Musketeers in early manuals are shown as drawn up four men wide and eight men deep on either side of a block of pikemen eight wide and eight deep; a formation of equal numbers of pike and shot. In such a formation the musketeers fired by single ranks, the front rank firing and then turning to the rear of the formation to reload while the second rank fired and so on. However, a much more aggressive approach had already been introduced by the Swedish king and general Gustavus Adolphus, firing by salvee when two or more ranks fired at the same time. Sir James Turner, who served in the Swedish army, advocated the tactic thus: ‘For thereby you pour as much lead in your enemies bosom at one time as you do the other way at two several times, and thereby you do them more mischief, you quail, daunt, and astonish them three times more, for one long and continual crack of thunder is more terrible and dreadful to mortals than ten interrupted and several ones.’ It is notable that Sir James speaks more of the terror inspired by the noise than the injury done by the bullets. Firing by salvee was probably the method used at Naseby, with one rank kneeling, the second crouching and the third standing upright. If there was no time to reload, the musket was reversed and used as a club.
The standard musket was a matchlock. It was fired by bringing the glowing end of a length of slow-match-cord into contact with powder in a flash-pan which in turn ignited the charge in the barrel of the piece. The match was of hemp, if available, and it was boiled in either wine vinegar or a solution of saltpetre (potassium nitrate). It was a simple system, and very reliable as long as its constituents were dry. The disadvantages of match were the problem of keeping it dry in bad weather, the glow it made in the dark, and arranging for its supply. Saltpetre had to be imported and huge quantities of the stuff were needed to furnish the needs of any significant body of men, which was both troublesome and expensive. Therefore a proportion of firelocks which used flint ignition were issued, sparing the consumption of match, and avoiding the risk of accidental ignition of gunpowder stores by wind-blown sparks or revelation of a guard by match-glow. They were, however, more expensive to manufacture and prone to misfire, much as a flint-ignition cigarette lighter could require more than a single thumb-flick to make it light.
The weapons had the handicaps of low muzzle velocity, variable bullet-to-barrel fit (‘windage’), and a heavy bullet with significant wind-resistance. Over a distance of 120 yards the bullet dropped by five feet, so a good marksman might score a hit at 100 yards, a volley might hurt an enemy formation at 200 yards, but at 300 yards firing was virtually futile.
The traditional role of the pikeman was to withstand horse, the shot sheltering beneath the bristling hedge of pikes and amongst their ranks. The menace of massed pikes to cavalry is easy to imagine. The pikemen might also fight other pikemen, and the phrase ‘push of pike’ sounds like mutual skewering. There is no evidence of this happening, for both sides wore armour and, lacking momentum, pushing was indeed what took place. There are accounts of men being pushed onto their backs by a stronger opponent, but not run through. At close quarters fighting was with the sword.
The pikeman was equipped with a long pole weapon made of ash with a metal head. The head was either a broad spear-head, which was found wanting in practice, or a smaller, four-sided spike fastened to the shaft with ‘cheeks’, strips of metal, running down the shaft to prevent the head being cut off. The length was about sixteen feet, although some authorities say eighteen, and all agree that men had to be prevented from cutting off a foot or two to lighten them. The early 17th-century pikeman wore a helmet, back- and breast-plates, tassets which protected the thighs, and a gorget, which guarded the throat. By 1645 the tassets and gorget had long been abandoned and many pikeman did without the body armour as well. For close-quarter fighting he had a sword.
Foot Unit Strengths
The regiment of foot in the New Model Army was planned to number 1,200 men in ten companies. The companies were not of equal size. The colonel’s had 200 men, the lieutenant-colonel’s 160, the sergeant-major’s 140 and the seven captains commanded 100 each. The establishment was rarely attained in real life and a regiment more often numbered fewer than 700, and often something between 500 and 300. The proportion of musketeers to pikemen was intended to be 2:1, but again that might not be the case in practice. In April 5,650 muskets and 2,000 pikes were ordered to equip the new recruits, which suggests a musket to pike ratio of 3:1 and when Essex’s men were rearmed after their defeat at Lostwithiel a ratio of 6:1 is recorded. In the event something in the region of 4:1 may have been the outcome for the New Model Army at Naseby.
The royalist army was made up of more diverse units. Some, like the Bluecoats, had a traditional musket to pike ratio of 2:1, while others, like the Shrewsbury Foot, were manned entirely by musketeers. Overall there were, perhaps (for no precise records exist) four or five muskets to each pike. The regiments were of varied sizes, and for operational reasons were often brigaded together to make up a unit of reasonable size; something between 450 and 850 men.
