In the previous post we looked at various aspects of the period related to mustering forces for King Philip’s War and some background reading. In this post we’ll focus on weapons and equipment of the era. This will lead into our next post on tactics used by both sides.
We are very well served regards information on men, training, equipment and tactics for King Philip’s War. Whilst some aspects remain a little bit hazy generally speaking Puritans dutifully recorded all manner of detail relating to arms, men and equipment.
By contrast with the mid-18th century French and Indian Wars, where no new technologies emerged, King Phillip’s War saw the emergence and transformation of differing tactical systems and practices, along with weapon innovations and organisational structures that make it an interesting tactical puzzle for the gamer from what is a relatively short conflict…it is for the most part the beginning of the American way of war.
A number of sources deal with this topic but three that go directly to the heart of the matter; the aforementioned title The Skulking Way of War, H. Peterson’s Arms and Armor in Colonial America, 1526-1783 and Guy Chet’s Conquering the American Wilderness: The Triumph of European Warfare in the Colonial Northeast. These three books form the backbone of any study of weapons and tactics of the period and give detailed descriptions of weapon types and tactical evolutions of forces in King Philip’s War. Many other sources provide useful anecdotes that will help as well.
From a gaming perspective we are interested in the nuts and bolts of combat that we aim to represent with our chosen rules choice. The two rules sets I think that are useful for our purposes are the ‘entry level’ Pikeman’s Lament system which takes a slighter broad-brush approach to the entire pike & shot period.
The other is the well regarded game Muskets & Tomahawks; a game system eminently suited specifically for this conflict which reflects the nuances of New England warfare. One is more approachable to a wider audience, the other is I think, able to best represent the unique elements of King Philip’s War.
We’ll deal with the rules next post, so for now, lets take a look at some of the weapons and equipment of the period…
Personal Equipment & Protection
If we start with personal equipment & protection we can see the adaptation from a european mindset to one reflective of the American experience taking place. In the mid 17th century the use of armour was still very much in vogue. Even though the prominence of firearms had started to make armour somewhat redundant this process was accelerated in the new world.
In the earlier Pequot War of the 1630s when the Native Americans were solely armed with bow and arrow, armour had value. A number of occasions are recorded where armour saved the wearer from the fire from bow armed natives. However, the fifty subsequent years leading up to King Phillip’s War saw the vast majority of Indians adopting muskets for hunting and warfare.
Combined with the lack of protection armour provided against musket fire, and the difficulty in trying to engage an elusive foe in the forest wearing such equipment, this meant that near all troops, except perhaps some garrison town militia forces and or notable individuals, all but discarded its use. This change was occurring in Europe by the 1670s but was mostly complete in the new world for both practical and financial reasons.
Therefore, the typical United Colony soldier wore civilian clothing into battle, perhaps supplemented with a buff coat for some protection from tomahawk blows as well as providing general all weather protection, with maybe a steel helmet of the morion style for some head protection if the wearer chose. He would also have swords, hatchets, and knives, with powder horns and pouches. This practical clothing greatly enhanced mobility and given that each man had to supply his own equipment it meant that costs were kept to an absolute minimum; functional, cheap, practical.
Close Combat Weapons
Close fighting weapons were also used with perhaps more regularity than one would otherwise see in Europe. This usually entailed a simple knife, perhaps a sword, though this was no longer required by regulations. The practicality of the Indian hatchet or tomahawk soon became apparent in forest fighting. This weapon could be used, just as the indians had done, for construction and general field use beyond a strict battlefield role, for which it was eminently suited.
One old world weapon that did remain in use however was the pole arm, such as the halberd or partizan. This combined an axe and spear on a ‘long’ shaft and was often used to denote rank, usually a captain, lieutenant or sergeant; whilst not perfect against an evasive enemy in the forest, in the hands of a skilful user they most likely had battlefield utility of some value as some records show.
