Historical Military Treatises/Tactical manuals?

Dec 2016
92
Spain
#1
I am interested in reading historical military treatises, I don't know if there are many surviving documents of this kind. I am mostly interested in 17th century and 18th century but can be of any period. I read a short description about Maurice Nassau tactics in pike and shot era and I would be really interested in finding something similar, but can also be of any other historical period, except 20th century. The only document of this kind I could find is The Art of War by Sun Tzu, an ancient chinese military treatise. Is there anything else of other periods?
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,521
Dispargum
#2
"Hardee's Tactics," the most commonly used drill manual in the American Civil War, is available on line here:
Hardee's 1862

"Baron Von Steuben's Revolutionary War Drill Manual" has been published in hard copy. If you google the title, I'm sure you'll find something. I don't know that drill changed all that much between 1778 and 1862 unless you're a real specialist and will pick up on very fine details, so if you read "Hardee's" on-line there not be any reason to also buy "Steuben's."
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
4,900
Portugal
#3
I am interested in reading historical military treatises, I don't know if there are many surviving documents of this kind. I am mostly interested in 17th century and 18th century but can be of any period. I read a short description about Maurice Nassau tactics in pike and shot era and I would be really interested in finding something similar, but can also be of any other historical period, except 20th century. The only document of this kind I could find is The Art of War by Sun Tzu, an ancient chinese military treatise. Is there anything else of other periods?
All in Spanish:

Bernardino de Escalante, Diálogos del arte militar (1583): Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico > Dialogos del arte militar

Diego de Salazar, Tratado de Re Militari (1590): Biblioteca Virtual de Defensa > Tratado de re militari hecho a manera de dialogo, que...

Martín de Eguiluz, Milicia, Discurso y Regla militar (1595?):
Biblioteca Virtual de Defensa > Milicia, discurso, y regla militar del capitan Martin de...
 
Likes: Talbot Vilna
#6
One of my favourite texts from the ancient world is Stratagems by Frontinus: LacusCurtius • The Stratagems of Frontinus.

Frontinus was a Roman who commanded forces on the Rhine and Danube frontiers and in Britain in the late first century AD. Stratagems is basically a list of anecdotes about generals and their tactics/strategies ordered according to themes of warfare. For example, there is a series of anecdotes relating to the topic of how to stop the spread of fear in your army and on how to storm a city. It was designed to be read by other generals so that they could find inspiration for what to do in certain situations.

The Stratagems of Polyaenus is a similar work from the late second century, but it seems more like a fun collection of anecdotes than something intended to be particularly useful, since it is ordered not according to different military situations but rather personalities (although Frontinus's work is certainly also a fun read and I think was intended to be both amusing and useful): Polyaenus: Stratagems - translation

For straight-up military manuals, see the treatises of Aeneos Tactikos (a Greek of the fourth century BC; On Siege Defense LacusCurtius • Aeneas Tacticus on Siege Defense) and Vegetius (a fifth-century Roman; On Military Matters).
 
Likes: Talbot Vilna
Feb 2011
6,233
#7
The only document of this kind I could find is The Art of War by Sun Tzu, an ancient chinese military treatise. Is there anything else of other periods?
Sun Bin's Art of War is better than Sun Tzu's Art of War. The former is more detailed in troop tactics, while the latter seems to be a bunch of fortune cookie advice jumbled together.

