Friday, February 17, 2012

Ben Franklin's Advice for Battle

In a letter to general Charles Lee in February 1776, Benjamin Franklin suggested that the colonists arm themselves with bows and arrows, calling them “good weapons, not wisely laid aside.” He gave six reasons:
  1. “Because a man may shoot as truly with a bow as with a common musket.”
  2. “He can discharge four arrows in the time of charging and discharging one bullet.”
  3. “His object is not taken from his view by the smoke of his own side.”
  4. “A flight of arrows, seen coming upon them, terrifies and disturbs the enemy’s attention to his business.”
  5. “An arrow striking in any part of a man puts him hors de combat till it is extracted.”
  6. “Bows and arrows are more easily provided everywhere than muskets and ammunition.”
Franklin also recommended resurrecting the pike. His ideas weren’t used, but they were debated seriously even decades later. One theorist calculated that in a battle at Tournay on May 22, 1794, 1,280,000 balls had been discharged, an average of 236 musket shots to disable each casualty. “Here then, evidently appears in favour of the bow, in point of certainty of its shot, of no less than upwards of twenty to one.”


  1. And now technology has advanced to the point that we have arms that are as efficient as the bow and arrow.

    And their possession and use by the citizens of the USA is still a natural right protected by the second amendment.

    And what do you know cross/bows and arrows/bolts are arms too, and just as dangerous.....

    1. Thomas, I just LOVE it when you post a list of stories which don't make your point, but DO make the point for our side.

      Clearly, people like this guy -

      should NOT be allowed to have any weapon more deadly than a stale graham cracker (those crumble more easily, keeping him safe from the sharp corners and edges).

      IF you had read this story, you would have realized that the idiot who was so evil as to shoot his wife in front of their 5 year old daughter, and then to attack her with a bat, did NOT succeed in killing her, or even in seriously injuring her.

      Instead he later killed himself, after a high speed chase which endangered others, WITH A FIREARM.

      While I will grant you that the number of violent incidents and dangerous accidents world wide are slightly higher for bows and arrows than say murders or suicides employing screwdrivers, they are still far from the lethality of modern firearms. This post shows how differently the firearm operated in the time of the founding fathers from what it is today, and how and why those changes should alter our regulation of them, not continue or expand it.

      It's like sprinkles and whipped cream and a cherry on top of a hot fudge sundae when one of you screws up like this in making a point. Thanks for proving we're right, and you're just right wing.

    2. The point is that life is dangerous. There are things that we can do to mitigate the risk, but too much safety makes life not worth living.

  2. All these deaths by "arms" and not one peep out of you statist....

  3. Franklin's strategy didn't work out to well for the American Indian though.

    Actually, if you only consider the basic rate of fire vs. hit factor, Franklin wasn't that far off. However, 18th century fighting was as much about posturing as it was about killing. Muskets make a tremendous amount of noise and the British could reload and make more noise faster than most European armies of the day. Often the winner was not the side that inflicted the most damage but rather was the side that did not break ranks first. The real killing started during the pursuit of the fleeing men.

    The British were real good at not breaking even when inflicted with substantial losses. How we beat the best disciplined army on the planet is still kind of a mystery. I suspect that with incidents like the conflicts in New York the British officers were more concerned with winning battles than winning the war. Many opportunities of total defeat were abandoned, perhaps because the officers realized that they were indeed fighting fellow subjects and thus restrained their men. Maybe with a lot of the fighting they found themselves on campaign in hostile territory and needed to regroup quickly after each battle to save themselves from losses inflicted by the skirmishes with incessant American riflemen. However, in New York they won each battle with clear control of the countryside as well as being readily supplied from the sea. Why they did not pursue and decimate the defeated colonists had to be because of restraint of the officers rather from mercy or incompetence.

  4. garr...we could go back to the 14th century when the arms race was cross bow or long bow... in the 100 years war the english had the long bow and the french had the cross bow. the cross bow was more modern, but the long bow still was the superior weapon, but finally, the first modern artillery battle was won by the french, the battle of castillon, on the banks of the dordogne river, where the bureau brothers designed the first efficient artillery park....they destroyed talbots numerically superior english army in a few minutes.
    The American civil war was so deadly because of the inefficient muzzle loaders....the real arms race took place in Europe in the late 1860's as Louis Napoleon raced to arm the french army with modern needle guns and failed because of inefficient army bureaucracy. the germans, under Moltke and Bismark, were there already and had mastered logistics. The Franco Prussian war was short and sweet for the germans....