previous next
[236]

Chapter 5: of different mixed operations, which participate at the same time of strategy and.of tactics.


Article XXXVII: passages of streams and rivers.

The passage of small streams, upon which a bridge is found established, or where one can easily be thrown, does not present combinations which belong to grand tactics or to strategy; but the passage of great streams or rivers, such as the Danube, the Rhine, the Po, the Elbe, the Oder, the Vistula, the Inn, the Ticino, &c., are operations worthy of being studied.

The art of throwing bridges is a special knowledge, which belongs to the officers of pontooneers or sappers. It is not under this aspect that we shall treat these passages, but as an attack of a military position, and as a manoeuvre of war.

The passage, in itself, is a tactical operation, but the determination of the point where it ought to be made, is connected with the grand operations [237] which embrace the whole theatre of war. The passage of the Rhine by General Moreau in 1800, of which we have already spoken, may still serve as an example for causing to be appreciated this assertion. Napoleon, more skillful in strategy than his lieutenant, wished him to pass in mass at Schaffhausen to take in reverse the whole army of Kray, to anticipate it at Ulm, to cut it off from Austria, and to drive it back upon the Maine. Moreau, who had already a tete de pont at Basle, preferred to pass more commodiously upon the front of the enemy, to turning his extreme left, the tactical advantage appeared to him more sure than all the strategical; he preferred a certain half success to the chance of a victory which would have been decisive, but exposed to greater hazards. In the same campaign, the passage of the Po by Napoleon offered another example of the strategic importance which is attached to the choice of the point of passage; the army of reserve, after the combat of the ,Chiusella, could march by the left of the Po to Turin, or pass the river at Crescentino and march direct to Genoa; Napoleon preferred to pass the Ticino, to enter Milan, to unite there with Moncey, who came with twenty thousand men by the St. Gothard, then to pass the Po at Placentia, persuaded that he would more surely precede Melas upon that point, than if he changed direction too soon upon his line of retreat. The passage of the Danube at Donanwerth and Ingolstadt, in 1805, was an operation nearly of the same kind; the direction chosen became the first cause of the destruction of the army of Mack.

The suitable point in strategy is easily determined, after what we have said in Article 19, and it is not.useless to recollect that in a passage of a river, as in every other operation, there are permanent or geographical decisive points, and others which are relative or eventual, since they result from the situation of the hostile forces.

If the point chosen unite strategic advantages to the tactical convenience of localities, this choice will leave nothing to be desired; but if it present local obstacles almost insurmountable, then it would be necessary to choose another, having care to prefer that which might be the nearest to the strategic direction which it would be important to attain. Independently of those general combinations, which should have an influence upon the choice of the point of passage, there is still another, which has reference to the places themselves. The best place will be that where the army, after having passed, shall be able to take its front of operations and its line of battle perpendicularly to the river, at least for the first marches, without being forced to divide itself into several corps upon different directions. This advantage will save it equally from the peril [238] of receiving battle with the river behind, as happened to Napoleon at Essling.

This is enough upon the strategic combination which should decide passages; it is time to speak of their execution. History is the best school for studying the measures proper for securing their success. The ancients have made a marvel of that of the Granicus, which is but a rivulet. In this respect the moderns have greater actions to cite.

The passage of the Rhine at Tolhuys, by Louis XIV, is not the one which has made the least noise, and it must be owned that it is worthy of remark.

In our day, General Dedon has celebrated the two passages of the Rhine at Kehl, and that of the Danube at Hochstaedt in 1800: his work should be consulted as classic for details; now, precision in details is everything for these kinds of operations.

Finally, three other passages of the Danube, and the ever-celebrated one of the Beresina, surpassed all that had been seen until then of this kind. The first two were those which Napoleon executed at Essling and at Wagram, in presence of an army of a hundred and twenty thousand men, provided with four hundred pieces of artillery, and upon one of the points where the bed of the river is the broadest; it is necessary to read the interesting narrative of it by General Pelet. The third is that which was executed by the Russian army at Satounovo in 1828: although it could not be compared with the preceding, it was very remarkable from the excessive difficulties which the localities presented, and from the nature of the efforts which it was necessary to make in order to surmount them. With regard to that of the Beresina,it was in every respect miraculous. My object not being to enter here into historical details, I refer my readers to the special accounts of these events, and I shall give a summary of the general rules relative to those passages.

1st. It is essential to deceive the enemy as to the point of passage, in order that he may not accumulate there his means of resistance. Besides strategical demonstrations, there will yet be necessary false attacks in proximity with the passage, in order to divide the means which the enemy will there have assembled; to this effect half of the artillery should be employed in making a great noise upon every point where it is not designed to cross; whilst that the greatest silence should reign at the real point where all the serious preparations should be directed.

2d. We ought as much as possible to protect the construction of bridges, by directing the troops in boats upon the opposite banks, in [239] order to dislodge the enemy which should impede the works; those troops should immediately take possession of villages, woods, or other obstacles in proximity.

3d. It is important also to place strong batteries of large calibre, not only for sweeping this opposite bank, but for silencing the artillery which the enemy would bring with the intention of battering the bridge as fast as it should be constructed; to this end it is proper that the bank from whence the assailant is to depart should command a little the opposite bank.

4th. The neighborhood of a large island, near the hostile bank, offers great facilities to troops for debarking, as well as to the workmen. The neighborhood also of a small tributary stream, gives the means of uniting and concealing the preparations for the boats.

5th. It is well to choose a place where the river forms a reentrant bend or elbow, to the end of being able to assure the troops a certain landing, protected by batteries whose fire, crossed upon the avenue, would prevent the enemy from falling upon the batallions as they should pass.

6th. The place fixed upon for throwing bridges ought to be in proximity with good routes upon the two banks, in order that the army may find easy communications after the passage, as well as for assembling. To this effect points where the slopes should be too steep, especially on the side of the enemy, should be avoided.

