25 October 2010

Defining a "pitched battle"

I had always assumed that a "pitched battle" was a heated or intense confrontation.  That indeed is the second definition, but the proper use of the term refers to more specific conditions:
A pitched battle is a battle where both sides choose to fight at a chosen location and time and where either side has the option to disengage either before the battle starts, or shortly after the first armed exchanges.

A pitched battle is not a chance encounter such as a skirmish, or where one side is forced to fight at a time not of their choosing such as happens in a siege. For example, the first pitched battle of the English Civil War was fought when the Royalists chose to move off an escarpment to a less advantageous position so that the Parliamentarians would be willing to fight the Battle of Edgehill. In contrast the Battle of Gettysburg, fought during the American Civil War, started by chance as a skirmish, but as both generals chose to reinforce their positions instead of disengaging, they turned what was initially a skirmish into a pitched battle.


  1. Very cool, I did not know that.

  2. It's entries like this that make me keep coming back to TYWKIWDBI... that and the political balance.


  3. I had always understood that a pitched battle was one where one or more of the opposing armies had "pitched" camp, and thus chosen a meeting point, a battlefield.

    I live amongst battlefields.
    Just a few miles to the west is Towton field, where on palm sunday, 1461, the bloodiest battle ever fought on english soil took place.

    "The number of the Yorkists was 40,660 men, the other full 60,000. Before the action commenced, Edward issued a proclamation that no quarter should be given. The conflict lasted ten hours, and victory fluctuated from side to side, till at length it settled in the house of York. The Lancastrians gave way and fled to York, but seeking to gain the bridge at Tadcaster, so many fell into the small river Cock, which runs into the Wharf, as quite filled it up, and the Yorkists went over their backs to pursue their brethren. The number of the slain was estimated at 36,776, among them the Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, and a great many others of the nobility; and the wounds they died of being made by battle axes, arrows and swords, caused an immense effusion of blood, which lay caked with the snow, which at that time covered the ground, and afterwards dissolving with it, ran down, in the most horrible manner, the furrows and ditches of the fields for two or three miles."

    Bells were cast in remembrance, for the nearby church of Saxton,
    which still ring out today.


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