Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Native American Warfare in the Kabinettskriege period

Native American Tribes in North America at the end of the American Revolution
 Dear Reader,

While historians usually associate the Kabinettskriege period with fighting in Europe, many conflicts also occurred in North America during this period.  Films like Last of the Mohicans, attempt to portray the fighting in North America during this period. Native American warriors fought Europeans and each other, and adapted European fighting equipment to their particular methods of fighting. In this post, we will look at these warriors, and see how the Kabinettskriege period affected their lives. The Native Americans approached warfare very differently from the Europeans of the period. For a post on how the Europeans fought, click here.

Woodland Native American Warriors, from the Italeri Toy Soldiers box set art
Native American Tactics

Growing up in America, watching movies like Last of the Mohicans, I was very familiar with scenes like the above, where Native American warriors rush out of the trees to attack columns of brightly attired European soldiers. During King Philip's War, (for a timeline of conflicts in this period,click here), English Captain Benjamin Church asked Native American prisoners why the Native American tactics were so effective:

"They told him... two things, {First} the Indians always took care... not to come to thick together. The English always kept in a heap together... it was as easy to hit them as to hit a house. {Second} If at any time {the Native Americans} discovered a company of English soldiers in the woods, they knew that that was all {of the English in the area} for the English never scattered; but the Indians always divided and scattered."

Thus, we can see that the Native American fighting style offered advantages in the dense wooded terrain of North America. With the introduction of muskets after European colonization, Native American's absorbed these weapons into their style of warfare. Ignoring the mass fire tactics of the Europeans, the Native Americans focused on individual accuracy and firing from covered positions. For most modern observers, Native American firing tactics more sense then the linear firing patterns of Europeans. Native Americans focused on killing the enemy while attempting to ensure that they were safe from enemy fire. If this is the case, historians must ask:

Why did they lose? 

If Native American firing techniques were so much more effective than Europeans, surely they should have won the wars during this period, right? Unfortunately, there is much more to warfare than who shoots the best. By the time of King Philip's War, the Europeans had many more warriors than the Native Americans. In this war, the Native American's had a population of roughly 10,000 people, while the European settlers had almost 80,000. By the time of the Seven Years' War, the English settlers numbered almost 1.5 million. Even at the point of European contact in say, 1500, the number of Native American warriors (military age males) did not exceed 500,000.

The Trail of Tears-The landmark event of Indian removal

In addition, newer scholarship suggests that European brought the horrors of war to Native American communities.. The Europeans destroyed villages, and massacred civilians. While the Native Americans would often kill enemy wounded, massacres of civilians were less frequent than have previously supposed. The Native Americans were skillful diplomats, but often allied with the Europeans against one another, as opposed to allying with each other against Europeans.

While the Indians failed to embrace European firing tactics, they did so for explainable reasons. The Native peoples didn't have the population to risk men indecisive field battles, and the terrain of North America was much less suited to linear formations. In the end, the European demographic advantages outweighed Native American tactical advantages. The diseases which the Europeans brought to America greatly assisted with destroying Native American populations. The Europeans conquered America through migration, and warfare was only a part of this dialogue.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

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