With regard to the defence of a passage, its rules should be of the same nature with those of the attack; they ought then to have for their object the opposing of the measures above indicated; the essential thing is to cause the course of the river to be watched by light corps, without pretending to defend it everywhere; then to concentrate rapidly upon the menaced point, in order to burst upon the enemy when a part only of his army shall have crossed. It is necessary to do like the Duke of Vendorle at Cassano, and as did the Arch-Duke Charles on a larger scale at Essling in 1809--a memorable example, which cannot be too strongly recommended, although the conqueror did not derive from it all the fruit he expected.

We have already pointed out in article 21, the influence which the passages of rivers at the commencement of an enterprise or of a campaign may exercise upon the direction of lines of operations, it remains for us to examine that which they may have upon the strategical movements which might immediately follow them.

One of the greatest difficulties which present themselves after the passages, is to cover the bridges against the enemy without meanwhile con [240] straining too much the enterprises which the army might wish to undertake. When they have place, with a great numerical superiority, or at the end of great victories already gained, the thing is not so embarrassing; but when they are executed at the beginning of a campaign, in presence of an enemy almost equal in forces, the case is different.

If a hundred thousand French pass the Rhine at Strasburg, or at Manheim, in presence of a hundred thousand Germans, the first thing they will have to do will be to push the enemy in three directions, the first to the front of them, even to the mountains of the Black Forest; the second to the right, for covering the bridges on the side of the Upper Rhine; and the third to the left, to cover those on the side of Mayence and of the Lower Rhine. This necessity leads to a deplorable parceling of forces; but in order to diminish its inconvenience it is necessary to guard against thinking it incumbent to divide the army into three equal parts, or that it is necessary to keep up those detachments beyond a few days needful for being assured of the place of re-assembling of the hostile forces.

It cannot, however, be dissembled that this is one of the most delicate situations for a general-in-chief; for, if he divides his army in order to cover his bridges, he may with one of these fractions encounter the bulk of the enemy's masses, which would overwhelm it; if he unites his forces upon a single direction, and the enemy deceive him as to the point of his assembling, he might be exposed to see his bridges carried or destroyed, and to find himself compromised before having had time to gain a victory.

The most sure remedies will be to place his bridges near a city which can rapidly be put in condition to protect their defence, then to give his first operations all the vigor and rapidity possible by throwing himself successively upon the fractions of the hostile army, and punish them in such a manner as to remove from them the desire of troubling the bridges. In some cases we can add to those means the system of eccentric lines of operations; if the enemy has divided his hundred thousand men into several corps, spread in a position of observation, and we move with an equal mass upon a single point in the vicinity of the centre of this cordon, the hostile corps which should find itself isolated at the centre, being quickly overthrown, we could then without risk form two masses of fifty thousand men, which, by taking a divergent direction, would surely disperse the isolated hostile fractions in an exterior direction, prevent them henceforward from re-uniting, and would remove them thus farther and farther from the bridges. But if the passage were effected, on the contrary, upon one of the extremities of the strategic front of the euemy by changing direction [241] briskly upon that front which would be attacked in its whole extent, as Frederick attacked the Austrian line tactically at Leuthen in all its length, the army would have its bridges behind it, and would cover them in all its forward movements. It was thus that Jourdan, having passed at Dusseldorf (1795) upon the extreme right of the Austrians, could advance in all security upon the Maine; if he was repulsed it was because the French having a double and exterior line of operations, left a hundred and twenty thousand men paralyzed from Mayence to Basle, whilst Clairfayt repulsed Jourdan upon the Lahn. But this circumstance could alter in nothing the evident advantage which a point of passage procures, established upon an extremity of the strategic front of the enemy. The generalissimo could adopt this system Or that explained above for central masses at the moment of the passage, then afterwards excentric, according to the situation of the frontiers and of the bases, finally according to the positions of the enemy. These combinations, of which we have already said something in the article on lines of operations, have not appeared to me misplaced in this, since their relations with the position of bridges makes the principal point of the discussion.

It happens at times that superior reasons determine the attempt of a double passage upon the extent of the same front of operations, as occurred to Jourdan and to Moreau in 1796. If we gain by it on one side the advantage of having in need a double line of retreat, we have the inconvenience by operating thus upon the two extremities of the enemy's front, of forcing him so to speak, to assemble upon the centre, which would put him in condition to ruin separately the two armies. Such an operation will ever have deplorable consequences, when the affair shall be with a general capable of profiting from this violation of principles.

All that can be recommended upon the subject is to diminish the inconveniences of the double passage, by directing the weight of the forces at least upon that one of the two points which should then be decisive, then to bring the two corps towards each other as soon as possible in an interior direction, to prevent the enemy from overwhelming them separately. If Jourdan and Moreau had followed this maxim, and had united at Donanwert instead of moving exteriorly — far from being thrown back upon the Bhine, they would probably have obtained great successes in Bavaria.

As for the rest, this enters into double lines of operations, upon which we are not to return.


[242]

Artticle XXXVIII. retreats and pursuits.

Of all the operations of war, retreats are incontestably the most difficult. It is so true that the celebrated Prince de Ligne said, with his accustomed spirit, that he did not see how an army succeeded in retiring. When we reflect, indeed, upon the physical and moral condition in which an army finds itself when it fights retreating, in consequence of a lost battle, upon the difficulty of maintaining order in it, upon the disastrous chances which the least disorder may lead to, we comprehend why the most experienced generals have so much difficulty in resolving upon it.

What system is to be advised for a retreat? Is it necessary to combat desperately until the approach of night, to be able to execute it by favor of the darkness? Is it better not to wait until the last extremity, and to quit the field of battle when we can yet do it with a good countenance? Ought we to take, by a forced night march, the greatest possible start of the enemy, or rather to halt in good order at a half march, making a show of accepting anew the combat? Each of these modes, suitable in certain cases, might in others cause the total ruin of the army, and if the theory of war is impotent in some respects, it is certainly in that which relates to retreats.

