Every captain in an early modern army held enormous power over the rank and file of his company. In absolute charge of discipline he could flog, fine, or otherwise humiliate his men whenever he chose; because he alone decided who should perform sentry guard and other onerous duties, the captain was free to victimize the men he disliked and excuse his friends…. [Without] interference from above, [a Spanish Empire] captain chose the two sergeants and eight corporals of his company (the cabos de escuadra or corporals were in charge of twenty-five men and received a wage-bonus of 3 escudos each per month), and he distributed at his pleasure 30 escudos of treasury bonus-pay among his men. As if this were not enough, the insolvency of the military treasury made the company captains into money-lenders and welfare-officers as well. Every company had a chest (caja) kept by the captain and used by him to advance subsistence wages (the socorro) to necessitous men when no money arrived from the treasury. The captains were also responsible for ransoming, re-arming, or re-horsing any of their men who had the misfortune to lose their liberty, their weapons, or their mounts. Naturally when the treasury did contrive to pay an [installment] of wages the captains expected to receive it first in order to deduct the sums already advanced “on account”. The scheme was excellent in principle, but it assumed that all captains were honest and scrupulous men. Of course they were not…. “The arrangements for paying the troops played right into the eager hands of the captains, who took full advantage of the generous opportunities afforded them.”
Not all recruits were destitute or base-born, however. The Army of Flanders, especially in the sixteenth century [C.E.], needed quality as well as quantity; men who excelled in single combat, in the “actions” of the war, were required as well as cannon-fodder for the great battles. Every captain therefore tried to enlist a number of gentlemen (particulares) to serve as common soldiers in his company, offering a bonus-pay (ventaja) to every gentleman who agreed to do so. Some of these volunteers would be the relatives of the captain, others would no doubt be poor gentry unable to gain a living in other ways (Spanish gentlemen were not supposed to demean themselves by manual labour or commercial transactions), others still would be aspiring noblemen who began their military service in the ranks and hoped before long to rise to a position of command.
Most army commanders set the highest value upon these gentleman-rankers. The duke of Alva, for example, was overjoyed to find that a large number of particulares had volunteered to serve in the Spanish infantry which he led to the Netherlands in 1567.
Soldiers of this calibre [wrote Alva] are the men who win victory in the “actions” and with whom the General establishes the requisite discipline among the troops. In our nation nothing is more important than to introduce gentlemen and men of substance into the infantry so that all is not left in the hands of labourers and lackeys.
Throughout the Eighty Years’ War the same sentiment was expressed in remarkably similar terms. As late as 1640, for example, a Netherlander—and a civilian at that—could write:
Gentleman-rankers…are the people who bear the brunt of the battles and sieges, as we have seen on many occasions, and who by their example oblige and enliven the rest of the soldiers (who have less sense of duty) to stand fast and fight with courage.
Service as a volunteer among the infantry was particularly popular among the Spanish gentry, but particulares were also to be found in considerable numbers in the ranks of other “nations”. The English units in the Army of Flanders, for example, regularly included Catesbys, Treshams and other members of the leading recusant gentry families—including Guy Fawkes. Not all these gentleman-rankers were poor. On one celebrated occasion the Emperor Charles V lent additional dignity to the military profession by himself taking up a pike and marching with his men; later, in the 1590s, the dukes of Osuna and Pastrana and the prince of Asculi, scions of the most illustrious houses of Spain, were all to be found serving as simple soldiers in the Army of Flanders. Naturally these volunteers, especially the nobles, aspired to an eventual position of command, but they first received an admirable apprenticeship and, in addition, their presence in the ranks helped to maintain morale and reduce insubordination. In this way the Spanish Habsburgs assembled armies which were supremely capable of victory without resort to any compulsion.