Orders could be conveyed to infantry by the beat of a drum. Six calls had to be learned: a call, a troop, a march, a preparative a battaile and a retreat. These actions are described in contemporary manuals. A call meant rally to the ensign or flag. A troop meant get in file and move to the appointed rendezvous or meeting place. A march meant adopt open order and march off to the beat of the drum. A preparative was an instruction to close ranks ready to fight. The battail was an order to press forward or charge and a retreat meant ‘an orderly retiring backward.’
The dragoon’s arming, John Vernon wrote in 1644, ‘is only offensive, having a good fire lock musket something a wider bore then ordinary hanging in a belt by a sweble at his side, with a good sword and ordinary horse, it being only to expedite his march, for he must perform his service on foot …’ In effect these are mounted infantry. They ride ten abreast and when they fight nine dismount throwing their reins over the neck of the horse next to them so the tenth can hold the horses of a whole rank. The lack of ‘defensive arming’ means these troops were without helmets or body armour. They were used principally for scouting - armed reconnaissance.
Dragoons Unit Strength
For the New Model Army it was resolved, ‘… there shall be raised, for this Army, a Thousand Dragoons, to be in Ten Companies.’ That is, 100 men to a company. At the time dragoons usually operated as independent companies, sometimes attached to a cavalry regiment. It may, therefore, have been assumed that each of the ten companies would attach to one of the ten regiments of horse initially planned. On 1 March 1645 Sir Thomas Fairfax wrote to the Commons proposing, among other things, that the dragoons should be formed into a regiment and on 3 March the report of the Commons debates says: ‘Resolved, &c. That the Dragooners shall be formed into a Regiment. The Colonel and Officers of the Dragoons were all reported and approved.’ At Naseby Okey’s Dragoons numbered 676 officers and men.
The cavalry’s formation for fighting in open country, such as existed at Naseby, was described by John Vernon thus (modernized text): ‘The Troops are to be drawn into battalia (fighting formations), each being not above three deep, likewise each troop must be at least a hundred paces distance behind each other to avoid disorder. Those troops that are to give the first charge being drawn up into battail are to be in close order, every left hand mans right knee must be close locked under his right hand man’s left ham (thigh) … In this order they are to advance towards the Enemy with an easy pace, firing their Carbines at a convenient distance … the troops are to charge the Enemy in full career, but in good order with their swords fastened with a strap to their wrists … still keeping in close order, close locked.’
In 1644 John Vernon wrote The Young Horseman. In this book he describes the cavalryman of this time and army and thus not necessarily the Ironside of the New Model. He begins with the trooper’s mount which he says should be nimble, about fifteen hands high and ‘sad’ coloured, that is, black, brown or chestnut so as to be hard to see in poor light. A grown man of something just over average height would look a fifteen hand horse in the eye. ‘… Let not the neck of your spurs be overlong,’ he says, in case they get caught up in the stirrup of the man next to you. The armament is a sword ‘of a middle length, sharpe pointed and stiffe’ because a long sword is harder to handle and not needed by a mounted man. He advises against cartridges for the pistol charge as trotting tends to shake out the powder, and suggests a flask instead. The firearms should be two pistols and a carbine. A pollaxe is, he says, very necessary for employment against cuirassiers, the heavy, armoured horsemen, but by 1645 such heavy cavalry had ceased to exist. The horse at Naseby were, for the most part, armed with sword and pistol only. The defensive arms were a helmet, and back and breast plate worn over a buff coat.
Horse Unit Strength
The cavalry regiments of the time had an establishment of six troops of, as a rule, sixty men. There were many deviations in practice. Oliver Cromwell’s ‘Ironsides’ had fourteen troops and thus was able to furnish the men for Whalley’s Regiment and for Fairfax’s Regiment, with men to spare. The New Model Army adopted the structure of the Eastern Association, with a modification giving each regiment six troops of about 100 men. The final ordinance establishing the New Model Army was passed on 11 February 1645, at which time an eleventh regiment of horse was added.
One of the tasks of the trumpeter was to act as a messenger, both to friend and enemy. When taking messages to opponents they were encouraged by the manuals of the time to ‘observe if they can have so much liberty the enemies works (defences) and guards.' The trumpet calls were used to convey orders. The Boutezselle meant saddle your horse, the Chevall meant mount on horseback, the Standard meant rally to the standard or flag. Other calls ordered a charge, a retreat or a mounting of the guard.