If you wish to fight desperately until night, you may expose yourself to a complete defeat before this night has arrived; and then, if a forced retreat were to be made at the moment when darkness begins to envelope everything in its veil, how are you to prevent the decomposition of the army which no longer knows nor sees what it does? If, on the contrary, we quit the field of battle in open day, and without awaiting the last extremity, we may expose ourselves to losing the game at the moment when the enemy himself might renounce the continuance of his attacks, which might cause the troops, ever disposed to blame those prudent chiefs who fight in retreat before being evidently constrained to it, to lose all confidence. Moreover, who could guarantee that a retreat, executed in open day, before a somewhat enterprising enemy, may not degenerate into a rout? [243]

When the retreat is finally commenced, it is not less embarrassing to decide whether it is necessary to force a march for gaining all the start possible, since this precipitation may accomplish the loss or safety of the army. All that it is possible to affirm upon this subject, is that, with a considerable army, it is better to make, in general, a slow retreat, with short marches and in good echelon order; because, then one has the means of forming rear guards sufficiently numerous for maintaining themselves a part of the day against the heads of the hostile columns. We shall return for the rest to these rules:--

Retreats are of divers kinds, according to the motive which determines them.

You retreat voluntarily before having fought, in order to lead the enemy upon a point less advantageous for him than that where he is found; it is a prudent manoeuvre rather than a retreat. It was thus that Napoleon retired, in 1805, from Wischan upon Brunn, in order to lead the allies upon the point which suited him. It was thus that Wellington retreated from Quatre-Bras upon Waterloo. Finally, it was what I proposed to do before the attack of Dresden, when we had been in formed of the arrival of Napoleon. I represented the necesssity of a march upon Dippodiswalde for choosing an advantageous field of battle, this idea was confounded with a retreat, and a chivalrous point of honor prevented a retrograde movement without fighting, which would neverthe less have avoided the catastrophe of the following day, (26th Aug., 1813.)

You retire also without being defeated in order to fly to a point menaced by the enemy, whether upon the flanks, or upon the line of retreat. When you march far from your depots, in an exhausted country, you may be obliged to decamp in order to draw near to your magazines. Finally, you retire by compulsion after a lost battle, or at the end of an unsuccessful enterprise.

These different causes are not the only ones which modify the combina tions of retreats, they vary according to the nature of the country, the distances to be passed over, and the obstacles which the enemy may oppose to them. They are especially dangerous when they are made in hostile countries; the farther the point of departure is removed from the frontiers, and from the base of operations, the more painful and difficult is the retreat.

From the famous retreat of the ten thousand, so justly celebrated, until the catastrophe which overwhelmed the French army in 1812, history does not offer a great abundance of remarkable retreats. That of Anthony, repulsed from Media, was more painful than glorious. That [244] of the Emperor Julian, harrassed by the same Parthians, was a disaster. In more modern times, that which Charles VIII executed on returning from Naples, by cutting through the Italian army at Fornoua, was not of the least glorious. The retreat of M. de Bellisle from Prague, does not merit the eulogies which have been lavished upon it. Those which the King of Prussia executed after the raising of the siege of Olmutz, and after the surprise of Hochkirch, were very well directed, but could not count among distant retreats. That of Moreau, in 1796, exalted by party spirit, was honorable, without being extraordinary.1 That which the Russian army executed, without allowing itself to be broken, from the Nieman to Moscow, in a space of two hundred and forty leagues, before an enemy like Napoleon, and a cavalry like that which the active and audacious Murat conducted, can certainly be placed above all the others. Doubtless it was facilitated by a multitude of circumstances, but that detracts nothing from its merit, if not as regards the strategic talent of the chiefs who directed the first period of it, at least as respects the steadiness and the admirable firmness of the body of troops which executed it.

Finally, although the retreat from Moscow was for Napoleon a bloody catastrophe, it cannot be denied that it was glorious for him and for his troops, at Krasnoi as at the Beresina; for the skeleton of the army was saved, whilst not a man ought to have returned. In this memorable event, the two parties covered themselves with equal glory, the chances alone differed like the results.

The magnitude of the distances and the nature of the country to be passed over, the obstacles to be dreaded from the enemy upon the flanks and rear, the superiority or inferiority that may be had in cavalry, the spirit of the troops; such are the principal causes which influence the fate of retreats, independently of the skillful dispositions which the chiefs may make for assuring them.

An army, falling back upon its line of magazines, may preserve its troops together, maintain order among them, and make its retreat with more security than one which has to canton, to subsist, and to extend itself to find cantonments. It would be absurd to pretend that a French army, falling back from Moscow upon the Nieman, without any resources in provisions, wanting cavalry and draught horses, could do so with the same order and the same steadiness as the Russian army, well provided with every thing, marching, in its own country, and covered by an immense light cavalry. [245]

There are five ways of combining a retreat.

The first is to march en mass upon a single route;

The second is to echelon upon a single route, in two or three corps, marching at a day's distance from each other, in order to avoid confusion, especially in the matcriel;

The third consists in marching upon a same. front, by several parallel routes leading to the same end;

The fourth is to depart from two points distant from each other towards a concentric end;

The fifth would be to march, on the contrary, by several excentric routes.

I do not speak of the particular dispositions of the rear guard; it is understood that a good one ought to be formed and be sustained by a part of the reserves of cavalry. These kinds of dispositions are common to all sorts of retreats, and the question here is only the strategic points of view.

An army which falls back intact, with the intention of fighting when it shall have attained an expected reinforcement, or a strategic point at which it aims, ought to follow in preference the first system, because it is that which assures the most compactness to the different parts of the army, and allows it to sustain a combat whenever it wishes; to that effect it only has to halt its heads of columns, and to form the remainder of the troops as they arrive.

This is not saying, nevertheless, that the army, adopting this system, ought to march as a whole, upon the grand routes, when it may find small lateral roads which would facilitate its movement.

Napoleon, in retiring from Smolensk, adopted the second system (by echelons at an entire march from each other,) and committed in that a fault, so much the more serious, that the enemy did not follow in his trail, but rather in a lateral direction, and chanced to fall almost perpendicularly in the midst of his isolated corps; the three days of Krasnoi, so fatal to his army, were the result of it. This system of echelons upon the same route, can only have for its object to avoid being encumbered; now it suffices that the interval between the time of departure of the corps be sufficiently great for the artillery to file off; it is useless to place an entire march between them; it suffices to divide the army into two masses and a rear guard, at a half march from each other; these masses, moving successively, and placing an interval of two hours between the departure of their army corps, would march without encumbrance at least in ordinary countries. At the St. Bernard and the Balkan other calculations were doubtless necessary. [246]

I apply this idea to an army of from one hundred and twenty to one hundred and fifty thousand men, which shall have a rear guard of twenty or twenty-five thousand men, at about half a march distant, and of which the remainder will be divided into two masses of about sixty thousand each, equally camped in echelons, at the distance of three or four leagues from each other.

