Pikemen on Salem Common

The annual muster on Salem Common was amplified this year because of Salem’s recent designation as the Birthplace of the National Guard  based on the First Muster of 1637, when all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 were called to arms on the Common to begin their regular training as a citizens’ militia.  So on Saturday there were not only current members of the Massachusetts Guard marching about, but also representative re-enactors of past regiments, including those from the Revolutionary War and the “East Regiment” from 1637. There was a lot of waiting around for everything to begin (and it was freezing, literally) so I passed my time talking to the seventeenth-century guys. After all, you seldom see pikemen on Salem Common. They were enthusiastic and knowledgeable members of the Salem Trayned Band, whose motto is it’s all about the hats.

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Commemoration of the First Muster this past weekend in Salem: Members of  the Danvers Alarm List and Massachusetts National Guard Regiments enter St. Peter’s Church for a memorial service; The Salem Trayned Band on the Common, the National Lancers on horseback; all in formation, though I wish they were aligned in chronological order!

The pikeman’s role in the so-called “early modern military revolution” is a central but transitional one. Medieval mounted knights and archers were replaced by musketeers and pikemen in the sixteenth century; the slow rate of fire of muskets necessitated that the musketeers be defended from sudden cavalry attack by pikemen, generally the strongest men in the regiment  given that their weapons were a sturdy 18 feet long. The invention of the bayonet in the later seventeenth century effectively made each musketeer his own pikeman, and the latter history. I don’t generally pay much attention to military matters in my courses (consigning weapons and tactics to the realm of “boys’ history” and concentrating more on the impact of war), but I do put up a few images from some contemporary military manuals, including Jacob de Gheyn’s Wapenhandelinghe (1607), the “Exercise of Arms”. I’ve also included images of a band of Dutch pikemen from about a century before below, wearing very fancy (but  considerably less protective) hats, and pikes and pikemen in their heyday, the English Civil War.

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Jacob de Gheyn, Wapenhandelinghe van Roers, Musquetten ende Spiessen (The Exercise of Armes for Calivres, Muskettes, and Pikes), The Hague, 1607; Pikemen in the 1520s in a print by Jan Wellens de Cock (attributed)and in a 1657-8 print by Thomas Nealle, all British Museum, London.

Such a nice day, mixing past and present in the guise of commemorations and military uniforms. The planned flyover by the Massachusetts Air National Guard was canceled due to the budget sequestration, but I think there was enough going on, on the ground.

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Groups of Pikemen, past and present:  Stefana Della Bella etching, mid- seventeenth century, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gray Collection of Engravings Fund, and this past Saturday.


7 responses to “Pikemen on Salem Common

  • Brian Bixby

    The pike has a longer history extending back into medieval times, and was used by the Swiss in their wars of independence in much the same way as the ancient Greeks used spears in their phalanx formation. But the proper use of the pike requires training information, just as the proper use of the longbow or (to a lesser extent) early muskets required training, which accelerated the shift from feudal levies to professional armies.

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    • daseger

      Thanks Brian; obviously I need some serious military history assistance here! It is interesting to me how many visual representations of pikes and pikemen I could find for the 16th-17th centuries–even more than muskets and muskeeers, I think.

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      • Brian Bixby

        Perhaps because pikemen were more visually impressive than musketeers? And there’s social prejudice among the upper classes, for a musketeer does not engage his opponent in genuine man-to-man combat as a gentleman ought!
        But now you’ve got me thinking I need to go back and look at accounts of colonial warfare against the Indians and French to see if pikes were used much.

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  • nelsondionne

    Thanks for the excellent photos. Not shown was the low temperatures !
    I wonder if this event could not be held a few weeks later ?

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  • jerohano

    Though I do not know much about soldiers histories, I found that post amazing. What one can notice easily is the difference beetween France and USA concerning these memories. Old American Soldiers still represent the people in arm. French soldier from past time would more represents tyrannies, so it would not be very convenient to wear his costum.

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