Infantry and Gunpowder

Through the middle ages, infantry was often relegated to an almost overlooked status in favor of the prominence of knights and the ideals of chivalry and cavalry.  In many battles, the full number of combatants was unknown since the infantry wasn’t even counted as part of the force.[1]  Between the end of the medieval age and the early stages of the gunpowder age, however, the infantry started to regain a position of recognition and importance on the battlefield along with (and occasionally instead of) their cavalry counterparts.[2]

Archers were often a deadly and terror-inducing infantry force, especially among the Muslim armies at the end of the medieval period.[3]  Although cavalry was used as a shock force the route the infantry and cavalry of the opposition, it is fair to say that in many medieval battles, the infantry did the overwhelming majority of the fighting.[4]  In addition to the infantry which faced opposition to the enemy’s ground troops, archers were incredibly useful for occupying and destroying the opponent’s cavalry forces and keeping the cavalry from approaching the front lines at full force.

It is indisputable that the gunpowder age completely changed the role of infantry in warfare and supplied ranged weapons that could devastate an opposing force either in the field or in a siege.  At the beginning of the gunpowder age, many people resented the fact that a “lowly foot soldier” with a firearm could take down a knight.[5]  Defensive structures and fortifications had to be updated against the rapidly advancing weapon technology.[6]  Italy in particular had to take the lead for developing defenses to counter heavier siege guns.[7]  Technological advancements focused in two specific directions – artillery and mobile handguns.[8]   Contrary to the medieval period, more and more European powers recognized the importance and prominence of infantry combined with guns over the traditional medieval cavalry.  The Spanish deployed formations that combined arquebusiers and pikemen for protection against enemy cavalry and infantry.[9]  The Spanish tercio formation formed a square shape that was incredibly difficult – if not impossible – to penetrate.[10]  Due to the importance of pikemen to defend the gunners, maintaining the standard for training of the pikemen was imperative for the unit’s ultimate success.

[1] Christon I. Archer, John r. Ferris, Holger H Herwig, Timothy H E Travers, World History of Warfare (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 150.

[2] Ibid 150.

[3] Ibid 158.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid 220.

[6] Ibid 220.

[7] Ibid 224.

[8] Ibid 224.

[9] Ibid 239.

[10] Ibid.

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