— The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, pp. 40-41
Although military historians have tended to confine their attention to the formal engagements of the war [in the Low Countries], to the sieges, battles and major manoeuvres, these events formed only the tip of the iceberg of military conflict. Beneath the interplay of the big battalions, at least until 1590 [C.E.], smaller parties of troops fought, intrigued and killed ceaselessly for the control of villages. Spain’s piecemeal reconquest of the areas in rebellion in the first phase of the war created a jagged “floating” frontier, running from one fortified town to another, from one village to the next. Until 1594 the frontier ran from Groningen in the north down to Liège and then westwards to the Flemish sea-coast. All along this invisible line hostile parties of troops conducted a gruelling war of skirmish and surprise. In this situation…war became a matter of “fights, encounters, skirmishes, ambushes, an occasional battle, minor sieges, assaults, escalades, captures and surprises of towns”. It resembled a series of uncoordinated guerilla conflicts rather than a single full-scale war.
These localized dog-fights, this guerre aux vaches, was a highly intensive and exhausting form of warfare. It called for troops with an unusually high degree of endurance and experience. In battles or mass manoeuvres a commander required from his men corporate discipline, good order, careful drilling in certain collective movements and above all stoicism under fire. By contrast, for the skirmish and surprise of guerilla fighting, discipline and unit-organization hardly mattered: the critical qualities were independent excellence and complete familiarity with weapons.
Sixteenth-century commanders and military commentators naturally realized that these different forms of warfare required different types of soldier: one for routine garrison duty and mass manoeuvres, the other for guerilla action. On the whole they agreed that it was more difficult to find troops who excelled in skirmish-and-surprise, in what the English called the “actions” of war. For that veterans were required. The duke of Alva always insisted that some trained troops were indispensable for success in the Low Countries’ Wars because “One cannot fight any ‘actions’ with other troops—unless it comes to a pitched battle where entire formations are engaged.” To the duke’s mind (and he had a lifetime of experience to draw on) any troops could fight a battle but it required trained veterans to win a skirmish.
— The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, pp. 12-13
Shall we say “adventurers?” 🙂
The one thing war stories always forgot was the dust. Khârn learned that early, and the lesson stayed with him through the years. Even two men kicking up sand in the gladiator pits was a distraction. Two armies of a few thousand souls on an open plain would turn the air thick enough to choke on. Scale it up again, and a few hundred thousand warriors locked in conflict would darken the sun for a day after the battle was done.
But the realities of pitched warfare rarely made it into the sagas. In all the stories he’d heard, especially those woeful diatribes from the remembrancers, battle was reduced to a handful of heroes going blade-to-blade in the sunlight, while their nameless lessers looked on in stupefied awe.
It took a great deal to make Khârn cringe, but war poetry never failed.
…Visibility was a myth. It simply didn’t exist.
In ages past, when bronze swords had formed the pinnacle of humanity’s capacity to wage war against itself, mounted scouts tore through a battlefield’s dust clouds to relay information and orders between officers whose regiments were blinded in the thick of it. That was another truth that rarely survived to make into the archives.
— Betrayer, Chapter 3
…Afghanistan is largely a warrior society, especially among the majority of the population living out in the countryside. An Afghan goes to war not as a soldier, but as a warrior. As such, the Afghan warrior places more importance on honor and showing off than following orders and “accomplishing the mission.” American troops carefully plan their operations and everyone follows their orders. Afghans will do what strikes their fancy and pay more attention to perceived slights than getting the job done.
Afghans have a feudal sort of military organization. All the lads going off to war from a village, neighborhood, or valley will follow the most charismatic and most battle-experienced of their group. This guy will be the leader. Not an officer in [the modern] sense…. Very democratic, but the leader might not know a lot about tactics or other military matters. These local groups, rarely more than a few dozen strong, will band together with similar-size groups from their region under an even more famous and charismatic leader. This gets you a group of a few hundred fighters and an organization roughly comparable to what we call an infantry battalion. At this point, money becomes important. Whoever leads several of these battalions is usually wealthy, or is an exceptional battlefield commander who is backed by people with money. Someone has to pay for the food, trucks, ammunition, and whatever else a popular commander can scrounge up…. Several battalions give what is called an “army”…and the leader is often called a warlord….
