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Getting it Right - Assessing a Nondoctrinal Foe for Doctrinal Change

I just started reading Conrad E. Harvey's - Army without Doctrine: The Evolution of US Army Tactics in the Absence of Doctrine, 1779 to 1847.

accessible as a pdf at

here are a few of his descriptions/conclusions that, while straightforwardly presented and generally on track, caught my eye as far as concerns the Native American capabilities and way of war:

First, here is Harvey's essential analysis of the capabilities threat posed by the Native Americans:

"Military defeats, due to failures to understand the dynamics of Indian warfare in the American Northeast and to properly train and equip the Western force for Indian warfare, permeated the early colonial period. These defeats led North American military theorists to analyze the culture and fighting tactics of the North American Indian and to come up with a solution that allowed Western armies to contend with this new, nondoctrinal threat. These theorists, such as Henry Bouquet, contributed written works and insights that were quickly adopted by Western armies operating in North America, but no formal written doctrine addressing Indian warfare was ever developed by the US government until 1860. This forced early American military leaders to rely on the experience of others, as well as the written works of the military theorists of the day (De Saxe, Bouquet, and others) to form their own tactics, techniques, and procedures to counter the methods of Indian warfare.
Native Americans generally relied on surprise to defeat colonial and European forces operating against them. The Western forces responded with superior firepower and adaptive tactics, with mixed results. While Indians relied primarily on firearms and surprise to defeat their enemies, Western forces had advantages in discipline, artillery, and the bayonet. Additionally, Western forces developed adaptive tactics to attempt to counter the Indians ability to surprise and ambush. Some commanders, such as Colonel Henry Bouquet, General John Sullivan, and Major General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, demonstrated an ability to adapt their force and tactics that successfully marginalized the Indians surprise tactics. Others, such as General Arthur St. Clair and Brigadier General Josiah Harmar, were less successful. The Indians could not adapt to overcome Western strengths and thus had to continue to rely on the increasingly unsuccessful surprise tactics they had used for over a century.
pp. 1-2
"Native Americans had relied on one tried-and-true tactic since before Europeans arrived on North American shores, the use of surprise. Historian John K. Mahon writes that the reason for this is that the Native Americans lacked the social organization to form more refined tactics, such as maneuver warfare.3 This may be the case, but regardless of their social structure, surprise is clearly the base tactic of the Native Americans..." p.3
"The Native American methods of warfare had several advantages, as well as disadvantages. The one advantage over Western forces was fear. Fear of being ambushed, fear of being attacked by a howling mob of savages, and fear of your family being massacred while away from the farm. Fear also allowed discipline to break down quickly under fire (as in the case of St. Clair). Another advantage was tactical simplicity. The Native Americans did not use any complicated maneuvers. Use stealth to gain a position where the opposing force could be surprised, envelop the force, and destroy it. If the Western force proved too strong; withdraw, regroup, and seek another opportunity to gain surprise and attack again. No complicated training for this method of warfare is required. No need to “grow” leaders that understood complex maneuver and drill. Another advantage to this method of warfare is the reduced amounts of powder and lead used in their surprise attacks. Surprise attacks, by their very nature, do not require volley after volley of massed fires to break a line. This reduces the need for resupply and reliance on foreign powder and lead. The nonlinear, scattered nature of Native American attacks also reduced their vulnerability to the massed fires favored by Western infantry.
Arguably, the biggest disadvantage of the methods of Native American warfare was their predictability. Every Western Soldier, from the commander to the lowest private, knew quickly that the Native American wanted to fight him from ambush. This drove Western tactics to counter this. This included the development of light infantry, Rangers, and rifle companies (Soldiers armed with rifles as opposed to a smoothbore musket) to clear potential ambush locations, target individual Native Americans from a distance (up to 300 yards using a rifle), and to take advantage of the Native American’s disposition to avoiding risk by securing the main body, preventing ambush and forcing the Natives to mass. The lack of discipline on the part of many Native Americans also proved to be a disadvantage. pp.6-7

Harvey is astute to use a "conditional" phrase such as "this may be the case" in discussing Mahon's "social organization" theory, and in using the term "arguably" as concerns their tactical predictability. I have highlighted some key phrases in red above for a purpose.

