Lambs that Fought Like Lions

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,630
Usually green troops are considered the most unreliable. Inexperienced and untested, no matter how well equipped or trained, they are typically not the troops commanders position to hold a key position that the outcome of a battle may hinge on, or to lead the most vital of attacks. Commanders, or at least the competent ones anyway, would rather give those tasks to their more battle-hardened and veteran formations if practical.

Many times throughout history, whether through blunders on the part of a commander, a lack of veteran troops, or the enemy force simply doing something unexpected...troops that are green and unblooded have found themselves thrown into the thick of the fighting, with perhaps the outcome an entire battle hanging on their performance. Many times throughout history this has resulted in disaster and defeat, with those inexperienced troops routing.

But there are other times when either because of the leadership of their officers and NCOs, their training, the character of the men themselves, or the sheer do or die desperation of the situation they found themselves in, the green troops put in a battlefield performance that would have put even some of the most veteran formations to shame.

Do you have any favorite examples of the latter from history?

I'll follow with one of my favorites in a separate post, to avoid turning this into an even greater wall of text.
 

Kevinmeath

Ad Honoris
May 2011
14,135
Navan, Ireland
The Belgian/Dutch/Hanoravian etc Militia at Waterloo?

Argentine conscripts in the Falklands?
 

xander.XVII

Ad Honorem
Nov 2009
3,888
Outer world
The Battle of Bir-el-Gobi, the Mexicans at Chapultepec or the French Marie-Louise across the final stages of Napoleonic wars.
 

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,630
The 9th Massachusetts Battery at Gettysburg

Arriving at Gettysburg on July 2nd, 1863, the Union battery was ordered into position betweent the now infamous peach orchard and wheatfield. None of the men had heard a shot fired in anger, but benefited from the leadership of Captain John Bigelow, a veteran of the Peninsular Campaign who had his left arm shattered at Malvern Hill. Upon taking command of the 9th Massachusetts Battery from a previous officer largely viewed as ineffective, he wasted no time in preparing the men for battle, and making changes to their training regimen that would later prove crucial at Gettysburg.

Dan Sickles, one of the Union generals, made one of the more controversial decisions of the war when he ignored orders from his superior (Gen. Meade) to hold his III Corps in a defensive position anchored in the north to the Union II Corps and on the south to a hill known as Little Round Top. Instead Sickles moved his corps forward to a slight rise to his front in the Peach Orchard. This created a dangerous salient in the Union Line, just as Confederate Gen. Longstreet's corps moved to assault that section of the Union line.

As the Confederate assault collided with Sickles' III Corps, a message was sent to the commander of III Corps' artillery brigade, desperately requesting support. An order was passed to Capt. Bigelow to move his battery to the front. Without hesitation Bigelow gave the order, "Forward into line, left oblique! Trot! Action front!" as his battery deployed their 110 men and 6 twelve pound Napoleons to support the hard-pressed infantry of III Corps, while under Confederate artillery fire. They had barely gotten into position before both men and the battery's horses began to fall to enemy fire.

Returning fire on a Confederate battery, the Union artillerymen destroyed two of the enemy's guns, before shifting their fire to Confederate infantry forming for an assault. One shell scored a direct hit on a Confederate officer rallying his men from horseback, vaporizing both man and horse. Others fell accurately among the packed ranks of enemy infantry, felling them into heaps, and eventually scattering them as they fell back into thicker cover.

The fighting was not yet done however, and while that attack was being broken up, Confederate troops in another brigade were surging forward, toward the 9th Massachusetts. The brigade commander probably intended for his men to take the battery in their assault, but in the confusion of the battle, a subordinate officer gave an order that swung the charging Confederates vertical to the battery at less than 200 yards. The Confederates succeeded in driving back the Union infantry, but at a terrible cost, many of the casualties inflicted by the 9th Mass.

As Union troops fell back in the face of the assault, the 9th Mass. was left badly exposed and without orders, while Confederate troops advanced on three sides, and with sharpshooters firing at both men and horses. At this time a Union Colonel rode up on a wounded horse, telling Capt. Bigelow, "You are alone on the field without support of any kind! Limber up and get out!" Bigelow realized that his battery would not have time to limber the guns to horses, and the delay would likely spell the end for his battery, which was now under heavy fire. 45 of their 88 horses had also already been felled by enemy shot and shell. He replied to the Colonel, "Can't take time to hitch, sharpshooters would have us all. I must retire by prolong, firing."

Hard-pressed and without infantry support, his green cannoneers, in one of the more gallant actions for an artillery unit in the Civil War, lumbered the guns rearward hundreds of years through their own brute force and partly by the recoil of the firing of their guns, all the while under heavy enemy fire. The guns slowly retreated, the left firing cannister at the Confederate sharpshooters and the right firing solid shot towards tight packed formations of advancing gray infantry.