…An Afghan warlord cannot be ordered to take part in an operation but must be convinced via a war council. And even his assent does not always translate into consistent performance on the battlefield. Lacking the discipline of a Western army, an Afghan leader has to be very careful when it comes to casualties among his troops. This accounts for the unique way in which Afghans fight battles. Traditionally, Afghan warfare has been more about making an impressive show than getting right down to a hack fest and a lot of dead bodies. A warrior society won’t last long if the warriors are too eager to get killed. These days, a loud and impressive display of firepower, but not a lot of casualties, best represents your typical Afghan battle. When someone does lose and gets taken prisoner, he is often set free in a later exchange of prisoners….
…An Afghan commander can see his troops leave for home real quick if too many of them get killed or injured in combat. Most Afghan battles result in very few casualties. When one side sees that it is outclassed and likely to be defeated, it just takes off in the night. If the defender is protecting his valley or town, he will start negotiating a surrender. Actually, surrender is too strong a word. The preferred move is to switch sides….
— How To Make War, pp. 530-31
“…The movement patterns here are typical of Japanese as opposed to Chinese styles of unarmed fighting—the Japanese think of the torso as a cylinder that should be kept upright when fighting. The Chinese are a bit more flexible….”
— Tengu, Chapter 10
Among these Cossacks who lived within the territory of the Zaporizhian Sich, there were said to be some with magic abilities, who were called the Cossack-Sorcerers. According to folklore, these were true war mages, of which legends were born. However, unlike the modern fantasy warriors, they did not throw lightning-bolts and issue fire from their staffs. Their weapons and abilities were somewhat different….
According to the people’s imagination, the Cossacks were able to find and hide treasures, to heal wounds with spells, and to evade and catch bullets. They could withstand hot rods, change the weather and open castle doors with their bare hands. They were able to float on the floor in boats, as if on the sea, to cross the rivers on rugs…and instantly transport themselves from one side of the steppe to another. They knew psychotherapy, understood herbalism, and also possessed the art of hypnosis. There were also claims about the super-human physical training the Cossacks endured, and much more….
How the Cossack-Sorcerers actually began is shrouded in secrecy. Many believe that the Cossacks of legend have come from the ancient Slavic Yazykh priests of the Magi. It is said that after Prince Vladimir the Great was converted from Slavic paganism to Christianity in 988 and christianized the Kievan Rus, the priests did not agree that the prince should have accepted a foreign faith from Byzantium and so fled to the steppe where the warlords set up, teaching their followers in the martial arts….
Just as the Zaporizhzhya Sich was a melting pot for different people, it became possible that such a variety could exist among the Cossacks, sharing their knowledge, skills and abilities with them. By mastering this knowledge, the Cossacks could combine the practice of divination, charisma, and mysticism with the illusion and art of battle, as did the Japanese ninja….
Narrator:That year, at dawn of the twenty-first day of the tenth month—the month without gods—the main armies clashed. It was in the mountains near Sekigahara, astride the North Road. By late afternoon, Toranaga had won the battle and the slaughter began.Forty thousand heads were taken.
— “Shōgun” (1980)
The year is 1600 C.E.
The book and television mini-series are a fictionalized account of the events leading up to this historical battle which de facto unified Japan.
Abbot:I see your talents have gone beyond the mere physical level. Your skills are now at the point of spiritual insight. I have several questions. What is the highest technique you hope to achieve?Lee:To have no technique.Abbot:Very good. What are your thoughts when facing an opponent?Lee:There is no opponent.Abbot:And why is that?Lee:Because the word “I” does not exist.Abbot:So. Continue.Lee:A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense but ready. Not thinking yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.Abbot:Now, you must remember: the enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy. The “it” that you refer to is a powerful weapon easily misused by the martial artist who deserts his vows. For centuries now, the code of the Shaolin Temple has been preserved. Remember, the honor of our brotherhood has been held true. Tell me now the Shaolin Commandment Number Thirteen.Lee:A martial artist has to take responsibility for himself and accept the consequences of his own doing.