Whilst such long-arm weapons are not an obvious weapon of choice if engaged in ‘indian tactics’ the regular force structure and drill manuals that colonial companies followed allowed for the leader to be so armed; quite possibly the officer would be armed with a pistol as well. Their continued use does however reflect the traditional european view of tactics the colonies continued to practice. The closer cousin of the halberd however was the much less useful pike.
Pikes were still present in New England armouries but their use in wilderness warfare was virtually non existant. The rise of the flintlock musket, combined with forest fighting and no cavalry threat of any type, made the weapon redundant. Whilst of no value on offensive operation the weapon still existed in militia inventories.
In extremis the pike could be pressed into service if a suitable tactical opportunity present itself fighting in defence of a town or from a suitably placed rampart, or simply because they were the only weapons available, but seldom did the native americans accommodate the English with such opportunities for its use.
They did however attack many a settlement placing the colonists on the defensive so their use may still have been seen in some instances – we cannot be sure. That said, on the outbreak of war most, if not all colonies, mandated that in the ‘war against the Indians’ that all pike armed men were to re equip themselves with firearms…so its use would be haphazard at best.
The last ‘man powered’ weapon used was the bow. We shall touch on that below when we discuss Native American forces in more detail.
The principal weapon of the conflict however was the musket – used extensively by both sides which very much defined the style of fighting each undertook. This represented the established orthodoxy of European style tactics and the adapted way of war the indians developed in the half century since the musket’s introduction.
For our purposes only two types of firearm weapons are of relevance that we need to look at when modelling tactical elements when gaming the period – that is the matchlock and flintlock musket.
The matchlock and flintlock musket are terms descriptive of all forms of firing mechanisms that describe the source of ignition on the respective weapon; the former is through the use of ‘match’ to ignite a spark and the latter incorporates all weapon types that use a ‘mechanism’ of ‘trigger firing’ to generate an ignition source through a flint spark – the type generically called ‘snaphaunces’ by the men of the time. These two types of weapons had significant implications in warfare in North America.
The matchlock musket, whilst cheap and accessible, had severe limitations in fighting in the wilderness. First of all it required that the weapon operate in a suitable environment and against a ‘consenting’ foe. This was usually satisfactory in Europe, but its (successful) use was totally by chance that a force so equipped encountered the same conditions in north america. The native americans rapidly assimilated and understood the limitations of the matchlock musket and did not use it at all, whilst certainly not allowing New Englanders armed with the weapon easy opportunities for its use against them.
Various militias of the United Colonies used matchlocks in the early stages of the war, particularly where tradition dictated its use and/or supplies of the better technology flintlock musket was unavailable. The matchlock required that the ‘match’ be constantly lit in preparation for fire. This was wholly unsuited to engaging an enemy that rapidly moved about the battlefield and often engaged only in ambush and surprise attacks – the weapons simply could not be prepared to engage such a foe.
Even when used offensively the weapon could not be prepared adequately to ambush an enemy force and the smell the match emitted often gave way the presence of the would be ambushers, with even the glow of the match at night all but eliminating any such possibility of surprise.
The very act of firing the weapon, by tilting the weapon to one side in preparation to shoot to ensure ignition, precluded any form of aiming, not that the original design envisioned such a thing. Therefore, its use was limited to volley fire and nothing more; snap-shooting such as was possible with flintlocks was not possible at all with a matchlock.
In formation firing at massed rank targets in Europe this weapon served well enough, but against open order native infantry it had limited effect. Against an unacquainted enemy to the flash, sound and impact of massed volleys the matchlock still had value, but to an accustomed native enemy these advantages were lost. By the time of King Philip’s War this ‘white man’s magic’ phenomena was long past.
The flintlock musket on the other hand proved to be the most effective weapon of the time and remained so for the better part of two centuries. The Flintlock musket shaped European and North American conflict. Nearly all the limitations of the matchlock musket described above were negated by the flintlock.
The weapon could be prepared for fire before an engagement, thus being usable in most tactical situations in forest fighting or more open warfare. In inclement weather conditions it could still fire with a greater regularity than the matchlock, though it was still prone to misfires in rain or excessive or prolonged damp conditions.