As I read, I wondered if Harvey ran across
the story and writings of ranger James Smith (1737-1812) in his considerable research effort. I suspect not, because he does not cite Smith in his Endnotes or Bibliography. Smith was a remarkable frontier ranger and military writer (motion picture star and American-icon John Wayne played him in the film "Alleghany Uprising!). Now, here was Smith's take on the Native Americans - compare with the specific assertions of Harvey as highlighted in red above .

On (The Indians') Discipline and Method Of War:
"I have often heard the British officers call the Indians the undisciplined savages, which is a capital mistake - as they have all the essentials of discipline. They are under good command, and punctual in obeying orders: they can act in concert, and when their officers lay a plan and give orders, they will cheerfully unite in putting all their directions into immediate execution; and by each man observing the motion or movement of his right hand companion, they can communicate the motion from right to left, and march abreast in concert, and in scatterred order, though the line may be more than a mile long, and continue, if occasion requires, for a considerable distance, without disorder or confusion. They can perform various necessary manoeuvers, either slowly, or as fast as they can run: they can form a circle, or semi-circle: the circle they make use of, in order to surround their enemy, and the semi-circle if the enemy has a river on one side of them. They can also form a large hollow square, face out and take trees: this they do; if their enemies are about surrounding them, to prevent from being shot from either side of the trees. When they go into battle they are not loaded or encumbered with many clothes, as they commonly fight naked, save only breechclout, leggins and mockesons. There is no such thing as corporeal punishment used, in order to bring them under such good discipline: degrading is the only chastisement, and they are unanimous in this, that it effectually answers the purpose. Their officers plan, order and conduct matters until they are bought into action, and then each man is to fight as though he was to gain the battle himself. General orders are commonly given in time of battle, either to advance or retreat, and is done by a shout or yell, which is well understood, and then they retreat or advance in concert. They are genarally well equipped, and exceeding expert and active in the use of arms....Why have we not made greater proficiency in the Indian art of war? Is it because we are too proud to imitate them, even though it should be a means of preserving the lives of many our citizens? No! We are not above borrowing language from them, such as homony, pone, tomahawk, & c. which is little or no use to us. I apprehend that the reasons why we have not improved more in this respect, are as follows; no important acquisition is to be obtained but by attention and diligence; and as it is easier to learn to move and act in concert, in close order, in the woods; so it is easier to learn our discipline, than the Indian manoeuvers. They train up their boys to the art of war from the time they are twelve and fourteen years of age; whereas the principal chance our people had of learning, was by observing their movements when in action against us. I have long been astonished that no one has wrote upon this important subject, as their art of war would not only be of use to us in case of rupture with them; but were only part of our men taught this art, accompanied with our continental discipline, I think no European power, after trial, would venture to shew its head in the American woods....."

"...I was called upon to command four hundred riflemen, on a expedition against the Indian forces in French Creek. It was sometime in November before I received orders from General M'Intosh, to march...We marched in three columns, forty rod from each other. There were also flankers on the outside of each column, that marched a-breast in the rear, in scattered order - and even in the columns, the men were one rod apart - and in the front, the volunteers marched a-breast, in the same manner of the flankers, scouring the woods. In case of attack the officers were immediately to order the men to face out and take trees - in this position the Indians could not avail themselves by surrounding us, or have an opportunity of shooting a man from either side of the tree. If attacked, the center column was to reinforce whatever point appeared to require it the most. When we encamped, our encampment formed a hollow square, including about thirty or forty acres - on the outside of the square there were centinels placed whose business it was to watch for the enemy, and see that neither horses or bullocks went out. And when encamped, if attacks were made by an enemy, each officer was immediately to order the men to face out and take trees, as before mentioned, and in this form they could not take the advantage by surrounding us, as they commonly had done when they fought the whites.....- Thomas Froncek "Voices from the Wilderness," McGraw Hill, 1974. pp.16-19

You be the judge if Harvey or Smith offers a better understanding and explanation of the threat posed by the Indians, based on their discipline and tactical capabilities.

