Of course, packing soldiers into linear formations also had at least one glaring drawback: standing elbow-to-elbow and shoulder-to-shoulder, the formation presented a very appealing target to opponents, who launched their own deadly volleys in return. Because of the short range of the smoothbore muskets, the two lines often faced one another only 30 or 40 yards apart as they exchanged fire in a lethal hail. This was one of the terrifying facts of infantry battle during the colonial period: fighting required soldiers to stand in the open and expose themselves to enemy fire without ducking, hiding, or taking cover.

The modern imagination boggles at the kind of discipline required to remain exposed to a volley of enemy bullets; colonists, too, marveled at the demands that this kind of warfare placed on them. Fighting at the battle of Ticonderoga in 1759, one colonist remembered that the experience of battle in tightly-packed ranks out in the open “greatly surprised me, to think that I must stand still to be shot at.”


“Battle of Lexington,” Drawing from engraving by Amos Doolittle, a Connecticut militiaman, from the National Archives and Records Administration, Identifier 111-SC-92639 (accessed November 1, 2012).


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