— “Enter the Dragon” (1973)
To touch another’s weapon, or to come into collision with the sheath, was a dire offense, and to enter a friend’s house without leaving the sword outside was a breach of friendship. Those whose position justified the accompaniment of an attendant invariably left the sword in his charge at the entrance or, if alone, it was usually laid down at the entrance. If removed inside, it was invariably done by the host’s servants, and then not touched with the bare hand, but with a silk napkin kept for the purpose, and the sword was placed upon a sword-rack in the place of honor near the guest and treated with all the politeness due to an honored visitor who would resent a discourtesy. The long sword, if two were worn, was withdrawn, sheathed, from the girdle with the right hand—an indication of friendship, as it could not be drawn and used thus—never by the left hand, or placed on the left side, except when in immediate danger of attack. To exhibit a naked weapon was a gross insult, unless a gentleman wished to show his friends his collection. To express a wish to see a sword was not usual, unless a blade of great value was in question, when a request to be shown it would be a compliment the happy possessor appreciated….
— The Overlook Martial Arts Reader, pp. 44-45
…[The Native American] self bow and the seventeenth-century musket had comparable effective ranges (50 yards optimum, 100 to 150 yards at the outside)….
…For Amerindians, because the bow or the musket had to serve in both war and the hunt, something in the technology had to satisfy the needs of both pursuits…. A musket ball was less likely than an arrow to be deflected by vegetation, and it also had a greater kinetic impact on the target. A deer hit with an arrow receives a very deep wound…, which, though eventually lethal, might require the hunter to pursue the bleeding deer for some distance. In contrast, a musket penetrates flesh, shatters bone, and creates a larger wound cavity. It “smacks,” whereas an arrow “slices….” A military musketball at 50 yards hits a target with 706 foot pounds of kinetic energy. An arrow from a typical modern bow hits at 50 yards with 50 to 80 foot pounds of energy. This is more than enough to penetrate flesh and tissue and produce a killing wound, but it is much less likely to drop an animal in its tracks.
The musket has similar advantages against humans. Much of a human target is limbs, especially when walls or trees are used to cover the trunk of the body. An arrow wound to the leg or arm is rarely lethal, although it can be debilitating. But a musketball strike to the arm or leg may shatter the bone and is more likely to carry debris into the wound, lead to infection, sepsis, and death.… In the immediate term, a man with a shattered leg or arm, flung to the ground by the weight of a musket shot, also makes a better target for being taken prisoner…. Unable to flee, he becomes vulnerable and may hold up his fellows trying to carry him away from the field…. More obviously, bullets cannot be dodged, whereas arrows in flight over any distance (especially on an arcing trajectory) can be seen and dodged. Modern film footage of the Dani people’s arrow and javelin battles in New Guinea shows this process clearly, and numerous European witnesses commented on the Amerindians’ ability to dodge arrows.
— Empires and Indigenes, pp. 56-58
Players of fantasy RPGs should note the quoted effective range for bows. Many games have much longer distances, but those are derived from battlefields where archers are loosing volleys at large enemy formations. Gamers should further note the ease of dodging an arrow at anything beyond short range.
Sergeant Hazard:From here on in, you guys are Charlie. Glide through this shit; you don’t clomp through it. Feel the terrain. Feel it, don’t fight it. This jungle is not an obstacle. It’s your friend. Use it. Let it help you. Love it. Love it, and it’ll love you back.
— “Gardens of Stone” (1987)
Initially, the decay of primary group solidarity within the leading cities of Italy and of the town militias which were its military expression invited chaos. Armed adventurers, often originating from north of the Alps, coalesced under informally elected leaders and proceeded to live by blackmailing local authorities, or, when suitably large payments were not forthcoming, by plundering the countryside. Such “free companies” of soldiers became more formidable as the fourteenth century [C.E.] advanced. In 1354, the largest of these bands, numbering as many as 10,000 armed men, accompanied by about twice as many camp followers, wended its way across the most fertile parts of central Italy, making a living by sale and resale of whatever plunder the soldiers did not consume directly on the spot. Such a traveling company was, in effect, a migratory city, for cities, too, lived by extracting resources from the countryside through a combination of force or threat of force (rents and taxes) on the one hand and more or less free contractual exchanges (artisan goods for food and raw materials) on the other.
