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“Tree All!”: Lessons in Cover & Concealment from Woodland Warriors Mark Hatmaker

In the early days of warfare tightly knitted formation was a martial ideal. From the strictly formed phalanxes of Sparta’s hoplites, to the triplex acies (triple battle order) of the Roman Army, to the rank and file formations of Continental Armies typical of the Napoleonic Wars—tight, coordinated movement en masse was often the semblance of “cover” and defense.

When these war-hardened battle-tactics made their way to the early American Continent they encountered a guerrilla style of war in the tactics used by the indigenous peoples. A strategy of stealth, ambush, concealment, quick and seemingly trackless retreat. These tactics were disparagingly called “the skulking way of war” or more simply “skulking.” The term was not meant as a compliment. It was viewed as a cowardly way to engage.

But…it was mighty effective.

Here, we have a limited number of warriors without the “blessings of formal training” and in many cases using stone-age weaponry more than holding its own against superior numbers, superior weaponry, and folks who thought themselves genetically superior.

It was not until some early adopters, that is, Anglo-Frontiersmen who saw merit in “going Injun” did the balance begin to be shifted again. These early adopters be they called rangers, scouts, woods-runners, raiders, woods-fighters what have you, saw great merit in adopting not only the skulking tactics of the indigenous peoples, but often the utility in a “retrogression” in some aspects of weaponry, and full-scale adoption of the garb as all having useful applications.

One of these early -adopters, Colonel John Forbes, operated with his men during the long and astoundingly violent episodes known as the French and Indian Wars. Forbes was the right-hand man or man-in-the-field for Lord Loudon. Forbes made it part and parcel of training his junior officers and soldiers to be skilled in the ways of “wood fighting.”

One way he did this was via a drill and a blanket order of “Tree all!” Colonel Forbes and all of his junior officers were given liberty to at any time on a maneuver, a scout, or even at camp to cry “Tree all!” At that command all would plunge for the nearest tree, fallen log, or standing stump. This is an early iteration of “cover over concealment.”

Cover is broadly defined as any obstruction that both conceals you from view AND provides stopping force vs. incoming projectiles.

Whereas, concealment may remove you from view, but it will not necessarily stop an incoming musket ball, arrow, or thrown tomahawk.

“Tree all!” was chosen over the simpler “Hide” or “Scatter!” so that the men would always have an eye on the nearest and best choice of tree, log or stump. They would skip the brush or clump of rhododendron and choose the nearest obstruction that provided the best of both cover and concealment.

Those who lagged or chose poorly after a review of the hiding places post “Tree all!” were admonished. These admonishments and frequency of cries led to a band of men who were “looking for their tree” with every step they took.

We would be wise to add such cover and concealment drills to our own tactical arsenal. We may issue our own versions of “Tree all!” in class scenarios, or at the very least lip-service mental drill of “Tree all!” in our day-to-day lives. We must learn to think naturally that, “Hmm, that hollow-core door is no better than a holly bush to Colonel Forbes’ men, this concrete abutment or that pillar is a far better tree.”

We’ve got to see that the engine block is a better stopper than merely crouching behind a car door. We are wise to peer at homes being framed to familiarize ourselves where an abundance of framing is located for better choices indoors than mere lengths of 18” spaced-studs ornamented with bullet permeable drywall.

“Tree all!” is a mighty useful drill, it proved of utmost use to Forbes and his men, but it was the doing of the drill itself and the emulation of the indigenous tactic not the mere knowledge or lip service hat tip to the “idea” of the drill.

Knowing that an action is a wise course to take is in no way the same thing as taking that course of action. Like Colonel Forbes and his men, and like Forbes’ own “instructors” the Native Warriors themselves, we must hear “Tree all!” and hear it often to make it part and parcel of our own warrior make-up.

Our in Colonel Forbes own advisory words: “I should not think it would be amiss that the Regular army knew the mornoevres and ruzes made use of by our Rangers when they go a Scouting.” [From a Memorandum, 1757.]

So, I ask you, right now, “Where’s your tree?”


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