The Armies

Major armies of the Civil War typically comprised infantry, cavalry, dragoons and field artillery. These fighting forces were supported by a baggage train, defended by musketeers, which carried the army’s supplies and equipment and was accompanied by the siege artillery.

On the field of battle, if unrestricted by hedges or other features, the troops were typically deployed in two or three lines. There was a main battle, a reserve and sometimes a rearguard, often with a ‘forlorn hope’ of musketeers to the fore. The infantry battalions, comprising bodies of pikemen and of musketeers, normally deployed in the centre of the battle line. The field artillery was then positioned in the battle line between each battalion. The cavalry were usually deployed on the right and left wings, enabling them to exploit their far greater manoeuverability.

Using the military manuals of the period it is possible, where evidence is available as to troop numbers, to make reasonably accurate calculations as to the frontages of the armies. This is because the manuals provide very specific evidence as to the formations and the spacing of the troops in battle formation and in line of march. For example the width taken up by an infantry soldier, at order, is 3 feet, while a cavalry trooper with his horse takes up 5 feet. The clearest statements are given by Ward (1639).

Such evidence can enable quite accurate reconstructions to be attempted of the deployment of the troops within the landscape, particularly where it has been possible to reconstruct the historic terrain with a reasonable degree of accuracy. There are a number of military manuals from the period, of which the following have proven of the most value in preparing these web pages:

  • Cruso, John. Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie, 1632.
  • Elton, Richard. The Compleat Body of the Art Military, 1659.
  • Vernon, John. The Young Horseman, 1644.
  • Ward, Robert. Animadversions of Warre, 1639.

The detail of deployment might of course vary quite considerably, as the authors of the manuals recommend, depending on the constraints or opportunities provided by the terrain, the troops available or the tactical flair of the commander. Thus, for example, Prince Rupert would often interline a few hundred musketeers within his cavalry formations and also place some cavalry units within the infantry formations. In addition there were dragoons who were often deployed on the flanks or to the fore to exploit the defensive potential of hedgerows or other features.

If the units retained their battle formation then casualty rates could often be quite low, even in battalions which had been in the thick of the action. It was normally when a formation broke that the greatest execution was done, especially where unprotected by a reserve if the whole wing or the whole army was routed. In that situation although the cavalry might reasonably expect to escape, the infantry would be easily cut down by the enemy cavalry unless the terrain offered effective cover, such as hedged closes or woodland, which disrupted the cavalry pursuit.


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