Here is a snippet of Sun Bin's Art of War:

For deployment in the closely knit formation, do not spread your units out far apart. Closing in ranks, make heavily armed lead units extend forward with the front and rear of your formation affording mutual protection. In changing do not….. Where the armored infantry is in fear, let them settle down. Sound the command to settle down……, and when the enemy goes, do not go after him; when he comes on, do not try to stop him. Strike him if he makes a detour and blunt the sharpness of any frontal attack. Controlling your formation as efficiently as the down on a bird’s wing controls the wind, do not allow any breaches in the line. Withdraw from battle like the retreat of a mountain. Such being the case, your closely knit formation will be impenetrable.
The awl formation is wielded like a sword. If its tip is not sharp , it will not pierce the enemy line; if its edge is not thin, it will not cut through the enemy force; if its hilt is not thick, it cannot split the enemy formation. For this reason, the tip must must be sharp, the edge must be thin, and the hilt must be solid, Such being the case, the awl formation can break through enemy lines and divide his forces.
……This is called the function of the wild geese formation. The front lines are like…., and the rear are like wild cats…. Assuring your own survival by cutting through the enemy’s net. This is what is called the function of the wild geese formation.
In the hooked formation, the front ranks must be square, and the right and left adjoining flanks must be hooked on. While we make full use of three kinds of sounds – the gongs, drums, and pipes- the variously colored banners must also be employed. The troops must be able to discern our audible orders and distinguish our five kinds of signal banners. With no front and no rear, no….
The dark wings formation must make extensive use of flags, banners, and standards, and drum the divisions of battle chariots into position. When the armed infantry is thrown into disorder, get it to settle down, and when the chariots are in disorder, get them to move forward in orderly ranks. Those that are already in proper order…… The clamor of soldiers and snorting of horses seems to descend from the heavens and rise up out of the earth. When enemy footsoldiers come our formation does not buckle under, and is not blunted by incessant attack. This is what is called the dark wings formation.
For defense against the fire formation, reinforce those ditches and ramparts which are already in place with additional ditches and trenches five paces wide. In stacking up firewood, make sure it is evenly spaced out. Have fixed numbers of personnel in your work units, and direct them to set up obstructions. Make sure that your troops are always light and agile. Where there is wind, avoid…… If you have been engulfed by fire and you will be unable to gain victory through continued engagement, settle down without panic and retreat.
For the offensive deployment of the fire formation, when the enemy is on low ground in an area covered with brush and the soldiers of his combined forces have no outlet, this then is the time you can use fire against him. When a gale lashes across the underbrush where the enemy has already stockpiled hay and firewood, and when the barricades around his camp have not been properly attended to, this is the time you can use fire against him. Use fire to throw the enemy into disorder and shower him with arrows. Amid the din of your drums and the pounding of your weapons, use your strategic advantage (shi) to aid your attack. This then is the way to use fire in battle.
In using water in battle, you must increase your footsoldiers and decrease the number of your war chariots. Direct them to prepare hooking poles, batons, oars, baskets, mat sails and the various other implements in naval warfare. When you advance, you must pursue the enemy, but when you retreat, do not allow yourself to be pressed. When closing on the enemy, go with the current and take the enemy soldiers as your targets. In using water in battle, take a maneuverable boat as your flagship and fast boats as your message bearers. When the enemy retires, pursue him; when he comes at you, press in upon him. Expel…. Prepare against the enemy with due caution. When he shifts his position, adjust yours accordingly. When he assumes a formation, divide it. When he brings his forces together, split them apart. Therefore, among you weapons carry shovels, and for the battle chariots have drivers and infantry. You must estimate their numbers. Attack the enemy boats and occupy the ferry docks, and let your people know your infantry is on its way. This is the way using water in battle.


------------------------------

He asked, “The two armies have drawn their battle lines and are ready for context. The enemy is already strong by force of numbers, and is deployed perpendicular to use in a wide, extended formation. We are also deployed in formation and await the engagement, but our numbers are few and are no match for him. How should we attack him?”
Sun Bin replied, “To attack an enemy under these conditions, we must divide our forces into three detachments, selecting from among them a suicide squad. Deploy two detachments in an extended formation and stretch out our flanks. Deploy our other detachment of shock troops and select commandos to focus their assault on the enemy’s vital points. This is the way (dao) to slay their commanders and attack their protacted battle line.”
He asked, “The two armies have drawn their battle lines and are ready for context. We have the infantry advantage, but we are outnumbered in chariots and cavalry by ten to one. How should we attack this enemy?”
Sun Bin replied, "To attack an enemy under these conditions, we should keep to the steep and narrow ground and cautiously avoid flat, open terrain. This is because where the terrain is flat, the advantage belongs to the chariots, but on steep ground, the advantage belongs to the footsoldiers. This is the way (dao) to attack an enemy's chariot force."