The two or three army corps of which each of these masses will be composed could be thus in echelons in the direction of the route, or else formed upon two lines across the route. In either case, if one corps of thirty thousand men is placed in march at 5 o'clock in the morning, and the other at 7 o'clock, there will be no fear of encumbering each other, except by extraordinary accident; for the second mass, departing at the same hours at four leagues farther in rear, will arrive only at 12 or 2 o'clock in the positions quitted long since by the first.

When there are cross roads practicable at least for infantry and cavalry, it will diminish the interval so much the more. There is no need of adding, that in order to march thus, provisions are necessary, that the march of the third kind is in general preferable, since we march in order of battle; finally, that, in long days and in warm countries, it is necessary to march alternately at night and at early morning. Moreover it is one of the most difficult branches of logistics to know how to combine well the starting and the halts of troops; in retreats especially it is a capital point.

Many generals neglect to regulate the mode and time of halts, which is the cause of numberless disorders, in marches; each division or brigade believing itself able to halt when its soldiers are a little fatigued, or find an agreeable bivouac. The more considerable the army, the more compactly it marches, the more important it is to regulate well the departures and halts, especially when night marches are decided upon. An untimely halt of a part of the column may do as much evil as a rout.

If the rear-guard be somewhat pressed, the army should be made to halt for relieving it by a fresh corps from the second mass, which will take position to this effect. The enemy seeing eighty thousand men formed, will think of halting, in order to unite his columns, then the retreat must recommence in the night, in order to regain ground.

The third method of retreat, that of following several parallel routes, is very suitable when those routes are sufficiently near to each other. But if they are too far removed apart, each of the wings of the army, separated from the others, might be separately compromised, if the enemy, directing the weight of his forces upon it, obliged it to receive battle. [247] The Prussian army, coming in 1806, from Magdeburg to gain the Oder, furnishes proof of this.

The fourth system, which consists in following two concentric routes, is without doubt the most suitable, when the troops are found removed from each other at the moment when the retreat is ordered; nothing is then better than the rallying of one's forces, and the concentric retreat is the only means of succeeding in it.

The fifth mode indicated, is nothing else than the famous system of excentric lines, which I have attributed to Bulow, and combatted with so much earnestness in, the first editions of my works, because I believed that there was no misunderstanding the sense of his text, nor the object of his system. I understood from his definition, that he recommended retreats starting from a given point, to be divided upon several divergent directions, as much for avoiding more easily the pursuit of the enemy, as for arresting him by menacing his flanks and his own line of operations. I have sternly censured such a system, for the reason that a beaten army is already feeble enough in itself, without weakening it still more by an absurd dispersion of its forces in presence of a victorious enemy.

Bulow has found defenders who have affirmed that I badly comprehended the sense of his words, seeing that, by excentric retreats, he did not mean retreats made upon several divergent directions, but rather retreats, which, instead of being directed towards the centre of the base of operations or towards the centre of the country, should lead in an excentric direction from this focus of operation by prolonging themselves upon the circumference of the frontier.

It is possible that I am indeed deceived as to his intention; in that case my criticism would fall of itself, since I have strongly approved those kinds of retreats which I have, in truth, named parallel retreats. In fact, it seems to me that an army, quitting the convergent line which leads from the circle of the frontiers to the centre of the State, in order to direct itself to the right or to the left, would march rather in the direction nearly parallel with its frontiers, or with its front of operations aid its base. Hence it seems also more rational to give the name parallel retreats, to those which follow this latter direction, leaving the name excentric retreats for those which should depart from the front of operations in divergent directions.

However it may be concerning this dispute of words, for which the obscurity of the text of Bulow might be the only cause, I intend only to censure the divergent retreats, executed upon several radii, under the pretext [248] of covering a greater extent of frontiers, and of menacing the enemy upon both of his flanks.

With those great words flanks, an air of importance is given to systems the most contrary to the principles of the art. An army in retreat is always inferior physically and morally, because it retires only in consequence of a series of reverses, or from its numerical inferiority. Must it be weakened then still more by disseminating it? I do not combat retreats executed in several columns for rendering them more easy, when those columns shall be able to sustain each other; I speak of those which would be effected upon divergent lines of operations. I will suppose an army of forty thousand men in retreat before another of sixty thousand. If the first form four isolated divisions of about ten thousand men, could not the enemy, manoeuvering with two masses of thirty thousand men each, turn, envelope, disperse and ruin successively all those divisions? What means will they have of escaping their fate? that of concentrating. Now this means being opposed to a divergent disposition, this system falls of itself.

I will invoke, to the support of my reasoning, the great lessons of experience. When the first divisions of the army of Italy were repulsed by Wurmser, Bonaparte reassembled them all at Roverbello, and although he had only forty thousand men, he defeated sixty thousand, because he had to fight isolated columns only. If he had made a divergent retreat, what would have become of his army and his conquests? Wurmser, after this first check, made an excentric retreat, by directing his two wings towards the extremities of his line of defense. What happened? The right, although favored by the mountains of the Tyrol, was beaten at Trente; Bonaparte directed himself afterwards upon the rear of the left, and destroyed it at Bassano and at Mantua.

When the Arch-Duke Charles yielded to the first efforts of the two French armies in 1796, would he have saved Germany by an excentric manoeceuvre? Is it not on the contrary to the concentric direction of his retreat that Germany owed its safety? Finally, Moreau, who had marched upon an immense development by isolated divisions, perceived that this inconceivable system was good for effecting his destruction when it was the question to fight and especially to retire; he concentrated his scattered forces, and all the efforts of the enemy were wasted before a mass which it was necessary to observe upon every point of a line of [249] eighty leagues. After such examples, it seems to me that nothing could be said in reply.2

There are scarcely but two cases where divergent retreats could be admitted as extreme resources; the first, is when an army should have experienced a great check in its own country, and its disunited fractions should seek a powerful shelter under its fortifications. The second is in a national war, when each fragment of the army thus scattered would retire to serve as a nucleus to the rising of a province ; but in a war truly military, it is an absurdity.

