Firearms in close combat before the bayonet

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Firearms in close combat before the bayonet

Postby Infamia » 10 Jun 2016 21:07

Is there any historical treatise dealing with the use of muskets and arquebuses in melee combat early in their history, before bayonets were widespread?

It stands to reason that a musketeer would carry a sword in the tercio system and presumably many would have fought with it in the melee, but there are historical accounts of such troops engaging with their guns.
I recently reread part of Sir Edward Walker's account of the Battle of Naseby in 1645 in which he describes the meeting of the Royalist and Parliamentarian infantry.

Walker wrote:The Foot on either side hardly saw each other until they were within Carabine Shot, and so made only one Volley; our falling in with Sword and butt end of the Musquet did notable Execution, so much as I saw their Colours fall and their Foot in great Disorder.


So evidently some of the Royalist musketeers were using their firearms as blunt weapons. This poses a number of problems as far as I can see. Muskets are very heavy and completely inferior to swords in terms of reach and arguably in damage at least against unarmoured flesh. The hands of a musketeer are also likely to be less well protected than most infantrymen's on account of their need more precise manual control when loading and shooting. That would make them fairly easy targets for an opponent armed with a sword, given the short reach and lack of hand protection with this weapon.
Do we have any source detailing the techniques a musketeer might use when the infantry clashed? It seems improbably to me that anyone would favour the use of the firearm, sans bayonet, over the sword, but it is evident that at least some of them did.
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Re: Firearms in close combat before the bayonet

Postby Thearos » 06 Jul 2016 20:12

Perhaps search "clubbed muskets"-- the habit of grabbing a firearm by the barrel and fighting with the butt persisted into the C19th, i.e. after the introduction of the socket bayonet.
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Re: Firearms in close combat before the bayonet

Postby MEversbergII » 07 Jul 2016 14:22

Inferior to a sword, perhaps, but they're not fencing. Given how melee tends to go, it's probably that you're usually clubbing a guy with your musket when A) He's not looking because he's actively engaging someone else, or B) He's already on the ground and just needs his skull smashed a bit to finish the job. Cross-check with the weapon, bowl him over. insert stock into brain matter a bunch.

Jabs with the barrel are part of modern combatives, and they probably featured in some fashion then, too. In any event, a clubbed musket is superior to your bare hands or simply not defending yourself. Two clubbed muskets are also probably better than one sword.

We also don't have any real knowledge of how well trained rank-and-file were at hand to hand, anyways. Sure, they might have bought hangars or been issued them, but that doesn't mean they're trained to use it under pressure. Probably lots of wild, naturalistic swings going on, which I'd suspect means your hands aren't in so much danger as you'd think.

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