I have a world where two sides are just going to war. One side uses traditional soldiers and archers, the other side knows how to build magical muskets, described in more detail here.

These rifles are intended to be roughly equivlent to the quality present in the begining of colonizing of the Americas, pre-flintlock. One key difference, since they are magical in nature they don't need manually reloaded. They 'recharge' slowly, allowing them to fire at a rate that old musketmen could manage, but they recharge as long as someone is focused on channeling magic to them without requiring further manual steps.

Given this I'm wondering if hit and run tactics could ever be made viable. If the side with their muskets could fire a volly, then get up and move backwards until the musket recharged, fire another volly, then retreat again; to slow the rate at which a charging side can close in on them.

Neither side has access to horses or other mounts.

My first instinct is to say this isn't an option with a military of any real size, that the logistics of getting them all moving and firing at the right time, and getting a lineup where everyone can fire a volly at the enemy without anyone being out of range or blocked by people in front of them, would be too hard to orchistrate for the small gain in time provided by retreating from a charge.

However, I'm not military tactician so i could be wrong. Is there a way that such tactics could be made viable? Could it be viable for a small elite force but not for a larger military, and if so how large could a force get before fire & retreat tactics too logistically difficult to be worth implementing?

Unlike my other questions I'm currently asking about rather this tactic could be imployed by a more elite trained standing army, not about the less skilled militia & conscripts that would make up the majority of my military.

  • $\begingroup$ Retreating while keeping the formation and firing volleys is an extremely difficult tactical task. This may work only if ambushing party knows every stone on the battlefield, while the ambushed are not familiar with the territory. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 16:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Additional reading on @Alexander's point Wikipedia $\endgroup$
    – Jammin4CO
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ Hit and Run tactics were basically the business of cavalry. Mobility is critical for this king of strategy, and infantry simply cannot move fast enough to be effective. Horses, on the other hand, can move quickly enough to attack and retreat effectively, flank, redeploy, and do all sorts of fun things. In an ideal battle, the infantry would serve as a pinning force to keep the enemy engaged while the cavalry would harass them from the sides and rear. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ Most cavalry were armed with a carbine of some sort (which is just a shorter rifle/musket, more ideal for use on horseback), and a sabre. If the carbines were self-loading, that could potentially allow the cavalry to perform some sort of Cantabrian Circle, which fell out of fashion in part since it is exceedingly difficult to reload a traditional musket mid-gallop. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 17:06

6 Answers 6


The primary issue with this tactic does not lie in it's plausibility as a maneuver in combat. Rather, the issue that it faces is the ratio of gains to losses by employing it. Let us consider two likely scenarios:

  1. Your musket force is entrenched and the enemy is charging

  2. Your musket force is without cover and the enemy is charging

In scenario 1, it is clear that moving from cover would be to your musket force's disadvantage. Even to allow more time before close range engagement, they would have to move from cover to do so. Considering that good cover can grant a force between a X2 and a X3 force multiplier, any defensive position is worth keeping except against extreme odds (at which point, a full retreat is arguably the better option). Any scenario where your musket force has already acquired and prepared an area could fall into this category.

In scenario 2, it would seem that increasing the distance between the advancing enemy and yourself is inherently good. That being said, consider that humans on average can run for up to 15 mph. Assuming a low end for kitted soldiers, they may be able to charge at up to 10 mph, or 4.8889 yards/second. Your musketeers on the other hand will be concerned with moving backwards, aiming, and firing at their enemy. This will likely relate their overall movement speed to close to walking speed, or 1.4667 yards per second. This results in a speed difference at 3.4222 yards per second.

At that rate, the enemy will close from your musketeers' effective range in as little as between 15 and 30 seconds. Depending on the exact reload time of the weapons, this is allows for maybe one extra shot to be fired effectively, and two if firing-while-moving begins beyond effective range.

Here, this tactic is shown to be ineffective when considering the training and time for implementation your officers would need to invest. In a situation where this tactic might be gainfully employed, it would be better and more effective to either hold the line or retreat.

It would be better still to consider a more classical set of maneuvers. The Attack in Oblique Order would allow your soldiers to take advantage of a localized number superiority to break the enemy line after close-quarters combat has begun. Your weak side must stop the initial charge, following which the strong side should route the attackers and maneuver to effectively pin the remaining enemy.