The spectacle of a wealthy countryside ravaged by wandering bands of plundering armed men was as old as organized warfare itself. What was new in this situation was the fact that enough money circulated in the richer Italian towns to make it possible for citizens to tax themselves and use the proceeds to buy the services of armed strangers. Then, simply by spending their pay, the hired soldiers put tax monies back in circulation. Thereby, they intensified the market exchanges that allowed such towns to commercialize armed violence in the first place. The emergent system thus tended to become self-sustaining. The only problem was to invent mutually acceptable contractual forms and practical means for enforcing contract terms.
From a taxpayer’s point of view, the desirability of substituting the certainty of taxes for the uncertainty of plunder depended on what one had to lose and how frequently plundering bands were likely to appear. In the course of the fourteenth century, enough citizens concluded that taxes were preferable to being plundered to make the commercialization of organized violence feasible in the richer and better-governed cities of northern Italy. Professionalized fighting men had precisely parallel motives for preferring a fixed rate of pay to the risks of living wholly on plunder. Moreover, as military contracts (Italian condotta, hence condottiere, contractor) developed, rules were introduced specifying the circumstances under which plundering was permissible. Thus, in becoming salaried, soldiering did not entirely lose its speculative economic dimension.
— The Pursuit of Power, pp. 73-74
The Greeks were the Vikings of the Bronze Age. They built some of history’s first warships. Whether on large expeditions or smaller sorties, whether in the king’s call-up or on freebooting forays, whether as formal soldiers and sailors or as traders who turned into raiders at a moment’s notice, whether as mercenaries, ambassadors, or hereditary guest-friends, the Greeks fanned out across the Aegean and into the eastern and central Mediterranean, with one hand on the rudder and the other on the hilt of a sword. What the sight of a dragon’s head on the stem post of a Viking ship was to an Anglo-Saxon, the sight of a bird’s beak on the stem post of a Greek galley was to a Mediterranean islander or Anatolian mainlander. In the 1400s [B.C.E.], the Greeks conquered Crete, the southwestern Aegean islands, and the city of Miletus on the Aegean coast of Anatolia, before driving eastward into Lycia and across the sea to Cyprus. In the 1300s they stirred up rebels against the Hittite overlords of western Anatolia. In the 1200s they began muscling their way into the islands of the northeastern Aegean, which presented a big threat to Troy….
— The Trojan War, pp. 2-3
Fighting as a knight involved expense that became greater over time. In the twelfth century [C.E.] the knight’s basic equipment (horse, helmet, hauberk, and sword) required the annual revenue of 150 hectares. Three centuries later it cost the yearly income of 500 hectares. The horses alone of Gerard de Moor, Lord of Wessegem, amounted in 1297 to 1,200 livres tournois….
— Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels, p. 177
They would fight not only without quarter but also without rules. In mortal combat, unlike a friendly tournament, nothing prevented a man from stabbing his opponent in the back or through the eye-slits of his helmet, or blinding him with sand, or tripping him, or kicking him, or jumping on him if he should slip and fall. In a duel fought in Flanders in 1127 the two exhausted combatants finally threw down their weapons and fell to wrestling on the ground and punching each other with their iron gauntlets, until one reached under the other’s armor and tore away his testicles, killing him on the spot. Chivalry might have been alive and well in jousts of sport, and even in the preliminary ceremonies of the judicial duel, but once the actual combat began, chivalry was dead.
— The Last Duel, Chapter 9
Jean [de Carrouges]…held the rank of squire. Rather than the “gallant youth” this term often brings to mind, he was a battle-hardened veteran already in his forties, one of those “mature men of a rather heavy type—knights in all but name.”
By 1380 [C.E.], Jean…commanded his own troop of squires, numbering from four to as many as nine, in the campaigns to rid Normandy of the English. In war he sought to burnish his name and enrich himself by seizing booty and capturing prisoners to hold for ransom, a lucrative business in the fourteenth century. He may also have sought a knighthood, which would have doubled his pay on campaign…. [A] knight’s daily pay on campaign was one livre, while a squire received half that.
