WE shall consider military forces:—
1. As regards their numerical strength and organisation.
2. In their state independent of fighting.
3. In respect of their maintenance; and, lastly,
4. In their general relations to country and ground.
Thus we shall devote this book to the consideration of things appertaining to an army, which only come under the head of necessary conditions of fighting, but do not constitute the fight itself. They stand in more or less close connection with and react upon the fighting, and therefore, in considering the application of the combat they must often appear; but we must first consider each by itself, as a whole, in its essence and peculiarities.
Theatre of War, Army, Campaign
THE nature of the things does not allow of a completely satisfactory definition of these three factors, denoting respectively, space, mass, and time in war; but that we may not sometimes be quite misunderstood, we must try to make somewhat plainer the usual meaning of these terms, to which we shall in most cases adhere.
1.—Theatre of War.
This term denotes properly such a portion of the space over which war prevails as has its boundaries protected, and thus possesses a kind of independence. This protection may consist in fortresses, or important natural obstacles presented by the country, or even in its being separated by a considerable distance from the rest of the space embraced in the war.—Such a portion is not a mere piece of the whole, but a small whole complete in itself; and consequently it is more or less in such a condition that changes which take place at other points in the seat of war have only an indirect and no direct influence upon it. To give an adequate idea of this, we may suppose that on this portion an advance is made, whilst in another quarter a retreat is taking place, or that upon the one an army is acting defensively, whilst an offensive is being carried on upon the other. Such a clearly defined idea as this is not capable of universal application; it is here used merely to indicate the line of distinction.
With the assistance of the conception of a Theatre of War, it is very easy to say what an Army is: it is, in point of fact, the mass of troops in the same Theatre of War. But this plainly does not include all that is meant by the term in its common usage. Blucher and Wellington commanded each a separate army in 1815, although the two were in the same Theatre of War. The chief command is, therefore, another distinguishing sign for the conception of an Army. At the same time this sign is very nearly allied to the preceding, for where things are well organised, there should only exist one supreme command in a Theatre of War, and the commander-in-chief in a particular Theatre of War should always have a proportionate degree of independence.
The mere absolute numerical strength of a body of troops is less decisive on the subject than might at first appear. For where several Armies are acting under one command, and upon one and the same Theatre of War, they are called Armies, not by reason of their strength, but from the relations antecedent to the war (1813, the Silesian Army, the Army of the North, etc), and although we should divide a great mass of troops intended to remain in the same Theatre into corps, we should never divide them into Armies, at least, such a division would be contrary to what seems to be the meaning which is universally attached to the term. On the other hand, it would certainly be pedantry to apply the term Army to each band of irregular troops acting independently in a remote province: still we must not leave unnoticed that it surprises no one when the Army of the Vendeans in the Revolutionary War is spoken of, and yet it was not much stronger.
The conceptions of Army and Theatre of War therefore, as a rule, go together, and mutually include each other.
Although the sum of all military events which happen in all the Theatres of War in one year is often called a Campaign, still, however, it is more usual and more exact to understand by the term the events inone single Theatre of War. But it is worse still to connect the notion of a Campaign with the period of one year, for wars no longer divide themselves naturally into Campaigns of a year’s duration by fixed and long periods in winter quarters. As, however, the events in a Theatre of War of themselves form certain great chapters—if, for instance, the direct effects of some more or less great catastrophe cease, and new combinations begin to develop themselves—therefore these natural subdivisions must be taken into consideration in order to allot to each year (Campaign) its complete share of events. No one would make the Campaign of 1812 terminate at Memel, where the armies were on the 1st January, and transfer the further retreat of the French until they recrossed the Elbe to the campaign of 1813, as that further retreat was plainly only a part of the whole retreat from Moscow.
That we cannot give these conceptions any greater degree of distinctness is of no consequence, because they cannot be used as philosophical definitions for the basis of any kind of propositions. They only serve to give a little more clearness and precision to the language we use.
Relation of Power
IN the eighth chapter of the third book we have spoken of the value of superior numbers in battles, from which follows as a consequence the superiority of numbers in general in strategy. So far the importance of the relations of power is established: we shall now add a few more detailed considerations on the subject.
An unbiassed examination of modern military history leads to the conviction that the superiority in numbers becomes every day more decisive; the principle of assembling the greatest possible numbers for a decisive battle may therefore be regarded as more important than ever.
Courage and the spirit of an army have, in all ages, multiplied its physical powers, and will continue to do so equally in future; but we find also that at certain periods in history a superiority in the organisation and equipment of an army has given a great moral preponderance; we find that at other periods a great superiority in mobility had a like effect; at one time we see a new system of tactics brought to light; at another we see the art of war developing itself in an effort to make a skilful use of ground on great general principles, and by such means here and there we find one general gaining great advantages over another; but even this tendency has disappeared, and wars now go on in a simpler and more natural manner.—If, divesting ourselves of any preconceived notions, we look at the experiences of recent wars, we must admit that there are but little traces of any of the above influences, either throughout any whole campaign, or in engagements of a decisive character—that is, the great battle, respecting which term we refer to the second chapter of the preceding book.
Armies are in our days so much on a par in regard to arms, equipment, and drill, that there is no very notable difference between the best and the worst in these things. A difference may still be observed, resulting from the superior instruction of the scientific corps, but in general it only amounts to this, that one is the inventor and introducer of improved appliances, which the other immediately imitates. Even the subordinate generals, leaders of corps and divisions, in all that comes within the scope of their sphere, have in general everywhere the same ideas and methods, so that, except the talent of the commander-in-chief—a thing entirely dependent on chance, and not bearing a constant relation to the standard of education amongst the people and the army—there is nothing now but habituation to war which can give one army a decided superiority over another. The nearer we approach to a state of equality in all these things, the more decisive becomes the relation in point of numbers.
The character of modern battles is the result of this state of equality. Take for instance the battle of Borodino, where the first army in the world, the French, measured its strength with the Russian, which, in many parts of its organisation, and in the education of its special branches, might be considered the furthest behindhand. In the whole battle there is not one single trace of superior art or intelligence, it is a mere trial of strength between the respective armies throughout; and as they were nearly equal in that respect, the result could not be otherwise than a gradual turn of the scale in favour of that side where there was the greatest energy on the part of the commander, and the most experience in war on the part of the troops. We have taken this battle as an illustration, because in it there was an equality in the numbers on each side such as is rarely to be found.
We do not maintain that all battles exactly resemble this, but it shows the dominant tone of most of them.
In a battle in which the forces try their strength on each other so leisurely and methodically, an excess of force on one side must make the result in its favour much more certain. And it is a fact that we may search modern military history in vain for a battle in which an army has beaten another double its own strength, an occurrence by no means uncommon in former times. Buonaparte, the greatest general of modern times, in all his great victorious battles—with one exception, that of Dresden, 1813—had managed to assemble an army superior in numbers, or at least very little inferior, to that of his opponent, and when it was impossible for him to do so, as at Leipsic, Brienne, Laon, and Belle-Alliance, he was beaten.
The absolute strength is in strategy generally a given quantity, which the commander cannot alter. But from this it by no means follows that it is impossible to carry on a war with a decidedly inferior force. War is not always a voluntary act of state policy, and least of all is it so when the forces are very unequal: consequently, any relation of forces is imaginable in war, and it would be a strange theory of war which would wish to give up its office just where it is most wanted.
However desirable theory may consider a proportionate force, still it cannot say that no use can be made of the most disproportionate. No limits can be prescribed in this respect.
The weaker the force the more moderate must be the object it proposes to itself, and the weaker the force the shorter time it will last. In these two directions there is a field for weakness to give way, if we may use this expression. Of the changes which the measure of the force produces in the conduct of war, we can only speak by degrees, as these things present themselves; at present it is sufficient to have indicated the general point of view, but to complete that we shall add one more observation.
The more that an army involved in an unequal combat falls short of the number of its opponents, the greater must be the tension of its powers, the greater its energy when danger presses. If the reverse takes place, and instead of heroic desperation a spirit of despondency ensues, then certainly there is an end to every art of war.
If with this energy of powers is combined a wise moderation in the object proposed, then there is that play of brilliant actions and prudent forbearance which we admire in the wars of Frederick the Great.
But the less that this moderation and caution can effect, the more must the tension and energy of the forces become predominant. When the disproportion of forces is so great that no modification of our own object can ensure us safety from a catastrophe, or where the probable continuance of the danger is so great that the greatest economy of our powers can no longer suffice to bring us to our object, then the tension of our powers should be concentrated for one desperate blow; he who is pressed on all sides expecting little help from things which promise none, will place his last and only reliance in the moral ascendancy which despair gives to courage, and look upon the greatest daring as the greatest wisdom,—at the same time employ the assistance of subtle stratagem, and if he does not succeed, will find in an honourable downfall the right to rise hereafter.
Relation of the Three Arms
WE shall only speak of the three principal arms: Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery.
We must be excused for making the following analysis which belongs more to tactics, but is necessary to give distinctness to our ideas.
The combat is of two kinds, which are essentially different: the destructive principle of fire, and the hand to hand or personal combat. This latter, again, is either attack or defence. (As we here speak of elements, attack and defence are to be understood in a perfectly absolute sense.) Artillery, obviously, acts only with the destructive principle of fire. Cavalry only with personal combat. Infantry with both.
In close combat the essence of defence consists in standing firm, as if rooted to the ground; the essence of the attack is movement. Cavalry is entirely deficient in the first quality; on the other hand, it possesses the latter in an especial manner. It is therefore only suited for attack. Infantry has especially the property of standing firm, but is not altogether without mobility.
From this division of the elementary forces of war into different arms, we have as a result, the superiority and general utility of Infantry as compared with the other two arms, from its being the only arm which unites in itself all the three elementary forces. A further deduction to be drawn is, that the combination of the three arms leads to a more perfect use of the forces, by affording the means of strengthening at pleasure either the one or the other of the principles which are united in an unalterable manner in Infantry.
The destructive principle of fire is in the wars of the present time plainly beyond measure the most effective; nevertheless, the close combat, man to man, is just as plainly to be regarded as the real basis of combat. For that reason, therefore, an army of artillery only would be an absurdity in war, but an army of cavalry is conceivable, only it would possess very little intensity of force An army of infantry alone is not only conceivable but also much the strongest of the three. The three arms, therefore, stand in this order in reference to independent value—Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery.
But this order does not hold good if applied to the relative importance of each arm when they are all three acting in conjunction. As the destructive principle is much more effective than the principle of motion, therefore the complete want of cavalry would weaken an army less than the total want of artillery.
An army consisting of infantry and artillery alone, would certainly find itself in a disagreeable position if opposed to an army composed of all three arms; but if what it lacked in cavalry was compensated for by a proportionate increase of infantry, it would still, by a somewhat different mode of acting, be able to do very well with its tactical economy. Its outpost service would cause some embarrassment; it would never be able to pursue a beaten enemy with great vivacity, and it must make a retreat with greater hardships and efforts; but these inconveniences would still never be sufficient in themselves to drive it completely out of the field.—On the other hand, such an army opposed to one composed of infantry and cavalry only would be able to play a very good part, while it is hardly conceivable that the latter could keep the field at all against an army made up of all three arms.
Of course these reflections on the relative importance of each single arm result only from a consideration of the generality of events in war, where one case compensates another; and therefore it is not our intention to apply the truth thus ascertained to each individual case of a particular combat. A battalion on outpost service or on a retreat may, perhaps, choose to have with it a squadron in preference to a couple of guns. A body of cavalry with horse artillery, sent in rapid pursuit of, or to cut off, a flying enemy wants no infantry, etc., etc.
If we summarise the results of these considerations they amount to this.
1. That infantry is the most independent of the three arms.
2. Artillery is quite wanting in independence.
3. Infantry is the most important in the combination of the three arms.
4. Cavalry can the most easily be dispensed with.
5. A combination of the three arms gives the greatest strength.
Now, if the combination of the three gives the greatest strength, it is natural to inquire what is the best absolute proportion of each, but that is a question which it is almost impossible to answer.
If we could form a comparative estimate of the cost of organising in the first instance, and then provisioning and maintaining each of the three arms, and then again of the relative amount of service rendered by each in war, we should obtain a definite result which would give the best proportion in the abstract. But this is little more than a play of the imagination. The very first term in the comparison is difficult to determine, that is to say, one of the factors, the cost in money, is not difficult to find; but another, the value of men’s lives, is a computation which no one would readily try to solve by figures.
Also the circumstance that each of the three arms chiefly depends on a different element of strength in the state—Infantry on the number of the male population, cavalry on the number of horses, artillery on available financial means—introduces into the calculation some heterogeneous conditions, the overruling influence of which may be plainly observed in the great outlines of the history of different people at various periods.
As, however, for other reasons we cannot altogether dispense with some standard of comparison, therefore, in place of the whole of the first term of the comparison we must take only that one of its factors which can be ascertained, namely, the cost in money. Now on this point it is sufficient for our purpose to assume that, in general, a squadron of 150 horsemen, a battalion of infantry 800 strong, a battery of artillery consisting of 8 six-pounders, cost nearly the same, both as respects the expense of formation and of maintenance.
With regard to the other member of the comparison, that is, how much service the one arm is capable of rendering as compared with the others, it is much less easy to find any distinct quantity. The thing might perhaps be possible if it depended merely on the destroying principle; but each arm is destined to its own particular use, therefore has its own particular sphere of action, which, again, is not so distinctly defined that it might not be greater or less through modifications only in the mode of conducting the war, without causing any decided disadvantage.
We are often told of what experience teaches on this subject, and it is supposed that military history affords the information necessary for a settlement of the question, but every one must look upon all that as nothing more than a way of talking, which, as it is not derived from anything of a primary and necessary nature, does not deserve attention in an analytical examination.
Now although a fixed ratio as representing the best proportion between the three arms is conceivable, but is an x which it is impossible to find, a mere imaginary quantity, still it is possible to appreciate the effects of having a great superiority or a great inferiority in one particular arm as compared with the same arm in the enemy’s army.
Artillery increases the destructive principle of fire; it is the most redoubtable of arms, and its want, therefore, diminishes very considerably the intensive force of an army. On the other hand, it is the least moveable, consequently, makes an army more unwieldy; further, it always requires a force for its support, because it is incapable of close combat; if it is too numerous, so that the troops appointed for its protection are not able to resist the attacks of the enemy at every point, it is often lost, and from that follows a fresh disadvantage, because of the three arms it is the only one which in its principal parts, that is guns and carriages, the enemy can soon use against us.
Cavalry increases the principle of mobility in an army. If too few in number the brisk flame of the elements of war is thereby weakened, because everything must be done slower (on foot), everything must be organised with more care; the rich harvest of victory, instead of being cut with a scythe, can only be reaped with a sickle.
An excess of cavalry can certainly never be looked upon as a direct diminution of the combatant force, as an organic disproportion, but it may certainly be so indirectly, on account of the difficulty of feeding that arm, and also if we reflect that instead of a surplus of 10,000 horsemen not required we might have 50,000 infantry.
These peculiarities arising from the preponderance of one arm are the more important to the art of war in its limited sense, as that art teaches the use of whatever forces are forthcoming; and when forces are placed under the command of a general, the proportion of the three arms is also commonly already settled without his having had much voice in the matter.
If we would form an idea of the character of warfare modified by the preponderance of one or other of the three arms it is to be done in the following manner:—
An excess of artillery leads to a more defensive and passive character in our measures; our interest will be to seek security in strong positions, great natural obstacles of ground, even in mountain positions, in order that the natural impediments we find in the ground may undertake the defence and protection of our numerous artillery, and that the enemy’s forces may come themselves and seek their own destruction. The whole war will be carried on in a serious formal minuet step.
On the other hand, a want of artillery will make us prefer the offensive, the active, the mobile principle; marching, fatigue, exertion, become our special weapons, thus the war will become more diversified, more lively, rougher; small change is substituted for great events.
With a very numerous cavalry we seek wide plains, and take to great movements. At a greater distance from the enemy we enjoy more rest and greater conveniences without conferring the same advantages on our adversary. We may venture on bolder measures to outflank him, and on more daring movements generally, as we have command over space. In as far as diversions and invasions are true auxiliary means of war we shall be able to make use of them with greater facility.
A decided want of cavalry diminishes the force of mobility in an army without increasing its destructive power as an excess of artillery does. Prudence and method become then the leading characteristics of the war. Always to remain near the enemy in order to keep him constantly in view—no rapid, still less hurried movements, everywhere a slow pushing on of well concentrated masses—a preference for the defensive and for broken country, and, when the offensive must be resorted to, the shortest road direct to the centre of force in the enemy’s army—these are the natural tendencies or principles in such cases.
These different forms which warfare takes according as one or other of the three arms preponderates, seldom have an influence so complete and decided as alone, or chiefly to determine the direction of a whole undertaking. Whether we shall act strategically on the offensive or defensive, the choice of a theatre of war, the determination to fight a great battle, or adopt some other means of destruction, are points which must be determined by other and more essential considerations, at least, if this is not the case, it is much to be feared that we have mistaken minor details for the chief consideration. But although this is so, although the great questions must be decided before on other grounds, there still always remains a certain margin for the influence of the preponderating arm, for in the offensive we can always be prudent and methodical, in the defensive bold and enterprising, etc., etc., through all the different stages and gradations of the military life.
On the other hand, the nature of a war may have a notable influence on the proportions of the three arms.
First, a national war, kept up by militia and a general levy (Landsturm), must naturally bring into the field a very numerous infantry; for in such wars there is a greater want of the means of equipment than of men, and as the equipment consequently is confined to what is indisputably necessary, we may easily imagine, that for every battery of eight pieces, not only one, but two or three battalions might be raised.
Second, if a weak state opposed to a powerful one cannot take refuge in a general call of the male population to regular military service, or in a militia system resembling it, then the increase of its artillery is certainly the shortest way of bringing up its weak army nearer to an equality with that of the enemy, for it saves men, and intensifies the essential principle of military force, that is, the destructive principle. Any way, such a state will mostly be confined to a limited theatre, and therefore this arm will be better suited to it. Frederick the Great adopted this means in the later period of the Seven Years’ War.
Third, cavalry is the arm for movement and great decisions; its increase beyond the ordinary proportions is therefore important if the war extends over a great space, if expeditions are to be made in various directions, and great and decisive blows are intended. Buonaparte is an example of this.
That the offensive and defensive do not properly in themselves exercise an influence on the proportion of cavalry will only appear plainly when we come to speak of these two methods of acting in war; in the meantime, we shall only remark that both assailant and defender as a rule traverse the same spaces in war, and may have also, at least in many cases, the same decisive intentions. We remind our readers of the campaign of 1812.
It is commonly believed that, in the middle ages, cavalry was much more numerous in proportion to infantry, and that the difference has been gradually on the decrease ever since. Yet this is a mistake, at least partly. The proportion of cavalry was, according to numbers, on the average perhaps, not much greater; of this we may convince ourselves by tracing, through the history of the middle ages, the detailed statements of the armed forces then employed. Let us only think of the masses of men on foot who composed the armies of the Crusaders, or the masses who followed the Emperors of Germany on their Roman expeditions. It was in reality the importance of the cavalry which was so much greater in those days; it was the stronger arm, composed of the flower of the people, so much so that, although always very much weaker actually in numbers, it was still always looked upon as the chief thing, infantry was little valued, hardly spoken of; hence has arisen the belief that its numbers were few. No doubt it happened oftener than it does now, that in incursions of small importance in France, Germany, and Italy, a small army was composed entirely of cavalry; as it was the chief arm, there is nothing inconsistent in that; but these cases decide nothing if we take a general view, as they are greatly outnumbered by cases of greater armies of the period constituted differently. It was only when the obligations to military service imposed by the feudal laws had ceased, and wars were carried on by soldiers enlisted, hired, and paid—when, therefore, wars depended on money and enlistment, that is, at the time of the Thirty Years’ War, and the wars of Louis XIV.—that this employment of great masses of almost useless infantry was checked, and perhaps in those days they might have fallen into the exclusive use of cavalry, if infantry had not just then risen in importance through the improvements in fire-arms, by which means it maintained its numerical superiority in proportion to cavalry; at this period, if infantry was weak, the proportion was as one to one, if numerous as three to one.
