This post has drawn facts from secondary sources, which in turn all draw from primary sources (I made sure)
Under the Ming, military service became hereditary. A soldier and his family would be registered as a military household. Each of these military household's had an obligation to produce a young man to serve in the army. The hereditary system in it's early years had guard units numbering 5,000 men, further divided into battalions of 1,000 and companies of 100. Later, the number of soldiers in a guard unit was increased to 5,600 men, comprising of five battalions of 1,120 men, with each battallion divided into companies of 112 men. In total, the Ming army in the late 14th century numbered approximately 1.2 million hereditary soldiers. During the reign of Yongle (Zhu Di) three training camps were established, which troops were sent to in rotation. The first specialised in infantry warfare, the second in cavalry warfare and the third in artillery. While this worked very well at first, it stagnated after 1435 and had to be revived in 1464 by the Chenghua emperor.
I will cover the infantry, cavalry and artillery of the early Ming army individually.
The standard company numbered 100 men in the years before Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming in 1368. Each 100 man squad consisted of 40 spearmen, 30 archers, 20 swordsmen and 10 men operating firearms. Later, the army was reorganised and the standard company increased in number to 112 men, though they were likely similarly equipped. These soldiers undertook a sophisticated training program, whereby infantry were well trained for maneuvering around the battlefield and performing specific drills in the heat of combat, much like the training system of the European renaissance.
Chinese armies of the Ming period used a wide variety of spears. All were generally quite long and tipped with a socketed, tapered steel blade. Some types had downward curving hooks projecting from the blade that were designed for dismounting horsemen. Tridents and more exotic designs existed, but it is doubtful that they were used in large numbers in the army.
Ming archers were armed with long composite bows and various types of arrows, including specialised designs tipped with deadly poison .The most interesting of these designs was the rocket arrow. The rocket arrow was said to have great range and power, piercing through iron breastplates and hardwood planks. But was apparently almost impossible to aim with, for this reason rocket-arrows were usually released in massive swarms. This greatly demoralised the enemy as they would be unable to predict the point of impact. Crossbows were also used in large numbers and probably employed in much the same way as during the preceding Yuan and Song dynasties.
Chinese swords of the Ming period had their origins in central Asian sabres. Ming infantry swordsmen usually carried a goose-quill or willow leaf sabre. The former being comparitively straighter and more suitable for thrusting than the latter, which had a deep curve and was primarily a slashing weapon. Sabres were often used in combination with a shield by special fighting squads.
In the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Chinese firearm technology was the most advanced in the world. The most widely used gun weighed roughly 5lbs and was attached to a long wooden stock which was tucked under the arm or placed over the shoulder before discharging. Ammunition came in the form of both arrows and solid balls. During Yongle's second campaign in Mongolia, a Chinese army used arrow-firing guns to smash the Mongol cavalry in battle. In his fifth campaign, the emperor ordered his men to first attack with firearms and then to follow up with bows and crossbows--indicating these early guns must have been reasonably effective. Indeed, firearms were instrumental in the Ming conquest of Dai Viet, and proved decisive in a number of battles. However, for the most part it was artillery--not handheld firearms, which gave early Ming armies an edge.
Cavalry were a minority in the Ming military. However, they were still an essential component of Chinese armies. Yongle once said "Horses are the most important thing to a country.", while he may have been exaggerating, it's clear that the cavalry was highly valued.
Ming cavalry were divided into two types--lancers and mounted archers. The former were equipped with helmet, armour and sabre, as well as a long spear and round shield. The latter were also armoured and carried a sabre, but the primary weapon of a horse archer was his composite bow. Lancers typically charged after the enemy had been softened up with missile weapons, as they proved unable to face spear-armed infantry and artillery bombardment directly. Whereas horse-archers were often the first into battle, meeting the enemy with arrows before the rest of the army engaged in hand to hand combat.
Time and time again, Chinese horsemen proved their worth on the battlefield, though generally when fighting nomads they needed support from infantry. In 1365 Li Weizhong of the Ming defeated a Wu army with a cavalry charge which he led in person. Later, Zhu Di's succes against both imperial forces and Mongol nomads was due in no small part to his strong cavalry. In 1422 Zhu Di led 20,000 elite cavalry and infantry into Manchuria and won a string of victories over the eastern Mongols.
In the later stages of the dynasty. Chinese cavalry severely declined and proved unable to stand up to nomads. Qi Jiguang had to develop specific tactics to ensure success when fighting on the northern border. His armies were infantry and dragoon based, using wagon laagers mounted with light cannon to protect against cavalry charges. This proved succesful--the Mongols sued for peace with the Ming soon after Qi Jiguang was put in charge of the border defence.
Chinese armies of the Ming period made wide use of artillery. Both on the field as well as for the siege and defence of fortifications. It would seem almost every military expedition had a substantial artillery train. This undoubtedly contributed to the success of early Ming armies against Mongol nomads and rivals.
Chinese cannons were cast with both bronze and iron. Ammuntion came in the form of stone, iron and lead balls, or large steel-tipped "arrows" with leather fins. Grapeshot was also widely used. Early Ming cannons usually have thickened walls around the explosion chamber, as well as reinforcing rings cast along the length of the barrel. Weight and calibre vary widely, though Chinese cannons seem to have been much smaller than European bombards. Firearms were produced in very large numbers, from 1380 onwards 1000 bronze cannons were manufactured a year, in 1465 alone 300 very large artillery pieces were manufactured. And in 1537 soldiers in Shanxi were supplied with 3000 brass cannon. In the late 14th century, each warship was armed with 4 cannons, 20 fire lances, 16 handguns, and large numbers of grenades and fire arrows.
Several field pieces are illustrated in Ming sources. From 1350 onwards, one of the most popular designs was the "long range awe-inspiring cannon", this weighed in at 160lbs and could fire a 2lb lead ball hundreds of paces, grapeshot came in the form of 100 small pellets held inside the same bag. A more interesting type is the "Crouching Tiger Cannon", a small bombard weighing 47lbs and carried on the shoulder, it had two "legs" for elevation and was stapled onto the ground with iron pins before firing. these designs continually advanced over the next few hundred years, and indeed the latter remained in use until the 18th century. Many other artillery pieces existed, but we need not cover them here.
Artillery seems to have performed well when it was used. In Yongle's Mongolian campaign of 1414, the Ming army arrayed cannons in front of cavalry units and obliterated a Mongol cavalry charge, killing "countless" Mongols and terrifying the enemy horses. In the conquest of Annam, the Chinese used artillery to great effect in the field, on water, and in sieges.
Though effective in the field, early artillery was probably more effective in the defence and siege of fortifications. In 1412 Yongle ordered the stationing of five cannons at each of the frontier passes. Gunpowder weapons had almost completely replaced trebuchets in sieges. During the siege of Suzhou in 1366, large earth platforms were built and "bronze general" cannons placed on top of them to batter the walls, trebuchets were used to launch diseased corpses into the city rather than attacking the walls directly, and thousands of rocket-arrows were fired to set Suzhou alight.
Edited by Conan the destroyer, 08 January 2006 - 04:17 PM.