Posted by: wrmcnutt | March 29, 2010

A Centurion’s View of Gulf Wars

Obligatory Orientation Paragraph: For the newcomers, I belong to a really big historical re-creation group, the Society for Creative Anachronism.  There’s a lot to say about us, and we do many, many things.  But the most dynamic and visible thing that we do is put on real suits of armor, pick up simulated weapons, and bash each other with them.  Our gatherings vary in size, theme, and intensity, but one of the largest of these gathering is the great Gulf Wars fought in southern Mississippi in early March.  Regionally, we are broken into Kingdoms.  I hail from the southeastern United States, in the Kingdom of Meridies.

This year, it was my privilege to command the Archers of Meridies.  I would like to thank the combat archers who turned out for Gulf Wars. Individually and as a team we did an excellent job, but there just weren’t enough of us. This year we fought in the Friendship Combat Archery Only battle, the Ravine Resurrection Battle, the Field Battle, and the Fort Battle. Archers attending were Lorraine, Randalyn, Christine, Knut, and myself.

As always, the all-archery battle was just odd. Imagine thirty or forty fighters on a narrow battlefield with scattered cover, all of whom refuse to close closer than about 15 – 20 feet. It was early in the week, and Knut was busy marshaling, so I got teamed with the East Kingdom Archery Corps (all one of him), and someone from Aethelmarc (also one of him) and away we went. It was a lot of fun, running for cover and sniping at my worthy opponents, but far different from the usual battle where you have active shield cover. If you looked down to load, you were usually stung.

In the ravine resurrection battle, Knut could not fight; he had to marshal. We had Lorraine, Randalyn, myself, and Christine. And I need to apologize to the rest of the Meridian Army on our behalf. The four of us shot as a team, often, and well. But we had 16 – 20 opponents, and simply did not keep them pushed back enough. Our spearmen were very, very frustrated, and I heard more than one call for a Ravine Resurrection battle with no archery, coming mostly from our side. There just weren’t enough of us to keep the Ansteorran archers off of our spearmen. (Trimaris did bring some archers, but they were all over on the left flank. The center and right flank were pretty much all us, and we were so thin that, well, we were NOT all that, and a bag of chips.

Next year, there need to be more of us! Are YOU coming? *ahem*

Photo by Toni Leigh Carlton-Salley

Anyway, the field battle was particularly exciting. It’s not really noticeable unless you have to charge up it, but the Hasting Field slopes up from the old fenceline toward the horse barn. When we lined up on the uphill side, we were deployed in a classically medieval manner: in FRONT of the army. That’s right. No shield cover. No glaves or greatswords. Just us, our bows, and the enemy. Our job was to advance to within arrow range, and then to harass the enemy either until we’d slain them all, or we ticked them off enough to come out from behind their shield wall. The idea was to disrupt their formation and provoke them into an attack that broke whatever strategy they had come up with.  I’m not sure how effective we were, but it sure was dramatic.  As we advanced toward our worthy opponents, I heard someone, I think it was Christine, was, “Um . . .  anybody else feel kinda . . .   naked out here?”

In the first battle, I fear I misinterpreted our instructions.  “Go out in front, close, and shoot.”  So I told my squad to hold their positions and shoot, expecting support to come in from behind us.  To say we gotten beaten down like a mess of baby harp seals is, perhaps, melodramatic, but is somewhat evocative of the situation.

So for the next battle when, to my surprise, my squad was still willing to follow me, we took our positions, we had a new plan:  when the enemy skirmish unit got inside short range, we were to run like scalded dogs back to the battle line.  In the second battle it went well.  All of my team made it back to the battle line when the skirmish unit attacked, and our counter-attack wrought mighty havoc among them.  In the third battle, while the rest of the team made it back, I left it juuuuuuusstttt a little to late, and got glaived to the top of the head.  I’m told that Lord Iastreb, a glaiveman of Meridies, took affront at this, and met the Ansteorran glaiveman in an up-close-and-personal encounter that ended well for Iastreb, but not so much, for the Ansteorran.

I had to eat my words after this battle, too.  One of my normal bits of advice for archers in field battles is to only carry a dozen arrows.  The battles are short, and archers are always early casualties.  You don’t get to shoot more than a dozen arrows. Any more just slow you down.  *whew*  I shot every arrow I brought. Then I shot the backups I’d left in my war wagon.  Then I borrowed Lorraine’s backup crossbow and shot twenty of her bolts.  Then I got hit with a glaive.

The Fort Battle was fun, as always.  King’s Arrow Ranch has a small fortification over which we fight. We were attacking in the first Fort Battle.  That’s normally tedious, because you can’t see your targets behind the fort walls and are just shooting blind.  This time, the Ansteorrans decided to sortie, and came out from behind the walls. Our end of the offense suffered from a hold that didn’t get communicated to the inside of the fort.  We had a warrior lose his helmet when the Ansteorrans sortied on our side of the fort.  A second unit of Ansteorrans came out of the gate during the time we were pinned down by the hold and caught us in a pincer.  I thought we’d lost, but apparently we’d held on long enough and thinned their ranks enough that when they were through mopping up our end of the Fort and went around the front, they found the entire Kingdom of Gleann Abhann waiting for them.

On defense, we stayed tucked in behind the walls until we out-lasted the Ansteorran defense.  Then WE sortied and mopped up.  I missed that part of it, having gotten shot about midway through the battle.  This year, with our support, the Trimarans were victorious, and got to fly the ‘Fort Trimaris’ banner. It was a good day to die; but to paraphrase Patton, it was an even better day to make the other poor bastard die for HIS kingdom.

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  1. I will never forget my feelings as I stood in line with the rest of Meridies awaiting the call to begin in my first field battle.
    I looked out across Hastings at the opposing army of hundreds of recreational fighters, none of who hated anyone else. All of who were interested in having fun and going off to drink afterwards and the only thing running through my mind was

    “I’m gonna DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  2. It took me several years to get past that. Actually, I DIDN’T get past that until I started having other people whom I was responsible for.

  3. The same thing happens with my sport fencing students. You have to balance the “but I’m afraid of hurting them/them hurting me” with “It’s all in good fun” and _not_ falling into the “I must work up a serious hate for the other side…”

    • Or the harder balance: working up a good competitive edge, without lapsing into that serious hate.

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