Since then cavalry has always decreased in importance according as improvements in the use of fire-arms have advanced. This is intelligible enough in itself, but the improvement we speak of does not relate solely to the weapon itself and the skill in handling it; we advert also to greater ability in using troops armed with this weapon. At the battle of Mollwitz the Prussian army had brought the fire of their infantry to such a state of perfection, that there has been no improvement since then in that sense. On the other hand, the use of infantry in broken ground and as skirmishers has been introduced more recently, and is to be looked upon as a very great advance in the art of destruction.
Our opinion is, therefore, that the relation of cavalry has not much changed as far as regards numbers, but as regards its importance, there has been a great alteration. This seems to be a contradiction, but is not so in reality. The infantry of the middle ages, although forming the greater proportion of an army, did not attain to that proportion by its value as compared to cavalry, but because all that could not be appointed to the very costly cavalry were handed over to the infantry; this infantry was, therefore, merely a last resource; and if the number of cavalry had depended merely on the value set on that arm, it could never have been too great. Thus we can understand how cavalry, in spite of its constantly decreasing importance, may still, perhaps, have importance enough to keep its numerical relation at that point which it has hitherto so constantly maintained.
It is a remarkable fact that, at least since the wars of the Austrian succession, the proportion of cavalry to infantry has changed very little, the variation being constantly between a fourth, a fifth or a sixth; this seems to indicate that those proportions meet the natural requirements of an army, and that these numbers give the solution which it is impossible to find in a direct manner. We doubt, however, if this is the case, and we find the principal instances of the employment of a numerous cavalry sufficiently accounted for by other causes.
Austria and Russia are states which have kept up a numerous cavalry, because they retain in their political condition the fragments of a Tartar organisation. Buonaparte for his purposes could never be strong enough in cavalry; when he had made use of the conscription as far as possible, he had no ways of strengthening his armies, but by increasing the auxiliary arms, as they cost him more in money than in men. Besides this, it stands to reason that in military enterprises of such enormous extent as his, cavalry must have a greater value than in ordinary cases.
Frederick the Great it is well known reckoned carefully every recruit that could be saved to his country; it was his great business to keep up the strength of his army, as far as possible at the expense of other countries. His reasons for this are easy to conceive, if we remember that his small dominions did not then include Prussia and the Westphalian provinces. Cavalry was kept complete by recruitment more easily than infantry, irrespective of fewer men being required; in addition to which, his system of war was completely founded on the mobility of his army, and thus it was, that while his infantry diminished in number, his cavalry was always increasing itself till the end of the Seven Years’ War. Still at the end of that war it was hardly more than a fourth of the number of infantry that he had in the field.
At the period referred to there is no want of instances, also of armies entering the field unusually weak in cavalry, and yet carrying off the victory. The most remarkable is the battle of Gross-gorschen. If we only count the French divisions which took part in the battle, Buonaparte was 100,000 strong, of which 5,000 were cavalry, 90,000 infantry; the Allies had 70,000, of which 25,000 were cavalry and 40,000 infantry. Thus, in place of the 20,000 cavalry on the side of the Allies in excess of the total of the French cavalry, Buonaparte had only 50,000 additional infantry when he ought to have had 100,000. As he gained the battle with that superiority in infantry, we may ask whether it was at all likely that he would have lost it if the proportions had been 140,000 to 40,000.
Certainly the great advantage of our superiority in cavalry was shown immediately after the battle, for Buonaparte gained hardly any trophies by his victory. The gain of a battle is therefore not everything,—but is it not always the chief thing?
If we put together these considerations, we can hardly believe that the numerical proportion between cavalry and infantry which has existed for the last eighty years is the natural one, founded solely on their absolute value; we are much rather inclined to think, that after many fluctuations, the relative proportions of these arms will change further in the same direction as hitherto, and that the fixed number of cavalry at last will be considerably less.
With respect to artillery, the number of guns has naturally increased since its first invention, and according as it has been made lighter and otherwise improved; still since the time of Frederick the Great, it has also kept very much to the same proportion of two or three guns per 1,000 men, we mean at the commencement of a campaign; for during its course artillery does not melt away as fast as infantry, therefore at the end of a campaign the proportion is generally notably greater, perhaps three, four, or five guns per 1,000 men. Whether this is the natural proportion, or that the increase of artillery may be carried still further, without prejudice to the whole conduct of war, must be left for experience to decide.
The principal results we obtain from the whole of these considerations, are—
1. That infantry is the chief arm, to which the other two are subordinate.
2. That by the exercise of great skill and energy in command, the want of the two subordinate arms may in some measure be compensated for, provided that we are much stronger in infantry; and the better the infantry the easier this may be done.
3. That it is more difficult to dispense with artillery than with cavalry, because it is the chief principle of destruction, and its mode of fighting is more amalgamated with that of infantry.
4. That artillery being the strongest arm, as regards destructive action, and cavalry the weakest in that respect, the question must in general arise, how much artillery can we have without inconvenience, and what is the least proportion of cavalry we require?
Order of Battle of an Army
THE order of battle is that division and formation of the different arms into separate parts or sections of the whole Army, and that form of general position or disposition of those parts which is to be the norm throughout the whole campaign or war.
It consists, therefore, in a certain measure, of an arithmetical and a geometrical element, the division and the form of disposition. The first proceeds from the permanent peace organisation of the army; adopts as units certain parts, such as battalions, squadrons, and batteries, and with them forms units of a higher order up to the highest of all, the whole army, according to the requirements of predominating circumstances. In like manner, the form of disposition comes from the elementary tactics, in which the army is instructed and exercised in time of peace, which must be looked upon as a property in the troops that cannot be essentially modified at the moment war breaks out, the disposition connects these tactics with the conditions which the use of the troops in war and in large masses demands, and thus it settles in a general way the rule or norm in conformity with which the troops are to be drawn up for battle.
This has been invariably the case when great armies have taken the field, and there have been times when this form was considered as the most essential part of the battle.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the improvements in the firearms of infantry occasioned a great increase of that arm, and allowed of its being deployed in such long thin lines, the order of battle was thereby simplified, but, at the same time it became more difficult and more artificial in the carrying out, and as no other way of disposing of cavalry at the commencement of a battle was known but that of posting them on the wings, where they were out of the fire and had room to move, therefore in the order of battle the army always became a closed inseparable whole. If such an army was divided in the middle, it was like an earthworm cut in two: the wings had still life and the power of motion, but they had lost their natural functions. The army lay, therefore, in a manner under a spell of unity, and whenever any parts of it had to be placed in a separate position, a small organisation and disorganisation became necessary. The marches which the whole army had to make were a condition in which, to a certain extent, it found itself out of rule. If the enemy was at hand, the march had to be arranged in the most artificial manner, and in order that one line or one wing might be always at the prescribed distance from the other, the troops had to scramble over everything: marches had also constantly to be stolen from the enemy, and this perpetual theft only escaped severe punishment through one circumstance, which was, that the enemy lay under the same ban.
Hence, when, in the latter half of the eighteenth century, it was discovered that cavalry would serve just as well to protect a wing if it stood in rear of the army as if it were placed on the prolongation of the line, and that, besides this, it might be applied to other purposes than merely fighting a duel with the enemy’s cavalry, a great step in advance was made, because now the army in its principal extension or front, which is always the breadth of its order of battle (position), consisted entirely of homogeneous members, so that it could be formed of any number of parts at pleasure, each part like another and like the whole. In this way it ceased to be one single piece and became an articulated whole, consequently pliable and manageable: the parts might be separated from the whole and then joined on again without difficulty, the order of battle always remained the same.—Thus arose the corps consisting of all arms, that is, thus such an organisation became possible, for the want of it had been felt long before.
That all this relates to the combat is very natural. The battle was formerly the whole war, and will always continue to be the principal part of it; but, the order of battle belongs generally more to tactics than strategy, and it is only introduced here to show how tactics in organising the whole into smaller wholes made preparations for strategy.
The greater armies become, the more they are distributed over wide spaces and the more diversified the action and reaction of the different parts amongst themselves, the wider becomes the field of strategy, and, therefore, then the order of battle, in the sense of our definition, must also come into a kind of reciprocal action with strategy, which manifests itself chiefly at the extreme points where tactics and strategy meet, that is, at those moments when the general distribution of the combatant forces passes into the special dispositions for the combat.
We now turn to those three points, the division, combination of arms, and order of battle (disposition) in a strategic point of view.
In strategy we must never ask what is to be the strength of a division or a corps, but how many corps or division an army should have. There is nothing more unmanageable than an army divided into three parts, except it be one divided into only two, in which case the chief command must be almost neutralised.
To fix the strength of great and small corps, either on the grounds of elementary tactics or on higher grounds, leaves an incredibly wide field for arbitrary judgment, and heaven knows what strange modes of reasoning have sported in this wide field. On the other hand, the necessity of forming an independent whole (army) into a certain number of parts is a thing as obvious as it is positive, and this idea furnishes real strategic motives for determining the number of the greater divisions of an army, consequently their strength, whilst the strength of the smaller divisions, such as companies, battalions, etc., is left to be determined by tactics.
We can hardly imagine the smallest independent body in which there are not at least three parts to be distinguished, that one part may be thrown out in advance, and another part be left in rear: that four is still more convenient follows of itself, if we keep in view that the middle part, being the principal division, ought to be stronger than either of the others; in this way, we may proceed to make out eight, which appears to us to be the most suitable number for an army if we take one part for an advanced guard as a constant necessity, three for the main body, that is a right wing, centre and left wing, two divisions for reserve, and one to detach to the right, one to the left. Without pedantically ascribing a great importance to these numbers and figures, we certainly believe that they represent the most usual and frequently recurring strategic disposition, and on that account one that is convenient.
Certainly it seems that the supreme direction of an army (and the direction of every whole) must be greatly facilitated if there are only three or four subordinates to command, but the commander-in-chief must pay dearly for this convenience in a twofold manner. In the first place, an order loses in rapidity, force, and exactness if the gradation ladder down which it has to descend is long, and this must be the case if there are corps-commanders between the division leaders and the chief; secondly, the chief loses generally in his own proper power and efficiency the wider the spheres of action of his immediate subordinates become. A general commanding 100,000 men in eight divisions exercises a power which is greater in intensity than if the 100,000 men were divided into only three corps. There are many reasons for this, but the most important is that each commander looks upon himself as having a kind of proprietary right in his own corps, and always opposes the withdrawal from him of any portion of it for a longer or shorter time. A little experience of war will make this evident to any one.
But on the other hand the number of divisions must not be too great, otherwise disorder will ensue. It is difficult enough to manage eight divisions from one head quarter, and the number should never be allowed to exceed ten. But in a division in which the means of circulating orders are much less, the smaller normal number four, or at most five, may be regarded as the more suitable.
If these factors, five and ten, will not answer, that is, if the brigades are too strong, then corps d’armée must be introduced; but we must remember that by so doing, a new power is created, which at once very much lowers all other factors.
But now, what is too strong a brigade? The custom is to make them from 2,000 to 5,000 men strong, and there appear to be two reasons for making the latter number the limit; the first is that a brigade is supposed to be a subdivision which can be commanded by one man directly, that is, through the compass of his voice: the second is that any larger body of infantry should not be left without artillery, and through this first combination of arms a special division of itself is formed.
We do not wish to involve ourselves in these tactical subtilties, neither shall we enter upon the disputed point, where and in what proportions the combination of all three arms should take place, whether with divisions of 8,000 to 12,000 men, or with corps which are 20,000 to 30,000 men strong. The most decided opponent of these combinations will scarcely take exception at the mere assertion, that nothing but this combination of the three arms can make a division independent, and that therefore, for such as are intended to be frequently detached separately, it is at least very desirable.
An army of 200,000 men in ten divisions, the divisions composed of five brigades each, would give brigades 4,000 strong. We see here no disproportion. Certainly this army might also be divided into five corps, the corps into four divisions, and the division into four brigades, which makes the brigade 2,500 men strong; but the first distribution, looked at in the abstract, appears to us preferable, for besides that, in the other, there is one more gradation of rank, five parts are too few to make an army manageable; four divisions, in like manner, are too few for a corps, and 2,500 men is a weak brigade, of which, in this manner, there are eighty, whereas the first formation has only fifty, and is therefore simpler. All these advantages are given up merely for the sake of having only to send orders to half as many generals. Of course the distribution into corps is still more unsuitable for smaller armies.
This is the abstract view of the case. The particular case may present good reasons for deciding otherwise. Likewise, we must admit that, although eight or ten divisions may be directed when united in a level country, in widely extended mountain positions the thing might perhaps be impossible. A great river which divides an army into halves, makes a commander for each half indispensable; in short, there are a hundred local and particular objects of the most decisive character, before which all rules must give way.
But still, experience teaches us, that these abstract grounds come most frequently into use and are seldomer overruled by others than we should perhaps suppose.
We wish further to explain clearly the scope of the foregoing considerations by a simple outline, for which purpose we now place the different points of most importance next to each other.
As we mean by the term numbers, or parts of a whole, only those which are made by the primary, therefore the immediate division, we say.
1. If a whole has too few members it is unwieldy.
2. If the parts of a whole body are too large, the power of the superior will is thereby weakened.
3. With every additional step through which an order has to pass, it is weakened in two ways: in one way by the loss of force, which it suffers in its passage through an additional step; in another way by the longer time in its transmission.
The tendency of all this is to show that the number of co-ordinate divisions should be as great, and the gradational steps as few as possible; and the only limitation to this conclusion is, that in armies no more than from eight to ten, and in subordinate corps no more than from four or at most six, subdivisions can be conveniently directed.
2.—Combination of Arms.
For strategy the combination of the three arms in the order of battle is only important in regard to those parts of the army which, according to the usual order of things, are likely to be frequently employed in a detached position, where they may be obliged to engage in an independent combat. Now it is in the nature of things, that the members of the first class, and for the most part only these, are destined for detached positions, because, as we shall see elsewhere, detached positions are most generally adopted upon the supposition and the necessity of a body independent in itself.
In a strict sense strategy would therefore only require a permanent combination of arms in army corps, or where these do not exist, in divisions, leaving it to circumstances to determine when a provisional combination of the three arms shall be made in subdivisions of an inferior order.
But it is easy to see that, when corps are of considerable size, such as 30,000 or 40,000 men, they can seldom find themselves in a situation to take up a completely connected position in mass. With corps of such strength, a combination of the arms in the divisions is therefore necessary. No one who has had any experience in war, will treat lightly the delay which occurs when pressing messages have to be sent to some other perhaps distant point before cavalry can be brought to the support of infantry—to say nothing of the confusion which takes place.
The details of the combination of the three arms, how far it should extend, how low down it should be carried, what proportions should be observed, the strength of the reserves of each to be set apart—these are all purely tactical considerations.
The determination as to the relations in space, according to which the parts of an army amongst themselves are to be drawn up in order of battle, is likewise completely a tactical subject, referring solely to the battle. No doubt there is also a strategic disposition of the parts; but it depends almost entirely on determinations and requirements of the moment, and what there is in it of the rational, does not come within the meaning of the term “order of battle.” We shall therefore treat of it in the following chapter under the head of Disposition of an Army.
The order of battle of an army is therefore the organisation and disposition of it in mass ready prepared for battle. Its parts are united in such a manner that both the tactical and strategical requirements of the moment can be easily satisfied by the employment of single parts drawn from the general mass. When such momentary exigency has passed over, these parts resume their original place, and thus the order of battle becomes the first step to, and principal foundation of, that wholesome methodicism which, like the beat of a pendulum, regulates the work in war, and of which we have already spoken in the fourth chapter of the Second Book.
General Disposition of an Army
BETWEEN the moment of the first assembling of military forces, and that of the solution arrived at maturity when strategy has brought the army to the decisive point, and each particular part has had its position and rôle pointed out by tactics, there is in most cases a long interval; it is the same between one decisive catastrophe and another.
Formerly these intervals in a certain measure did not belong to war at all. Take for example the manner in which Luxemburg encamped and marched. We single out this general because he is celebrated for his camps and marches, and therefore may be considered a representative general of his period, and from the Histoire de la Flandre militaire, we know more about him than about other generals of the time.
The camp was regularly pitched with its rear close to a river, or morass, or a deep valley, which in the present day would be considered madness. The direction in which the enemy lay had so little to do with determining the front of the army, that cases are very common in which the rear was towards the enemy and the front towards their own country. This now unheard of mode of proceeding is perfectly unintelligible, unless we suppose that in the choice of camps the convenience of the troops was the chief, indeed almost the only consideration, and therefore look upon the state of being in camp as a state outside of the action of war, a kind of withdrawal behind the scenes, where one is quite at ease. The practice of always resting the rear upon some obstacle may be reckoned the only measure of security which was then taken, of course, in the sense of the mode of conducting war in that day, for such a measure was quite inconsistent with the possibility of being compelled to fight in that position. But there was little reason for apprehension on that score, because the battles generally depended on a kind of mutual understanding, like a duel, in which the parties repair to a convenient rendezvous. As armies, partly on account of their numerous cavalry, which in the decline of its splendour was still regarded, particularly by the French, as the principal arm, partly on account of the unwieldy organisation of their order of battle, could not fight in every description of country, an army in a close broken country was as it were under the protection of a neutral territory, and as it could itself make but little use of broken ground, therefore, it was deemed preferable to go to meet an enemy seeking battle. We know, indeed, that Luxemburg’s battles at Fleurus, Stienkirk, and Neerwinden, were conceived in a different spirit; but this spirit had only just then under this great general freed itself from the old method, and it had not yet reacted on the method of encampment. Alterations in the art of war originate always in matters of a decisive nature, and then lead by degrees to modifications in other things. The expression il va à la guerre, used in reference to a partizan setting out to watch the enemy, shows how little the state of an army in camp was considered to be a state of real warfare.
It was not much otherwise with the marches, for the artillery then separated itself completely from the rest of the army, in order to take advantage of better and more secure roads, and the cavalry on the wings generally took the right alternately, that each might have in turn its share of the honour of marching on the right.
At present (that is, chiefly since the Silesian wars) the situation out of battle is so thoroughly influenced by its connection with battle that the two states are in intimate correlation, and the one can no longer be completely imagined without the other. Formerly in a campaign the battle was the real weapon, the situation at other times only the handle—the former the steel blade, the other the wooden haft glued to it, the whole therefore composed of heterogeneous parts,—now the battle is the edge, the situation out of the battle the back of the blade, the whole to be looked upon as metal completely welded together, in which it is impossible any longer to distinguish where the steel ends and the iron begins.
This state in war outside of the battle is now partly regulated by the organisation and regulations with which the army comes prepared from a state of peace, partly by the tactical and strategic arrangements of the moment. The three situations in which an army may be placed are in quarters, on a march, or in camp. All three belong as much to tactics as to strategy, and these two branches, bordering on each other here in many ways, often seem to, or actually do, incorporate themselves with each other, so that many dispositions may be looked upon at the same time as both tactical and strategic.
We shall treat of these three situations of an army outside of the combat in a general way, before any special objects come into connection with them; but we must, first of all, consider the general disposition of the forces, because that is a superior and more comprehensive measure, determining as respects camps, cantonments, and marches.
If we look at the disposition of the forces in a general way, that is, leaving out of sight any special object, we can only imagine it as a unit, that is, as a whole, intended to fight all together, for any deviation from this simplest form would imply a special object. Thus arises, therefore, the conception of an army, let it be small or large.
Further, when there is an absence of any special end, there only remains as the sole object the preservation of the army itself, which of course includes its security. That the army shall be able to exist without inconvenience, and that it shall be able to concentrate without difficulty for the purpose of fighting, are, therefore, the two requisite conditions. From these result, as desirable, the following points more immediately applying to subjects concerning the existence and security of the army.
