- Education and Science
Benjamin Franklin And The Revolutionary War
Most people know that Benjamin Franklin went to France in the early part of the Revolution as the official diplomat and ambassador of the United States of America (or then known as the 13 colonies). But I bet you did not know that he wanted the U.S. to fight the war with bows and arrows.
In opposition against the finest army and navy in the world, the Colonists possessed no trained armed forces and no industry to supply their effort. The Northern American Colonies had been settled to enrich England by exporting raw materials to their factories and then serve as a market for their finished goods. Thus, the manufacturing facilities, such as those needed to produce arms and support a war, did not exist at the time.
At the beginning of the war there were no existing American military groups. There were only the individual militia systems of each colony. And most of the militia were only trained for a few weeks a year and armed with their own firearms. When Washington arrived at Cambridge in 1775, he found an estimated 15 percent of the troops were without firearms and many others with arms not capable of military field service.
In 1776, America had another issue, they had a shortage of gunpowder. In fact, gunpowder was so scarce it actually threatened to end the American Revolution before it began. In the 1700's, gunpowder was made by mixing saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal. Two of these substances were abundant in America, but saltpeter was not. There were some mills in America that made saltpeter but there were a lot of impurities in it, which absorbed moisture, causing the powder not to light.
Because of this, in February 1776, Franklin proposed that the colonists arm themselves with bows and arrows. He called them "good weapons, not wisely laid aside." For some reason General Washington and the Continental Congress disagreed though.
Benjamin Franklin had many reasons for suggesting the use of the bow and arrow. The longbow was often more accurate. A skilled man could shoot sixteen arrows in the time it takes to fire and reload a musket and a typical, unskilled man could shoot on average four. You could use the bow in any weather, therefore you would not have to worry about the powder getting wet. You did not have to worry about the field of vision resulting from the powder being lit. Bows and arrows are more easily provided than muskets and ammunition. An arrow stuck to a man essentially immobilizes him, until it was extracted. These are just some of the reasons that Franklin offered through his suggestions.
I am sure that General Washington and the Continental Congress did not go along with Franklin for many reasons. I would think the biggest reason, was that they did not think the Americans would have been taken seriously by other nations. They wanted the European powers to see them as a respectable nation, one that could stand on its own two feet in the modern world. I think another good reason was that anyone could shoot a musket. All you had to do was pick it up, point it in the direction of the incoming soldiers, and pull the trigger.
Let's say General Washington and the Continental Congress agreed with Franklin though. I would have to imagine that the bow and arrow would have been very useful in many of the battles. Not all of the battles, but most of them during the Revolutionary War, were fought using Napoleonic tactics. Where men would stand in lines face to face with their enemies and fire into the opposing soldiers. If you had an infantry of archers in the rear firing volleys of arrows I believe that you could have done a lot of damage. And saved many American lives in the process. There were supposed to have been 25,700 American soldiers killed and 25,000 wounded during the Revolutionary War. How many of these men do you think would have lived if the U.S. would have had archers in their ranks?