoux and Sans Arcs had crossed the river and were fighting Custer's troops back and forth. They said it was a drawn battle up to that time. The Cheyennes had moved up the valley against Reno's attack without becoming engaged, but when the alarm of Custer's attack was given they retraced their steps, moving down the left bank of the Little Big Horn, and, fording the river, took position behind a ridge near the right flank of Custer's line.

The Uncapapas and Ogalallas then charged his left flank, rolling up his line from left to right. When that point was reached the soldiers killed some of their horses for defense and let loose the remainder. The Cheyennes said they secured most of these. The fight continued, and when the Indians had killed all except forty those who remained rushed in a forlorn hope for the timber along the Little Big Horn. All were killed before they reached the river. This accounts for the line of dead bodies on that part of the field on which no dead horses were found. The Indians said that they would have fled if Reno's troops had not retreated, for the troops could not have been dislodged. They also said that, when they left to attack Custer, had the seven companies under Reno and Benteen followed them down and fired into their backs they would have been between two fires and would have had to retreat. Thus the battle was twice lost. We walked our horses over the ground from Reno's last position to the extreme right of Custer's line, and were fifty-six minutes by the watch. Had Reno's command walked half that distance it would have been in action. Moving at a smart trot or gallop, as cavalry go into action, it could have attacked the Indians in the rear easily in fifteen or twenty minutes.

Custer had commanded large bodies of troops successfully in many desperate battles. How his strong heart must have felt when he saw from the ridge a part of his own regiment running from the field and when the major part of his command failed to come into action! His flag went down in disaster, but with honor. The greatest military genius could not win victories with five-twelfths of his command, when seven-twelfths remained away.

Custer had devoted friends and bitter enemies. His brothers and strongest friends died with him, while his enemies lived to criticize and cast odium upon his name and fame but it is easy to kick a dead lion.

(20) Frederick Whittaker, The Life of General George A. Custer (1876)

When he saw that the party with the General was to be overwhelmed, he went to the General and begged him to let him show him a way to escape. General Custer dropped his head on his breast in thought for a moment, in a way he had of doing. There was a lull in the fight after a charge, the encircling Indians gathering for a fresh attack. In that moment, Custer looked at Curly, waved him away and rode back to the little group of men, to die with them. Why did he go back to certain death?

Curly the Upsaroka scout tells us, he the only man who escaped alive. Custer had to go farther down the river and farther away from Reno than he wished on account of the steep bank along the north side but at last he found a ford and dashed for it. The Indians met him and poured in a heavy fire from across the narrow river. Custer dismounted to fight on foot, but could not get his skirmishers over the stream. Meantime hundreds of Indians, on foot and on ponies, poured over the river, which was only about three feet deep, and filled the ravine on each side of Custer's men. Custer then fell back to some high ground behind him and seized the ravines in his immediate vicinity. The Indians completely surrounded Custer and poured in a terrible fire on all sides. They charged Custer on foot in vast numbers, but were again and again driven back. The fight began about 2 o'clock, and lasted. Curly says, almost until the sun went down over the hills. The men fought desperately, and, after the ammunition in their belts was exhausted, went to their saddlebags, got more and continued the fight. He also says the big chief (Custer) lived until nearly all his men had been killed or wounded, and went about encouraging his soldiers to fight on. Curly says when he saw Custer was hopelessly surrounded, he watched his opportunity, got a Sioux blanket, put it on, and worked up a ravine, and when the Sioux charged he got among them, and they did not know him from one of their own men.

(21) John F. Finerty, Warpath and Bivouac (1890)

The official story of the Custer disaster was put into a few words, but no account that I have heard or read, either on or off the Plains, equals in clearness and succinctness the story of the Crow Indian scout, Curley, who alone of the immediate command of General Custer survived the memorable disaster of June 25, 1876. The following is the gist of Curley's statement.

Custer, with his five companies, after separating from Reno and his seven companies, moved to the right around the base of a high hill overlooking the valley of the Little Horn, through a ravine just wide enough to admit his column of fours. There were no signs of the presence of Indians in the hills on that side (the right) of the Little Horn, and the column moved steadily on until it rounded the hill and came in sight of the village lying in the valley below them. Custer appeared very much elated, and ordered the bugles to sound a charge, and moved on at the head of his column, waving his hat to encourage his men. When they neared the river the Indians, concealed in the undergrowth on the opposite side of the stream, opened fire on the troops, which checked the advance. Here a portion of the command were dismounted and thrown forward to the river, and returned the fire of the Indians.

During this time the warriors were seen riding out of the village by hundreds and deploying across Custer's front and to his left, as if with the intention of crossing the stream on his right, while the women and children were seen hastening out of the village in large numbers in the opposite direction.

The fight appeared to have begun, from Curley's description of the situation of the sun, about 2:30 or 3 o'clock P.M., and continued without intermission until nearly sunset. The Indians had completely surrounded the command, leaving their horses in ravines well to the rear, themselves pressing forward to the attack on foot. Confident in the great superiority of their numbers, they made several charges on all points of Custer's line, but the troops held their position firmly and delivered a heavy fire which every time drove them back. Curley said the firing was more rapid than anything he had ever conceived of, being a continuous roll, or, as he expressed it, "like the snapping of the threads in the tearing of a blanket." The troops expended all the ammunition in their belts and then sought their horses for the reserve ammunition carried in their saddle pockets.

As long as their ammunition held out, the troops, though losing considerably in the fight, maintained their position in spite of all the efforts of the Sioux. From the weakening of their fire toward the close of the afternoon the Indians appeared to believe that their ammunition was about exhausted, and they made a grand final charge, in the course of which the last of the command was destroyed, the men being shot where they lay in their positions in the line, at such close quarters that many were killed with arrows. Curley said that Custer remained alive throughout the greater part of the engagement, animating his men to determined resistance, but about an hour before the close of the fight lie received a mortal wound.

(22) Milo Milton Quaife, introduction to John F. Finerty's Warpath and Bivourac, 1955 edition.

Strictly speaking the destruction of General Custer's command was not a massacre, since it involved only soldiers fighting in open battle. Yet after the lapse of almost eighty years it continues to intrigue the popular mind and to challenge the resources of historians, so that almost no year passes which does not witness the publication of one or several articles and books devoted to the subject. The author's (John F. Finerty) discussion presents one viewpoint which was more or less prevalent sixty years ago. A convenient more recent and more authoritative account is Colonel W. A. Graham's The Story of the Little Big Horn, first published in 1926 and several times reprinted since then, most recently in 1952. The story told by Curley, the Crow scout, is no longer seriously credited.