1. Facility of subsistence.
2. Facility of providing shelter for the troops.
3. Security of the rear.
4. An open country in front.
5. The position itself in a broken country.
6. Strategic points d’appui.
7. A suitable distribution of the troops.
Our elucidation of these several points is as follows:
The first two lead us to seek out cultivated districts, and great towns and roads. They determine measures in general rather than in particular.
In the chapter on lines of communication will be found what we mean by security of the rear. The first and most important point in this respect is that the centre of the position should be at a right angle with the principal line of retreat adjoining the position.
Respecting the fourth point, an army certainly cannot look over an expanse of country in its front as it overlooks the space directly before it when in a tactical position for battle. But the strategic eyes are the advanced guard, scouts and patrols sent forward, spies, etc., etc., and the service will naturally be easier for these in an open than in an intersected country. The fifth point is merely the reverse of the fourth.
Strategical points d’appui differ from tactical in these two respects, that the army need not be in immediate contact with them, and that, on the other hand, they must be of greater extent. The cause of this is that, according to the nature of the thing, the relations to time and space in which strategy moves are generally on a greater scale than those of tactics. If, therefore, an army posts itself at a distance of a mile from the sea coast or the banks of a great river, it leans strategically on these obstacles, for the enemy cannot make use of such a space as this to effect a strategic turning movement. Within its narrow limits he cannot adventure on marches miles in length, occupying days and weeks. On the other hand, in strategy, a lake of several miles in circumference is hardly to be looked upon as an obstacle; in its proceedings, a few miles to the right or left are not of much consequence. Fortresses will become strategic points d’appui, according as they are large, and afford a wide sphere of action for offensive combinations.
The disposition of the army in separate masses may be done with a view either to special objects and requirements, or to those of a general nature; here we can only speak of the latter.
The first general necessity is to push forward the advanced guard and the other troops required to watch the enemy.
The second is that, with very large armies, the reserves are usually placed several miles in rear, and consequently occupy a separate position.
Lastly, the covering of both wings of an army usually requires a separate disposition of particular corps.
By this covering it is not at all meant that a portion of the army is to be detached to defend the space round its wings, in order to prevent the enemy from approaching these weak points, as they are called: who would then defend the wings of these flanking corps? This kind of idea, which is so common, is complete nonsense. The wings of an army are in themselves not weak points of an army for this reason, that the enemy also has wings, and cannot menace ours without placing his own in jeopardy. It is only if circumstances are unequal, if the enemy’s army is larger than ours, if his lines of communication are more secure (see Lines of Communication), it is only then that the wings become weak parts; but of these special cases we are not now speaking, therefore, neither of a case in which a flanking corps is appointed in connection with other combinations to defend effectually the space on our wings, for that no longer belongs to the category of general dispositions.
But although the wings are not particularly weak parts still they are particularly important, because here, on account of flanking movements the defence is not so simple as in front, measures are more complicated and require more time and preparation. For this reason it is necessary in the majority of cases to protect the wings specially against unforeseen enterprises on the part of the enemy, and this is done by placing stronger masses on the wings than would be required for mere purposes of observation. To press heavily these masses, even if they oppose no very serious resistance, more time is required, and the stronger they are the more the enemy must develop his forces and his intentions, and by that means the object of the measure is attained; what is to be done further depends on the particular plans of the moment. We may therefore regard corps placed on the wings as lateral advanced guards, intended to retard the advance of the enemy through the space beyond our wings and give us time to make dispositions to counteract his movement.
If these corps are to fall back on the main body and the latter is not to make a backward movement at the same time, then it follows of itself that they must not be in the same line with the front of the main body, but thrown out somewhat forwards, because when a retreat is to be made, even without being preceded by a serious engagement, they should not retreat directly on the side of the position.
From these reasons of a subjective nature, as they relate to the inner organisation of an army, there arises a natural system of disposition, composed of four or five parts according as the reserve remains with the main body or not.
As the subsistence and shelter of the troops partly decide the choice of a position in general, so also they contribute to a disposition in separate divisions. The attention which they demand comes into consideration along with the other considerations above mentioned; and we seek to satisfy the one without prejudice to the other. In most cases, by the division of an army into five separate corps, the difficulties of subsistence and quartering will be overcome, and no great alteration will afterwards be required on their account.
We have still to cast a glance at the distances at which these separated corps may be allowed to be placed, if we are to retain in view the advantage of mutual support, and, therefore, of concentrating for battle. On this subject we remind our readers of what is said in the chapters on the duration and decision of the combat, according to which no absolute distance, but only the most general, as it were, average rules can be given, because absolute and relative strength of arms and country have a great influence.
The distance of the advanced guard is the easiest to fix, as in retreating it falls back on the main body of the army, and, therefore, may be at all events at a distance of a long day’s march without incurring the risk of being obliged to fight an independent battle. But it should not be sent further in advance than the security of the army requires, because the further it has to fall back the more it suffers.
Respecting corps on the flanks, as we have already said, the combat of an ordinary division of 8000 to 10,000 men usually lasts for several hours, even for half a day before it is decided; on that account, therefore, there need be no hesitation in placing such a division at a distance of some leagues or one or two miles, and for the same reason, corps of three or four divisions may be detached a day’s march or a distance of three or four miles.
From this natural and general disposition of the main body, in four or five divisions at particular distances, a certain method has arisen of dividing an army in a mechanical manner whenever there are no strong special reasons against this ordinary method.
But although we assume that each of these distinct parts of an army shall be competent to undertake an independent combat, and it may be obliged to engage in one, it does not therefore by any means follow that the real object of fractioning an army is that the parts should fight separately; the necessity for this distribution of the army is mostly only a condition of existence imposed by time. If the enemy approaches our position to try the fate of a general action, the strategic period is over, everything concentrates itself into the one moment of the battle, and therewith terminates and vanishes the object of the distribution of the army. As soon as the battle commences, considerations about quarters and subsistence are suspended; the observation of the enemy before our front and on our flanks has fulfilled the purpose of checking his advance by a partial resistance, and now all resolves itself into the one great unit—the great battle. The best criterion of skill in the disposition of an army lies in the proof that the distribution has been considered merely as a condition, as a necessary evil, but that united action in battle has been considered the object of the disposition.
Advanced Guard and Out-Posts
THESE two bodies belong to that class of subjects into which both the tactical and strategic threads run simultaneously. On the one hand we must reckon them amongst those provisions which give form to the battle and ensure the execution of tactical plans; on the other hand, they frequently lead to independent combats, and on account of their position, more or less distant from the main body, they are to be regarded as links in the strategic chain, and it is this very feature which obliges us to supplement the preceding chapter by devoting a few moments to their consideration.
Every body of troops, when not completely in readiness for battle, requires an advanced guard to learn the approach of the enemy, and to gain further particulars respecting his force before he comes in sight, for the range of vision, as a rule, does not go much beyond the range of firearms. But what sort of man would he be who could not see farther than his arms can reach! The foreposts are the eyes of the army, as we have already said. The want of them, however, is not always equally great; it has its degrees. The strength of armies and the extent of ground they cover, time, place, contingencies, the method of making war, even chance, are all points which have an influence in the matter; and, therefore, we cannot wonder that military history, instead of furnishing any definite and simple outlines of the method of using advanced guards and outposts, only presents the subject in a kind of chaos of examples of the most diversified nature.
Sometimes we see the security of an army intrusted to a corps regularly appointed to the duty of advanced guard; at another time a long line of separate outposts; sometimes both these arrangements co-exist, sometimes neither one nor the other; at one time there is only one advanced guard in common for the whole of the advancing columns; at another time, each column has its own advanced guard. We shall endeavour to get a clear idea of what the subject really is, and then see whether we can arrive at some principles capable of application.
If the troops are on the march, a detachment of more or less strength forms its van or advanced guard, and in case of the movement of the army being reversed, this same detachment will form the rearguard. If the troops are in cantonments or camp, an extended line of weak posts, forms the vanguard, the outposts. It is essentially in the nature of things, that, when the army is halted, a greater extent of space can and must be watched than when the army is in motion, and therefore in the one case the conception of a chain of posts, in the other that of a concentrated corps arises of itself.
The actual strength of an advanced guard, as well as of outposts, ranges from a considerable corps, composed of an organisation of all three arms, to a regiment of hussars, and from a strongly entrenched defensive line, occupied by portions of troops from each arm of the service, to mere outlying pickets, and their supports detached from the camp. The services assigned to such vanguards range also from those of mere observation to an offer of opposition or resistance to the enemy, and this opposition may not only be to give the main body of the army the time which it requires to prepare for battle, but also to make the enemy develop his plans, and intentions, which consequently makes the observation far more important.
According as more or less time is required to be gained, according as the opposition to be offered is calculated upon and intended to meet the special measures of the enemy, so accordingly must the strength of the advanced guard and outposts be proportioned.
Frederick the Great, a general above all others ever ready for battle, and who almost directed his army in battle by word of command, never required strong outposts. We see him therefore constantly encamping close under the eyes of the enemy, without any great apparatus of outposts, relying for his security, at one place on a hussar regiment, at another on a light battalion, or perhaps on the pickets, and supports furnished from the camp. On the march, a few thousand horse, generally furnished by the cavalry on the flanks of the first line, formed his advanced guard, and at the end of the march rejoined the main body. He very seldom had any corps permanently employed as advanced guard.
When it is the intention of a small army, by using the whole weight of its mass with great vigour and activity, to make the enemy feel the effect of its superior discipline and the greater resolution of its commander, then almost every thing must be done sous la barbe de l’ennemi, in the same way as Frederick the Great did when opposed to Daun. A system of holding back from the enemy, and a very formal, and extensive system of outposts would neutralise all the advantages of the above kind of superiority. The circumstance that an error of another kind, and the carrying out Frederick’s system too far, may lead to a battle of Hochkirch, is no argument against this method of acting; we should rather say, that as there was only one battle of Hochkirch in all the Silesian war, we ought to recognise in this system a proof of the King’s consummate ability.
Napoleon, however, who commanded an army not deficient in discipline and firmness, and who did not want for resolution himself, never moved without a strong advanced guard. There are two reasons for this.
The first is to be found in the alteration in tactics. A whole army is no longer led into battle as one body by mere word of command, to settle the affair like a great duel by more or less skill and bravery; the combatants on each side now range their forces more to suit the peculiarities of the ground and circumstances, so that the order of battle, and consequently the battle itself, is a whole made up of many parts, from which there follows, that the simple determination to fight becomes a regularly formed plan, and the word of command a more or less long preparatory arrangement. For this time and data are required.
The second cause lies in the great size of modern armies. Frederick brought thirty or forty thousand men into battle; Napoleon from one to two hundred thousand.
We have selected these examples because every one will admit, that two such generals would never have adopted any systematic mode of proceeding without some good reason. Upon the whole, there has been a general improvement in the use of advanced guards and outposts in modern wars; not that every one acted as Frederick, even in the Silesian wars, for at that time the Austrians had a system of strong outposts, and frequently sent forward a corps as advanced guard, for which they had sufficient reason from the situation in which they were placed. Just in the same way we find differences enough in the mode of carrying on war in more modern times. Even the French Marshals Macdonald in Silesia, Oudinot and Ney in the Mark (Brandenburg), advanced with armies of sixty or seventy thousand men, without our reading of their having had any advanced guard.—We have hitherto been discussing advanced guards and outposts in relation to their numerical strength; but there is another difference which we must settle. It is that, when an army advances or retires on a certain breadth of ground, it may have a van and rear guard in common for all the columns which are marching side by side, or each column may have one for itself. In order to form a clear idea on this subject, we must look at it in this way.
The fundamental conception of an advanced guard, when a corps is so specially designated, is that its mission is the security of the main body or centre of the army. If this main body is marching upon several contiguous roads so close together that they can also easily serve for the advanced guard, and therefore be covered by it, then the flank columns naturally require no special covering.
But those corps which are moving at great distances, in reality as detached corps, must provide their own van-guards. The same applies also to any of those corps which belong to the central mass, and owing to the direction that the roads may happen to take, are too far from the centre column. Therefore there will be as many advanced guards, as there are columns virtually separated from each other; if each of these advanced guards is much weaker than one general one would be, then they fall more into the class of other tactical dispositions, and there is no advanced guard in the strategic tableau. But if the main body or centre has a much larger corps for its advanced guard, then that corps will appear as the advanced guard of the whole, and will be so in many respects.
But what can be the reason for giving the centre a van-guard so much stronger than the wings? The following three reasons.
1. Because the mass of troops composing the centre is usually much more considerable.
2. Because plainly the central point of a strip of country along which the front of an army is extended must always be the most important point, as all the combinations of the campaign relate mostly to it, and therefore the field of battle is also usually nearer to it than to the wings.
3. Because, although a corps thrown forward in front of the centre does not directly protect the wings as a real vanguard, it still contributes greatly to their security indirectly. For instance, the enemy cannot in ordinary cases pass by such a corps within a certain distance in order to effect any enterprise of importance against one of the wings, because he has to fear an attack in flank and rear. Even if this check which a corps thrown forward in the centre imposes on the enemy is not sufficient to constitute complete security for the wings, it is at all events sufficient to relieve the flanks from all apprehension in a great many cases.
The van-guard of the centre, if much stronger than that of a wing, that is to say, if it consists of a special corps as advanced guard, has then not merely the mission of a van-guard intended to protect the troops in its rear from sudden surprise; it also operates in more general strategic relations as an army corps thrown forward in advance.
The following are the purposes for which such a corps may be used, and therefore those which determine its duties in practice.
1. To insure a stouter resistance, and make the enemy advance with more caution; consequently to do the duties of a van-guard on a greater scale, whenever our arrangements are such as to require time before they can be carried into effect.
2. If the central mass of the army is very large, to be able to keep this unwieldy body at some distance from the enemy, while we still remain close to him with a more moveable body of troops.
3. That we may have a corps of observation close to the enemy, if there are any other reasons which require us to keep the principal mass of the army at a considerable distance.
The idea that weaker look-out posts, mere partisan corps, might answer just as well for this observation is set aside at once if we reflect how easily a weak corps might be dispersed, and how very limited also are its means of observation as compared with those of a considerable corps.
4. In the pursuit of the enemy. A single corps as advanced guard, with the greater part of the cavalry attached to it, can move quicker, arriving later at its bivouac, and moving earlier in the morning than the whole mass.
5. Lastly, on a retreat, as rearguard, to be used in defending the principal natural obstacles of ground. In this respect also the centre is exceedingly important. At first sight it certainly appears as if such a rearguard would be constantly in danger of having its flanks turned. But we must remember that, even if the enemy succeeds in overlapping the flanks to some extent, he has still to march the whole way from there to the centre before he can seriously threaten the central mass, which gives time to the rearguard of the centre to prolong its resistance, and remain in rear somewhat longer. On the other hand, the situation becomes at once critical if the centre falls back quicker than the wings; there is immediately an appearance as if the line had been broken through, and even the very idea or appearance of that is to be dreaded. At no time is there a greater necessity for concentration and holding together, and at no time is this more sensibly felt by every one than on a retreat. The intention always is, that the wings in case of extremity should close upon the centre; and if, on account of subsistence and roads, the retreat has to be made on a considerable width (of country), still the movement generally ends by a concentration on the centre. If we add to these considerations also this one, that the enemy usually advances with his principal force in the centre and with the greatest energy against the centre, we must perceive that the rear guard of the centre is of special importance.
Accordingly, therefore, a special corps should always be thrown forward as an advanced guard in every case where one of the above relations occurs. These relations almost fall to the ground if the centre is not stronger than the wings, as, for example, Macdonald when he advanced against Blucher, in Silesia, in 1813, and the latter, when he made his movement towards the Elbe. Both of them had three corps, which usually moved in three columns by different roads, the heads of the columns in line. On this account no mention is made of their having had advanced guards.
But this disposition in three columns of equal strength is one which is by no means to be recommended, partly on that account, and also because the division of a whole army into three parts makes it very unmanageable, as stated in the fifth chapter of the third book.
When the whole is formed into a centre with two wings separate from it, which we have represented in the preceding chapter as the most natural formation as long as there is no particular object for any other, the corps forming the advanced guard, according to the simplest notion of the case, will have its place in front of the centre, and therefore before the line which forms the front of the wings; but as the first object of corps thrown out on the flanks is to perform the same office for the sides as the advanced guard for the front, it will very often happen that these corps will be in line with the advanced guard, or even still further thrown forward, according to circumstances.
With respect to the strength of an advanced guard we have little to say, as now very properly it is the general custom to detail for that duty one or more component parts of the army of the first class, reinforced by part of the cavalry: so that it consists of a corps, if the army is formed in corps; of a division, if the organisation is in divisions.
It is easy to perceive that in this respect also the great number of higher members or divisions is an advantage.
How far the advanced guard should be pushed to the front must entirely depend on circumstances; there are cases in which it may be more than a day’s march in advance, and others in which it should be immediately before the front of the army. If we find that in most cases between one and three miles is the distance chosen, that shows certainly that circumstances have usually pointed out this distance as the best; but we cannot make of it a rule by which we are to be always guided.
In the foregoing observations we have lost sight altogether of outposts, and therefore we must now return to them again.
In saying, at the commencement, that the relations between outposts and stationary troops is similar to that between advanced guards and troops in motion, our object was to refer the conceptions back to their origin, and keep them distinct in future; but it is clear that if we confine ourselves strictly to the words we should get little more than a pedantic distinction.
If an army on the march halts at night to resume the march next morning, the advanced guard must naturally do the same, and always organise the outpost duty, required both for its own security and that of the main body, without on that account being changed from an advanced guard into a line of outposts. To satisfy the notion of that transformation, the advanced guard would have to be completely broken up into a chain of small posts, having either only a very small force, or none at all in a form approaching to a mass. In other words, the idea of a line of outposts must predominate over that of a concentrated corps.
The shorter the time of rest of the army, the less complete does the covering of the army require to be, for the enemy has hardly time to learn from day to day what is covered and what is not. The longer the halt is to be the more complete must be the observation and covering of all points of approach. As a rule, therefore, when the halt is long, the vanguard becomes always more and more extended into a line of posts. Whether the change becomes complete, or whether the idea of a concentrated corps shall continue uppermost, depends chiefly on two circumstances. The first is the proximity of the contending armies, the second is the nature of the country.
If the armies are very close in comparison to the width of their front, then it will often be impossible to post a vanguard between them, and the armies are obliged to place their dependence on a chain of outposts.
A concentrated corps, as it covers the approaches to the army less directly, generally requires more time and space to act efficiently; and therefore, if the army covers a great extent of front, as in cantonments, and a corps standing in mass is to cover all the avenues of approach, it is necessary that we should be at a considerable distance from the enemy; on this account winter quarters, for instance, are generally covered by a cordon of posts.
The second circumstance is the nature of the country; where, for example, any formidable obstacle of ground affords the means of forming a strong line of posts with but few troops, we should not neglect to take advantage of it.
Lastly, in winter quarters, the rigour of the season may also be a reason for breaking up the advanced guard into a line of posts, because it is easier to find shelter for it in that way.
The use of a reinforced line of outposts was brought to great perfection by the Anglo-Dutch army, during the campaign of 1794 and 1795, in the Netherlands, when the line of defence was formed by brigades composed of all arms, in single posts, and supported by a reserve. Scharnhorst, who was with that army, introduced this system into the Prussian army on the Passarge in 1807. Elsewhere in modern times, it has been little adopted, chiefly because the wars have been too rich in movement. But even when there has been occasion for its use it has been neglected, as for instance, by Murat, at Tarutino. A wider extension of his defensive line would have spared him the loss of thirty pieces of artillery in a combat of out-posts.
It cannot be disputed that in certain circumstances, great advantages may be derived from this system. We propose to return to the subject on another occasion.
Mode of Action of Advanced Corps
WE have just seen how the security of the army is expected, from the effect which an advanced guard and flank corps produce on an advancing enemy. Such corps are always to be considered as very weak whenever we imagine them in conflict with the main body of the enemy, and therefore a peculiar mode of using them is required, that they may fulfil the purpose for which they are intended, without incurring the risk of the serious loss which is to be feared from this disproportion in strength.