There is another combination of retreats, which has respect especially to strategy; it is to determine the case in which it is proper to make them perpendicularly, departing from the frontier towards the centre of the country, or to direct them parallelly to the frontier.3 For example, Marshal Soult, abandoning the Pyrenees in 1814, had to choose between tween a retreat upon Bordeaux, which would have led him to the centre of France, or a retreat upon Toulouse by moving along the frontier of the Pyrenees. In the same manner Frederick, in retiring from Moravia, marched upon Bohemia, instead of regaining Silesia.

These parallel retreats are often preferable, inasmuch as they turn the enemy from a march upon the capitol of the State and upon the centre of its power; the configuration of the frontiers, the fortresses which are found there, the greater or less space which an army would find for moving, and re-establishing its direct communications with the centre of the State, are so many considerations which influence the opportuneness of these operations.

Spain, amongst others, offers very great advantages for this system. If a French army penetrate by Bayonne, the Spaniards have the choice of basing themselves upon Pampeluna and Saragossa, or upon Leon and the Asturias, which would make it impossible for their adversary to direct himself towards Madrid, leaving his narrow line of operations at the mercy of the Spaniards.

The frontier of the Turkish empire upon the Danube, would offer the same advantage for that power, if it knew how to profit by it.

France is equally very proper for this kind of war, especially when there does not exist in the country two political parties which may aspire to [250] the possession of the capitol, and render its occupation decisive for the enemy. If the latter penetrate by the Alps, the French can act upon the Rhone and Saone, turning on the frontier to the Moselle on the one side, or to Provence on the other. If it penetrate by Strasburg, Mayence or Valenciennes, it is the same; the occupation of Paris would be impossible, or at least hazardous, so long as a French army intact should remain based upon its girdle of strong places. It is, for the rest, the same for all countries having double fronts of operations.4

Austria would not perhaps have the same advantages, because of the direction of the Rhetian and Tyrolean Alps and the course of the Danube; in truth Lloyd, considering Bohemia and the Tyrol as two bastions of which the line of the Inn forms the formidable curtain, seems on the contrary to present this frontier as the more advantageous for being defended by lateral movements. This assertion has received, as we have said, cruel denials in the campaigns of 1800, 1805 and 1809, but as the lateral defense has not been precisely well attempted there, the question is still susceptible of controversy.

All depends in my opinion upon respective situations and antecedents; if a French army coming from the Rhine by Bavaria, found the Allies upon the Lech and the Iser and should be in force, it would be very delicate to throw all the Austrian army into the Tyrol or into Bohemia, with the idea of arresting thus its direct march, for it would be necessary always to leave the half of this Austrian army upon the Inn in order to cover the approaches to the capitol; then there would be a fatal division in the forces, and if it were decided to concentrate the whole army in the Tyrol, leaving the route of Vienna open, the plan would be very dangerous in presence of an enterprising enemy. In Italy beyond the Mincio the lateral defense would be easy on the side of the Tyrol, and inBohemia also against an enemy coming from Saxony.

But it is especially in applying it to Prussia that this system of parallel retreats offers all the variations of which it is susceptible, for it would be perfect against an army debouching from Bohemia upon the Elbe or upon the Oder, whilst that it would be altogether impossible, against a French army coming from the Rhine, or against a Russian army coming from the Vistula, unless Prussia should be allied to Austria. The cause of this difference is in the geographical configuration of the country, [251] which permits and which even favors lateral movements in the direction of its great depth (from Memel to Mayence) but which would render them disastrous in the direction of the small space which the country offers from south to north (from Dresden to Stettin).

When an army puts itself in retreat, whatever may be the motive, there is also necessarily a pursuit.

A retreat, even the best ordered, executed with an army intact, gives always an advantage to him who pursues; but it is especially after a defeat and in distant countries that the retreat becomes always the most difficult operation of war, and its difficulties increase in proportion to the skill which the enemy displays in the pursuit.

The audacity and activity of the pursuit will be naturally influenced by the more or less enterprising character of the chiefs, but also by the physical and moral state of the two armies. It is difficult to give rules upon all the cases which a retreat may present but it is necessary to recognize:

1st. That in general it is advantageous to direct it upon the flank of the columns rather than upon the rear, especially when one is in his own country and can without danger take a diagonal direction or even one perpendicular to the line of operations of the adversary. However it is necessary not to allow one's self to be drawn into too wide movements, which might cause the trace of the enemy to be lost.

2d. That it is generally suitable to throw into the pursuit the greatest possible activity and audacity, especially when it is the result of a battle gained, because demoralization involves the loss of the beaten army.

3rd. That there are few cases where it is wise to make a bridge of gold to the enemy, although thus says the old Roman adage; that could scarcely happen except in occasions where an army inferior in forces should have obtained an almost unhoped for success.

We cannot add anything to what we have just said of retreats, as connected with grand combinations. It remains for us to point out the tactical measures which may facilitate their execution.

One of the surest means of well executing a retreat is to familiarize the officers and soldiers with the idea that from whatever side the enemy may come, they run no more risk in fighting him by the rear than by the front, and to persuade them that the maintenance of order is the only means of saving a troop harrassed in a retrograde march. It is especially on those occasions that we can appreciate the advantages of a strong discipline which will ever be the best guaranty of the maintenance of order; but to [252] exact discipline it is necessary to assure subsistence, in order to prevent the troops dispersing for marauding.

It is well to place with the rear guard a chief gifted with a grea sangfroid, and officers of the staff who could reconnoitre in advance the favorable points where the rear guard might make a stand in order to suspend the march of the enemy, to the end of placing there the reserve of the rear guard with artillery.5 It is necessary to relieve successively the echelon in such a manner as never to allow them to be pressed too closely.

