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I am writing an essay about how accurate the film "Braveheart" is. In the film Braveheart, the battle of Stirling Bridge is shown with the two armies facing each other. I would like to know what the technical name for this is if there is one. I do believe that there is a one-word term for it.

Thanks in advance!

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    What results did you get when googling? – Lars Bosteen Mar 14 at 10:20
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    I got some weird results about people from about the 17th century. Otherwise, nothing history related. – Linux4Life531 Mar 14 at 10:58
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    The term "set-piece" fits, although in modern usage it seems to have been co-opted for use in staging in film and theatre – bgwiehle Mar 14 at 13:30
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The basic circumstances of a battle depends on the readiness of the two sides to give battle at that time and place.

  • When neither side is prepared, and both armies arrive piece-meal and assemble as the battle is under way, is termed a meeting engagement. Examples include the first day of Gettysburg, Auerstadt, and Teugn-Hausen.

  • When only one side is prepared, and the other is not, is termed an ambush. Such battles are the bread-and-butter for guerrilla armies in particular, though others can create similar circumstances. Pearl Harbor and the first two days of the Battle of the Bulge are examples of this type.

  • When both sides are prepared for the time and place is termed a set-piece battle (also called a pitched battle). Day 3 of Gettysburg is an example of a pure set-piece battle.

Many battles are mixtures of the three pure types.

  • Ulm is, at least on a grand-tactical level, a combination meeting engagement and ambush, with Mack's force attempting an ambush of Le Grande Armee but being in turn ambushed as Napoleon's force arrives, piece-meal, all around him.

  • Quatre Bras is a combination of meeting engagement and set-piece, with both armies mostly arriving during the day, but the location having been deliberately chosen by Wellington and Ney also expecting a battle that day at the crossroads.

  • Waterloo itself might be thought of as combination set-piece, between the French and Anglo-Dutch armies, with Blucher's Prussian force then springing an ambush as it arrives meeting-engagement style.

  • Austerlitz is also an example of all three: initially appearing to be a pure set-piece affair, the arrival of Davout's III Corps springs a meeting-engagement ambush on the Russian forces just as they commit to the attack on Bonaparte's right wing.

  • Le Drang likewise combines elements of both ambush and meeting-engagement, the U.S. 7th cavalry arriving piece-meal attempting surprise but in turn surprised by both the size and reaction speed of the North Vietnamese force they have landed atop of - a mutual ambush one might even say.

It is also true that the classification of many battles may be unclear, or a matter of opinion, depending on the precise definition in time and space for the battle. It is not immediately clear to me how I would choose to categorize either Abensberg or Eckmuhl, for example.

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    This is the right answer, one that covers all three main contingencies. – Tom Au Mar 15 at 3:55
  • Could a pitch battle also be a type of battle. – Linux4Life531 Mar 15 at 15:27
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    @Linux4Life531: It's just a synonym for a set-piece. I'll add that to the answer. – Pieter Geerkens Mar 15 at 16:02
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    I would regard the term "pitched battle" as more of a term for how intense the combat is. – Davidw Mar 16 at 4:09
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    @Davidw - Most dictionary definitions agree with you, for instance Collins and Merriam-Webster. Dictionary.com gives the meaning above as the first sense and the intensity meaning as the second sense. Wikipedia only describes the sense above. That makes me think that the set piece meaning is a term of art. Terms of art sometimes differ from general usage. :-) – T.J. Crowder Mar 16 at 15:50
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The "Braveheart" movie was inaccurate in its depiction of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. It showed the Scottish army standing in open field, awaiting an English cavalry attack, and thrusting their spears forward at just the right moment, repelling the attack. (It also employed cinematic license to show the Scots "mooning," their enemies.) The "tactics" used in the movie were the ones used unsuccessfully at Falkirk. The Scots lost that battle in large part because of Edward I's Welsh archers, which were not a factor in either the real or the movie versions of the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

The real battle of Stirling Bridge was an ambush, of the kind described in Pieter's excellent answer. The English had to cross a narrow bridge onto swampy ground, where the Scots were hidden behind hills and trees. The English outnumbered the Scots almost two to one in total, but the Scots attacked at odds of one to one (or better) when slightly more than half the English army was across. The swampy ground plus the "hiding" gave the Scots the advantage, and the English army was routed.

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    Welch should probably be Welsh – jk. Mar 16 at 11:14
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – T.E.D. Mar 16 at 16:01
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Welcome on the stack exchange. For a head on head battle, that I understand as two armies walking until they are in sight of each other and engage, there is a specific term: Encountering battle

EDIT: the correct term in english is meeting battle (As another user said. Sorry, I'm not native english speaker)

However you could have some specific types of such a battle, like an ambush, hit-and-run tactics, etc...

And as far as I know, I think you would like to name the true type of battle that Stirling Bridge was: I guess it is a stand-still battle.

EDIT: the correct term in english is set-piece (As another user said. Sorry, I'm not native english speaker)

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  • Thank you so much. I was trying to contrast the real warfare (Which I was told was guerrilla), and the one displayed in the film. Yet again, thank you! – Linux4Life531 Mar 14 at 13:06
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    @Linux4Life531: You were "told" right (about guerrilla warfare). The movie was wrong. – Tom Au Mar 15 at 4:11
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    I edited, I did not have the correct english term since I am not a native speaker – totalMongot Mar 15 at 18:49
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    @totalMongot And as others have noted in their answers, the Battle of Stirling Bridge was actually an ambush, where the Scottish schiltrons attacked the English force while the English were still crossing the bridge & weren't prepared to fight. – sempaiscuba Mar 15 at 18:54

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