Alternatively, a feigned retreat will give all the advantages of your suggested tactic without the disadvantages. By separating your forces slightly and using the primary force to retreat from the charge and draw your enemy forward, you can have a secondary force lying in wait to take advantage of what will undoubtedly be a disorganized enemy line. This can work ad hoc in a wave-based deployment, or as a planned use of entrenched forces both on the vanguard and in the rear.

Both tactics make use of intelligence to work properly.

  • $\begingroup$ both tactics use intellegence to work? oh no! Int was my dump stat, I'm going to suffer a -3 to my rolls ;). This is a great answer though. You confirmed what I already suspected, but gave me wonderful tactical alternatives to play with. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ This is a much better answer! $\endgroup$
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 19:44

Your research might benefit from clarified terms. "Hit and run" is very different from "fire and maneuver." I suspect that you're actually referring to "line infantry tactics."

"Hit and run" means to execute an attack and then leave. There are typically two possible objectives for hit-and-run tactics, one is to allow a smaller force to deliver a targeted, decisive blow to a larger force, by surprising them and then retreating before the larger force can mount a counter attack. It's important to know that this always has a very specific target (the radio tower, the ammunition supply, their only tank, etc.). Once that target is destroyed, the attacking force GTFO.

The other goal is to distract a larger force by mounting a feigned assault, and then retreating. The retreat involves mostly running, with little or no covering fire. The success of the retreat relies on timing, i.e. withdrawing before the other force can effectively respond.

"Fire and maneuver" means to use part of your force to fire on the enemy while another part of your force moves into a better position. Overwhelmingly, this is an attacking strategy, not a retreating strategy, although Navy SEALs and other elite forces use a "center peel" to disengage from an engagement they can't win (key word disengage). Most commonly, a "fire element" forces the enemy to remain hidden by shooting at them, while the "maneuver element" takes the opportunity to move to another position, where the enemy's hiding place doesn't provide enough protection (usually from the side/flank). This is a strategy employed by fireteams (4-5 men) or platoons (15-20 men), but rarely by groups larger than that.

Also keep in mind that the side that is advancing always wins. Wars are not fought over people, they're fought over places. It doesn't matter whether I kill all of your men, or just run them out of town, I still took the town and that's the real win. Consequently, there's not any real strategy to retreating ahead of your enemy while you pick them off behind you. If they're losing people, they'll just stop following you. If you're small enough, they'll outflank you and force you into a position where you can't get away, and then they'll wipe you out.

Finally, what you're describing is I think inspired by "Line Infantry," but there is no line infantry method that involves falling back. With "Fire-by-rank" a rank would step forward to fire, and then file off to reload. "Salvee" meant basically everyone fired at once, and then charged with bayonets. "Swedes Way" provided perhaps the most opportunity to retreat in an orderly fashion, but that's not a winning strategy, merely a controlled route.

The two most successful strategies would likely be to surprise the larger force, hoping for a quick win, or quickly closing to melee range so that bows become useless. Generally, in "asymmetric warfare' like this, the smaller force prefers guerrilla tactics, which involve lots and lots and lots of very small non-losses. They never win, but they also don't lose.

EDIT: It's worth noting, as has been discussed briefly in the comments, the difference between the tactical and the strategic. The example provided was the strategic success of the Russians against both the Napoleonic campaign and the German campaign. The maneuvers discussed above are tactical maneuvers, meaning they are "low level" both in terms of who needs to understand the behaviors (individual soldiers), and the goals they are meant to accomplish (winning this battle right now). Tactical elements (units, maneuvers, decisions) are those that are designed to determine the outcome of a particular engagement. Strategic elements are those that are designed to accomplish big-picture goals, and frankly have little to do with the particular tactics employed by individual units.

Even in the odd case of the Russian campaigns, the rule still holds true "The advancing side always wins." The Russians won because Napoleon and in turn the Germans could no longer afford to advance. Russia lost every (yes, with qualifiers) engagement because Napoleon and the Germans advanced through whatever territory was in dispute. Once they stopped advancing, they stopped winning. Perhaps the best-known examples of Sun Tzu's rule "Good strategy with poor tactics is the slowest path to victory, but poor strategy means certain defeat, even with good tactics."