The cavalry being able to rally rapidly on the main body, it will be comprehended that good masses of this arm facilitate much a slow and methodical retreat and give also the means of well scouting and flanking the route in order to prevent the enemy coming unawares to disturb the march of the columns and cut off a part of them.

It suffices generally that the rear guard hold the enemy at a half march from the main body; to expose it further off would be hazardous and useless; nevertheless when it shall have defiles behind it, and when they shall be well guarded by its troops it will be able to prolong a little its sphere of operations and remain a march from the army, for defiles equally facilitate a retreat when one is master of them, as they render it difficult when the enemy has seized them. If the army be very numerous and the rear guard strong in proportion, then it may well remain a march in rear; that depends on its strength, the nature of the country, and on the enemy with whom we have to do. If the latter becomes too pressing, it would be important not to allow ourselves to be crowded too close, especially if the army were yet in tolerably good order. It is proper in this case to halt from time to time and to fall unexpectedly upon the advanced guards of the enemy, as the Arch-Duke Charles did in 1796 at Neresheim, Moreau at Biberach and Kleber at Ukerath. Such a manoeuvre almost always succeeds by the surprise which this offensive return causes in a troop which expects only to gather easy trophies.

Passages of rivers in retreat also offer combinations which are not without interest: if it be a small stream with permanent bridges, it is only a passage of an ordinary defile; but if it be a river which has to be crossed upon bridges of boats, it is a more delicate manoeuvre. All the precautions which can be prescribed, are limited to causing the parks to be taken [253] in advance in order not to be encumbered with them; this measure sufficiently indicates the propriety of the army halting at a half march at least from the river. In this case, it will be well also that the rear guard be held a little farther distant from the main body than usual, as far as the localities of the country and the respective forces would permit. By this means the army will have time to defile without being too closely pressed; it will be necessary only to combine the march of the rear guard in such a manner that it be in position in advance of the bridges, when the last troops of the main body shall effect their passage. This decisive moment will appear without doubt suitable for relieving the rear guard by a fresh corps, which should be disposed beforehand upon well reconnoitered ground; then the rear guard will traverse the intervals of this corps, in order to pass the river before it; and the enemy astonished at finding troops fresh and disposed to receive him well, will not attempt to press them: the night will thus be gained without check, and the new rear guard will be able in turn, to pass and to break the bridges.

It is understood that the troops, as they have passed, should form at the issues of the bridges, and post their batteries in such a manner as to protect the corps left to hold out against the enemy.

The dangers of such a passage in retreat, and the nature of the precautions which may facilitate it, sufficiently indicate that the best mode of favoring it would be to take in advance one's measures for constructing an intrenched tete-de-pont upon the point where the bridges will have been thrown. In the case where time would not permit the construction of a regular one, they will be able to supply it by a few redouts well armed, which will be of great utility for protecting the retreat of the last troops.

If the passage of a great river offers so many delicate chances when one is followed in rear by the enemy, it is an affair much more difficult still when the army finds itself assailed at the same time in front and rear, and the river to be crossed is guarded by an imposing corps.

The doubly celebrated passage of the Beresina, by the French, is one of the most remarkable examples of such an operation; never was an army found in a more desperate situation, and extricated itself from it more gloriously and more skillfully. Pressed by famine, overwhelmed by the cold, removed five hundred leagues from its base, assailed in front and rear on the banks of a marshy river, and in the midst of vast forests, how could it hope to escape? Doubtless it paid dearly for that honor; doubtless the fault of Admiral Tschitchagoff contributed powerfully to extricate cate it from its embarrassment, but the army made none the less <*> [254] efforts to which we should render homage. We do not know which to admire most, the plan of operations which brought the Russian armies from the depths of Moldavia, from Moscow and Polotsk, upon the Beresina, as to a rendezvous of peace — a plan which came near bringing about the capture of their formidable adversary, or the admirable constancy of the lion thus pursued, and who succeeded in opening himself a passage.

Not to allow ourselves to be pressed too closely, to deceive the enemy as to the point of passage, to burst upon the corps which bars our retreat, before that which follows in rear can rally to its assistance, are the only precepts to give. There may be added thereto that of never placing ourselves in a similar position, for it is rare that we can extricate ourselves from it.

If the retreating army ought to do everything to secure its bridges from insult, either by a regular tete-de-pont, or by a line of redouts which protect at least the rear guard, it is natural also that the pursuing enemy take every possible measure for destroying the bridges. When the retreat is made descending the course of a river, he may throw upon it wooden buildings, fire ships, mills, as the Aurtrians did against the army of Jourdan, in 1796, near Neuweied upon the Rhine, where they came near compromising the army of the Sambre and Mense. The Arch-Duke Charles did as much in 1809 at the famous passage at Essling. He broke the bridge of the Danube, and brought Napoleon to the brink of ruin.

There are few means of placing a bridge secure from such attacks, unless we have time to prepare stockades of piles. We may also anchor, by cables, a few boats for arresting the materials thrown upon the current, and for having the means of extinguishing the fire ships.


Article XXXIX: cantonments and winter quarters.

So much has been written upon this matter, and it pertains so indirectly to our subject, that we shall say but a few words upon it.

Cantonments in open war are, in general, a rather delicate operation; [255] however compactly they may be made, it is always difficult to have them sufficiently so not to be exposed to the enemy. A country where there is an abundance of large cities, like Lombardy, Saxony, the low countries, Arabia, old Prussia, presents more facilities for establishing quarters therein than countries where cities are rare. Not only are resources there found for the subsistence of troops, but shelters are found near to each other, which permit the maintaining divisions together. In Poland, in Russia, in a part of Austria and France, in Spain, in Southern Italy, it is more difficult to establish ourselves in winter quarters.

Formerly, each party entered them respectively at the end of October, and contented themselves with taking reciprocally a few battalions too isolated at advanced posts; it was a partisan warfare.

The surprise of the Austrian winter quarters by Turenne, in Upper Alsace, in 1674, is one of the operations which best indicate what can be undertaken against hostile cantonments, and the precautions which should be taken on our side, in order that the enemy do not form the same enterprises.

