From George Riley (Central Foundation Boys' School)
I believe that this subject it is not as one sided as it would seem, a 15th century piece of bent wood versus 19th century rifles, however there is after analysis a pretty clear answer. This is what I will be addressing in response to this question, and something extra.
Before I get into the nitty gritty I just want to address the important factor of Industrial Warfare, that arose during early 19th century conflicts such as the Peninsula War. This was where weapons and equipment were produced at incredible rates with even more incredible complexity for the time, and mass conscription of the general public (in most cases), which both played against the effectiveness of the longbow man. If we were to compare the longbow to a manufactured assault rifle of the time, there are some key differences that set them apart (excluding the obvious ones). Today, it takes around 10 to 20 hours for an amateur to make a single longbow and a few less for a professional, whereas it would take far less than that to manufacture a far larger amount of rifles. Therefore to arm a trained company of longbow man would take a considerably longer amount of time than to equip the same company with rifles. I would even go as far to say that by the time you’ve built and perfected each of the bows for a large company, the enemy may well have stormed into your territory and have your guts spilled! Secondly, the use of conscription. In layman’s terms, a gun is pretty simple; you hold it at your target and pull go. And with a bit of practice you’ll be hitting your target soon enough. Thus meaning you could get anyone from a farmer to a funeral director able to take someone down. So because it is this easy to learn, surely with the help of conscription the Duke of Wellington could get thousands of soldiers within a relatively short period of time? I think so. However, with the longbow it is slightly different. There’s a famous saying, ‘to train a good longbow man, start with his grandfather’. To get someone to a competent level at the longbow would and did take years, and decades to create a decent company. Thus on the practical side of using the longbow man, there wouldn’t have been much point because it would take far too long to build the equipment and train people, and far easier and quicker (and probably more effective) to hand guns to conscripted soldiers. The war would be over before you’d even got your army. Therefore in the grand scheme of things, it would have been really really difficult to get some longbow men (and longbows) in the first place.
The longbow, as a piece of equipment, works best on unprotected skin and large targets (long range weapon so larger targets makes for higher accuracy). Therefore, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? It might seem a little late for the period, but cavalry of course. In fact, Napoleon had had his army decimated after trying to take on the Russians by the end of October 1812. Napoleon was quick to realise this fact and so tried to recover the broken fragments of his army, but was determined to make the new military force from artillery and cavalry. According to the 1813 French Census on horses it was found that 3,5000,011 horses could be called up for service, and ones that could be removed from working France without damaging the economy. The French Cavalry were an effective organisation, and by this point they were being remounted with riders in the thousands. Therefore this could have been a chance for the longbow man, if properly defended from the fire of the men who rode the horses, to get attack the very beasts the French were relying upon. To in the end, give the Duke of Wellington a huge benefit and help in his preferred outcome of the Peninsula War.
So all in all, in this particular war most likely the longbow would have been obliterated by enemy weapons and men if a company could even be formed. However, there still would have been a small chance that this strategy would have some sort of effect, but from the Duke of Wellington’s point of view it would be simpler and easier. Just to give these men some guns.
I would like to add a little extra to finish this off, with something I found that seemed to resonant a similar tale to the stringed weapon of war. Using the longbow in a 19th century war would have been experimental; quite obviously taking something from the time of Robin Hood and using it centuries later was a ground breaking proposal. As I have already stated this war took place at the beginning of Industrial Warfare, and through this time of change people tried to create new ground breaking weapons. In the end the longbow was not used, and similarly the weapon I will next suggest had a similar tragic story of never actually making it to the battlefield. Winan’s Steam Gun. This piece of equipment was revolutionary for its time. It harnessed the power of steam to shoot up to 250 rounds per minute, a 100 pound cannon ball and travel on railway tracks. Designed and created in America, Baltimore inventors William Joslin and Charles S. Dickinson had to let it stay resting on the Baltimore River Viaduct because of various disagreements between the inventors, and rising conflicts in the US. Meaning we would never have known if it could have changed the very world we live in today, for good or bad. Therefore, the intriguing story of the longbow in the 19th century resonates with other controversial ventures in warfare, of never being given a chance and it being left to sixth form applicants to answer what it would have been like.
Comment from James Handscombe: Students might also be interested in the incredible tale of Colonel "Mad Jack" Churchill: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Churchill