This is the continuation of the third part of our four(ish) part (I, II, IIIa) series looking at the role of the general in commanding pre-gunpowder armies in battle. Last time we looked at how an army’s discipline could limit or expand the options available to its general: drill creating synchronized discipline could expand the ‘McDonalds Menu’ worth of things individual components of an army could do, allowing for the execution of more complex plans. At the same time, creating that synchronized discipline was so expensive that most armies didn’t do much of it, especially for infantry forces. That in turn left a commander with little ability to get those forces to execute complex plans or react on the fly, but for forces that were just expected to either hold a position or advance forward in a line, complex plans were less essential.
This week we’re going to look at a closely related factor: the presence of officers and their relative command independence. Officers are both the conduit through which the general relays decisions but also the means by which those decisions are carried out. At the same time, they can also be decision makers in their own right. In both cases a suitably developed command system was essential for actually employing the wider menu of options that synchronized discipline could provide.