To establish cantonments very compactly, and upon a space as extended in depth as in breadth, to the end of avoiding too long a line, always easy to pierce and impossible to rally; to cover them by a river or by a first line of troops barracked and supported by field works; to fix upon places of concentration which may in every case be attained in advance of the enemy; to cause the avenues to the army to be scoured by permanent patrols of cavalry; finally, to establish alarm signals for the case of a serious attack. These are, in my opinion, the best maxims that could be given.

In the winter of 1807, Napoleon cantoned his army behind the Passarge in the face of the enemy; the advanced guards alone were barracked in proximity with the cities of Gutstadt, Osterode, &c. This army exceeded a hundred and twenty thousand men, and there was much skill necessary to maintain and nourish it in this position until the month of June. The country favored, it is true, this system, and we do not find everywhere one as suitable.

An army of a hundred thousand men may find compact winter quarters in countries where cities abound, and of which we have spoken above. When the army is more numerous, the difficulty is increased; it is true, however, that, if the extent of quarters is augmented in proportion to the numerical force, it must be owned also that the means of resistance to oppose to a hostile irruption is increased in the same progression: the essential point is to be able to unite fifty or sixty thousand men in four [256] and twenty hours; with this force, and the certainty of seeing it augmented still, continually, we may resist until the assembling of the army, however numerous it may be.

In spite of that, it must be admitted that it will ever be a delicate affair to canton when the enemy, remaining united, should wish to obstruct it, and hence it should be concluded that the only sure means for the repose of an army during winter, or in the midst of a campaign, is to have its quarters secured by a river or an armistice.


Article XL: descents.

Descents are one of the operations of war the most rarely to be seen, and which may be ranged in the number of the most difficult, when they take place in the presence of a well prepared army.

Since the invention of artillery, and the changes which it has necessarily produced in the Navy, transport vessels are too subordinate to colossal three deckers, armed with a hundred thunderbolts of war, to be able to effect descents without the assistance of a numerous fleet of men-of-war, which keep the sea at least until the moment of debarkation.

Before this invention, vessels of transport were at the same time vessels of war; they moved at need by the oar, were light, and could run along the coasts; their number was proportioned to the troops to be embarked, and apart from the chance of tempests, we could almost combine the operations of a fleet like those of an army. Therefore does ancient history offer the example of greater debarkations than modern times.6

Who does not recall the great armaments of the Prussians in the Black Sea, the Basphorus and the Archipelago? Those innumerable armies of Xerxes and Darius, transported to Thrace, to Greece; the numerous expeditions of the Carthagenians and the Romans, to Spain and [257] to Sicily; the expedition of Alexander to Asia Minor; those of Caesar to England and to Africa; those of Germanicus to the mouths of the Elbe; the Crusades; the expeditions of the people of the north to England, to France, and even to Italy?

Since the invention of cannon, the too celebrated Armada of Philip II was the only colossal enterprise until that which Napoleon formed against England in 1803. All the other expeditions beyond the sea were partial operations; those of Charles V, and of Sebastian of Portugal, upon the Coast of Africa; several descents, like those of the French upon the United States of America, upon Egypt and St. Domingo; those of the English upon Egypt, Holland, Copenhagen, Antwerp, Philadelphia, all enter into the same category. I do not speak of the project of Hoche against Ireland, for it did not succeed, and it shows all the difficulty of these kinds of enterprises.

The large armies which the great States keep up at this day, does not admit of their being attacked by descents of thirty or forty thousand men. We can then only form similar enterprises against secondary States, for it is very difficult to embark a hundred or a hundred and fifty thousand men, with the immense equipment of artillery, munitions, cavalry, &c.

Meanwhile, we have been on the point of seeing resolved in our day this immense problem of grand descents, if it be true that Napoleon ever really entertained the serious project of transporting his hundred and sixty thousand veterans from Boulogne into the bosom of the British Islands; unfortunately, the non-execution of that colossal project has left an impenetrable veil over this grave question.

It was not impossible to unite fifty French vessels-of-the-line in La Manche, deceiving the English; this reunion was on the eve of being effected, hence it was not then impossible, if the wind favored the enterprise, for the flotilla to pass in two days, and to effect the debarkation. But what would have become of the army if a gale of wind dispersed the fleet of war vessels, and if the English, returned in force in La Manche, defeated it or constrained it to regain its ports?

Posterity will regret, for the sake of the example to ages to come, that this immense enterprise had not been brought to its close, or at least attempted. Doubtless many a brave man would have perished in it; but have not those brave men been less usefully destroyed on the plains of Suabia, of Moravia, of Castile, in the mountains of Portugal, or in the forests of Lithuania? What mortal would not be glorified for contributing to the decision of the greatest cause that has ever been debated between [258] two great nations? At least will our posterity find, in the preparations which were made for this descent, one of the most important lessons which this memorable age has furnished for the study of military men and statesmen. The labors of every kind performed on the coasts of France from 1803 to 1805, will be one of the most extraordinary monuments of the activity, foresight and skill of Napoleon; they cannot be too highly commended for the study of young military men. But admitting the possibility even of succeeding in a great descent, undertaken upon a coast as neighboring as Boulogne is to Dover, what success could be promised from it, if such an Armada had a longer navigation to make to attain its end? What means are there of moving such a multitude of small vessels, even for two days and two nights? and to what chances would not one be exposed by engaging in such a navigation in a high sea, with light pinnaces? Besides that, the artillery, the munitions of war, equipments, provisions, the fresh water necessary to be embarked with this multitude of men, require an immense preparation and equipage.

Experience has demonstrated the difficulties of a distant expedition, even for a corps which does not exceed thirty thousand men. Hence it is evident that a descent can be effected with such a force only in four hypotheses:--

1st. Against colonies, or isolated possessions;

2d. Against powers of the second rank, which could not be immediately sustained

3d. In order to effect a temporary diversion, or to seize a post, the occupation of which for a given time would have a high importance;

4th. For a diversion, at the same time political and military, against a State already engaged in a great war, and whose troops should be employed far from the point.

