BATTLE, a general engagement between the armed forces, naval or military, of enemies. The word is derived from the Fr. bataille, and this, like the Ital. battaglia, and Span. batalla, comes from the popular Lat. battalia for battualia. Cassiodorus Senator (480 - ?575) says: Battualia quae vulgo Batalia dicuntur. .. exercitationes militum vel gladiatorum significant (see Du Cange, Glossarium, s.v. Batalia). The verb battuere, cognate with "beat," is a rare word, found in Pliny, used of beating in a mortar or of meat before cooking. Suetonius (Caligula, 54. 32) uses it of fencing, battuebat pugnatoriis armis, i.e. not with blunted weapons or foils. Battalia or batalia was used for the array of troops for battle, and hence was applied to the body of troops so arranged, or to a division of an army, whence the use of the word "battalion".
A "pitched battle," loosely used as meaning almost a decisive engagement, is strictly, as the words imply, one that is fought on ground previously selected ("pitched" meaning arranged in a fixed order) and in accordance with the intentions of the commanders of both sides; the French equivalent is bataille arrangee, opposed to bataille mane uvree, which is prearranged but may come off on any ground. With "battle," in its usual meaning of a general engagement of hostile forces, are contrasted "skirmish," 1 a fight between small bodies ("skirmishing" technically means fighting by troops in extended or irregular order), and "action," a more or less similar engagement between large bodies of troops. (See also TACTICS and STRATEGY.)
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