The object of a corps of this description, is to observe the enemy, and to delay his progress.
For the first of these purposes a smaller body would never be sufficient, partly because it would be more easily driven back, partly because its means of observation—that is its eyes—could not reach as far.
But the observation must be carried to a high point; the enemy must be made to develop his whole strength before such a corps, and thereby reveal to a certain extent, not only his force, but also his plans.
For this its mere presence would be sufficient, and it would only be necessary to wait and see the measures by which the enemy seeks to drive it back, and then commence its retreat at once.
But further, it must also delay the advance of the enemy, and that implies actual resistance.
Now how can we conceive this waiting until the last moment, as well as this resistance, without such a corps being in constant danger of serious loss? Chiefly in this way, that the enemy himself is preceded by an advanced guard, and therefore does not advance at once with all the outflanking and overpowering weight of his whole force. Now, if this advance guard is also from the commencement superior to our advanced corps, as we may naturally suppose it is intended it should be, and if the enemy’s main body is also nearer to his advanced guard than we are to ours, and if that main body, being already on the march, will soon be on the spot to support the attack of his advanced guard with all his strength, still this first act, in which our advanced corps has to contend with the enemy’s advanced guard, that is with a force not much exceeding its own, ensures at once a certain gain of time, and thus allows of our watching the adversary’s movements for some time without endangering our own retreat.
But even a certain amount of resistance which such a corps can offer in a suitable position is not attended with such disadvantage as we might anticipate in other cases through the disproportion in the strength of the forces engaged. The chief danger in a contest with a superior enemy consists always in the possibility of being turned and placed in a critical situation by the enemy enveloping our position; but in the case to which our attention is now directed, a risk of this description is very much less, owing to the advancing enemy never knowing exactly how near there may be support from the main body of his opponent’s army itself, which may place his advanced column between two fires. The consequence is, that the enemy in advancing keeps the heads of his single columns as nearly as possible in line, and only begins very cautiously to attempt to turn one or other wing after he has sufficiently reconnoitred our position. While the enemy is thus feeling about and moving guardedly, the corps we have thrown forward has time to fall back before it is in any serious danger.
As for the length of the resistance which such a corps should offer against the attack in front, or against the commencement of any turning movement, that depends chiefly on the nature of the ground and the proximity of the enemy’s supports. If this resistance is continued beyond its natural measure, either from want of judgment or from a sacrifice being necessary in order to give the main body the time it requires, the consequence must always be a very considerable loss.
It is only in rare instances, and more especially when some local obstacle is favourable, that the resistance actually made in such a combat can be of importance, and the duration of the little battle of such a corps would in itself be hardly sufficient to gain the time required; that time is really gained in a threefold manner, which lies in the nature of the thing, viz.:
1. By the more cautious, and consequently slower advance of the enemy.
2. By the duration of the actual resistance offered.
3. By the retreat itself.
This retreat must be made as slowly as is consistent with safety. If the country affords good positions they should be made use of, as that obliges the enemy to organise fresh attacks and plans for turning movements, and by that means more time is gained. Perhaps in a new position a real combat even may again be fought.
We see that the opposition to the enemy’s progress by actual fighting and the retreat are completely combined with one another, and that the shortness of the duration of the fights must be made up for by their frequent repetition.
This is the kind of resistance which an advanced corps should offer. The degree of effect depends chiefly on the strength of the corps, and the configuration of the country; next on the length of the road which the corps has to march over, and the support which it receives.
A small body, even when the forces on both sides are equal can never make as long a stand as a considerable corps; for the larger the masses the more time they require to complete their action, of whatever kind it may be. In a mountainous country the mere marching is of itself slower, the resistance in the different positions longer, and attended with less danger, and at every step favourable positions may be found.
As the distance to which a corps is pushed forward increases so will the length of its retreat, and therefore also the absolute gain of time by its resistance; but as such a corps by its position has less power of resistance in itself, and is less easily reinforced, its retreat must be made more rapidly in proportion than if it stood nearer the main body, and had a shorter distance to traverse.
The support and means of rallying afforded to an advanced corps must naturally have an influence on the duration of the resistance, as all the time that prudence requires for the security of the retreat is so much taken from the resistance, and therefore diminishes its amount.
There is a marked difference in the time gained by the resistance of an advanced corps when the enemy makes his first appearance after midday; in such a case the length of the night is so much additional time gained, as the advance is seldom continued throughout the night. Thus it was that, in 1815, on the short distance from Charleroi to Ligny, not more than two miles,1 the first Prussian corps under General Ziethen, about 30,000 strong, against Buonaparte at the head of 120,000 men, was enabled to gain twenty-four hours for the Prussian army then engaged in concentrating. The first attack was made on General Ziethen about nine o’clock on the morning of 15th June, and the battle of Ligny did not commence until about two on the afternoon of 16th. General Ziethen suffered, it is true, very considerable loss, amounting to five or six thousand men killed, wounded or prisoners.
If we refer to experience the following are the results, which may serve as a basis in any calculations of this kind.
A division of ten or twelve thousand men, with a proportion of cavalry, a day’s march of three or four miles in advance in an ordinary country, not particularly strong, will be able to detain the enemy (including time occupied in the retreat) about half as long again as he would otherwise require to march over the same ground, but if the division is only a mile in advance, then the enemy ought to be detained about twice or three times as long as he otherwise would be on the march.
Therefore supposing the distance to be a march of four miles, for which usually ten hours are required, then from the moment that the enemy appears in force in front of the advanced corps, we may reckon upon fifteen hours before he is in a condition to attack our main body. On the other hand, if the advanced guard is posted only a mile in advance, then the time which will elapse before our army can be attacked will be more than three or four hours, and may very easily come up to double that, for the enemy still requires just as much time to mature his first measures against our advanced guard, and the resistance offered by that guard in its original position will be greater than it would be in a position further forward.
The consequence is, that in the first of these supposed cases the enemy cannot easily make an attack on our main body on the same day that he presses back the advanced corps, and this exactly coincides with the results of experience. Even in the second case the enemy must succeed in driving our advanced guard from its ground in the first half of the day to have the requisite time for a general action.
As the night comes to our help in the first of these supposed cases, we see how much time may be gained by an advanced guard thrown further forward.
With reference to corps placed on the sides or flanks, the object of which we have before explained, the mode of action is in most cases more or less connected with circumstances which belong to the province of immediate application. The simplest way is to look upon them as advanced guards placed on the sides, which being at the same time thrown out somewhat in advance, retreat in an oblique direction upon the army.
As these corps are not immediately in the front of the army, and cannot be so easily supported as a regular advanced guard, they would, therefore, be exposed to greater danger if it was not that the enemy’s offensive power in most cases is somewhat less at the outer extremities of his line, and in the worst cases such corps have sufficient room to give way without exposing the army so directly to danger as a flying advanced guard would in its rapid retreat.
The most usual and best means of supporting an advanced corps is by a considerable body of cavalry, for which reason, when necessary from the distance at which the corps is advanced, the reserve cavalry is posted between the main body and the advanced corps.
The conclusion to be drawn from the preceding reflections is, that an advanced corps effects more by its presence than by its efforts, less by the combats in which it engages than by the possibility of those in which it might engage: that it should never attempt to stop the enemy’s movements, but only serve like a pendulum to moderate and regulate them, so that they may be made matter of calculation.
WE are now considering the three situations of an army outside of the combat only strategically, that is, so far as they are conditioned by place, time, and the number of the effective force. All those subjects which relate to the internal arrangement of the combat and the transition into the state of combat belong to tactics.
The disposition in camps, under which we mean every disposition of an army except in quarters, whether it be in tents, huts, or bivouac, is strategically completely identical with the combat which is contingent upon such disposition. Tactically, it is not so always, for we can, for many reasons, choose a site for encamping which is not precisely identical with the proposed field of battle. Having already said all that is necessary on the disposition of an army, that is, on the position of the different parts, we have only to make some observations on camps in connection with their history.
In former times, that is, before armies grew once more to considerable dimensions, before wars became of greater duration, and their partial acts brought into connection with a whole or general plan, and up to the time of the war of the French Revolution, armies always used tents. This was their normal state. With the commencement of the mild season of the year they left their quarters, and did not again take them up until winter set in. Winter quarters at that time must to a certain extent be looked upon as a state of no war, for in them the forces were neutralised, the whole clockwork stopped, quarters to refresh an army which preceded the real winter quarters, and other temporary cantonments, for a short time within contracted limits were transitional and exceptional conditions.
This is not the place to enquire how such a periodical voluntary neutralisation of power consisted with, or is now consistent with the object and being of war; we shall come to that subject hereafter. Enough that it was so.
Since the wars of the French Revolution, armies have completely done away with the tents on account of the encumbrance they cause. Partly it is found better for an army of 100,000 men to have, in place of 6,000 tent horses, 5,000 additional cavalry, or a couple of hundred extra guns, partly it has been found that in great and rapid operations a load of tents is a hindrance, and of little use.
But this change is attended with two drawbacks, viz., an increase of casualties in the force, and greater wasting of the country.
However slight the protection afforded by a roof of common tent cloth,—it cannot be denied that on a long continuance it is great relief to the troops. For a single day the difference is small, because a tent is little protection against wind and cold, and does not completely exclude wet; but this small difference, if repeated two or three hundred times in a year, becomes important. A greater loss through sickness is just a natural result.
How the devastation of the country is increased through the want of tents for the troops requires no explanation.
One would suppose that on account of these two reactionary influences the doing away with tents must have diminished again the energy of war in another way, that troops must remain longer in quarters, and from want of the requisites for encampment must forego many positions which would have been possible had tents been forthcoming.
This would indeed have been the case had there not been, in the same epoch of time, an enormous revolution in war generally, which swallowed up in itself all these smaller subordinate influences.
The elementary fire of war has become so overpowering, its energy so extraordinary, that these regular periods of rest also have disappeared, and every power presses forward with persistent force towards the great decision, which will be treated of more fully in the ninth book. Under these circumstances, therefore, any question about effects on an army from the discontinuance of the use of tents in the field is quite thrown into the shade. Troops now occupy huts, or bivouac under the canopy of heaven, without regard to season of the year, weather, or locality, just according as the general plan and object of the campaign require.
Whether war will in the future continue to maintain, under all circumstances and at all times, this energy, is a question we shall consider hereafter; where this energy is wanting, the want of tents is calculated to exercise some influence on the conduct of war; but that this reaction will ever be strong enough to bring back the use of tents is very doubtful, because now that much wider limits have been opened for the elements of war it will never return within its old narrow bounds, except occasionally for a certain time and under certain circumstances, only to break out again with the all-powerful force of its nature. Permanent arrangements for an army must, therefore, be based only upon that nature.
MARCHES are a mere passage from one position to another under two primary conditions.
The first is, the due care of the troops, so that no forces shall be squandered uselessly when they might be usefully employed; the second, is precision in the movements, so that they may fit exactly. If we marched 100,000 men in one single column, that is, upon one road without intervals of time, the rear of the column would never arrive at the proposed destination on the same day with the head of the column; we must either advance at an unusually slow pace, or the mass would, like a thread of water, disperse itself in drops; and this dispersion, together with the excessive exertion laid upon those in rear owing to the length of the column, would soon throw everything into confusion.
If from this extreme we take the opposite direction, we find that the smaller the mass of troops in one column the greater the ease and precision with which the march can be performed. The result of this is the need of a division quite irrespective of that division of an army in separate parts which belongs to its position; therefore, although the division into columns of march originates in the strategic disposition in general, it does not do so in every particular case. A great mass which is to be concentrated at any one point must necessarily be divided for the march. But even if a disposition of the army in separate parts causes a march in separate divisions, sometimes the conditions of the primitive disposition, sometimes those of the march, are paramount. For instance, if the disposition of the troops is one made merely for rest, one in which a battle is not expected, then the conditions of the march predominate, and these conditions are chiefly the choice of good, well-frequented roads. Keeping in view this difference, we choose a road in the one case on account of the quarters and camping ground, in the other we take the quarters and camps such as they are, on account of the road. When a battle is expected, and everything depends on our reaching a particular point with a mass of troops, then we should think nothing of getting to that point by even the worst by-roads, if necessary; if, on the other hand, we are still on the journey to the theatre of war, then the nearest great roads are selected for the columns, and we look out for the best quarters and camps that can be got near them.
Whether the march is of the one kind or the other, if there is a possibility of a combat, that is within the whole region of actual war, it is an invariable rule in the modern art of war to organise the columns so that the mass of troops composing each column is fit of itself to engage in an independent combat. This condition is satisfied by the combination of the three arms, by an organised subdivision of the whole, and by the appointment of a competent commander. Marches, therefore, have been the chief cause of the new order of battle, and they profit most by it.
When in the middle of the last century, especially in the theatre of war in which Frederick II. was engaged, generals began to look upon movement as a principle belonging to fighting, and to think of gaining the victory by the effect of unexpected movements, the want of an organised order of battle caused the most complicated and laborious evolutions on a march. In carrying out a movement near the enemy, an army ought to be always ready to fight; but at that time they were never ready to fight unless the whole army was collectively present, because nothing less than the army constituted a complete whole. In a march to a flank, the second line, in order to be always at the regulated distance, that is about a quarter of a mile from the first, had to march up hill and down dale, which demanded immense exertion, as well as a great stock of local knowledge; for where can one find two good roads running parallel at a distance of a quarter of a mile from each other? The cavalry on the wings had to encounter the same difficulties when the march was direct to the front. There was other difficulty with the artillery, which required a road for itself, protected by infantry; for the lines of infantry required to be continuous lines, and the artillery increased the length of their already long trailing columns still more, and threw all their regulated distances into disorder. It is only necessary to read the dispositions for marches in Tempelhof’s History of the Seven Years’ War, to be satisfied of all these incidents and of the restraints thus imposed on the action of war.
But since then the modern art of war has subdivided armies on a regular principle, so that each of the principal parts forms in itself a complete whole, of small proportions, but capable of acting in battle precisely like the great whole, except in one respect, which is, that the duration of its action must be shorter. The consequence of this change is, that even when it is intended that the whole force should take part in a battle, it is no longer necessary to have the columns so close to each other that they may unite before the commencement of the combat; it is sufficient now if the concentration takes place in the course of the action.
The smaller a body of troops the more easily it can be moved, and therefore the less it requires that subdivision which is not a result of the separate disposition, but of the unwieldiness of the mass. A small body, therefore, can march upon one road, and if it is to advance on several lines it easily finds roads near each other which are as good as it requires. The greater the mass the greater becomes the necessity for subdividing, the greater becomes the number of columns, and the want of made roads, or even great high roads, consequently also the distance of the columns from each other. Now the danger of this subdivision is—arithmetically expressed—in an inverse ratio to the necessity for it. The smaller the parts are, the more readily must they be able to render assistance to each other; the larger they are, the longer they can be left to depend on themselves. If we only call to mind what has been said in the preceding book on this subject, and also consider that in cultivated countries at a few miles distance from the main road there are always other tolerably good roads running in a parallel direction, it is easy to see that, in regulating a march, there are no great difficulties which make rapidity and precision in the advance incompatible with the proper concentration of force.—In a mountainous country parallel roads are both scarce, and the difficulties of communication between them great; but the defensive powers of a single column are very much greater.
In order to make this idea clearer let us look at it for a moment in a concrete form.
A division of 8, 000 men, with its artillery and other carriages, takes up, as we know by experience in ordinary cases, a space of one league; if, therefore, two divisions march one after the other on the same road, the second arrives one hour after the first; but now, as said in the sixth chapter of the fourth book, a division of this strength is quite capable of maintaining a combat for several hours, even against a superior force, and, therefore, supposing the worst, that is, supposing the first had to commence a fight instantaneously, still the second division would not arrive too late. Further, within a league right and left of the road on which we march, in the cultivated countries of central Europe there are, generally, lateral roads which can be used for a march, so that there is no necessity to go across country, as was so often done in the Seven Years’ War.
Again, it is known by experience that the head of a column composed of four divisions and a reserve of cavalry, even on indifferent roads, generally gets over a march of three miles in eight hours; now, if we reckon for each division one league in depth, and the same for the reserve cavalry and artillery, then the whole march will last thirteen hours. This is no great length of time, and yet in this case forty thousand men would have marched over the same road. But with such a mass as this we can make use of lateral roads, which are to be found at a greater distance, and therefore easily shorten the march. If the mass of troops marching on the same road is still greater than above supposed, then it is a case in which the arrival of the whole on the same day is no longer indispensable, for such masses never give battle now the moment they meet, usually not until the next day.
We have introduced these concrete cases, not as exhausting considerations of this kind, but to make ourselves more intelligible, and by means of this glance at the results of experience to show that in the present mode of conducting war the organisation of marches no longer offers such great difficulties; that the most rapid marches, executed with the greatest precision, no longer require either that peculiar skill or that exact knowledge of the country which was needed for Frederick’s rapid and exact marches in the Seven Years’ War. Through the existing organisation of armies, they rather go on now almost of themselves, at least without any great preparatory plans. In times past, battles were conducted by mere word of command, but marches required a regular plan, now the order of battle requires the latter, and for a march the word of command almost suffices.
As is well known, all marches are either perpendicular [to the front] or parallel. The latter, also called flank marches, alter the geometrical position of the divisions; those parts which, in position, were in line, will follow one another, and vice versa. Now, although the line of march may be at any angle with the front, still the order of the march must decidedly be of one or other of these classes.
This geometrical alteration could only be completely carried out by tactics, and by it only through the file-march as it is called, which, with great masses, is impossible. Far less is it possible for strategy to do it. The parts which changed their geometrical relation in the old order of battle were only the centre and wings; in the new they are the divisions of the first rank—corps, divisions, or even brigades, according to the organisation of the army. Now, the consequences above deduced from the new order of battle have an influence here also, for as it is no longer so necessary, as formerly, that the whole army should be assembled before action commences, therefore the greater care is taken that those troops which march together form one whole (a unit). If two divisions were so placed that one formed the reserve to the other, and that they were to advance against the enemy upon two roads, no one would think of sending a portion of each division by each of the roads, but a road would at once be assigned to each division; they would therefore march side by side, and each general of division would be left to provide a reserve for himself in case of a combat. Unity of command is much more important than the original geometrical relation; if the divisions reach their new position without a combat, they can resume their previous relations. Much less if two divisions, standing together, are to make a parallel (flank) march upon two roads should we think of placing the second line or reserve of each division on the rear road; instead of that, we should allot to each of the divisions one of the roads, and therefore during the march consider one division as forming the reserve to the other. If an army in four divisions, of which three form the front line and the fourth the reserve, is to march against the enemy in that order, then it is natural to assign a road to each of the divisions in front, and cause the reserve to follow the centre. If there are not three roads at a suitable distance apart, then we need not hesitate at once to march upon two roads, as no serious inconvenience can arise from so doing.
It is the same in the opposite case, the flank march.
Another point is the march off of columns from the right flank or left. In parallel marches (marches to a flank) the thing is plain in itself. No one would march off from the right to make a movement to the left flank. In a march to the front or rear, the order of march should properly be chosen according to the direction of the lines of roads in respect to the future line of deployment. This may also be done frequently in tactics, as its spaces are smaller, and therefore a survey of the geometrical relations can be more easily taken. In strategy it is quite impossible, and therefore although we have seen here and there a certain analogy brought over into strategy from tactics, it was mere pedantry. Formerly the whole order of march was a purely tactical affair, because the army on a march remained always an indivisible whole, and looked to nothing but a combat of the whole; yet nevertheless Schwerin, for example, when he marched off from his position near Brandeis, on the 5th of May, could not tell whether his future field of battle would be on his right or left, and on this account he was obliged to make his famous countermarch.
If an army in the old order of battle advanced against the enemy in four columns, the cavalry in the first and second lines on each wing formed the two exterior columns, the two lines of infantry composing the wings formed the two central columns. Now these columns could march off all from the right or all from the left, or the right wing from the right, the left wing from the left, or the left from the right, and the right from the left. In the latter case it would have been called “double column from the centre.” But all these forms, although they ought to have had a relation directly to the future deployment, were really all quite indifferent in that respect. When Frederick the Great entered on the battle of Leuthen, his army had been marched off by wings from the right in four columns, therefore the wonderful transition to a march off in order of battle, as described by all writers of history, was done with the greatest ease, because it happened that the king chose to attack the left wing of the Austrians; had he wanted to turn their right, he must have countermarched his army, as he did at Prague.
If these forms did not meet that object in those days, they would be mere trifling as regards it now. We know now just as little as formerly the situation of the future battle-field in reference to the road we take; and the little loss of time occasioned by marching off in inverted order is now infinitely less important than formerly. The new order of battle has further a beneficial influence in this respect, that it is now immaterial which division arrives first or which brigade is brought under fire first.
Under these circumstances the march off from the right or left is of no consequence now, otherwise than that when it is done alternately it tends to equalise the fatigue which the troops undergo. This, which is the only object, is certainly an important one for retaining both modes of marching off with large bodies.
The advance from the centre as a definite evolution naturally comes to an end on account of what has just been stated, and can only take place accidentally. An advance from the centre by one and the same column in strategy is, in point of fact, nonsense, for it supposes a double road.
The order of march belongs, moreover, more to the province of tactics than to that of strategy, for it is the division of a whole into parts, which, after the march, are once more to resume the state of a whole. As, however, in modern warfare the formal connection of the parts is not required to be constantly kept up during a march, but on the contrary, the parts during the march may become further separated, and therefore be left more to their own resources, therefore it is much easier now for independent combats to happen in which the parts have to sustain themselves, and which, therefore must be reckoned as complete combats in themselves, and on that account we have thought it necessary to say so much on the subject.
Further, an order of battle in three parts in juxtaposition being, as we have seen in the second 1 chapter of this book, the most natural where no special object predominates, from that results also that the order of march in three columns is the most natural.
It only remains to observe that the notion of a column in strategy does not found itself mainly on the line of march of one body of troops. The term is used in strategy to designate masses of troops marching on the same road on different days as well. For the division into columns is made chiefly to shorten and facilitate the march, as a small number marches quicker and more conveniently than large bodies. But this end may, be attained by marching troops on different days, as well as by marching them on different roads.
RESPECTING the length of a march and the time it requires, it is natural for us to depend on the general results of experience.
For our modern armies it has long been settled that a march of three miles should be the usual day’s work which, on long distances, may be set down as an average distance of two miles per day, allowing for the necessary rest days, to make such repairs of all kinds as may be required.
Such a march in a level country, and on tolerable roads will occupy a division of 8,000 men from eight to ten hours; in a hilly country from ten to twelve hours. If several divisions are united in one column, the march will occupy a couple of hours longer, without taking into account the intervals which must elapse between the departure of the first and succeeding divisions.
We see, therefore, that the day is pretty well occupied with such a march; that the fatigue endured by a soldier loaded with his pack for ten or twelve hours is not to be judged of by that of an ordinary journey of three miles on foot which a person, on tolerable roads, might easily get over in five hours.
The longest marches to be found in exceptional instances are of five, or at most six miles a day; for a continuance four.
A march of five miles requires a halt for several hours; and a division of 8,000 men will not do it, even on a good road, in less than sixteen hours. If the march is one of six miles, and that there are several divisions in the column, we may reckon upon at least twenty hours.
We here mean the march of a number of whole divisions at once, from one camp to another, for that is the usual form of marches made on a theatre of war. When several divisions are to march in one column, the first division to move is assembled and marched off earlier than the rest, and therefore arrives at its camping ground so much the sooner. At the same time this difference can still never amount to the whole time, which corresponds to the depth of a division on the line of march, and which is so well expressed in French, as the time it requires for its découlement(running down). The soldier is, therefore, saved very little fatigue in this way, and every march is very much lengthened in duration in proportion as the number of troops to be moved increases. To assemble and march off the different brigades of a division, in like manner at different times, is seldom practicable, and for that reason we have taken the division itself as the unit.
In long distances, when troops march from one cantonment into another, and go over the road in small bodies, and without points of assembly, the distance they go over daily may certainly be increased, and in point of fact it is so, from the necessary detours in getting to quarters.
But those marches, on which troops have to assemble daily in divisions, or perhaps in corps, and have an additional move to get into quarters, take up the most time, and are only advisable in rich countries, and where the masses of troops are not too large, as in such cases the greater facilility of subsistence and the advantage of the shelter which the troops obtain compensate sufficiently for the fatigue of a longer march. The Prussian army undoubtedly pursued a wrong system in their retreat in 1806 in taking up quarters for the troops every night on account of subsistence. They could have procured subsistence in bivouacs, and the army would not have been obliged to spend fourteen days in getting over fifty miles of ground, which, after all, they only accomplished by extreme efforts.
If a bad road or a hilly country has to be marched over, all these calculations as to time and distance undergo such modifications that it is difficult to estimate, with any certainty, in any particular case, the time required for a march; much less, then, can any general theory be established. All that theory can do is to direct attention to the liability to error with which we are here beset. To avoid it the most careful calculation is necessary, and a large margin for unforeseen delays. The influence of weather and condition of the troops also come into consideration.
Since the doing away with tents and the introduction of the system of subsisting troops by compulsory demands for provisions on the spot, the baggage of an army has been very sensibly diminished, and as a natural and most important consequence we look first for an acceleration in the movements of an army, and, therefore, of course, an increase in the length of the day’s march. This, however, is only realized under certain circumstances.
Marches within the theatre of war have been very little accelerated by this means, for it is well known that for many years whenever the object required marches of unusual length it has always been the practice to leave the baggage behind or send it on beforehand, and, generally, to keep it separate from the troops during the continuance of such movements, and it had in general no influence on the movement, because as soon as it was out of the way, and ceased to be a direct impediment, no further trouble was taken about it, whatever damage it might suffer in that way. Marches, therefore, took place in the Seven Years’ War, which even now cannot be surpassed; as an instance we cite Lascy’s march in 1760, when he had to support the diversion of the Russians on Berlin, on that occasion he got over the road from Schweidnitz to Berlin through Lusatia, a distance of forty-five miles, in ten days, averaging, therefore, 4½ miles a day, which, for a corps of 15,000, would be an extraordinary march even in these days.
On the other hand, through the new method of supplying troops the movements of armies have acquired a new retarding principle. If troops have partly to procure supplies for themselves, which often happens, then they require more time for the service of supply than would be necessary merely to receive rations from provision wagons. Besides this, on marches of considerable duration troops cannot be encamped in such large numbers at any one point; the divisions must be separated from one another, in order the more easily to manage for them. Lastly, it almost always happens that it is necessary to place part of the army, particularly the cavalry, in quarters. All this occasions on the whole a sensible delay. We find, therefore, that Buonaparte in pursuit of the Prussians in 1806, with a view to cut off their retreat, and Blucher in 1815, in pursuit of the French, with a like object, only accomplished thirty miles in ten days, a rate which Frederick the Great was able to attain in his marches from Saxony to Silesia and back, notwithstanding all the train that he had to carry with him.
At the same time the mobility and handiness, if we may use such an expression, of the parts of an army, both great and small, on the theatre of war have very perceptibly gained by the diminution of baggage. Partly, inasmuch as while the number of cavalry and guns is the same, there are fewer horses, and therefore, there is less forage required; partly, inasmuch as we are no longer so much tied to any one position, because we have not to be for ever looking after a long train of baggage dragging after us.
Marches such as that, which, after raising the siege of Olmutz, 1758, Frederick the Great made with 4,000 carriages, the escort of which employed half his army broken up into single battalions and companies, could not be effected now in presence of even the most timid adversary.
On long marches, as from the Tagus to the Niemen, that lightening of the army is more sensibly felt, for although the usual measure of the day’s march remains the same on account of the carriages still remaining, yet, in cases of great urgency, we can exceed that usual measure at a less sacrifice.
Generally the diminution of baggage tends more to a saving of power than to the acceleration of movement.
WE have now to consider the destructive influence which marches have upon an army. It is so great that it may be regarded as an active principle of destruction, just as much as the combat.
One single moderate march does not wear down the instrument, but a succession of even moderate marches is certain to tell upon it, and a succession of severe ones will, of course, do so much sooner.
At the actual scene of war, want of food and shelter, bad broken-up roads, and the necessity of being in a perpetual state of readiness for battle, are causes of an excessive strain upon our means, by which men, cattle, carriages of every description as well as clothing are ruined.
It is commonly said that a long rest does not suit the physical health of an army; that at such a time there is more sickness than during moderate activity. No doubt sickness will and does occur if soldiers are packed too close in confined quarters; but the same thing would occur if these were quarters taken up on the march, and the want of air and exercise can never be the cause of such sicknesses, as it is so easy to give the soldier both by means of his exercises.
Only think for a moment, when the organism of a human being is in a disordered and fainting state, what a difference it must make to him whether he falls sick in a house or is seized in the middle of a high road, up to his knees in mud, under torrents of rain, and loaded with a knapsack on his back; even if he is in a camp he can soon be sent to the next village, and will not be entirely without medical assistance, whilst on a march he must be for hours without any assistance, and then be made to drag himself along for miles as a straggler. How many trifling illnesses by that means become serious, how many serious ones become mortal. Let us consider how an ordinary march in the dust, and under the burning rays of a summer sun may produce the most excessive heat, in which state, suffering from intolerable thirst, the soldier then rushes to the fresh spring of water, to bring back for himself sickness and death.
It is not our object by these reflections to recommend less activity in war; the instrument is there for use, and if the use wears away the instrument that is only in the natural order of things; we only wish to see every thing put in its right place, and to oppose that theoretical bombast according to which the most astonishing surprises the most rapid movements, the most incessant activity cost nothing, and are painted as rich mines which the indolence of the general leaves unworked. It is very much the same with these mines as with those from which gold and silver are obtained; nothing is seen but the produce, and no one asks about the value of the work which has brought this produce to light.
On long marches outside a theatre of war, the conditions under which the march is made are no doubt usually easier, and the daily losses smaller, but on that account men with the slightest sickness are generally lost to the army for some time, as it is difficult for convalescents to overtake an army constantly advancing.
Amongst the cavalry the number of lame horses and horses with sore backs rises in an increasing ratio, and amongst the carriages many break down or require repair. It never fails, therefore, that at the end of a march of 100 miles or more, an army arrives much weakened, particularly as regards its cavalry and train.
If such marches are necessary on the theatre of war, that is under the eyes of the enemy, then that disadvantage is added to the other, and from the two combined the losses with large masses of troops, and under conditions otherwise unfavourable may amount to something incredible.
Only a couple of examples in order to illustrate our ideas.
When Buonaparte crossed the Niemen on 24th June, 1812, the enormous centre of his army with which he subsequently marched against Moscow numbered 301,000 men. At Smolensk, on the 15th August, he detached 13,500, leaving, it is to be supposed, 287,500. The actual state of his army however at that date was only 182,000; he had therefore lost 105,000.1 Bearing in mind that up to that time only two engagements to speak of had taken place, one between Davoust and Bragathion, the other between Murat and Tolstoy-Osterman, we may put down the losses of the French army in action at 10,000 men at most, and therefore the losses in sick and stragglers within fifty-two days on a march of about seventy miles direct to his front, amounted to 95,000, that is a third part of the whole army.
Three weeks later, at the time of the battle of Borodino, the loss amounted to 144,000 (including the casualties in the battle), and eight days after that again, at Moscow, the number was 198,000. The losses of this army in general were at the commencement of the campaign at the rate of 1/150daily, subsequently they rose to 1/120, and in the last period they increased to 1/19 of the original strength.
The movement of Napoleon from the passage of the Niemen up to Moscow certainly may be called a persistent one; still, we must not forget that it lasted eighty-two days, in which time he only accomplished 120 miles, and that the French army upon two occasions made regular halts, once at Wilna for about fourteen days, and the other time at Witebsk for about eleven days, during which periods many stragglers had time to rejoin. This fourteen weeks’ advance was not made at the worst season of the year, nor over the worst of roads, for it was summer, and the roads along which they marched were mostly sand. It was the immense mass of troops collected on one road, the want of sufficient subsistence, and an enemy who was on the retreat, but by no means in flight, which were the adverse conditions.
Of the retreat of the French army from Moscow to the Niemen, we shall say nothing, but this we may mention, that the Russian army following them left Kaluga 120,000 strong, and reached Wilna with 30,000. Every one knows how few men were lost in actual combats during that period.
One more example from Blucher’s campaign of 1813 in Silesia and Saxony, a campaign very remarkable not for any long march but for the amount of marching to and fro. York’s corps of Blucher’s army began this campaign 16th August about 40,000 strong, and was reduced to 12,000 at the battle of Leipsic, 19th October. The principal combats which this corps fought at Goldberg, Lowenberg, on the Katsbach, at Wartenburg, and Mockern (Leipsic) cost it on the authority of the best writers, 12,000 men. According to that their losses from other causes in eight weeks amounted to 16,000, or two-fifths of the whole.
We must, therefore, make up our minds to great wear and tear of our own forces, if we are to carry on a war rich in movements, we must arrange the rest of our plan accordingly, and above all things the reinforcements which are to follow.
IN the modern system of war cantonments have become again indispensable, because neither tents nor a complete military train make an army independent of them. Huts and open-air camps (bivouacs as they are called), however far such arrangements may be carried, can still never become the usual way of locating troops without sickness gaining the upper hand, and prematurely exhausting their strength, sooner or later, according to the state of the weather or climate. The campaign in Russia in 1812 is one of the few in which, in a very severe climate, the troops, during the six months that it lasted hardly ever lay in cantonments. But what was the consequence of this extreme effort, which should be called an extravagance, if that term was not much more applicable to the political conception of the enterprise!
Two things interfere with the occupation of cantonments—the proximity of the enemy, and the rapidity of movement. For these reasons they are quitted as soon as the decision approaches, and cannot be again taken up until the decision is over.
In modern wars, that’s, in all campaigns during the last twenty-five years which occur to us at this moment, the military element has acted with full energy. Nearly all that was possible has generally been done in them, as far as regards activity and the utmost effort of force; but all these campaigns have been of short duration, they have seldom exceeded half a year; in most of them a few months sufficed to bring matters to a crisis, that is, to a point where the vanquished enemy saw himself compelled to sue for an armistice or at once for peace, or to a point where, on the conqueror’s part, the impetus of victory had exhausted itself. During this period of extreme effort there could be little question of cantonments, for even in the victorious march of the pursuer, if there was no longer any danger, the rapidity of movement made that kind of relief impossible.
But when from any cause the course of events is less impetuous, when a more even oscillation and balancing of forces takes place, then the housing of troops must again become a foremost subject for attention. This want has some influence even on the conduct of war itself, partly in this way, that we seek to gain more time and security by a stronger system of outposts, by a more considerable advanced guard thrown further forward; and partly in this way, that our measures are governed more by the richness and fertility of the country than by the tactical advantages which the ground affords in the geometrical relations of lines and points. A commercial town of twenty or thirty thousand inhabitants, a road thickly studded with large villages or flourishing towns give such facilities for the assembling in one position large bodies of troops, and this concentration gives such a freedom and such a latitude for movement as fully compensate for the advantages which the better situation of some point may otherwise present.
On the form to be followed in arranging cantonments we have only a few observations to make, as this subject belongs for the most part to tactics.
The housing of troops comes under two heads, inasmuch as it can either be the main point or only a secondary consideration. If the disposition of the troops in the course of a campaign is regulated by grounds purely tactical and strategical, and if, as is done more especially with cavalry, they are directed for their comfort to occupy the quarters available in the vicinity of the point of concentration of the army, then the quarters are subordinate considerations and substitutes for camps; they must, therefore, be chosen within such a radius that the troops can reach the point of assembly in good time. But if an army takes up quarters to rest and refresh, then the housing of the troops is the main point, and other measures, consequently also the selection of the particular point of assembly, will be influenced by that object.
The first question for examination here is as to the general form of the cantonments as a whole. The usual form is that of a very long oval, a mere widening as it were of the tactical order of battle. The point of assembly for the army is in front, the head-quarters in rear. Now these three arrangements are, in point of fact, adverse, indeed almost opposed, to the safe assembly of the army on the approach of the enemy.
The more the cantonments form a square, or rather a circle, the quicker the troops can concentrate at one point, that is the centre. The further the place of assembly is placed in rear, the longer the enemy will be in reaching it, and, therefore, the more time is left us to assemble. A point of assembly in rear of the cantonments can never be in danger. And, on the other hand, the farther the head-quarters are in advance, so much the sooner reports arrive, therefore so much the better is the commander informed of everything. At the same time, the first named arrangements are not devoid of points which deserve some attention.
By the extension of cantonments in width, we have in view the protection of the country which would otherwise be laid under contributions by the enemy. But this motive is neither thoroughly sound, nor is it very important. It is only sound as far as regards the country on the extremity of the wings, but does not apply at all to intermediate spaces existing between separate divisions of the army, if the quarters of those divisions are drawn closer round their point of assembly, for no enemy will then venture into those intervals of space. And it is not very important, because there are simpler means of shielding the districts in our vicinity from the enemy’s requisitions than scattering the army itself.
The placing of the point of assembly in front is with a view to covering the quarters, for the following reasons:—In the first place, a body of troops, suddenly called to arms, always leaves behind it in cantonments a tail of stragglers—sick, baggage, provisions, etc., etc.—which may easily fall into the enemy’s hands if the point of assembly is placed in rear. In the second place, we have to apprehend that if the enemy with some bodies of cavalry passes by the advanced guard, or if it is defeated in any way, he may fall upon scattered regiments or battalions. If he encounters a force drawn up in good order, although it is weak, and in the end must be overpowered, still he is brought to a stop, and in that way time is gained.
As respects the position of the head-quarters, it is generally supposed that it cannot be made too secure.
According to these different considerations, we may conclude that the best arrangement for districts of cantonments is where they take an oblong form, approaching the square or circle, have the point of assembly in the centre, and the head-quarters placed on the front line, well protected by considerable masses of troops.
What we have said as to covering of the wings in treating of the disposition of the army in general, applies here also; therefore corps detached from the main body, right and left, although intended to fight in conjunction with the rest, will have particular points of assembly of their own in the same line with the main body.
Now, if we reflect that the nature of a country, on the one hand, by favourable features in the ground determines the most natural point of assembly, and on the other hand, by the positions of towns and villages determines the most suitable situation for cantonments, then we must perceive how very rarely any geometrical form can be decisive in our present subject. But yet it was necessary to direct attention to it, because, like all general laws, it affects the generality of cases in a greater or less degree.
What now remains to be said as to an advantageous position for cantonments is that they should be taken up behind some natural obstacle of ground affording cover, whilst the sides next the enemy can be watched by small but numerous detached parties; or they may be taken up behind fortresses, which, when circumstances prevent any estimate being formed of the strength of their garrisons, impose upon the enemy a greater feeling of respect and and caution.
We reserve the subject of winter quarters, covered by defensive works for a separate article.
The quarters taken up by troops on a march differ from those called standing cantonments in this way, that, in order to save the troops from unnecessary marching, cantonments on a march are taken up as much as possible along the lines of march, and are not at any considerable distance on either side of these roads; if their extension in this sense does not exceed a short day’s march, the arrangement is not one at all unfavourable to the quick concentration of the army.
In all cases in presence of the enemy, according to the technical phrase in use, that is in all cases where there is no considerable interval between the advance guards of the two armies respectively, the extent of the cantonments and the time required to assemble the army determine the strength and position of the advanced guard and outposts; but when these must be suited to the enemy and circumstances, then, on the contrary, the extent of the cantonments must depend on the time which we can count upon by the resistance of the advance guard.
In the third1 chapter of this book, we have stated how this resistance, in the case of an advanced corps, may be estimated. From the time of that resistance we must deduct the time required for transmission of reports and getting the men under arms, and the remainder only is the time available for assembling at the point of concentration.