These kinds of operations are difficult to subject to rules: to deceive the enemy as to the point of debarkation; to choose an anchorage where it can be done simultaneously; to exercise all the activity possible, and to seize promptly upon a point of support in order to protect the successive development of the troops; to land immediately the artillery, to give assurance and protection to the troops disembarked; this is nearly everything which can be recommended to the assailant.

The great difficulty of such an operation arises from the fact that the transport vessels never being able to approach the shore, it is necessary to place the troops on the few shallops which follow the fleet, so that the descent is long and successive, which gives the enemy great advantages, [259] however little he may be prepared. If the sea be the least rough, the fate of the disembarking troops will be much hazarded; for what can infantry do, huddled in the shallops, battered by the waves, generally tried by sea sickness, and nearly out of condition to use their arms?

With regard to the defender, he can only be advised not to divide his forces too much in order to cover everything. It is impossible to furnish all the shores of a country with coast batteries, and with battalions to defend them; but it is necessary, at least, to cover the approaches to those points where there are great establishments to protect. It is necessary to have signals in order to know promptly the point of debarkation, and to unite, if it be possible, all our means before the enemy has taken solid footing with all his.

The configuration of the coast will as much influence upon the descent as upon the defense. There are countries where coasts are steep, and offer few points accessible at the same time to vessels and to the troops which it is the question to land; then those known points, being few in number, are more easy to watch, and the enterprise on that account becomes more difficult. Finally, descents offer a strategic combination which it is useful to point out. It is, that the principle which forbids a continental army to direct its principal forces between the sea and the hostile army, requires, on the contrary, that the army which operates a descent, preserve always its principal force in communication with the shore, which is at the same time its line of retreat and base of supply. For the same reason his first care should be to assure himself of a fortified port, or, at least, of a tongue of land easy to intrench, and in reach of a good anchorage, so that, in case of reverse, the re-embarkation can be made without too much precipitation and loss.

1 The retreat of Laccmbe from the Engadine to Altorf, and that of MacDonald by Pontremoli, after the defeat of the Trobbia, were as well as that of Suwaroff from the Muttenthal to Coire. glorious feats of arms, but partial and of short duration.

2 Ten years after the publication of this chapter, the concentric retreat of Barklay, and of Bagration saved the Russian army; although it did not prevent at first the success of Napoleon, it was the first cause of his loss.

3 Those parallel retreats, if the defenders of Bulow must be believed, could be none other than those he has, it is said, recommended under the name excentric.

4 In all these calculations I suppose the forces nearly equal, if the invading army is twice as strong, then it may follow with the half of its troops that which retires parallelly, and carry the other half upon the capital; but with equal forcos that would be impossible.

5 The qualities which distinguish a good general of a rear guard are not common, especially in southern armies. Marshal Ney was the most perfect type which one could desire of this kind; the Russian army is favored in this respect, for the general spirit of its troops is necessarily partaken by the chiefs.

6 I have given, in the preceding expedition, a long notice of the principal expeditions beyond the sea; if space permits, I will reproduce it at the end of this volume.

Creative Commons License
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.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Austria (Austria) (6)
France (France) (5)
Preussen (4)
Essling (Wien, Austria) (4)
Moscow, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (3)
England (United Kingdom) (3)
Capitol (Utah, United States) (3)
Saxony (Saxony, Germany) (2)
Pyrenees (2)
Portugal (Portugal) (2)
Moravia (Czech Republic) (2)
Krasnoi (Moldova) (2)
Dresden (Saxony, Germany) (2)
Bavaria (Bavaria, Germany) (2)
Basel (Switzerland) (2)
Waterloo (Canada) (1)
Wagram (Niederosterreich, Austria) (1)
Vienna (Wien, Austria) (1)
United States (United States) (1)
Turin (Italy) (1)
Toulouse (France) (1)
Strasburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Strasburg (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany) (1)
Stettin (Poland) (1)
Smolenskaya Oblast (Russia) (1)
Silesia (1)
Scotia (1)
Schaffhausen (Switzerland) (1)
Russia (Russia) (1)
Prague (Czech Republic) (1)
Poland (Poland) (1)
Placentia (Canada) (1)
Osterode (Poland) (1)
Olmutz (Czech Republic) (1)
Neresheim (Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany) (1)
Moscow (Russia) (1)
Moldavia (Moldova) (1)
Milan, Sullivan County, Missouri (Missouri, United States) (1)
Manheim (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
Magdeburg (Saxony-Anhalt, Germany) (1)
Madrid (Spain) (1)
Lombardy (Italy) (1)
Leuthen (Poland) (1)
Kehl (Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany) (1)
Italy (Italy) (1)
Holland (Netherlands) (1)
Genoa (Italy) (1)
Dubris (United Kingdom) (1)
Dominican Republic (Dominican Republic) (1)
Department de Ville de Paris (France) (1)
Copenhagen (Denmark) (1)
Chur (Switzerland) (1)
Castile, N. Y. (New York, United States) (1)
Cassano (Italy) (1)
Caesaraugusta (Spain) (1)
British Isles (1)
Boulogne (France) (1)
Bordeaux (France) (1)
Biberach (Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany) (1)
Bayonne (France) (1)
Bassano (Italy) (1)

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Napoleon (16)
Moreau (7)
Jourdan (5)
Charles (4)
Bulow (4)
Bonaparte (2)
Xerxes (1)
Wellington (1)
Valenciennes (1)
Ulm (1)
Turenne (1)
Tschitchagoff (1)
Soult (1)
Sebastian (1)
Provence (1)
Pelet (1)
Ney (1)
Murat (1)
Melas (1)
Mack (1)
MacDonald (1)
Lloyd (1)
Ligne (1)
Leon (1)
Kray (1)
Hoche (1)
Germanicus (1)
Dedon (1)
Caesar (1)
Brunn (1)
Boulogne (1)
M. Bellisle (1)
Antwerp (1)
Anthony (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1796 AD (5)
1805 AD (4)
1809 AD (3)
1800 AD (3)
1803 AD (2)
1828 AD (1)
1814 AD (1)
August 26th, 1813 AD (1)
1812 AD (1)
1807 AD (1)
1806 AD (1)
1795 AD (1)
1674 AD (1)
October (1)
June (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: