# Medieval rebel army, mostly peasants, led by a small number of men with considerable military experience. What is camp life like?

In continuation to this question, my small (for now) force, made mostly of peasants, is rebelling against an empire that has conquered their land. Most people of this force have no military experience, though the leadership has several men with commanding and fighting experience, in several different armies. What would you say is reasonable when it comes to fortification of the camp?

I don't suppose building a palisade every time they stop to make camp makes much sense, not with their troops so untrained. I don't quite understand how they would defend it otherwise, however. I also don't quite understand how the guarding of the camp would operate.

(magic does not play a role)

• en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hussite_Wars would be a good place to start for a very close late-medieval example. building a palisade every time they stop - how about armoured wagons? :) Jun 10 at 15:00

You don't build much at all

Fortifications are for when you expect to be attacked. As you're a small force, you never want to have to defend a position, unless it's highly defensible. That means either a very fortuitous natural formation, or things like stone walls of castles or cities. Even then you want to avoid such situations. Defensive positions because of an (threat of) attack, or the building of defensive positions takes precious time. Time which the enemy can use to gather more forces to the area/cut off escape. Then even with big fortifications you're at a disadvantage.

A palisade wall is not a small defensive tool. It is enormously labour and resource intensive. It can take days to build. It is completely unfeasible. What you want is just to keep on moving. Smaller forces generally are much quicker and can out manoeuvre the larger army, which you need to effectively take down the enemy. You only make defences if you know an attack is highly likely and you have no other choice. That way your time is spent as well as possible.

Depending on the time, danger and surroundings you will probably make some crude spikes set in the ground and low walls, if you have the time and resources there at all. More time? Maybe trenches or a bigger wall, but if the 'more time' scenario comes up, you probably want to move away in favour of defence. Defence is the death of a small group if the enemy can gather.

• To add to this: scouts will give you the advance warning you need to avoid a fight in the first place. You want to fight a larger army on your terms, not theirs, so use your small size to your advantage and stay highly mobile.
– bta
Jun 10 at 20:57

## Experience trumps all

If your commanders are experienced as you say, they should:

• know the capabilities of the enemy
• know the capabilities of themselves
• know the terrain in which they find themselves, and know its ability to aid or disadvantage them

So I would expect:

• With previous experience, know the disposition of the enemy. Ie, if they rest at night, prepare for assault. If they roam at night, prepare to evade. If they have fast moving horses, encamp in difficult terrain.
• Know the capabilities and deficiencies of their own men. Ie. if slow to react, get as much early warning as possible. If experienced in ranged weapons, get as much elevation as possible.
• Good commanders would send as many scouts out to surrounding areas as possible to see if there is any enemy presence, and report back immediately if they discover any with position, size, configuration, and movement. You don't want to be surprised if you have a vulnerable force.
• It's all in the placement. A good commander may know the movements of enemy patrols, and encamp where least likely to be discovered. Concealment is far better than fortification, especially for a small force against a larger one.

For instance guerrilla tactics is basically using your disadvantage as your advantage, and their disadvantage to your advantage. Being small and them big, this gives advantage of speed and agility over a large ponderous army, which may have delayed command and control. Expect commanders to reassure inexperienced peasants on evasion, dispersal and regrouping, living off the land, stealth and concealment using terrain as cover.

I would expect training to be a major priority in camp life - but more in agile scout-craft, rather than hand-to-hand expertise, for a small inexperienced force. Your camp would be dispersed, scouts far and wide regularly reporting in, with the ability to hide or run being the priority.

• How is it actually possible to conceal a camp? Surely the fires they would need to cook are a dead giveaway
– Riq
Jun 10 at 10:38
• @Riq - in many cases no fire is needed - use scoutcraft instead to dry or treat meat. If you can be spotted - don't have one. Or, if you do, conceal in a forest. Another aspect is if absolutely required, have decoy fires to lure the enemy away from your camp. If about to be discovered, have a sand pile ready adjacent to your fire to quickly douse it without causing steam or smoke that would be caused otherwise to try to hide it, then disperse quickly. Have backup plans, in the event of discovery, so everyone quickly knows where to run and where to regroup.
– flox
Jun 10 at 10:43

Realistically They Do What The Army Does

Look at George Washington and the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War/American War of Independence. Washington, along with a handful of other "Trained military men" from the British and other armies did not, by and large, try to adapt their tactics to their essentially-untrained troops. ESPECIALLY not in day-to-day military life. They drilled, they marched, they fortified their camps and posted guards in the approved manner of the British army at the time. At least, as close as they could get with untrained men. There were some exceptions to this (Nathaniel Greene comes to mind) But Greene was NOT someone with prior military experience.

Your troops would likely live, train, and march in the same style as the senior officer/drill officer's old army. Whatever level of discipline the former military men's armies had would likely be a little more lax in the rebel force, but otherwise "camp life" would be largely similar. The reason is that the officers Believe in the methods of their old armies. They've won battles and wars, maybe had centuries of success, based on the training and tactics those armies taught your officers. Your general comes from an army that builds a fortified camp every night a-la the Roman Legions? He is going to want to do that even IF it isn't necessary for the situation. Because that's what winners do. Yeah maybe they don't fear attack. But by god spending hours a day making a ditch&wall encampent builds character! Makes a soldier out of you! It's what we did in the Vandalian army and they haven't lost a war in two centuries so it obviously works! etc and soforth.

What's more, this band of peasants, unless it's totally removed from all armies ever, is going to have some sort of expectation of soldiery. If they know General Zhau's old Vandalian army marches in lockstep and keeps perfect alignment when delivering a volley, they're going to WANT to do that. Because, again, that's what soldiers do and it works for THAT army and doing something "not that" is obviously inferior until proven otherwise. And in war people are VERY reluctant to stray from tried-and-true methods, because that's how folk get killed. Granted sticking to the old ways when new tech/tactics come into play can also get you killed, but militarily speaking there's a lot more forgiveness for trying the Old Ways and failing than trying some Newfangled Idea and failing.

The last thing to consider is the officers themselves. They know (via having done it or via witnessing it) how new troops were trained in the Old Army. It's almost certainly the ONLY way they know how to train troops. So by definition if you train troops exactly the same way as their previous army you're going to get troops (and army life) that mimics that previous army closely.

Now over time you're going to see one of two things (provided the rebels don't lose). Either this professionalism wears off on the troops to the point that they're largely trained and fight to an equivalent level of their foes (a-la the Continental Regulars by Yorktown) or the difference in battlefield terrain/strategic position is so different between the Officer's old army's way of doing things and reality of the rebel army's needs that the old officers are shunted out of command to make way for soldiers who produce results.

Zoboso made a good point I want to expand on. There is some chance that your Medieval officer class only knows about a certain aspect of Medieval warfare. In Europe a lord might have general knowledge of everything, because he's expected to bring a mixed force of cavalry/infantry/archers to battle with him. but in China and elsewhere at the same time an officer might only lead infantry, or horsemen, or siege equipment. If your army lacks, say, Cavalry officers, the peasants may end up with wildly different cavalry tactics as the "real" officers gravitate towards what they know and leave room for leaders without military experience to command other forces. So, say, the Cavalry might end up WILDLY different than the "normal army" because all your regular officers were in the infantry.