------------------------------------------

Master Sun Bin replied: "This is the question of a perspicacious commander. It is something that people overlook and do not treat with any sense of urgency. This.... is the means to press..... purposes."
Tian Ji asked: "Could you explain it to us?"


"Certainly," replied Master Sun Bin. "This tactic can be used to respond to emergency situations when you have been driven by the enemy into narrow defiles and into places from which there is no way out. In fact, this was the tactic we used in defeating Pang Juan and capturing Crown Prince Shen."
Tian Ji then said, "Splendid. But because these events have already passed, the actual details of the troop deployments are no longer available to us."


Master Sun Bin then explained, "Bramble barricades served as a defensive moat; chariots and wagons served as a rampart;.... served as embrasures; a row of shields served as archer crenels. Infantry with the long handled weapons were deployed behind this bulwark as a way of reinforcing our line of defense where it was not holding. And spearmen deployed behind our infantry with long-handeled weapons as a way of [bolstering] them. Our combat troops with short weapons deployed behind these spearmen were a way of impeding the enemy's withdrawal and of waylaying him in his decline. And deployed behind them, our crossbowmen served as catapults. Since in the center there were no troops, we could fill it with ['trees.]..... Once the troops were set, they were issued their full orders. The directive states: After deploying the crossbowmen behind the bramble barricade, have them discharge their bolts at the enemy as laid down by the orders. Distribute crossbowmen and halberds evenly along the rampart. Their orders read: move only on receiving word back from our reconnoiters.... Five li from our position we set up guard stations to enable the troops to see each other. Where these posts are on high ground, they should be square; where they are on low ground, they should be round. At night, signal with drums, and during daylight, use flags....."

You may notice in the above that there are sections of the passage with "...." littered around. That is because Sun Bin's Art of War was a lost piece of work, only to be rediscovered from the Yinqueshan Han tombs. It wasn't preserved in perfect condition, but it's still way better than nothing. The parts with "....." means that this section of the text was too degraded to be made out.

 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
6,233
#8
There is also the "Six Secret Teachings", in which its final composition dates to the Warring States (475-221 BC) period, which you can read for free here: Jiang Ziya’s Tai Gong Six Secret Teachings – The Art Of War

Snippet:
King Wu asked Tai Gong:”When the king mobilizes the armies, are there any rules for determining the army’s equipment, such as the implements for attack and defense, including type and quantity?”

Tai Gong said:”A great question, my king! The implements for attack and defense each have their own categories. These implements will affect the effectiveness of the army. The source of awesomeness of the army.”

King Wu said:”I would like to hear about them.”

Tai Gong replied:”As for the basic numbers when employing the army, if commanding ten thousand armed soldiers the rules for the various types of equipment and their employment are as follows.

Thirty-six Large Charging Chariots, with teams of skilled officers, strong crossbowmen, spear bearers, and halberdiers – for each side of the large chariots Altogether twenty four people in each chariots. The chariots have eight-foot wheels. On it, pennants and drums are set up. According to the art of war, such chariots are referred to as ‘Shaking Fear’. They are used to penetrate solid formations, to defeat strong enemies.

Seventy-two Large Flank Chariots equipped with teams of skilled officers, strong crossbowmen, spear bearers, and halberdiers comprise the flanks. They have five-foot wheels and winch-powered linked crossbows which fire multiple arrows for self-protection. They are used to penetrate solid formations and defeat strong enemies.

One hundred and forty-four Flank Supporting Small Chariots equipped with winch-powered linked crossbows to fire multiple arrows for self-protection. They have deer wheels and are used to penetrate solid formations and defeat strong enemies.

Thirty-six Crossbow Large Chariots equipped with skilled officers, strong crossbowmen, spear bearers, and halberdiers comprising the flanks, with ‘flying duck’ and ‘lightning’s shadow’ arrows for self protection. ‘Flying duck’ arrows have red shafts and white feathers, with bronze arrowheads. ‘Lightning’s shadow’ arrows have green shafts and red feathers, with iron heads. In the daytime, they display pennants of red silk six feet long by six inches wide, called ‘Blinding Light’. At nigh,

they hang pennants of white silk, also six feet long by six inches wide, called ‘Meteors’. They are used to penetrate solid formations, to defeat infantry and cavalry.

Thirty-six Great Attack Chariots. Carrying Praying Mantis Martial Warriors, they can attack both horizontal and vertical formations and can defeat the enemy.

Light Chariots for repelling mounted invaders, also called ‘Lightning Chariots’. The art of war refers to them as mounting ‘thunder attacks’. They are used to penetrate solid formations, to defeat both infantry and cavalry that are attacking at night.

One hundred and sixty Spear and Halberd Chariots, for repelling night invaders from the fore. Each carries three Praying Mantis Martial Knights. The art of war refers to them as mounting ‘thunder attacks’. They are used to penetrate solid formations, to defeat both infantry and cavalry.

Iron truncheons with large square heads weighting twelve catties, and shafts more than five feet long, twelve hundred of them. Also termed ‘Heaven’s Truncheon’. The Great Handle Fu Ax with an eight-inch blade weighing eight catties, and shaft more than five feet long, twelve hundred of them. Also termed ‘Heaven’s Ax’. Also the Iron Square Head Pounder, weighing eight catties, with a shaft of more than five feet, twelve hundred. Also termed ‘Heaven Pounder’. They are used to defeat infantry and hordes of mounted invaders. The Flying Hook, eight inches long. The curve of the hook is five inches long, the shaft is more than six feet long. Twelve hundred of them. They are thrown into the masses of soldiers to hook the soldiers.

To defend the army, deploy chariots equipped with wooden Praying Mantises and sword blades. Each chariots is twenty feet across, altogether twenty of them. On open, level ground the infantry can use them to defeat chariots and cavalry.

Wooden caltrops which stick out of the ground about two feet five inches, one hundred twenty. They are employed to defeat infantry and cavalry, to urgently press the attack against invaders, and to intercept their flight.

Short-axle Quick-turning Spear and Halberd Chariots, one hundred and twenty of them. They were employed by Yellow Emperor to vanquish Chi You. They are used to defeat both infantry and cavalry, to urgently press the attack against the invaders, and to intercept their flight.

For narrow roads and small bypaths, set out iron caltrops eight inches wide, having hooks four inches high and shafts of more than six feet, twelve hundred. They are for defeating retreating cavalry.

If, in darkness of night, the enemy should suddenly press an attack and the there are bound to be clashes, stretch out a ground net and spread out two arrow headed caltrops connected together with ‘weaving women’ – type caltrops on both sides.The points of the blades should be about two feet apart. Twelve thousand sets.

For fighting in wild expanses and in the middle of tall grass, there is the square-shank, arrow-shaped spear, twelve hundred of them. The method for deploying these spears is to have them stick out of the ground one foot five inches. They are used to defeat infantry and cavalry, to urgently press the attack against invaders and to intercept their flight.

In narrow roads and small bypaths, and constricted terrains, set out iron chains, one hundred twenty of them, to defeat infantry and cavalry, urgently press the attack against the invaders, and intercept their flight.

For protection and defense of the gates to fortifications, there are small mobile shields with spear and halberd tips affixed, twelve of them and winch-drive, multiple arrow crossbows for self-protection.