We shall conclude here also by establishing our ideas in the form of a result, such as is usual under ordinary circumstances. If the distance at which the advanced guard is detached is the same as the radius of the cantonments, and the point of assembly is fixed in the centre of the cantonments, the time which is gained by checking the enemy’s advance would be available for the transmission of intelligence and getting under arms, and would in most cases be sufficient, even although the communication is not made by means of signals, cannon-shots, etc., but simply by relays of orderlies, the only really sure method.
With an advanced guard pushed forward three miles in front, our cantonments might therefore cover a space of thirty square miles. In a moderately-peopled country there would be 10,000 houses in this space, which for an army of 50,000, after deducting the advanced guard, would be four men to a billet, therefore very comfortable quarters; and for an army of twice the strength nine men to a billet, therefore still not very close quarters. On the other hand, if the advanced guard is only one mile in front, we could only occupy a space of four square miles; for although the time gained does not diminish exactly in proportion as the distance of the advanced guard diminishes, and even with a distance of one mile we may still calculate on a gain of six hours, yet the necessity for caution increases when the enemy is so close. But in such a space an army of 50,000 men could only find partial accommodation, even in a very thickly populated country.
From all this we see what an important part is played here by great or at least considerable towns, which afford convenience for sheltering 10,000 or even 20,000 men almost at one point.
From this result it follows that, if we are not very close to the enemy, and have a suitable advanced guard we might remain in cantonments, even if the enemy is concentrated, as Frederick the Great did at Breslau in the beginning of the year 1762, and Buonaparte at Witebsk in 1812. But although by preserving a right distance and by suitable arrangements we have no reason to fear not being able to assemble in time, even opposite an enemy who is concentrated, yet we must not forget that an army engaged in assembling itself in all haste can do nothing else in that time; that it is therefore, for a time at least, not in a condition to avail itself in an instant of fortuitous opportunities, which deprives it of the greater part of its really efficient power. The consequence of this is, that an army should only break itself up completely in cantonments under some one or other of the three following cases:
1. If the enemy does the same.
2. If the condition of the troops makes it unavoidable.
3. If the more immediate object with the army is completely limited to the maintenance of a strong position, and therefore the only point of importance is concentrating the troops at that point in good time.
The campaign of 1815 gives a very remarkable example of the assembly of an army from cantonments. General Ziethen, with Blucher’s advanced guard, 30,000 men, was posted at Charleroi, only two miles from Sombreff, the place appointed for the assembly of the army. The farthest cantonments of the army were about eight miles from Sombreff, that is, on the one side beyond Ciney, and on the other near Liége. Notwithstanding this, the troops cantoned about Ciney were assembled at Ligny several hours before the battle began, and those near Liége (Bulow’s Corps) would have been also, had it not been for accident and faulty arrangements in the communication of orders and intelligence.
Unquestionably, proper care for the security of the Prussian army was not taken; but in explanation we must say that the arrangements were made at a time when the French army was still dispersed over widely extended cantonments, and that the real fault consisted in not altering them the moment the first news was received that the enemy’s troops were in movement, and that Buonaparte had joined the army.
Still it remains noteworthy that the Prussian army was able in any way to concentrate at Sombreff before the attack of the enemy. Certainly, on the night of the 14th, that is, twelve hours before Ziethen was actually attacked, Blucher received information of the advance of the enemy, and began to assemble his army; but on the 15th at nine in the morning, Ziethen was already hotly engaged, and it was not until the same moment that General Thielman at Ciney first received orders to march to Namur. He had therefore then to assemble his divisions, and to march six and a half miles to Sombreff, which he did in 24 hours. General Bulow would also have been able to arrive about the same time, if the order had reached him as it should have done.
But Buonaparte did not resolve to make his attack on Ligny until two in the afternoon of the 16th. The apprehension of having Wellington on the one side of him, and Blucher on the other, in other words, the disproportion in the relative forces, contributed to this slowness; still we see how the most resolute commander may be detained by the cautious feeling of the way which is always unavoidable in cases which are to a certain degree complicated.
Some of the considerations here raised are plainly more tactical than strategic in their nature; but we have preferred rather to encroach a little than to run the risk of not being sufficiently explicit.
THIS subject has acquired much greater importance in modern warfare from two causes in particular. First, because the armies in general are now much greater than those of the middle ages, and even those of the old world; for, although formerly armies did appear here and there which equalled or even surpassed modern ones in size, still these were only rare and transient occurrences, whilst in modern military history, since the time of Louis XIV., armies have always been very strong in number. But the second cause is still more important, and belongs entirely to modern times. It is the very much closer inner connection which our wars have in themselves, the constant state of readiness for battle of the belligerents engaged in carrying them on. Almost all old wars consist of single unconnected enterprises, which are separated from each other by intervals during which the war in reality either completely rested, and only still existed in a political sense, or when the armies at least had removed so far from each other that each, without any care about the army opposite, only occupied itself with its own wants.
Modern wars, that is, the wars which have taken place since the Peace of Westphalia, have, through the efforts of respective governments, taken a more systematic connected form; the military object, in general, predominates everywhere, and demands also that arrangements for subsistence shall be on an adequate scale. Certainly there were long periods of inaction in the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, almost amounting to a cessation of war; these are the regular periods passed in cantonments; still even those periods were subordinate to the military object; they were caused by the inclemency of the season, not by any necessity arising out of the subsistence of the troops, and as they regularly terminated with the return of summer, therefore we may say at all events uninterrupted action was the rule of war during the fine season of the year.
As the transition from one situation or method of action to another always takes place gradually so it was in the case before us. In the wars against Louis XIV. the allies used still to send their troops into winter cantonments in distant provinces in order to subsist them the more easily; in the Silesian war that was no longer done.
This systematic and connected form of carrying on war only became possible when states took regular troops into their service in place of the feudal armies. The obligation of the feudal law was then commuted into a fine or contribution: personal service either came to an end, enlistment being substituted, or it was only continued amongst the lowest classes, as the nobility regarded the furnishing a quota of men (as is still done in Russia and Hungary) as a kind of tribute, a tax in men. In every case, as we have elsewhere observed, armies became henceforward, an instrument of the cabinet, their principal basis being the treasury or the revenue of the government.
Just the same kind of thing which took place in the mode of raising and keeping up an establishment of troops could not but follow in the mode of subsisting them. The privileged classes having been released from the first of these services on payment of a contribution in money, the expense of the latter could not be again imposed on them quite so easily. The cabinet and the treasury had therefore to provide for the subsistence of the army, and could not allow it to be maintained in its own country at the expense of the people. Administrations were therefore obliged to look upon the subsistence of the army as an affair for which they were specially responsible. The subsistence thus became more difficult in two ways: first, because it was an affair belonging to government, and next, because the forces required to be permanently embodied to confront those kept up in other states.
Thus arose a separate military class in the population, with an independent organisation provided for its subsistence, and carried out to the utmost possible perfection.
Not only were stores of provisions collected, either by purchase or by deliveries in kind from the landed estates (Dominiallieferungen), consequently from distant points, and lodged in magazines, but they were also forwarded from these by means of special wagons, baked near the quarters of the troops in ovens temporarily established, and from thence again carried away at last by the troops, by means of another system of transport attached to the army itself. We take a glance at this system not merely from its being characteristic of the military arrangements of the period, but also because it is a system which can never be entirely done away; some parts of it must continually reappear.
Thus military organisation strove perpetually towards becoming more independent of people and country.
The consequence was that in this manner war became certainly a more systematic and more regular affair, and more subordinated to the military, that is the political object; but it was at the same time also much straitened and impeded in its movement, and infinitely weakened in energy. For now an army was tied to its magazines, limited to the working powers of its transport service, and it naturally followed that the tendency of everything was to economise the subsistence of the troops. The soldier fed on a wretched pittance of bread, moved about like a shadow, and no prospect of a change for the better comforted him under his privations.
Whoever treats this miserable way of feeding soldiers as a matter of no moment, and points to what Frederick the Great did with soldiers subsisted in this manner, only takes a partial view of the matter. The power of enduring privations is one of the finest virtues in a soldier, and without it no army is animated with the true military spirit; but such privation must be of a temporary kind, commanded by the force of circumstances, and not the consequence of a wretchedly bad system, or of a parsimonious abstract calculation of the smallest ration that a man can exist upon. When such is the case the powers of the men individually will always deteriorate physically and morally. What Frederick the Great managed to do with his soldiers cannot be taken as a standard for us, partly because he was opposed to those who pursued a similar system, partly because we do not know how much more he might have effected if he had been able to let his troops live as Buonaparte allowed his whenever circumstances permitted.
The feeding of horses by an artificial system of supply is, however, an experiment which has not been tried, because forage is much more difficult to provide on account of its bulk. A ration for a horse weighs about ten times as much as one for a man, and the number of horses with an army is more than one-tenth the number of men, at present it is one-fourth to one-third, and formerly it was one-third to one-half, therefore the weight of the forage required is three, four, or five times as much as that of the soldier’s rations required for the same period of time; on this account the shortest and most direct means were taken to meet the wants of an army in this respect, that is by foraging expeditions. Now these expeditions occasioned great inconvenience in the conduct of war in other ways, first by making it a principal object to keep the war in the enemy’s country; and next because they made it impossible to remain very long in one part of the country. However, at the time of the Silesian war, foraging expeditions were much less frequent, they were found to occasion a much greater drain upon the country, and much greater waste than if the requirements were satisfied by means of requisitions and imposts.
When the French Revolution suddenly brought again upon the war stage a national army, the means which governments could command were found insufficient, and the whole system of war, which had its origin in the limited extent of these means, and found again its security in this limitation, fell to pieces, and of course in the downfall of the whole was included that of the branch of which we are now speaking, the system of subsistence. Without troubling themselves about magazines, and still less about such an organisation as the artificial clockwork of which we have spoken, by which the different divisions of the transport service went round like a wheel, the leading spirits of the revolution sent their soldiers into the field, forced their generals to fight, subsisted, reinforced their armies, and kept alive the war by a system of exaction, and of helping themselves to all they required by robbery and plunder.
Between these two extremes the war under Buonaparte, and against him, preserved a sort of medium, that is to say, it just made use of such means as suited it best amongst all that were available; and so it will be also in future.
The modern method of subsisting troops, that is, seizing every thing which is to be found in the country without regard to meum et tuum may be carried out in four different ways: that is, subsisting on the inhabitant, contributions which the troops themselves look after, general contributions and magazines. All four are generally applied together, one generally prevailing more than the others: still it sometimes happens that only one is applied entirely by itself.
1.—Living on the inhabitant, or on the community, which is the same thing.
If we bear in mind that in a community consisting even as it does in great towns, of consumers only, there must always be provisions enough to last for several days, we may easily see that the most densely populated place can furnish food and quarters for a day for about as many troops as there are inhabitants, and for a less number of troops for several days without the necessity of any particular previous preparation. In towns of considerable size this gives a very satisfactory result, because it enables us to subsist a large force at one point. But in smaller towns, or even in villages, the supply would be far from sufficient; for a population of 3,000 or 4,000 in a square mile which would be large in such a space, would only suffice to feed 3,000 or 4,000 soldiers, and if the whole mass of troops is great they would have to be spread over such an extent of country at this rate as would hardly be consistent with other essential points. But in level countries, and even in small towns, the quantity of those kinds of provisions which are essential in war is generally much greater; the supply of bread which a peasant has is generally adequate to the consumption of his family for several, perhaps from eight to fourteen days; meat can be obtained daily, vegetable productions are generally forthcoming in sufficient quantity to last till the following crop. Therefore in quarters which have never been occupied there is no difficulty in subsisting troops three or four times the number of the inhabitants for several days, which again is a very satisfactory result. According to this, where the population is about 2,000 or 3,000 per square mile, and if no large town is included, a column of 30,000 would require about four square miles, which would be a length of side of two miles. Therefore for an army of 90,000, which we may reckon at about 75,000 combatants, if marching in three columns contiguous to each other, we should require to take up a front six miles in breadth in case three roads could be found within that breadth.
If several columns follow one another into these cantonments, then special measures must be adopted by the civil authorities, and in that way there can be no great difficulty in obtaining all that is required for a day or two more. Therefore if the above 90,000 are followed the day after by a like number, even these last would suffer no want; this makes up the large number of 150,000 combatants.
Forage for the horses occasions still less difficulty, as it neither requires grinding nor baking, and as there must be forage forthcoming in sufficient quantity to last the horses in the country until next harvest, therefore even where there is little stall-feeding, still there should be no want, only the deliveries of forage should certainly be demanded from the community at large, not from the inhabitants individually. Besides, it is supposed that some attention is, of course, paid to the nature of the country in making arrangements for a march, so as not to send cavalry mostly into places of commerce and manufactures, and into districts where there is no forage.
The conclusion to be drawn from this hasty glance is, therefore, that in a moderately populated country, that is, a country of from 2,000 to 3,000 souls per square mile, an army of 150,000 combatants may be subsisted by the inhabitants and community for one or two days within such a narrow space as will not interfere with its concentration for battle, that is, therefore, that such an army can be subsisted on a continuous march without magazines or other preparation.
On this result were based the enterprises of the French army in the revolutionary war, and under Buonaparte. They marched from the Adige to the Lower Danube, and from the Rhine to the Vistula, with little means of subsistence except upon the inhabitants, and without ever suffering want. As their undertakings depended on moral and physical superiority, as they were attended with certain results, and were never delayed by indecision or caution, therefore their progress in the career of victory was generally that of an uninterrupted march.
If circumstances are less favourable, if the population is not so great, or if it consists more of artisans than agriculturists, if the soil is bad, the country already several times overrun—then of course the results will fall short of what we have supposed. Still, we must remember that if the breadth of the front of a column is extended from two miles to three, we get a superficial extent of country more than double in size, that is, instead of four we command nine square miles, and that this is still an extent which in ordinary cases will always admit of concentration for action; we see therefore that even under unfavourable circumstances this method of subsistence will still be always compatible with a continuous march.
But if a halt of several days takes place, then great distress must ensue if preparations have not been made beforehand for such an event in other ways. Now these preparatory measures are of two kinds, and without them a considerable army even now cannot exist. The first is equipping the troops with a wagon train, by means of which bread or flour, as the most essential part of their subsistence, can be carried with them for a few, that is, for three or four days; if to this we add three or four days’ rations which the soldier himself can carry, then we have provided what is most indispensable in the way of subsistence for eight days.
The second arrangement is that of a regular commissariat, which whenever there is a moment’s halt gathers provisions from distant localities, so that at any moment we can pass over from the system of quartering on the inhabitants to a different system.
Subsisting in cantonments has the immense advantage that hardly any transport is required, and that it is done in the shortest time, but certainly it supposes as a prior condition that cantonments can be provided for all the troops.
2.—Subsistence through exactions enforced by the troops themselves.
If a single battalion occupies a camp, this camp may be placed in the vicinity of some villages, and these may receive notice to furnish subsistence; then the method of subsistence would not differ essentially from the preceding mode. But, as is most usual, if the mass of troops to be encamped at some one point is much larger, there is no alternative but to make a collection in common within the circle of districts marked out for the purpose, collecting sufficient for the supply of one of the parts of the army, a brigade or division, and afterwards to make a distribution from the common stock thus collected.
The first glance shows that by such a mode of proceeding the subsistence of a large army would be a matter of impossibility. The collection made from the stores in any given district in the country will be much less than if the troops had taken up their quarters in the same district, for when thirty or forty men take possession of a farmer’s house they can if necessary collect the last mouthful, but one officer sent with a few men to collect provisions has neither time nor means to hunt out all the provisions that may be stored in a house, often also he has not the means of transport; he will therefore only be able to collect a small proportion of what is actually forthcoming. Besides, in camps the troops are crowded together in such a manner at one point, that the range of country from which provisions can be collected in a hurry is not of sufficient extent to furnish the whole of what is required. What could be done in the way of supplying 30,000 men, within a circle of a mile in diameter, or from an area of three or four square miles? Moreover it would seldom be possible to collect even what there is, for the most of the nearest adjacent villages would be occupied by small bodies of troops, who would not allow anything to be removed. Lastly, by such a measure there would be the greatest waste, because some men would get more than they required, whilst a great deal would be lost, and of no benefit to any one.
The result is, therefore, that the subsistence of troops by forced contributions in this manner can only be adopted with success when the bodies of troops are not too large, not exceeding a division of 8,000 or 10,000 men, and even then it is only to be resorted to as an unavoidable evil.
It cannot in general be avoided in the case of troops directly in front of the enemy, such as advanced guards and outposts, when the army is advancing, because these bodies must arrive at points where no preparations could have been made, and they are usually too far from the stores collected for the rest of the army; further, in the case of moveable columns acting independently; and lastly, in all cases where by chance there is neither time nor means to procure subsistence in any other way.
The more troops are accustomed to live by regular requisitions, the more time and circumstances permit the adoption of that way of subsisting, then the more satisfactory will be the result. But time is generally wanting, for what the troops get for themselves directly is got much quicker.
3.—By regular requisitions.
This is unquestionably the simplest and most efficacious means of subsisting troops, and it has been the basis of all modern wars.
It differs from the preceding way chiefly by its having the co-operation of the local authorities. The supply in this case must not be carried off forcibly just from the spot where it is found, but be regularly delivered according to an equitable division of the burden. This division can only be made by the recognised official authorities of the country.
In this all depends on time. The more time there is, the more general can the division be made, the less will it press on individuals, and the more regular will be the result. Even purchases may be made with ready money to assist, in which way it will approach the mode which follows next in order (Magazines). In all assemblages of troops in their own country there is no difficulty in subsisting by regular requisitions; neither, as a rule, is there any in retrograde movements. On the other hand, in all movements into a country of which we are not in possession, there is very little time for such arrangements, seldom more than the one day which the advanced guard is in the habit of preceding the army. With the advanced guard the requisitions are sent to the local officials, specifying how many rations they are to have ready at such and such places. As these can only be furnished from the immediate neighbourhood, that is, within a circuit of a couple of miles round each point, the collections so made in haste will never be nearly sufficient for an army of considerable strength, and consequently, if the troops do not carry with them enough for several days, they will run short. It is therefore the duty of the commissariat to economise what is received, and only to issue to those troops who have nothing. With each succeeding day, however, the embarrassment diminishes; that is to say, if the distances from which provisions can be procured increase in proportion to the number of days, then the superficial area over which the contributions can be levied increases as the squares of the distances gained. If on the first day only four square miles have been drawn upon, on the next day we shall have sixteen, on the third, thirty-six; therefore on the second day twelve more than on the first, and on the third day twenty more than on the second.
Of course this is a mere rough estimate of what may take place, subject to many modifying circumstances which may intervene, of which the principal is, that one district may not be capable of contributing like another. But on the other hand, we must also remember that the radius within which we can levy may increase more than two miles a day in width, perhaps three or four, or in many places still more.
The due execution of these requisitions is enforced by detachments placed under the orders of the official functionaries, but still more by the fear of responsibility, punishment, and ill-treatment which, in such cases, like a general weight, presses on the whole population.
However, it is not our intention to enter into details—into the whole machinery of commissariat and army subsistence; we have only results in view.
The result to be derived from a common-sense view of all the circumstances in general, and the view which the experience of the wars since the French revolution tends to confirm is,—that even the largest army, if it carries with it provisions for a few days, may undoubtedly be subsisted by contributions which, commencing at the moment of entering a country, affect at first only the districts in the immediate vicinity of the army, but afterwards, in the course of time, are levied on a greater scale, over a range of country always increasing, and with an ever increasing weight of authority.
This resource has no limits except those of the exhaustion, impoverishment, and devastation of the country. When the stay of an invading army is of some duration, the administration of this system at last is handed over to those in the highest official capacity; and they naturally do all they can to equalise its pressure as much as possible, and to alleviate the weight of the tax by purchases; at the same time, even an invader, when his stay is prolonged in his enemy’s country, is not usually so barbarous and reckless as to lay upon that country the entire burden of his support; thus the system of contributions of itself gradually approaches to that of magazines, at the same time without ever ceasing altogether, or sensibly losing any of that influence which it exercises on the operations of the war; for there is a wide difference between a case in which some of the resources which have been drawn from a country are replaced by supplies brought from more distant parts (the country, however, still remaining substantially the source on which the army depends for its supplies), and the case of an army which—as in the eighteenth century—provides for all its wants from its own resources, the country in which it is operating contributing, as a rule, nothing towards its support.