• this is the if it isn't broke don' fix it answer, which I approve of. like flox and Trioxidane are making assumptions about the mobility and coherency of the rebel forces mainly that we can get away with scouting. scouting is a skill and that peasants may or may not know how to do that and the leaders as Dario mentions won't know how to teach it any other way than the old way. if we have some smugglers thrown in with the peasants then I could see scouting being an option Jun 11 at 15:55
• That's very true zoboso. The "Army Guys" are going to do things "The Army Way" but depending on their particular skills non-military people may end up playing a significant role in specific aspects of the army. For example, if the Officers are all infantry commanders they may leave the cavalry contingent (made up of some local farmers and a brigand or two, say) largely to its own devices apart from a general "scout for the enemy" or "protect our flanks" style order. Which in turns means the cavalry could operate Very differently from the army norm. Jun 11 at 18:19

As stated by an earlier answer, The experience of its commanders is a big advantage that this army could utilise, which would also dictate what kind of encampment the commanders of this army decide to build.

depending on experience and intelligence that can be gathered from scouts and maybe even spies, the small force that you described could make any of the following encampments:

• a makeshift encampment: like the name says, a simple encampment with a barricade or a natural barrier consisting of whatever your army can find in the field, if your army uses wagons, you can also circle the wagons, you don't need to be in a western setting for that.

• as suggested earlier, if the commanders don't expect the enemy to be as mobile or more mobile than them, then an open camp with scouts posted around it that are ordered to report back immediately may suffice. As soon as enemy forces are spotted, the camp could simply be packed up, placement and terrain matter a lot with this approach.

• alternatively if the enemy is fielding smaller, faster units, or if a battle may desired (ie if you want the enemy to attack a fortified camp) than a light variant of a roman style marching camp could be built. This would mean that after every day of marching, the army would dig a rectangular ditch around the camp, with only four entrances (one in each direction) and fortify it with stakes and maybe even pitfalls or other boobytraps. If the army is expecting an attack on its camp, it could be further fortified with a palisade wall and watchtowers. Contrary to expectations this approach allowed the roman army to steadily advance into enemy territory.

Hope any of this helps!

You experienced men would personnaly train some officers that would train the rest of the army.

Let's say you have 5 "generals", 3 of them would focus on training a small group of officers, the others two would give orders to the camp, organise logistics and schedule guards turns.

About the fortification I genuinely think that the fisrt week the generals would give detailled intruction to the army, but in a very short time everybody would know what to do

First, you need to know if the enemy is nearby. Whether or not the enemy is nearby determines the protective measures required. That's simple enough for everybody to understand.

• You use scouts to determine if the enemy is nearby, and whether you should fortify.
• Experienced leaders choose defend-able terrain for the camp.
• You use patrols to verify the scouts' findings, to mark the perimeter of the camp, to secure your water source, and to establish the latrine areas downwind.

Next, you use layers of protective measures. These are the absolute minimum you would establish most nights to prevent ruffians, raiders, and other minor pests...or major surprises.

• Each element of the main force is assigned a sector of the perimeter to defend.
• You use shifts of sentries to prevent the main camp from being surprised.
• Outside the sentries, you can place listening posts. Those folks must be dependable to stay both silent and awake during their shift.
• Block high-speed avenues of approach with obstacles. An obstacle could be as simple as a pile of bush that a horse cannot easily leap over.
• Put out tripwires and noisemakers to supplement the listeners and alert sentries to movement.
• A Quick Reaction Force rotates a few hours awake to back up the sentries and to delay any attack until your folks can wake up, shake their drunken stupor, stand up, and fight.
• Chain of Command of the awake leaders is established, and runners learn the locations of the various commanders.

If an enemy presence is detected by the scouts, then start amping up the protective measures:

• Parts of your main force rotate watch through the night.
• Establish watchfires (outside your perimeter, of course, so your sentries aren't night-blind)
• Send patrols beyond the watch-fire zone.
• Build obstacles to channel an enemy attack into specific areas (kill-zones). Um, remember what your mother taught you and don't let folks bed down in the middle of a kill-zone...unless they are bait for the trap.
• Build obstacles to disrupt infantry formations. If necessary, build breastworks. Your Soldiers aren't tired after a mere 20 miles of marching. They might be tired after 30.
• If you know where the enemy's main force is located, send out a party to scout their defense , conduct a spoiling attack, and generally harass. If your folks well-rested before battle while theirs are fatigued...well, too bad for them.