— The Last Duel, Chapter 1
A squire would not be knighted if he could not afford to maintain that higher station. Thus the drive for booty and ransom.
“You’ll get a second Medal of Honor for this, John.” — Colonel Troutman, Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
Being an Army Brat, that statement made me curious as to whether that is possible. So I started researching. It turns out the answer was “not anymore.” In fact, there have been nineteen double winners of the Medal of Honor.
The Medal of Honor was created in 1862 during the U.S. Civil War. It was the only military decoration for valor until 1918 when the “Pyramid of Valor” was established by an Act of Congress. It created the Distinguished Service Cross (Army), Navy Cross, and other lesser awards. Henceforth the Medal of Honor could only be awarded once to an individual.
A recent Act of Congress has since removed this restriction. Regardless, it is highly unlikely anyone will ever again be awarded a second medal. There has been an unwritten rule since the end of World War II that no awardee is to die on active duty. Thus one will never again be allowed in a combat zone.
Of those nineteen men, two were considered for a third award.
For those wishing to learn more about these men, I recommend the book Double Winners of the Medal of Honor by Raymond J. Tassin. Dr. Tassin gives each man a chapter that starts with childhood and pre-service life, provides context to the conflicts participated in, fleshes out the cited actions (not all of which were combat!) via storytelling, and concludes with post-service life and death.
Daniel Daly, USMC
Lastly, I give you the nineteen (in chronological order):
- Thomas Custer (Army)
- John Cooper (Navy)
- Patrick Mullen (Navy)
- Frank Baldwin (Army)
- Patrick Leonard (Army)
- William Wilson (Army)
- Albert Weisbogel (Navy)
- Henry Hogan (Army)
- Robert Sweeney (Navy)
- Louis Williams (Navy)
- Daniel Daly (Marine Corps)
- John McCloy (Navy)
- Smedley Butler (Marine Corps)
- John King (Navy)
- Ernst Janson (Marine Corps)
- Matej Kocak (Marine Corps)
- Louis Cukela (Marine Corps)
- John Pruitt (Marine Corps)
- John Kelly (Marine Corps)
[King Philip] had carried through a social revolution among the Macedonian military class…. The old nobility were laid under an obligation of regular military service; to it a new nobility of military adventurers was added, recruited and promoted on the basis of professional excellence. The result was an army ‘open to talents’, in which the king’s new and old followers competed for position in demonstrations of loyalty and self-disregard.
— The Mask of Command, pp. 19-20
Command in ancient armies was a collective as much as an individual endeavour, because the primitive communications made it hard for one man to exercise control even over the relatively short distances involved. Indeed, command limitations seem to have been a major reason why large armies formed up in greater depth, rather than trying to coordinate operations across an unpractically long front. Pre-planning and delegation of authority to local subordinates were the norm, and some forces did not even have a single overall general. It was because command was so problematic that most ancient armies achieved so much less than the troops themselves were theoretically capable of, as inertia and confusion reduced movement rates and inhibited decisive attacks. This meant that asymmetries in command, which allowed one army to suffer less than its opponents from the restrictions involved, could have a major impact on fighting performance.
Perhaps paradoxically, given the difficulties for any single individual of maintaining real-time control of anything more than a small segment of the battle line, this was the golden age of ‘great captains’ like Alexander, Hannibal, Scipio and Caesar whose generalship was a very significant determinant of victory. The explanation seems to be that there were many other ways in which such individuals contributed to success besides their personal influence during the battle itself. Training and motivating their troops and building up capable subordinates in the months and years beforehand could significantly improve the quality of the army as a whole. Winning the intelligence contest could allow novel pre-planned deployments and manoeuvres precisely tailored to counter the enemy battle line, and seizing the initiative could panic or provoke the enemy into hurried reactions that left their army vulnerable and unprepared. The actual fighting was thus only the culmination of an overall process that stacked the odds heavily in favour of the better-commanded side.