(what's with the term "Western" to describe armies and forces - is this in vogue at the CGSC?


James Smith's writings:

"A treatise on the mode and manner of Indian war : ways and means proposed to prevent the Indians from obtaining the advantage : a chart, or plan of marching and encamping, laid down, whereby we may undoubtedly surround them if we have men sufficient...

A brief account of twenty-three campaigns carried on against the Indians, with the events since the year 1755, Gov. Harrison's included / by James Smith." Paris, Ky. : Printed by Joel R. Lyle, [1812] 52+ p. ; 21 cm. Shaw & Shoemaker

Smith, James. “On Their Discipline and Method of War in An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and Travels of Colonel James Smith, Now a Citizen of Bourbon Country, Kentucky, During His Captivity with the Indians in the Years 1755, 1756, 1757, 1758, 1759.” In A Selection of Some of the Most Interesting Narratives of Outrages Committed by the Indians in Their Wars with the White People, edited by Archibald Loudon. Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: Wennawoods Publishing, 1996.


SMITH, James, pioneer, born in Franklin county, Pennsylvania, in 1737; died in Washington county, Kentucky, in 1812. He was captured by the Indians when he was eighteen years of age, and adopted into one of their tribes, but escaped in 1759, was a leader of the "black boys" in 1763-'5, and a lieutenant in General Henry Bouquet's expedition against the Ohio Indians in 1764. He was one of an exploring party into Kentucky in 1766, settled in Westmoreland county in 1768, and during Lord Dunmore's war was captain of a ranging company, and in 1775 major of the Associated battalion of Westmoreland county. He served in the Pennsylvania convention in 1776, and in the assembly in 1776-'7. In the latter year he commanded a scouting party in the Jerseys, and in 1777 was commissioned colonel in command on the frontiers, doing good service in frustrating the marauds of the Indians. He settled in Cane Ridge, near Paris, Kentucky, in 1788, was a member of the Danville convention, and represented Bourbon county for many years in the legislature. He published two tracts entitled " Shakerism Developed " and " Shakerism Detected," "Remarkable Adventures in the Life and Travels of Colonel James Smith" (Lexington, 1799; edited by William M. Darlington, and republished, Cincinnati, 1870), and "A Treatise on the Mode and Manner of Indian War" (Paris, Kentucky, 1804).

for more on ranger James Smith:

Captain James Smith and the Black Boys; Fort Loudon Monument Dedicatory Services, by Rev. Cyrus Cort, 1916.

The James Smith Story; by Anna Rotz, with historical reference from The First Rebel, Swanson, N., Farrar & Rinehart, 1937.
Portrait: Charles J. Stoner

Time, Monday, Jul. 26, 1937 Pennsylvania's Black Boys review of - THE FIRST REBEL—Neil H. Swanson—Farrar & Rinehart,9171,758045,00.html


FIRST FIGHTING between Armed Colonists and British Regulars

who was captured by savages, ran the gantlet, saw the prisoners of the Braddock massacre burned at the stake, lived five years as an Indian, escaped, served through three wilderness campaigns, and led The Pennsylvania Rebellion in which backwoodsmen fought the famous
Black Watch, besieged a British fort, captured its commander and part of its garrison, and in the year 1765 forced its evacuation
Recounted from Contemporary Documents