For the protection of the army, there are Heaven’s Net and Tiger’s Drop, linked together with chains, one hundred twenty of them. One array is fifteen feet wide and eight feet tall. For chariots with Tiger’s Drop and sword blades affixed, the array is fifteen feet wide and eight feet tall. Five hundred and twenty of them.

For crossing over moats and ditches, there is the Flying Bridge. One section is fifteen feet wide and more than twenty feet long. Eight of them. On top, there are swivel winches to extend them by linked chains.

For crossing over large bodies of water, there is the Flying River, eight of them. They are fifteen feet wide and more than twenty feet long and are extended by linked chains.

There is also the Heavenly Float with Iron Praying Mantis, rectangular inside, circular outside, four feet or more in diameter, equipped with winches. Thirty-two of them. When the Heavenly Floats are used to deploy the Flying River to cross a large lake, they are referred to as ‘Heaven’s Huang’ and also termed as ‘Heaven’s Boat’.

When in mountain forests or occupying the wilds, connect the Tiger’s Drops to make a fenced encampment. Employ iron chains, length of more than twenty fee, twelve hundred sets. Also employ large ropes with rings, girth of four inches, length of more than forty feet, six hundred; midsized ropes with rings, girth of two inches, length of forty feet or more, two hundred sets; and small braided cords with rings, length of twenty feet or more, twelve thousands.

Wooden canopies for covering the heavy chariots, called ‘Heaven’s Rain’, which fit together along serrated seams, each four feet wide and more than four feet long, one for each chariot. They are erected by using small iron posts.

For cutting trees, there is the Heavenly Ax, which weighs eight catties. Its handle is more than three feet long. Three hundreds of them. Also the mattock with a blade six inches wide and a shaft more than five feet long, three hundred.

Copper rams for pounding, more than five feet long, three hundred.

Eagle claws with square shafts, iron handles, and shafts more than seven feet long, three hundred.

Square-shafted iron pitchforks with handles more than seven feet long, three hundred.

Square-shafted double-pronged iron pitchforks with shafts more than seven feet long, three hundred.

Large sickles for cutting grass and light trees with shafts more than seven feet long, three hundred.

Great oar-shaped blades, weight of eight catties with shafts more than six feet long, three hundred.

Iron stakes with rings affixed at top, more than three feet long, three hundred.

Large hammers for pounding posts, weight of five catties, handles more than two feet long, on hundred twenty.

Armored soldiers, ten thousand. Strong crossbowmen, six thousand. Halberdiers with shields, two thousand. Spearmen with shields, two thousand. Skilled men to repair offensive weapons and sharpen them, three hundred.

These then are the general numbers required for each category when raising an army.”

King Wu said:”I accept your instructions.”
 
Feb 2018
193
US
#10
Some great mentions already. The most prolific ancient western treatise was Vegetius, which was a mainstay of early modern European thought, like Frederick the Great. Byzantine treatises are really impressive since the Byzantines retained a long line of tested military tradition, and several were written by skilled practitioners rather than theorists. Maurice's Strategicon is excellent, as is Nicephoros Ouranos's Tactica. My favorite is Nicephorus Phocas's On Skirmishing, as well as his Praecepta Militaria. These are translated in the book 'Sowing the Dragons Teeth.' When you read the Byzantine manuals, you can really tell how advanced they had to be in order to survive and engineer a revival against the Caliphate.

For the 18th century, you'll want to look at Guibert, Bourcet, and de Saxe in particular.

The treatise I believe is the most slept on is the 7th Chinese military classic: Questions and Replies between Tang Taizong and Li Weigong [Li Jing]. This was ostensibly a record of conversations between two of the greatest military leaders in history. Ralph Sawyer thinks the chance of a forgery is reasonably high, and David Graff declares it a forgery from the Song era, but when you read it, you can tell it was written by an exceptional general. The Byzantine manuals are very sophisticated and written by skilled generals, but this one is something else.
 

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