4. During a march the cavalry commander must always think ahead, in order that he may rest the horses' backs and relieve the men by walking, giving moderate spells of alternate riding and marching. You can't misjudge what is a moderate spell, since every man is himself the measure1 that will show you when they are getting tired.  But when it is uncertain whether you will encounter an enemy on your way to any place, you must give the regiments a rest in turn. For it would be a bad job if all the men were dismounted when the enemy is close at hand.  If you are riding along narrow roads, the order must be given to form column; but when you find yourself on broad roads, the order must be given to every regiment to extend front. When you reach open ground, all the regiments must be in line of battle. Incidentally these changes of order are good for practice, and help the men to get over the ground more pleasantly by varying the march with cavalry manoeuvres.  When riding on difficult ground away from roads, whether in hostile or friendly country, it is very useful to have some of the aides-de-camp in advance of each regiment, that they may find a way round into the open in case they come across pathless woodland, and show the men what line they should follow, so that whole companies may not go astray.  If your route lies in dangerous country, a prudent commander will have a second advanced guard ahead of his scouts for reconnaissance purposes. For it is useful both for attack and defence to discover an enemy as far off as possible. It is useful also to halt at the passage of a river, that the rear guard may not wear out their horses in chasing their leader. These rules, no doubt, are familiar to nearly everybody; but few will take the trouble to observe them.  A cavalry commander should be at pains even in time of peace to acquaint himself with hostile and friendly country alike. In case he is without personal experience, he should at least consult the men in the force who have the best knowledge of various localities. For the leader who knows the roads has a great advantage over one who does not. In making plans against the enemy, too, a knowledge of the district makes a great difference.  You must also have taken steps to enlist the services of spies before the outbreak of war. Some of these should be citizens of neutral states, and some merchants, since all states invariably welcome the importer of merchandise. Sham deserters, too, have their use on occasions.  Still, you must never neglect to post guards through reliance on spies; on the contrary, your precautions must at all times be as complete as when you have information that the enemy is approaching. For even if the spies are entirely reliable, it is difficult to report at the critical moment, since many things happen in war to hinder them.  The advance of cavalry is less likely to be detected by the enemy if orders are not given by a herald or in writing beforehand, but passed along. Accordingly, for this purpose, too, that the order to advance may be given by word of mouth, it is well to post fileleaders, and half file-leaders2 behind them, so that each may pass the word to as few men as possible. Thus, too, the half file-leaders will wheel and extend the line without confusion, whenever there is occasion to do so.  When it is necessary to keep a look out, I am all in favour of the plan of having hidden outposts and guards. For these serve at once as guards to protect your friends and snares to trap the enemy.  And the men, being unseen, are more secure themselves and at the same time more formidable to the enemy. For the enemy, conscious that there are outposts somewhere, but ignorant of their whereabouts and their strength, feels nervous and is forced to suspect every possible position; whereas visible outposts show them where danger lies and where all is safe.  Besides, if you conceal your outposts, you will have the chance of luring the enemy into an ambush by placing a few guards in the open to screen the hidden men. Occasionally, too, a cunning trap may be laid by posting a second body of exposed guards behind the men in hiding; for this plan may prove as deceptive to the enemy as the one just referred to.  A prudent commander will never take risks unnecessarily, except when it is clear beforehand that he will have the advantage of the enemy. To play into the enemy's hand may fairly be considered treachery to one's allies rather than courage.  Another sound principle is to go for any position where the enemy is weak, even if it is a long way off, since hard work is less dangerous than a struggle against superior forces.  But if the enemy places himself somewhere between yourself and fortresses friendly to you, then it is proper to attack him, even if he is greatly superior, on that side where your presence is unsuspected, or on both flanks at once, for when one part of your force is retiring, a charge on the opposite flank will flurry the enemy and rescue your friends.  It is an old maxim that, in attempting to discover what the enemy is about, it is well to employ spies. But the best plan of all, in my opinion, is for the commander himself to watch the enemy from some safe coign of vantage, if possible, and take notice of his mistakes.  And when anything can be filched by cunning, you should send likely men to steal it; and when anything may be seized you should despatch troops to seize it. If the enemy is marching on some objective and a part of his force weaker than your own separates from the main body or straggles carelessly, the chance must not be missed; the hunter, however, must always be stronger than the hunted.  You can see the point of this if you consider. Even wild creatures less intelligent than man, such as hawks, will grab unguarded plunder and get away into a place of safety before they can be caught: wolves, again, prey on anything left unprotected and steal things lying in holes and corners; and if a dog does pursue and overtake him,  the wolf, if stronger than the dog, attacks him; or if weaker, snatches away the prize and makes off. Moreover, when a pack of wolves feels no fear of a convoy, they arrange themselves so that some shall drive off the convoy, and others seize the plunder; and thus they get their food.  Well, if wild beasts show such sagacity, surely any man may be expected to show more wisdom than creatures that are themselves taken by the skill of man.
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
On the Cavalry Commander
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.