Editorial Review -
Kirkus Reviews Copyright (c) VNU Business Media, Inc.
Grand reading -- this biography of one
James Smith, in the years between 1755 and 1799. Absorbing adventure yarn, full of "the spirit of '76" with no flag waving. Young Smith was in on the first shot, later fell prisoner, was adopted into an Indian tribe, eventually escaped, but finally tumbled into events in the outposts of war in Quebec. Good Americana and as exciting reading as an adventure story.

from Osprey's - Colonial American Troops 1610-1774 (3) by Rene Chartrand, Illustrated by Dave Rickman


"During this march the Indians scouted Wayne’s column looking for an opportunity of attacking him. However, Wayne kept out significant security detachments for preventing ambush and always fortified his overnight bivouacs. Alan D. Gaff in his book, Bayonets in the Wilderness, describes Wayne’s fortifications as modifications of Julius Caesar’s field camp, called castra aestiva. Wayne, an avid student of military science since his youth, undoubtedly knew of the Roman camps. A quadrangle-shaped structure made of wood with bastions on each corner for artillery, constructing it required about one hour. The Indians subsequently gave Wayne the name “Blacksnake” believing he certainly possessed the cunning of a snake." BATTLE OF FALLEN TIMBERS CONFIRMS AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE-PART III « Frontier Battles

2008 November 21
by William F. Sauerwein


Not surprisingly, I have recently discovered that I have been preceded on this topic (Indians as disciplined and tactically astute fighters) by a series of noteworthy papers by Leroy V. Eid:

“'A Kind of Running Fight': Indian Battlefield Tactics in the in the Late Eighteenth Century." Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 71 (April 1988): 147-172;
“'Their Rules of War': The Validity of James Smith's Summary of Woodland  War."  Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 86 (Winter 1988): 4-23 

"The Cardinal Principle of Northeast Woodland Indian War." Papers  of the Thirteenth Algonquian Conference,ed. by William Cowan (Ottawa: Carleton University) (1982)

American Indian Military Leadership: St. Clair's 1791 Defeat
Leroy V. Eid, Journal of Military History, Vol. 57, No. 1, January 1993, pp. 71-88.
Studies battle tactics and reviews socio-political issues in Native American military command during late 18th century.

Volume 71, Number 2
Publication Date: April 1988
‘A Kind of Running Fight’ Indian Battlefield Tactics in the Late Eighteenth Century
Leroy V. Eid; 147-172


see also:

Book Review: The First Rebel. by Neil H. Swanson. 293-294; and Northwest Passage. By Kenneth Roberts. 293a--294, by Mary Jo Hauser
Source: Western Pennsylvania History, Volume 20, Number 4 (December 1937) , 

Download the full-text here: PDF (414 KB)

Neil H. Swanson, The First Rebel., (New York and Toronto, Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1937. xviii, 393 p. Illustrations.)
Kenneth Roberts, Northwest Passage., (Garden City, N. Y., Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1937. 709 P.)

Thomas L. Purvis, Patterns of Ethnic Settlement in Late Eighteenth-Century Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania History. Volume 70, Number 2 (1987), 107-122.

Eleanor M. Webster, Insurrection At Fort Loudon In 1765; Rebellion Or Preservation Of Peace?, Western Pennsylvania History. Volume 47, Number 2 (1964), 125-139.
"Rebellions are easily romanticized. Their fundamental causation, obscured by the passage of years, is glossed over by an aura of idealism and an unwillingness to take cognizance of the fallibility of one's ancestors. The Pennsylvania insurrection which occurred in 1765 on the banks of the western branch of a Cumberland Valley
stream, the Conococheague, is an example of this. James Smith and his "Black Boys" have become heroes who refused to submit to the tyrannical British Crown, and their Scotch-Irish descendants still
maintain that the Revolutionary War began when Smith and his men attacked a wagon train which was going to Fort Pitt with arms and whisky for the Indian trade. Was this insurrection a demonstration
against imperial policy, authority, or was it attributable to more complex causes which resulted from the uniqueness of the frontier ? It is the purpose of this monograph to analyze the rebellion and to ascertain
what incited it." p.125 
Download the full-text here:
PDF (839 KB) 
Article Identifier: psu.wph/1206050076

Book Review: Captain Sam Brady, Indian Fighter. Compiled by William Young Brady, Henry Oliver Evans, Western Pennsylvania History. Volume 34, Number 1 (1951), 65-66.