HOWEVER, it might be fun to create an army that deliberately exploits this well-known rule of warfare, by specifically practicing a "feigned retreat" during which they specifically pretend to route in order to draw the enemy into a trap. Something like an extreme version of a Pincer Maneuver. Again, this has to be carefully employed because as pointed out above, if you're running away then I'll just stay here and keep the buildings, territory, equipment, supplies, civilians, or supporters you left behind.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Russian history might have an objection to your "the side that is advancing always wins" paragraph. Trading land for soliders has proved to be a valid strategy throughout history. It depends on how valuable the land is, and how easily the men can be replaced. You cannot control a land without any soldier garding it. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Spectantibus True, so I'd prefer to see such an edit, but otherwise this was a solid answer. $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ I agree, but that's at the strategic level, not the tactical level. Russia's overall strategic approach was to make advancement cost more than it was worth, BUT they did not accomplish this by having their formations "advance backward." Quite the contrary, in fact. They would sometimes even kill some of their own soldiers in order to compel the remainder to advance. The Russians lost each engagement, but won the territory. I'll add a note about the difference between the strategic level and the tactical level... $\endgroup$
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 19:12

Your magically reloading musket will fundamentally alter several aspects of this era of warfare.

  1. There will no longer be a need to remain upright in order to reload the musket. The requirement to add powder and ram down a ball from the muzzle is the core reason why soldiers of this era were trained to stay in a fixed upright position instead of seeking cover, lying down, etc. But with a musket that loads itself in 20-30 seconds, the soldiers could just lay flat on the ground and shoot from the prone position all the time, which will greatly enhance their survivability but limit their mobility.

  2. "Hit and Run" as you describe it is really just the concept of "bounding overwatch" a tactical maneuver where one element fires while another moves. This can't really be applied to large groups because the timing and coordination to do this limits it to relatively small units, say a fire team of 4 people or maybe a squad of 10. Trying to get an entire company of 100+ soldiers to fire, then sprint to another location over a time span of a minute or so while another company, close by, fires, isn't really viable unless it could be extensively rehearsed, probably on the very ground they are defending.

  3. What these weapons and troops would be very good at is a method of retreating/advancing before an enemy using a full "broadside" of fire, then 20 odd seconds of coordinated movement, then another broadside. Rinse and repeat until the enemy is overrun or stops attacking. Blocks of troops could do this with enough distance between then that they won't advance into another units line of fire. Without the need to actively reload their weapons they can be trained to utilized those fixed periods of time for directed movement.

  4. These weapons also have the advantage of being able to mount a bayonet all the time since there is no need to mess around with the muzzle. So they can instantly conduct a bayonet charge right after firing. This allows them a very nice shock value on the assault or serves as an effective count to an enemy bayonet charge (should an enemy try to attack in the interval between magic musket loading).

Thus these troops will utilize a lot more maneuver than typical troops of this period, requiring a more complex communication system of flags, whistles, or whatever. They can move forward, back, or to the prone all while maintaining a steady 20-30 second firing interval. Conventional troops were fairly static while shooting or doggedly advancing in the face of enemy fire, so personal perseverance was a heavy training requirement along with a rigorous obedience to orders. Magic muskets should reduce this requirement and allow for more small unit initiative and maneuver on the battlefield.


The use of "Hit and Run" tactics with muskets was generally confined to "Ranger" warfare in North America during the 1600's to late 1700's. Groups of "Rangers", such as the ones led by Major Roger Roberts were raised to counter the effective ability of natives to conduct hit and run warfare against the British colonists during that period.

This worked for both sides because the force to space ratio was so huge, infrastructure was extremely poor and incapable of supporting large conventional armies in the field for sustained periods outside of garrison towns and fortresses and conventional liner tactics developed for musket fire were ineffective in the dense forests and winding trails and waterways which represented the geography of North America during the period.

Being able to move quickly through the terrain, assemble and fire upon your enemies (or perhaps a quick rush with hatchets and knives) and then rapidly disperse and escape in the resulting disorder was a huge advantage in these conditions.