When used by open order fighting troops individual aimed fire of a sort was possible with flintlocks in close range forest fighting, though this point must not be overstated. Ammunition could be more easily carried and kept dry using a flintlock firing system through pre packaged paper cartridges kept in a handy shot pouch with pre measured powder, ball and wading ready to go, whilst being able to keep powder dry and accessible for priming the weapon using powder horns.
Regardless of the ignition system smoothbore weapons had an effective range of 50-75 yards for shorter barrelled weapons (such as cavalry carbines) and a range of 100-150 yards for longer barrelled weapons. Pistols, with calibers most often between .45 and .55 caliber, only had an effective range between 30 and 50 yards.
Therefore, in King Philip’s War, the flintlock musket was superior to the matchlock in every way except cost. When one’s life depended on the above considerations having a suitable weapon to hand usually meant the cost was borne if the colonist could possibly afford it.
Unlike the French and Indian War which is characterised by its lack of mounted troops, New England warfare involved quite a large number of mounted troops. Obviously forest fighting meant that there were no opportunities for sweeping cavalry charges or large bodies of fast moving horse moving over open country which was commonplace in Europe.
Much of the environment of conflict in King Phillip’s War was through what we might term rough terrain and not cavalry country. Within the forest many old Indian trails, little more than tracks wide enough to handle a force of men marching in one file or as the term is now used, Indian file.
Cavalry in New England was essentially what dragoons were in Europe ie mounted infantry. Naturally enough given the terrain and enemy force they were fighting this made perfect sense.
Despite these limitations, cavalry was formed as we discussed in our previous post. Connecticut Colony focused much of their mobilisation on mounted forces providing them with a mobile strike force, arguably the best in the United Colonies. They even organised a regular unit of mounted troops, the First Connecticut Cavalry, which was considered a traditional cavalry unit, not a ‘mounted infantry’ dragoon unit. Despite this the unit was to be armed with “long muskets” and fight dismounted as dragoons did – such were the realties of warfare against the Indians.
Dragoons were armed with “long armes” such as a carbine or musket (although they carried pistols as well) and buff coats were usually substituted for armor. They wore hats or helmets as the wearer chose. As early as 1673, the Connecticut “Grand Committee for Ordering the Militia” stipulated the following regulations for equipping dragoons:
…each dragoone be provided with a good sword and belt, and serviceable musket or kirbine, with a shott powch and powder and bullitts, viz: one pownd of powder made into cartiridges fit for his gunn, and three pownd of bulletts fit for their guns, or pistol bulletts; and a horss to expedite their march.
Experienced units of dragoons in King Philip’s War were able to perform intricate maneuvers on horseback as well as being able to operate effectively as infantry when dismounted. The engagement at Nipsachuck graphically highlights the capability, experience, and range of tactical options available to the dragoon commanders more than any other battle in King Philip’s War, which we shall look at in the next post.
Before leaving the subject of cavalry, the types of figures we can use for King Philip’s War horsemen are reasonably easy to get. You can off course go with the Brigade Games mounted cavalry which have multiple poses and nice uniform and equipment variation.
At a pinch any late English Civil War cavalry in buff coat or Swedish Thirty Years War cavalry with sword, carbine or pistol will do. On the other end of the spectrum using horsemen from the Grand Alliance period (1685-ish), such as those from Front Rank miniatures, will work also. Cavalry are well covered for King Philip’s War actions.
Beyond small arms weapons, some heavy ordnance was used in King Philip’s War, but exclusively in a defensive role and often for town defence from sea attack. These heavy pieces were unlikely to see any real use against native forces but lighter guns were known to be used in town defence so can form part of your force’s inventory if you choose.
