THE PERFECTION OF MILITARY DISCIPLINE
◗ Mark W. Shearwood ◗ Helion & Company (2020) ◗ £25.00 ◗ 176 pages (softback) ◗ ISBN:9781913118877 ◗ helion.co.uk
Number 53 in Helion’s Century of the Soldier 1618-1721 is subtitled The Plug Bayonet and the English Army 1660-1705.
Plug bayonets – so called because their hilts fitted into the barrels of the muskets, thereby preventing the weapons being fired when bayonets were fixed – have long had a poor reputation amongst military historians who have blamed it for General Hugh Mackay’s defeat at the Battle of Killiekrankie on 27th July 1689, believing ‘his troops either not being able to fit their plug bayonets in time to receive the Highlanders’ charge, or fitting them too early, resulting in them not being able to continue to give fire.’
According to Mark Shearwood, however, ‘In correspondence sent after the battle no mention is made of the later reported reason, instead cowardly conduct by several regiments is given as the primary cause.’
The author’s careful examination and measurement of Ordnance Pattern plug bayonets suggest that they were, effectively, a universal fit in musket barrels. He has discovered that plug bayonets were first issued to troops such as marines, grenadiers and dragoons who were not equipped with pikes; only after 1690 do drill manuals show all musketeers having a bayonet, but it was originally intended for protection against cavalry in conjunction with the remaining pikemen, the‘clubbed’musket still being specified for use against enemy infantry. He therefore believes that General Mackay’s claim that the plug bayonet caused his defeat at Killiekrankie ‘is at best down to his misuse of the weapon.’
Bound into the centre of the book are ten quarter-page colour photographs of a reenactor demonstrating the drill for the plug bayonet from An Abridgement of the English Military Discipline. Five full-page colour plates by Patrice Courcelle depict a private of Harley’s Regiment of Foot 1662, a trooper of the King’s Own Dragoons 1685, a pikeman ofViscount Kenmure’s (Scottish) Regiment 1689, a Grenadier of the First Regiment of Foot Guards in Flanders 1689 and a pikeman of Hamilton’s Regiment of Foot in Portugal 1705. Numerous black and white reproductions of contemporary portraits, prints and photographs of surviving muskets and bayonets also illustrate the text.
There are three appendices: Ordnance Pattern Plug Bayonet Dimensions; NonOrdnance Pattern Plug Bayonet Dimensions; and Royal Armoury Leeds (Reference Collection) Musket Dimensions. Three pages of commentaries on the colour plates and a six-page bibliography conclude the book.
The plug bayonet and its public perception was the subject of the author’s dissertation for his master’s degree upon which this book appears to be based, as it reads like a work addressed to other academics rather than to military history enthusiasts such as wargamers. For example, he refers to General Mackay’s account of Killiekrankie in his Memoirs of the War Carried on in Scotland and Ireland MDCLXXXIX – MDCXCI (Edinburgh, 1833) in footnotes, but never actually
quotes the relevant comments for readers’ benefit. Similarly, the Introduction informs readers what each chapter will discuss; the Conclusion explains what each chapter has told them.
The author has certainly researched the plug bayonet in depth and there is much interesting material contained in this book’s pages, but it is not presented in a style that will be particularly congenial to most wargamers or other typical purchasers of Helion books.