This isn't to say that "hit and run" tactics were not used in other theatres of war. The British developed skirmisher forces and particularly Rifle armed troops to move forward and harry advancing enemy columns. German "Jaeger" (hunter) troops had similar roles, and the French developed Voltigeur's for the same tasks. However, they were a small proportion of the force, and were generally used to harry enemy troops but to fall back and form up on the "left of the line" for the final clash between the main forces, rather than carry out independent actions or decide an action on their own.

The modern conception of "Hit and run" tactics depends more on the introduction of automatic weapons, professional armies to provide large numbers of trained troops to select special forces from (and a large enough industrial base to supply these troops), effective communications to allow widely dispersed troops to function and open order formations (which were a result of rifled firearms and artillery being developed in the mid 1800's, long past the time period of the original Rangers).

  • Reloading a pre-flintlock musket takes about 60 seconds, depending on the technology. (Matchlock, wheellock, etc.)
  • Historical muskets were used by formations of troops against other formations of troops. They were not faster, more lethal, more accurate, or longer ranged than bows, but it was easier to train peasants and town rabble in the use of a musket. Bows required yeomen archers who trained almost from birth.
  • A formation of troops cannot maneuver at much more than a walk. Engagement ranges were to the tune of 50 to 100 metres, or less.

That means a formation of musketeers cannot maneuver into or out of firing distance in the time it takes to recharge their weapons.

A skirmish line might be a bit more agile, but probably not enough to make a difference.

  • $\begingroup$ I explicitly said pre-flintlock in the question, and that the other side didn't have these muskets. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen, oops, my mistake, but I still think the conclusions. hold. Troops in formation cannot march all that far in 30 seconds, either. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 4:47

So, the first battle of the American Revolution were the battle of Lexington and Concord and were primarily won by this... The more traditional battle was quite quick and pitted American mercenaries against trained British soldiers who did quite well. After the initial fighting in the town, the British proceeded to march back to Boston, and were met with growing numbers of Massachusetts militia men who were more familiar with the lay of the land and waited and ambushed British Soldiers when they came close... and then disappeared into the country side. British Casualties for the entire battle would amount to 73 dead, 174 wounded, and 53 missing (Colonias were 49, 39, and 5 respectively) and while this had no tactical or strategic value, it was considered a disaster because the entire operational goal for the British Forces was to prevent the very war that had just broken out. As was seen in the initial battle, the Colonial forces gradually swelled throughout the day, so that by the time the battle was over, the Colonial forces had swelled to nearly 4,000 troops from an initial 477 strong force where as the British force had started with 700 strong force, and was bolstered by a reinforcement of 800 men, who weren't adequately aware of the situation and didn't bring enough weapons to sustain an offensive. By the time all the British Forces had returned to Boston, the city was surrounded and effectively cut off from exit by land by a 15,000 strong colonial force.

Historically, the longer an invasion lasts, the more likely the invaders are to lose. Hit and Run might be small scale on a single confrontation scale, but as seen in the battle of Lexington and Concord, the defense is able to muster more supplies readily, as well as more troops... sure, a superior force is going to kill more people in a single engagement... but those who die have family and friends who will not be happy that their own was gunned down by outsiders and will gladly take up arms... meanwhile, your invasion has to pull trained troops from it's home and bring them over to the invaded lands. This isn't an American only use (though in modern warfare, American military forces are notorious for Asymmetrical tactics... i.e. the art of fighting dirty but with tanks. Why risk your own troops on the ground in a firefight when an Aircraft in the area can drop a bomb on the enemy and let the boots on the ground march through the wreckage.).

For example, the North Vietmese were able to hold off long enough using similar hit and run tactics that demoralized both the troops serving and the support for the war from Americans back home. Afganistan is called "The Grave Yard of Empires" for the sheer number of superior invasion forces that went into what has always been pretty useless land with historical tribal wars with centuries of fighting with hit and run tactics. The sheer amount of blood, sweat, and treasure thrown in has always reached a point were the invaders call quits and go home because the land wasn't worth that much... It's even broken a few mighty empires, the most famous is the role it played in the down fall of the Soviet Union. Even the US, which was content to let Afganis govern themselves, publicly lost interest before the stated goal of "kill bin Laden" was achieved.


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