Guns that were present were weapons such as the minion, a cannon weighing 1,200 pounds, having a bore three and one-quarter inches in diameter and possessing a range of three hundred and forty yards. There was also a saker, a larger cannon weighing 1,500 pounds, having a three and one-half inch bore and firing three hundred and sixty yards. The armament was completed by two bases, much smaller guns, weighing only two hundred and two pounds each and having bores of but one and one-quarter inches. This was not a strong armament even for those days.
Massachusetts Bay was much better equipped, with twice as many pieces of heavy ordnance. They had three sakers, two “small peeces” of unidentified type plus one culverin and two demi-culverins. A culverin weighed 4,500 pounds and possessed a five and one-half inch bore. This was considerably larger than anything at Plymouth as were the demi-culverins, which weighed 3,400 pounds inch bore.
All these weapons were the ‘heavy guns’ of the colonies and would not be expected to be able to engage the indians in any meaningful way. Light guns however can and did appear with clashes with indians, though such occasions were rare.
When reading about the effect of artillery, or cannon as it is often referred to, the effect seems more psychological than destructive. When guns targeted indians they often had an adverse reaction when fired upon, often causing them to run and seek shelter.
The Algonquian people’s of New England were well prepared for war in 1675.
They had a preponderance of flintlock muskets, pistols, bows, warclubs, short spears, knives, hatchets and powder horns…a full suite of arms and equipment to take the fight to the enemy.
In anticipation of a potential conflict many native communities equipped themselves in a kind of arms build up in the years leading up to the war. The English observed an “accumulation of powder, shot, and arrows by the Wampanoag” who claimed that it was a preparation against the Mohawks, but actually it was aimed at the English. Either way, native forces were preparing for war if, or when, it came.
Skilled in the operation, repair, and care of firearms they were very familiar with English military technology and understood English military training and tactics from years of working and residing in English communities. This included men experienced with firearms on the eve of the war who were blacksmiths with the tools and knowledge to maintain and repair firearms.
The biggest Achilles heal for the native tribes was a constant shortage of powder and shot throughout the war. They relied on the Dutch, French or native middlemen for their supplies or took them from dead English soldiers on the battlefield.
As natural warriors they adopted all the tools from the English that enhanced their ability to hunt and fight.
As well as wearing traditional clothing they utilised English clothing to help survive in their harsh living environment, though adapted to warmer conditions by fighting in traditional clothes in the warmer months, when much of the campaigning took place, usually only a loincloth.
This was a natural advantage over their colonist contemporaries, who were heavily clothed and often wore helmets and sturdy leather or quilted jackets for protection, usually limiting their battlefield mobility.
They also used the traditional bow when the situation demanded. The native americans suffered terribly in the Pequot War, one major reason being a lack of firearms which proved decisive in that conflict. By 1675 the native americans were largely armed with flintlock muskets, estimates suggesting at least 4/5ths of warriors being so equipped. Some accounts estimate enemy native forces had sufficient firearms to arm only 1/3 to 1/2 of their forces. Clearly the bow was not abandoned when coupled to the shortages of gunpowder they experienced.
Whilst lacking penetrative power the abandonment of armour made bows once more useful. The accuracy and rate of fire with which they could be used still made them a weapon of some value. It was light, easy to carry and did not betray a firer’s position when shot. It could be fired in weather conditions muskets could not operate in. As the war progressed and gunpowder supplies became pressing for the indians the bow was the logical weapon to use in lieu of a musket so it can be expected to be used at anytime during the conflict.
Native arrow points were generally made from brass cut from brass kettles and while they could easily penetrate English clothing they could not penetrate English buff coats unless fired at point blank range, and were completely ineffective against armour, as it had been in the past.
Native bows were most effective at a range of 40 yards to better aim and penetrate the weak spots in English armour or buff coats. The maximum range of Native bows was 120-150 yards if shot in an arc at a 45-degree angle. It is also possible the bow and arrow may have been carried by all native men as a secondary weapon when their supplies of power and shot ran out.
Therefore, it can be said that the native americans were mostly armed with flintlock muskets, fighting in their traditional style and equipped with hand to hand weapons, which taken collectively made them a deadly foe.