The great difference consists in two things,—namely, the employment of the transport of the country, and its ovens. In this way, that enormous burden of any army, that incubus which is always destroying its own work, a military transport train, is almost got rid of.
It is true that even now no army can do entirely without some subsistence wagons, but the number is immensely diminished, and little more is required than sufficient to carry the surplus of one day on till the next. Peculiar circumstances, as in Russia in 1812, may even again compel an army to carry an enormous train, and also field-ovens; but in the first place these are exceptional cases; for how seldom will it happen that 300,000 men make a hostile advance of 130 miles upon almost a single road, and that through countries such as Poland and Russia, and shortly before the season of harvest; and in the next place, any means of supply attached to an army in such cases, may be looked upon as only an assistance in case of need, the contributions of the country being always regarded as the groundwork of the whole system of supply.
Since the first campaigns of the French revolutionary war, the requisition system has formed constantly the mainstay of their armies, the armies opposed to them were also obliged to adopt the same system, and it is not at all likely that it will ever be abandoned. There is no other which can be substituted for it with the same results, both as regards its simplicity and freedom from restraint, and also as respects energy in the prosecution of the war. As an army is seldom distressed for provisions during the first three or four weeks of a campaign whatever direction it takes, and afterwards can be assisted by magazines, we may very well say that by this method war has acquired the most perfect freedom of action. Certainly difficulties may be greater in one direction than in another, and that may carry weight in preliminary deliberation; but we can never encounter an absolute impossibility, and the attention which is due to the subject of subsistence can never decide a question imperatively. To this there is only one exception, which is a retreat through an enemy’s country. In such a case many of the inconveniences connected with subsistence meet together. The operation is one of a continuous nature, generally carried on without a halt worth speaking of; there is, therefore, no time to procure provisions; the circumstances under which the operation commences are generally unfavourable, it is therefore necessary to keep the troops in masses, and a dispersion in cantonments, or even any considerable extension in the width of the column cannot be allowed; the hostile feeling of the country precludes the chance of any collection of contributions by mere orders issued without the support of a force capable of executing the order; and, lastly, the moment is most auspicious for the inhabitants to give vent to their feelings by acts of hostility. On account of all this, an army so situated is generally obliged to confine itself strictly to its previously prepared lines of communication and retreat.
When Buonaparte had to retreat in 1812, it was impossible for him to do so by any other line but the one upon which he had advanced, on account of the subsistence of his army; and if he had attempted any other he would only have plunged into more speedy and certain destruction; all the censure therefore passed on him by even French writers as well as by others with regard to this point is sheer nonsense.
4.—Subsistence from Magazines.
If we are to make a generic distinction between this method of subsisting troops and the preceding, it must be by an organisation such as existed for about thirty years at the close of the seventeenth and during the eighteenth century. Can this organisation ever reappear?
Certainly we cannot conceive how it can be dispensed with if great armies are to be bound down for seven, ten, or twelve years long to one spot, as they have been formerly in the Netherlands, on the Rhine, in Upper Italy, Silesia, and Saxony; for what country can continue for such a length of time to endure the burden of two great armies, making it the entire source of their supplies, without being utterly ruined in the end, and therefore gradually becoming unable to meet the demands?
But here naturally arises the question: shall the war prescribe the system of subsistence, or shall the latter dictate the nature of the war? To this we answer: the system of subsistence will control the war, in the first place, as far as the other conditions on which it depends permit; but when the latter are encroached upon, the war will react on the subsistence system, and in such case determine the same.
A war carried on by means of the system of requisitions and local supplies furnished on the spot has such an advantage over one carried on in dependence on issues from magazines, that the latter does not look at all like the same instrument. No state will therefore venture to encounter the former with the latter; and if any war minister should be so narrow-minded and blind to circumstances as to ignore the real relation which the two systems bear to each other, by sending an army into the field to live upon the old system, the force of circumstances would carry the commander of that army along with it in its course, and the requisition system would burst forth of itself. If we consider besides, that the great expense attending such an organisation must necessarily reduce the extent of the armament in other respects, including of course the actual number of combatant soldiers, as no state has a superabundance of wealth, then there seems no probability of any such organisation being again resorted to unless it should be adopted by the belligerents by mutual agreement, an idea which is a mere play of the imagination.
Wars therefore may be expected henceforward always to commence with the requisition system; how much one or other government will do to supplement the same by an artificial organisation to spare their own country, etc., etc., remains to be seen; that it will not be overmuch we may be certain, for at such moments the tendency is to look to the most urgent wants, and an artificial system of subsisting troops does not come under that category.
But now, if a war is not so decisive in its results, if its operations are not so comprehensive as is consistent with its real nature, then the requisition system will begin to exhaust the country in which it is carried on to that degree that either peace must be made, or means must be found to lighten the burden on the country, and to become independent of it for the supplies of the army. The latter was the case of the French army under Buonaparte in Spain, but the first happens much more frequently. In most wars the exhaustion of the state increases to that degree that, instead of thinking of prosecuting the war at a still greater expense, the necessity for peace becomes so urgent as to be imperative. Thus from this point of view the modern method of carrying on war has a tendency to shorten the duration of wars.
At the same time we shall not positively deny the possibility of the old system of subsistence reappearing in future wars; it will perhaps be resorted to by belligerents hereafter, where the nature of their mutual relations urge them to it, and circumstances are favourable to its adoption; but we can never perceive in that system a natural organisation; it is much rather an abnormal growth permitted by circumstances, but which can never spring from war in its true sense. Still less can we consider that form or system as any improvement in war on the ground of its being more humane, for war itself is not a humane proceeding.
Whatever method of providing subsistence may be chosen, it is but natural that it should be more easily carried out in rich and well-peopled countries, than in the midst of a poor and scanty population. That the population should be taken into consideration, lies in the double relation which that element bears to the quantity of provisions to be found in a country: first because, where the consumption is large, the provision to meet that consumption is also large; and in the next place, because as a rule a large population produces also largely. From this we must certainly except districts peopled chiefly by manufacturers, particularly when, as is often the case, such districts lie in mountain valleys surrounded by unproductive land; but in the generality of cases it is always very much easier to feed troops in a well populated than in a thinly inhabited country. An army of 100,000 men cannot be supported on four hundred square miles inhabited by 400,000 people, as well as it would be on four hundred square miles with a population of 2,000,000 inhabitants, even supposing the soil equally good in the two cases. Besides, the roads and means of water-carriage are much better in rich countries and afford a greater choice, being more numerous, the means of transport are more abundant, the commercial relations easier and more certain. In a word, there is infinitely less difficulty in supporting an army in Flanders than in Poland.
The consequence is, that war with its manifold suckers fixes itself by preference along high roads, near populous towns, in the fertile valleys of large rivers, or along such sea-coasts as are well frequented.
This shows clearly how the subsistence of troops may have a general influence upon the direction and form of military undertakings, and upon the choice of a theatre of war and lines of communication.
The extent of this influence, what weight shall attach to the facility or difficulty of provisioning the troops, all that in the calculation depends very much on the way in which the war is to be conducted. If it is to be carried on in its real spirit, that is, with the unbridled force which belongs to its element, with a constant pressing forward to, or seeking for the combat and decisive solution, then the sustenance of the troops although an important, is but a subordinate, affair; but if there is to be a state of equilibrium during which the armies move about here and there in the same province for several years, then the subsistence must often become the principal thing, the intendant the commander-in-chief, and the conduct of the war an administration of wagons.
There are numberless campaigns of this kind in which nothing took place; the plans miscarried, the forces were used to no purpose, the only excuse being the plea of a want of subsistence; on the other hand Buonaparte used to say “Qu’on ne me parle pas des vivres!“
Certainly that general in the Russian campaign proved that such recklessness may be carried too far, for not to say that perhaps his whole campaign was ruined through that cause alone, which at best would be only a supposition, still it is beyond doubt that to his want of regard to the subsistence of his troops he was indebted for the extraordinary melting away of his army on his advance, and for its utter ruin on the retreat.
But while fully recognising in Buonaparte the eager gambler who ventures on many a mad extreme, we may justly say that he and the revolutionary generals who preceded him dispelled a powerful prejudice in respect to the subsistence of troops, and showed that it should never be looked upon in any other light than as a condition of war, never as an object.
Besides, it is with privation in war just as with physical exertion and danger; the demands which the general can make on his army are without any defined bounds; an iron character demands more than a feeble sensitive man; also the endurance of an army differs in degree, according as habit, military spirit, confidence in and affection towards the commander, or enthusiasm for the cause of fatherland, sustain the will and energy of the soldier. But this we may look upon as an established principle, that privation and want, however far they may be carried, should never be otherwise regarded than as transition-states which should be succeeded by a state of abundance, indeed even by superfluity. Can there be any thing more touching than the thought of so many thousand soldiers, badly clothed, with packs on their backs weighing thirty or forty pounds, toiling over every kind of road, in every description of weather, for days and days continually on the march, health and life for ever in peril, and for all that unable to get a sufficiency of dry bread. Any one who knows how often this happens in war, is at a loss to know how it does not oftener lead to a refusal of the will and powers to submit any longer to such exactions, and how the mere bent constantly given to the imagination of human beings in one direction, is capable of first calling forth, and then supporting such incredible efforts.
Let any one then, who imposes great privations on his men because great objects demand such a trial of endurance, always bear in mind as a matter of prudence, if not prompted to it by his own feelings, that there is a recompence for such sacrifices which he is bound to pay at some other time.
We have now to consider the difference which takes place in respect to the question of subsistence in war, according as the action is offensive or defensive.
The defensive is in a position to make uninterrupted use of the subsistence which he has been able to lay in beforehand, as long as his defensive act continues. The defensive side therefore can hardly be in want of the necessaries of life, particularly if he is in his own country; but even in the enemy’s this holds good. The offensive on the other hand is moving away from his resources, and as long as he is advancing, and even during the first weeks after he stops, must procure from day to day what he requires, and this can very rarely be done without want and inconvenience being felt.
This difficulty is felt in its fullest force at two particular periods, first in the advance, before the decision takes place; then the supplies of the defensive side are all at hand, whilst the assailant has been obliged to leave his behind; he is obliged to keep his masses concentrated, and therefore cannot spread his army over any considerable space; even his transport cannot keep close to him when he commences his movements preliminary to a battle. If his preparations have not been very well made, it may easily happen at this moment that his army may be in want of supplies for several days before the decisive battle, which certainly is not a means of bringing them into the fight in the highest state of efficiency.
The second time a state of want arises is at the end of a victorious career, if the lines of communication begin to be too long, especially if the war is carried on in a poor, sparsely-populated country, and perhaps also in the midst of a people whose feelings are hostile. What an enormous difference between a line of communication from Wilna to Moscow, on which every carriage must be forcibly seized, and a line from Cologne by Liége, Louvain, Brussels, Mons, and Valenciennes to Paris, where a mercantile contract or a bill of exchange would suffice to procure millions of rations.
Frequently has the difficulty we are now speaking of resulted in obscuring the splendour of the most brilliant victories, reduced the powers of the victorious army, rendered retreat necessary, and then by degrees ended in producing all the symptoms of a real defeat.
Forage, of which, as we have before said, there is usually at first the least deficiency, will run short soonest if a country begins to become exhausted, for it is the most difficult supply to procure from a distance, on account of its bulk, and the horse feels the effect of low feeding much sooner than the man. For this reason, an over-numerous cavalry and artillery may become a real burden, and an element of weakness to an army.
Base of Operations
IF an army sets out on any expedition, whether it be to attack the enemy and his theatre of war, or to take post on its own frontier, it continues in a state of necessary dependence on the sources from which it draws its subsistence and reinforcements, and must maintain its communication with them, as they are the conditions of its existence and preservation. This dependence increases in intensity and extent in proportion to the size of the army. But now it is neither always possible nor requisite that the army should continue in direct communication with the whole of its own country; it is sufficient if it does so with that portion immediately in its rear, and which is consequently covered by its position. In this portion of the country then, as far as necessary, special depôts of provisions are formed, and arrangements are made for regularly forwarding reinforcements and supplies. This strip of territory is therefore the foundation of the army and of all its undertakings, and the two must be regarded as forming in connection only one whole. If the supplies for their greater security are lodged in fortified places, the idea of a base becomes more distinct; but the idea does not originate in any arrangement of that kind, and in a number of cases no such arrangement is made.
But a portion of the enemy’s territory may also become a base for our army, or, at least, form part of it; for when an army penetrates into an enemy’s land, a number of its wants are supplied from that part of the country which is taken possession of; but it is then a necessary condition that we are completely masters of this portion of territory, that is, certain of our orders being obeyed within its limits. This certainty, however, seldom extends beyond the reach of our ability to keep the inhabitants in awe by small garrisons, and detachments moving about from place to place, and that is not very far in general. The consequence is, that in the enemy’s country, the part of territory from which we can draw supplies is seldom of sufficient extent to furnish all the supplies we require, and we must therefore still depend on our own land for much, and this brings us back again to the importance of that part of our territory immediately in rear of our army as an indispensable portion of our base.
The wants of an army may be divided into two classes, first those which every cultivated country can furnish; and next those which can only be obtained from those localities where they are produced. The first are chiefly provisions, the second the means of keeping an army complete in every way. The first can therefore be obtained in the enemy’s country; the second, as a rule, can only be furnished by our own country, for example men, arms, and almost all munitions of war. Although there are exceptions to this classification in certain cases, still they are few and trifling, and the distinction we have drawn is of standing importance, and proves again that the communication with our own country is indispensable.
Depôts of provisions and forage are generally formed in open towns, both in the enemy’s and in our own country, because there are not as many fortresses as would be required for these bulky stores continually being consumed, and wanted sometimes here, sometimes there, and also because their loss is much easier to replace; on the other hand, stores to keep the army complete, such as arms, munition of war, and articles of equipment are never lodged in open places in the vicinity of the theatre of war if it can be avoided, but are rather brought from a distance, and in the enemy’s country never stored anywhere but in fortresses. From this point, again, it may be inferred that the base is of more importance in relation to supplies intended to refit an army than in relation to provisions for food.
Now, the more means of each kind are collected together in great magazines before being brought into use, the more, therefore, all separate streams unite in great reservoirs, so much the more may these be regarded as taking the place of the whole country, and so much the more will the conception of a base fix itself upon these great depôts of supply; but this must never go so far that any such place becomes looked upon as constituting a base in itself alone.
If these sources of supply and refitment are abundant, that is, if the tracts of territory are wide and rich, if the stores are collected in great depôts to be more speedily brought into use, if these depôts are covered in a military sense in one way or another, if they are in close proximity to the army and accessible by good roads, if they extend along a considerable width in the rear of the army or surround it in part as well—then follows a greater vitality for the army, as well as a greater freedom in its movements. Attempts have been made to sum up all the advantages which an army derives from being so situated in one single conception, that is, the extent of the base of operations. By the relation which this base bears to the object of the undertakings, by the angle which its extremities make with this object (supposed as a point), it has been attempted to express the whole sum of the advantages and disadvantages which accrue to an army from the position and nature of its sources of supply and equipment; but it is plain this elegant piece of geometrical refinement is merely a play of fancy, as it is founded on a series of substitutions which must all be made at the expense of truth. As we have seen, the base of an army is a triple formation in connection with the situation in which an army is placed: the resources of the country adjacent to the position of the army, the depôts of stores which have been made at particular points, and theprovince from which these stores are derived or collected. These three things are separated in space, and cannot be collected into one whole, and least of all can we substitute for them a line which is to represent the width of the base, a line which is generally imagined in a manner perfectly arbitrary, either from one fortress to another or from one capital of a province to another, or along a political boundary of a country. Neither can we determine precisely the mutual relation of these three steps in the formation of a base, for in reality they blend themselves with each other always more or less. In one case the surrounding country affords largely the means of refitting an army with things which otherwise could only be obtained from a long distance; in another case we are obliged to get even food from a long distance. Sometimes the nearest fortresses are great arsenals, ports, or commercial cities, which contain all the military resources of a whole state, sometimes they are nothing but old, feeble ramparts, hardly sufficient for their own defence.
The consequence is that all deductions from the length of the base of operations and its angles, and the whole theory of war founded on these data, as far as its geometrical phase, have never met with any attention in real war, and in theory they have only caused wrong tendencies. But as the basis of this chain of reasoning is a truth, and only the conclusions drawn are false, this same view will easily and frequently thrust itself forward again.
We think, therefore, that we cannot go beyond acknowledging generally the influence of a base on military enterprises, that at the same time there are no means of framing out of this maxim any serviceable rules by a few abstract ideas; but that in each separate case the whole of the things which we have specified must be kept in view together.
When once arrangements are made within a certain radius to provide the means of subsisting an army and keeping it complete in every respect, and with a view to operations in a certain direction, then, even in our own country, this district only is to be regarded as the base of the army; and as any alteration of a base requires time and labour, therefore an army cannot change its base every day, even in its own country, and this again limits it always more or less in the direction of its operations. If, then, in operating against an enemy’s country we take the whole line of our own frontier, where it forms a boundary between the two countries as our base, we may do so in a general sense, in so far that we might make those preparations which constitute a base anywhere on that frontier; but it will not be a base at any moment if preparations have not been already made everywhere. When the Russian army retreated before the French in 1812, at the beginning of the campaign the whole of Russia might have been considered as its base, the more so because the vast extent of the country offered the army abundance of space in any direction it might select. This is no illusory notion, as it was actually realised at a subsequent time, when other Russian armies from different quarters entered the field; but still at every period throughout the campaign the base of the Russian army was not so extensive; it was principally confined to the road on which the whole train of transport to and from their army was organised. This limitation prevented the Russian army, for instance, from making the further retreat which became necessary after the three days’ fighting at Smolensk in any direction but that of Moscow, and so hindered their turning suddenly in the direction of Kaluga, as was proposed in order to draw the enemy away from Moscow. Such a change of direction could only have been possible by having been prepared for long beforehand.
We have said that the dependence on the base increases in intensity and extent with the size of the army, which is easy to understand. An army is like a tree. From the ground out of which it grows it draws its nourishment; if it is small it can easily be transplanted, but this becomes more difficult as it increases in size. A small body of troops has also its channels, from which it draws the sustenance of life, but it strikes root easily where it happens to be; not so a large army. When, therefore, we talk of the influence of the base on the operations of an army, the dimensions of the army must always serve as the scale by which to measure the magnitude of that influence.
Further it is consistent with the nature of things that for the immediate wants of the present hour the subsistence is the main point, but for the general efficiency of the army through a long period of time therefitment and recruitment are the more important, because the latter can only be done from particular sources while the former may be obtained in many ways; this again defines still more distinctly the influence of the base on the operations of the army.
However great that influence may be, we must never forget that it belongs to those things which can only show a decisive effect after some considerable time, and that therefore the question always remains what may happen in that time. The value of a base of operations will seldom determine the choice of an undertaking in the first instance. Mere difficulties which may present themselves in this respect must be put side by side and compared with other means actually at our command; obstacles of this nature often vanish before the force of decisive victories.
Lines of Communication
THE roads which lead from the position of an army to those points in its rear where its depôts of supply and means of recruiting and refitting its forces are principally united, and which it also in all ordinary cases chooses for its retreat, have a double signification; in the first place, they are its lines of communication for the constant nourishment of the combatant force, and next they are roads of retreat.
We have said in the preceding chapter, that, although according to the present system of subsistence, an army is chiefly fed from the district in which it is operating, it must still be looked upon as forming a whole with its base. The lines of communication belong to this whole; they form the connection between the army and its base, and are to be considered as so many great vital arteries. Supplies of every kind, convoys of munitions, detachments moving backwards and forwards, posts, orderlies, hospitals, depôts, reserves of stores, agents of administration, all these objects are constantly making use of these roads, and the total value of these services is of the utmost importance to the army.