By the time the battery reached some cover behind a rise in the ground, and began to limber up the guns on the remaining horses, many of the men lay dead or wounded upon the field. No sooner had the battery begun to limber up however before the Colonel that had earlier ordered them to retreat, galloped up and ordered Bigelow and his men to stand fast where they were. "Captain, there is not an infantryman back of you along the whole line from which Sickles moved out. You must remain where you are and hold your position at all hazards, and sacrifice your battery, if need be, until at least I can find some batteries to put in position to cover you."

Preparing to fight to the last Bigelow ordered his guns to load up with double cannister, as the Confederate assault bore down on them. As the gray infantry crested a rise to their front, the guns opened fire, canister blasting holes in the ranks and sending them back reeling. Reforming for another attack the Confederates surge forward again, and again are sent back with their ranks thinner. This repeats a couple times with the Confederates bravely pressing their attacks, being thrown back in disorder, reforming and coming on again, while the Union gunners show the same tenacity and stubbornly man their guns in the face of heavy fire and mounting casualties.

A reporter for the Cincinatti Gazette, who happened to witness the furious fight, described what happened next, "Reserving his fire a little, then with depressed guns open with double charges of grape and cannister, he smites and shatters, but cannot break the advancing line...Onward still comes the artillery-defying line, and still Bigelow holds his position. They are within six paces of the guns - he fires again. Once more and he blows devoted soldiers from his very muzzles. They spring upon his carriages and shoot down his forces." After being repulsed several times by the brave Union gunners, the Confederates eventually manage to get around the flanks and overrun the battery. Hand-to-hand combat erupts, some of the cannoneers wielding rammers and sponge rods like clubs, while Bigelow, commanding from horseback, is wounded as two bullets slam into him, one in the side and one in the hand, while two other rounds fell his horse.

The survivors fell back, managing to pull two of the cannon with them, while Bigelow was rescued and helped to the rear by a bugler, who would win the Medal of Honor for his actions. In the end the battery had been overrun, but they had repulsed several assaults and held for 30 crucial minutes, buying enough time by their sacrifice for the Federals to get other artillery in place. The Confederate attack would overrun another battery, before eventually sputtering out and retreating, in the face of heavy fire from the reinforcements the 9th Mass. had bought time to get into position.

In one of the bravest and most awe-inspiring stands by an artillery unit in the Civil War, and a green one at that, the 9th Massachusetts had played an important role in preventing a disastrous Confederate breakthrough on that second day at Gettysburg. It was the failure of the assaults on the 2nd day, that in part would lead to Lee's decision to launch the disastrous attack on the Union center on the 3rd and final day of the battle.

Bigelow survived both his wounds & the war.



Retreat by Recoil by Don Troiani, depicting the 9th Mass. at Gettysburg


Photograph taken shortly after the battle of the area where the 9th Mass. made their final desperate stand. The dead horses most likely belonged to the battery.
 
Last edited:
Jun 2011
318
The Old Dominion
Battalion of Cadets, Virginia Military Institute, at the Battle of New Market, 15 May 1864.
As I recall from my VMI cadet days, lo, some 40 plus years ago, out of 247 in action, 10 were killed or died of wounds later, another 47 wounded.
 

Pendennis

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,386
Kirkcaldy, Scotland
On June 24 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn-near Stirling Scotland, between the Scots under King Robert Bruce who was fighting an English Army many times numerically greater, under English monarch Edward II at a vital point in this battle which secured Scotland's rights to exist as sovereign state-a horde of unarmed Scottish civilian camp followers appeared at a crucial point in the battle descending a hill. and whooping encouragement to their armed compatriots on the field of battle.
From a distance the English -already on their way to a mega gubbing- were demoralsed by these ''Scottish reinforcments'' who were only armed' with spoons and other domestic implements -the Sassenachs then took flight from the battlefield- including English KING Edward 11 who, to use one of my favourite American colloquial Similes 'ran like a thief'' from the battlefield leaving many of his defeated troops to the less than tender mercies of the victory hyped up Scots.
Thus did Scottish spatulas and soup ladles confound English swords and lances.
Truly Scottish lambs prevailing over English lions.
 

Poly

Ad Honorem
Apr 2011
6,866
Georgia, USA
Usually green troops are considered the most unreliable. Inexperienced and untested, no matter how well equipped or trained...
Actually "green" troops are often considered better than veterans

The term "battle hardened" is something of a fantasy - soldiers who've been in battle and survived show a marked decrease in enthusiasm for combat

Green troops are far more "tails up" for the fight
 
Oct 2011
839
Actually "green" troops are often considered better than veterans

The term "battle hardened" is something of a fantasy - soldiers who've been in battle and survived show a marked decrease in enthusiasm for combat

Green troops are far more "tails up" for the fight
Stephen E. Ambrose mentions this in his book, "Band of Brothers." He and many others also say that green troops died at a higher rate.