Lewis Wetzel: Warfare Tactics on the Frontier by George Carroll West Virginia Historical Journal: Volume 50 (1991), pp. 79-90

An Essay towards an Indian bibliography, by Thomas Field, 1873
Smith (Colonel James).
An Account | of the | Remarkable Occurrences | in the life and travels of | Col. James Smith (Now a Citizen of Bourbon County, Kentucky,) | during his captivity with the Indians, | in the years 1755, 56, 57,58, & 59, | In which the Customs, Manners, Traditions, Theological Sen | timents, Mode of Warfare, Military Tactics, Discipline and | Encampments, Treatment of prisoners, &c., are better ex | plained, and more minutely narrated, than has been heretofore | done by any author on that subject. Together with a De | scription of the Soil, Timber and Waters, where he travel | led with the Indians, during his captivity. | To which is added, | A Brief Account of Some Very Uncommon Occurrences, which | transpired after his return from captivity; as well as of the | Different Campaigns carried on against the Indians to the | Westward of Fort Pitt, since the year 1755, to the present | date. Written by himself. | 8° pp. 88. Lexington: \ Printed by John Bradford, on Main Street, | 1799. | ' 1438

This is the original edition of Colonel Smith's narrative, and one of the rarest works of western history. Indeed, in the quality of rarity, it is only exceeded by TxHH/tm's Narrative of Indian Wan. Colonel Smith was himself the type of the chivalric, brave, and generous frontiersman, of which class Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton were famous examples. He possessed the advantage of an intellect, cultivated in the rude border schools, it is true, yet not ill cultivated in such places as heroes were not seldom bred.

Smith (Colonel James).
A Treatise on the Mode and Manner of Indian War, their Tactics, Discipline and Encampment, the various Methods they Practise, in order to obtain the Advantage, by Ambush, Surprise, Surrounding &c. Ways and Means proposed to Prevent the Indians from obtaining the Advantage. A Chart, or Plan of Marching, and Encamping, laid down, whereby we may undoubtedly Surround them, if we have Men sufficient. Also — A Brief Account of Twenty-three Campaigns, carried on against the Indians with the Events since the year 1755 ; Gov. Harrison's included. By Col. James Smith. Likewise — Some Abstracts selected from his Journal, while in Captivity with the Indians, relative to the Wars: which was published many years ago, but few of them now to be found. 12° pp. 1 to 59. Paris, Kentucky, printed by Joel R. Lyle, 1812. 1439*

The Narrative of Colonel-Smith's Captivity had already become scarce, when the patriotic veteran, on the breaking out of the war with Great Britain, fully comprehending the danger of underrating the savage foe, whom that government would make its allies, issued this treatise of military instruction. The work has become even rarer than the first one.

Smith (Col. James).
An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the life and travels of Col. James Smith, during his captivity with the Indians, in the years 1755, 56, 57, 58, & 59. With An Appendix of Illustrative Notes. By Wm. M. Darlington, of Pittsburgh. Royal Pref. pp. xii. -f- Smith's Account, pp. 1 to 161 -f- Appendix, pp. 163 to 190. Cincinnati, Robert Clarke $ Co., 1870. 1440

The interesting narrative of Colonel Smith's adventures and captivity, is greatly enriched by the notes of Mr. Darlington, a gentleman whose knowledge of western history and the localities of its historic scenes, is more intimate and accurate than that of any person now living. 

An Essay towards an Indian bibliography, by Thomas Field, 1873

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