These great channels of life must therefore neither be permanently severed, nor must they be of too great length, or beset with difficulties, because there is always a loss of strength on a long road, which tends to weaken the condition of an army.
By their second purpose, that is as lines of retreat, they constitute in a real sense the strategic rear of the army.
For both purposes the value of these roads depends on their length, their number, their situation, that is their general direction, and their direction specially as regards the army, their nature as roads,difficulties of ground, the political relations and feeling of local population, and lastly, on the protection they derive from fortresses or natural obstacles in the country.
But all the roads which lead from the point occupied by an army to its sources of existence and power, are not on that account necessarily lines of communication for that army. They may no doubt be used for that purpose, and may be considered as supplementary of the system of communication, but that system is confined to the lines regularly prepared for the purpose. Only those roads on which magazines, hospitals, stations, posts for despatches and letters are organised under commandants with police and garrisons, can be looked upon as real lines of communication. But here a very important difference between our own and the enemy’s army makes its appearance, one which is often overlooked. An army, even in its own country, has its prepared lines of communication, but it is not completely limited to them, and can in case of need change its line, taking some other which presents itself, for it is every where at home, has officials in authority, and the friendly feeling of the people. Therefore, although other roads may not be as good as those at first selected there is nothing to prevent their being used, and the use of them is not to be regarded as impossible in case the army is turned and obliged to change its front. An army in an enemy’s country on the contrary can as a rule only look upon those roads as lines of communication upon which it has advanced; and hence arises through small and almost invisible causes a great difference in operating. The army in the enemy’s country takes under its protection the organisation which, as it advances, it necessarily introduces to form its lines of communication; and in general, inasmuch as terror, and the presence of an enemy’s army in the country invests these measures in the eyes of the inhabitants with all the weight of unalterable necessity, the inhabitants may even be brought to regard them as an alleviation of the evils inseparable from war. Small garrisons left behind in different places support and maintain this system. But if these commissaries, commandants of stations, police, fieldposts, and the rest of the apparatus of administration, were sent to some distant road upon which the army had not been seen, the inhabitants then would look upon such measures as a burden which they would gladly get rid of, and if the most complete defeats and catastrophes had not previously spread terror throughout the land, the probability is that these functionaries would be treated as enemies, and driven away with very rough usage. Therefore in the first place it would be necessary to establish garrisons to subjugate the new line, and these garrisons would require to be of more than ordinary strength, and still there would always be a danger of the inhabitants rising and attempting to overpower them. In short, an army marching into an enemy’s country is destitute of the mechanism through which obedience is rendered; it has to institute its officials into their places, which can only be done by a strong hand, and this cannot be effected thoroughly without sacrifices and difficulties, nor is it the work of a moment—From this it follows that a change of the system of communication is much less easy of accomplishment in an enemy’s country than in our own, where it is at least possible; and it also follows that the army is more restricted in its movements, and must be much more sensitive about any demonstrations against its communications.
But the choice and organisation of lines of communication is from the very commencement subject also to a number of conditions by which it is restricted. Not only must they be in a general sense good high roads, but they will be the more serviceable the wider they are, the more populous and wealthy towns they pass through, the more strong places there are which afford them protection. Rivers, also, as means of water communication, and bridges as points of passage, have a decisive weight in the choice. It follows from this that the situation of a line of communication, and consequently the road by which an army proceeds to commence the offensive, is only a matter of free choice up to a certain point, its situation being dependent on certain geographical relations.
All the foregoing circumstances taken together determine the strength or weakness of the communication of an army with its base, and this result, compared with one similarly obtained with regard to the enemy’s communications, decides which of the two opponents is in a position to operate against the other’s lines of communication, or to cut off his retreat, that is, in technical language to turn him. Setting aside all considerations of moral or physical superiority, that party can only effectually accomplish this whose communications are the strongest of the two, for otherwise the enemy saves himself in the shortest mode, by a counterstroke.
Now this turning can, by reason of the double signification of these lines, have also two purposes. Either the communications may be interfered with and interrupted, that the enemy may melt away by degrees from want, and thus be compelled to retreat, or the object may be directly to cut off the retreat.
With regard to the first, we have to observe that a mere momentary interruption will seldom have any effect while armies are subsisted as they now are; a certain time is requisite to produce an effect in this way in order that the losses of the enemy by frequent repetition may compensate in number for the small amount he suffers in each case. One single enterprise against the enemy’s flank, which might have been a decisive stroke in those days when thousands of bread-waggons traversed the lines of communication, carrying out the systematised method then in force for subsisting troops, would hardly produce any effect now, if ever so successful; one convoy at most might be seized, which would cause the enemy some partial damage, but never compel him to retreat.
The consequence is, that enterprises of this description on a flank, which have always been more in fashion in books than in real warfare, now appear less of a practical nature than ever, and we may safely say that there is no danger in this respect to any lines of communication but such as are very long, and otherwise unfavourably circumstanced, more especially by being exposed everywhere and at any moment to attacks from an insurgent population.
With respect to the cutting off an enemy’s retreat, we must not be overconfident in this respect either of the consequences of threatening or closing the enemy’s lines of retreat, as recent experience has shown that, when troops are good and their leader resolute, it is more difficult to make them prisoners, than it is for them to cut their way through the force opposed to them.
The means of shortening and protecting long lines of communication are very limited. The seizure of some fortresses adjacent to the position taken up by the army, and on the roads leading to the rear—or in the event of there being no fortresses in the country, the construction of temporary defences at suitable points—the kind treatment of the people of the country, strict discipline on the military roads, good police, and active measures to improve the roads, are the only means by which the evil may be diminished, but it is one which can never be entirely removed.
Furthermore, what we said when treating of the question of subsistence with respect to the roads which the army should chose by preference, applies also particularly to lines of communication. The best lines of communication are roads leading through the most flourishing towns and the most important provinces; they ought to be preferred, even if considerably longer, and in most cases they exercise an important influence on the definitive disposition of the army.
On Country and Ground
IRRESPECTIVE quite of their influence as regards the means of subsistence of an army, country and ground, bear another most intimate and never-failing relation to the business of war, which is their decisive influence on the battle, both upon what concerns its course, as well as upon the preparation for it, and the use to be made of it. We now proceed to consider country and ground in this phase, that is, in the full meaning of the French expression “Terrain.”
The way to make use of them is a subject which lies mostly within the province of tactics, but the effects resulting from them appear in strategy; a battle in the mountains is, in its consequences as well as in itself, quite a different thing from a battle on a level plain.
But until we have studied the distinction between offensive and defensive, and examined the nature of each separately and fully, we cannot enter upon the consideration of the principal features of the ground in their effects; we must therefore for the present confine ourselves to an investigation of its general properties. There are three properties through which the ground has an influence on action in war; that is, as presenting an obstacle to approach, as an obstacle to an extensive view, and as protection against the effect of fire-arms; all other effects may be traced back to these three.
Unquestionably this threefold influence of ground has a tendency to make warfare more diversified, more complicated, and more scientific, for they are plainly three more quantities which enter into military combinations.
A completely level plain, quite open at the same time, that is, a tract of country which cannot influence war at all, has no existence except in relation to small bodies of troops, and with respect to them only for the duration of some given moment of time. When larger bodies are concerned, and a longer duration of time, accidents of ground mix themselves up with the action of such bodies, and it is hardly possible in the case of a whole army to imagine any particular moment, such as a battle, when the ground would not make its influence felt.
This influence is therefore never in abeyance, but it is certainly stronger or weaker according to the nature of the country.
If we keep in view the great mass of topographical phenomena we find that countries deviate from the idea of perfectly open level plains principally in three ways: first by the form of the ground, that is, hills and valleys; then by woods, marshes, and lakes as natural features; and lastly, by such changes as have been introduced by the hand of man. Through each of these three circumstances there is an increase in the influence of ground on the operations of war. If we trace them up to a certain distance we have mountainous country, a country little cultivated and covered with woods and marshes, and the well cultivated. The tendency in each case is to render war more complicated and connected with art.
The degree of influence which cultivation exercises is greater or less according to the nature of the cultivation; the system pursued in Flanders, Holstein, and some other countries, where the land is intersected in every direction with ditches, dykes, hedges, and walls, interspersed with many single dwellings and small woods has the greatest effect on war.
The conduct of war is therefore of the easiest kind in a level moderately-cultivated country. This however only holds good in quite a general sense, leaving entirely out of consideration the use which the defensive can make of obstacles of ground.
Each of these three kinds of ground has an effect in its own way on movement, on the range of sight, and in the cover it affords.
In a thickly-wooded country the obstacle to sight preponderates; in a mountainous country, the difficulty of movement presents the greatest obstacle to an enemy; in countries very much cultivated both these obstacles exist in a medium degree.
As thick woods render great portions of ground in a certain manner impracticable for military movements, and as, besides the difficulty which they oppose to movement they also obstruct the view, thereby preventing the use of means to clear a passage, the result is that they simplify the measures to be adopted on one side in proportion as they increase the difficulties with which the other side has to contend. Although it is difficult practically to concentrate forces for action in a wooded country, still a partition of forces does not take place to the same extent as it usually does in a mountainous country, or in a country very much intersected with canals, rivers, &c.: in other words, the partition of forces in such a country is more unavoidable but not so great.
In mountains, the obstacles to movement preponderate and take effect in two ways, because in some parts the country is quite impassable, and where it is practicable we must move slower and with greater difficulty. On this account the rapidity of all movements is much diminished in mountains, and all operations are mixed up with a larger quantity of the element of time. But the ground in mountains has also the special property peculiar to itself, that one point commands another. We shall devote the following chapter to the discussion of the subject of commanding heights generally, and shall only here remark that it is this peculiarity which causes the great partition of forces in operations carried on amongst mountains, for particular points thus acquire importance from the influence they have upon other points in addition to any intrinsic value which they have in themselves.
As we have elsewhere observed, each of these three kinds of ground in proportion as its own special peculiarity has a tendency to an extreme, has in the same degree a tendency to lower the influence of the supreme command, increasing in like manner the independent action of subordinates down to the private soldier. The greater the partition of any force, the less an undivided control is possible, so much the more are subordinates left to themselves; that is self-evident. Certainly when the partition of a force is greater, then through the diversity of action and greater scope in the use of means the influence of intelligence must increase, and even the commander-in-chief may show his talents to advantage under such circumstances; but we must here repeat what has been said before, that in war the sum total of single results decides more than the form or method in which they are connected, and therefore, if we push our present considerations to an extreme case, and suppose a whole army extended in a line of skirmishers so that each private soldier fights his own little battle, more will depend on the sum of single victories gained than on the form in which they are connected; for the benefit of good combinations can only follow from positive results, not from negative. Therefore in such a case the courage, the dexterity, and the spirit of individuals will prove decisive. It is only when two opposing armies are on a par as regards military qualities, or that their peculiar properties hold the balance even, that the talent and judgment of the commander become again decisive. The consequence is that national armies and insurgent levies, etc., etc., in which, at least in the individual, the warlike spirit is highly excited, although they are not superior in skill and bravery, are still able to maintain a superiority by a great dispersion of their forces favoured by a difficult country, and that they can only maintain themselves for a continuance upon that kind of system, because troops of this description are generally destitute of all the qualities and virtues which are indispensable when tolerably large numbers are required to act as a united body.
Also in the nature of forces there are many gradations between one of these extremes and the other, for the very circumstance of being engaged in the defence of its own country gives to even a regular standing army something of the character of a national army, and makes it more suited for a war waged by an army broken up into detachments.
Now the more these qualifications and influences are wanting in an army, the greater they are on the side of its opponent, so much the more will it dread being split into fractions, the more it will avoid a broken country; but to avoid fighting in such a description of country is seldom a matter of choice; we cannot choose a theatre of war like a piece of merchandise from amongst several patterns, and thus we find generally that armies which from their nature fight with advantage in concentrated masses, exhaust all their ingenuity in trying to carry out their system as far as possible in direct opposition to the nature of the country. They must in consequence submit to other disadvantages, such as scanty and difficult subsistence for the troops, bad quarters, and in the combat numerous attacks from all sides; but the disadvantage of giving up their own special advantage would be greater.
These two tendencies in opposite directions, the one to concentration the other to dispersion of forces, prevail more or less according as the nature of the troops engaged incline them more to one side or the other, but however decided the tendency, the one side cannot always remain with his forces concentrated, neither can the other expect success by following his system of warfare in scattered bodies on all occasions. The French were obliged to resort to partitioning their forces in Spain, and the Spaniards, whilst defending their country by means of an insurgent population, were obliged to try the fate of great battles in the open field with part of their forces.
Next to the connection which country and ground have with the general, and especially with the political, composition of the forces engaged, the most important point is the relative proportion of the three arms.
In all countries which are difficult to traverse, whether the obstacles are mountains, forests, or a peculiar cultivation, a numerous cavalry is useless: that is plain in itself; it is just the same with artillery in wooded countries; there will probably be a want of room to use it with effect, of roads to transport it, and of forage for the horses. For this arm highly cultivated countries are less disadvantageous, and least of all a mountainous country. Both, no doubt, afford cover against its fire, and in that respect they are unfavourable to an arm which depends entirely on its fire: both also often furnish means for the enemy’s infantry to place the heavy artillery in jeopardy, as infantry can pass anywhere; but still in neither is there in general any want of space for the use of a numerous artillery, and in mountainous countries it has this great advantage, that its effects are prolonged and increased in consequence of the movements of the enemy being slower.
But it is undeniable that infantry has a decided advantage over every other arm in difficult country, and that, therefore, in such a country its number may considerably exceed the usual proportion.
Command of Ground
THE word “command” has a charm in the art of war peculiar to itself, and in fact to this element belongs a great part, perhaps half the influence which ground exercises on the use of troops. Here many of the sacred relics of military erudition have their root, as, for instance, commanding positions, key positions, strategic manœuvres, etc. We shall take as clear a view of the subject as we can without prolixity, and pass in review the true and the false, reality and exaggeration.
Every exertion of physical force if made upwards is more difficult than if it is made in the contrary direction (downwards); consequently it must be so in fighting; and there are three evident reasons why it is so. First, every height may be regarded as an obstacle to approach; secondly, although the range is not perceptibly greater in shooting down from a height, yet, all geometrical relations being taken into consideration, we have a better chance of hitting than in the opposite case; thirdly, an elevation gives a better command of view. How all these advantages unite themselves together in battle we are not concerned with here; we collect the sum total of the advantages which tactics derives from elevation of position and combine them in one whole which we regard as the first strategic advantage.
But the first and last of these advantages that have been enumerated must appear once more as advantages of strategy itself, for we march and reconnoitre in strategy as well as in tactics; if, therefore, an elevated position is an obstacle to the approach of those on lower ground, that is the second; and the better command of view which this elevated position affords is the third advantage which strategy may derive in this way.
Of these elements is composed the power of dominating, overlooking, commanding; from these sources springs the sense of superiority and security which is felt in standing on the brow of a hill and looking at the enemy below, and the feeling of weakness and apprehension which pervades the minds of those below. Perhaps the total impression made is at the same time stronger than it ought to be, because the advantage of the higher ground strikes the senses more than the circumstances which modify that advantage. Perhaps the impression made surpasses that which the truth warrants, in which case the effect of imagination must be regarded as a new element, which exaggerates the effect produced by an elevation of ground.
At the same time the advantage of greater facility of movement is not absolute, and not always in favour of the side occupying the higher position; it is only so when his opponent wishes to attack him; it is not if the combatants are separated by a great valley, and it is actually in favour of the army on the lower ground if both wish to fight in the plain (battle of Hohenfriedberg). Also the power of overlooking, or command of view, has likewise great limitations. A wooded country in the valley below, and often the very masses of the mountains themselves on which we stand, obstruct the vision. Countless are the cases in which we might seek in vain on the spot for those advantages of an elevated position which a map would lead us to expect; and we might often be led to think we had only involved ourselves in all kinds of disadvantages, the very opposite of the advantages we counted upon. But these limitations and conditions do not abrogate or destroy the superiority which the more elevated position confers, both on the defensive and offensive. We shall point out, in a few words, how this is the case with each.
Out of the three strategic advantages of the more elevated ground, the greater tactical strength, the more difficult approach, and the better view, the first two are of such a nature that they belong really to the defensive only; for it is only in holding firmly to a position that we can make use of them, whilst the other side (offensive) in moving cannot remove them and take them with him; but the third advantage can be made use of by the offensive just as well as by the defensive.
From this it follows that the more elevated ground is highly important to the defensive, and as it can only be maintained in a decisive way in mountainous countries, therefore it would seem to follow, as a consequence, that the defensive has an important advantage in mountain positions. How it is that, through other circumstances, this is not so in reality, we shall show in the chapter on the defence of mountains.
We must first of all make a distinction if the question relates merely to commanding ground at one single point, as, for example, a position for an army; in such case the strategic advantages rather merge in the tactical one of a battle fought under advantageous circumstances; but if now we imagine a considerable tract of country—suppose a whole province—as a regular slope, like the declivity at a general watershed, so that we can make several marches, and always hold the upper ground, then the strategic advantages become greater, because we can now use the advantages of the more elevated ground not only in the combination of our forces with each other for one particular combat, but also in the combination of several combats with one another. Thus it is with the defensive.
As regards the offensive, it enjoys to a certain extent the same advantages as the defensive from the more elevated ground; for this reason that the stragetic attack is not confined to one act like the tactical. The strategic advance is not the continuous movement of a piece of wheelwork; it is made in single marches with a longer or shorter interval between them, and at each halting point the assailant is just as much acting on the defensive as his adversary.
Through the advantage of a better view of the surrounding country, an elevated position confers, in a certain measure, on the offensive as well as the defensive, a power of action which we must not omit to notice; it is the facility of operating with separate masses. For each portion of a force separately derives the same advantages which the whole derives from this more elevated position; by this—a separate corps, let it be strong or weak in numbers, is stronger than it would otherwise be, and we can venture to take up a position with less danger than we could if it had not that particular property of being on an elevation. The advantages which are to be derived from such separate bodies of troops is a subject for another place.
If the possession of more elevated ground is combined with other geographical advantages which are in our favour, if the enemy finds himself cramped in his movements from other causes, as, for instance, by the proximity of a large river, such disadvantages of his position may prove quite decisive, and he may feel that he cannot too soon relieve himself from such a position. No army can maintain itself in the valley of a great river if it is not in possession of the heights on each side by which the valley is formed.
The possession of elevated ground may therefore become virtually command, and we can by no means deny that this idea represents a reality. But nevertheless the expressions “commanding ground,” “sheltering position,” “key of the country,” in so far as they are founded on the nature of heights and descents, are hollow shells without any sound kernel. These imposing elements of theory have been chiefly resorted to in order to give a flavour to the seeming commonplace of military combinations; they have become the darling themes of learned soldiers, the magical wands of adepts in strategy, and neither the emptiness of these fanciful conceits, nor the frequent contradictions which have been given to them by the results of experience have sufficed to convince authors, and those who read their books, that with such phraseology they are drawing water in the leaky vessel of the Danaides. The conditions have been mistaken for the thing itself, the instrument for the hand. The occupation of such and such a position or space of ground, has been looked upon as an exercise of power like a thrust or a cut, the ground or position itself as a substantive quantity; whereas the one is like the lifting of the arm, the other is nothing but the lifeless instrument, a mere property which can only realise itself upon an object, a mere sign of plus or minus which wants the figures or quantities. This cut and thrust, this object, this quantity, is a victorious battle; it alone really counts; with it only can we reckon; and we must always have it in view, as well in giving a critical judgment in literature as in real action in the field.
Consequently, if nothing but the number and value of victorious combats decides in war, it is plain that the comparative value of the opposing armies and ability of their respective leaders again rank as the first points for consideration, and that the part which the influence of ground plays can only be one of an inferior grade.