previous next

Chapter 5: Tactics.The twelve orders of battle, with examples of each.—Different Formations of infantry, cavalry, artillery, and engineers on the field of battle, with the Modes of bringing troops into action

IV. Tactics.--We have defined tactics to be the art of bringing troops into action, or of moving them in the presence of the enemy ;--that is, within his view, and within the reach of his artillery. This branch of the military art has usually been divided into two parts: 1st. Grand Tactics, or the tactics of battles; and 2d. Elementary Tactics, or tactics of instruction.1

A battle is a general action between armies. If only a small portion of the forces are engaged it is usually denominated a combat, an affair, an action, a skirmish, &c., according to the character of the conflict. The art of combining and conducting battles of all descriptions has been designated by the name of Grand Tactics.

Battles may be arranged into three classes; 1st. Defensive [115] battles, or those given a chosen position by an army waiting the attack of the enemy. 2d. Offensive battles, or those made by an army which attacks the enemy in position. 3d. The mixed or unforeseen battles, given by two armies meeting while on the march.

I. When an army awaits the attack, it takes its position and forms its line of battle according to the nature of the ground and the supposed character and strength of the enemy's forces. Such is usually the case when an army wishes to cover a siege, protect a capital, guard depots of provisions and military stores, or some important strategic point. The general relations of positions with strategy and engineering have already been considered; we will now discuss merely their relations to battles.

The first condition to be satisfied by a tactical position is, that its debouches shall be more favorable for falling on the enemy when he has approached to the desired point, than those which the enemy can have for attacking our line of battle. 2d. The artillery should have its full effect upon all the avenues of approach. 3d. We should have good ground for manoeuvring our own troops unseen, if possible, by the enemy. 4th. We should have a full view of the enemy's manoeuvres as he advances to the attack. 5th. We should have the flanks of our line well protected by natural or artificial obstacles. 6th. We should have some means of effecting a retreat without exposing our army to destruction.

It is very seldom that all these conditions can be satisfied at the same time; and sometimes the very means of satisfying one, may be in direct violation of another. A river, a forest, or a mountain, which secures a flank of a line of battle, may become an obstacle to a retreat, should the defensive forces be thrown back upon that wing. Again, the position may be difficult of attack in front or [116] on the wings, and at the same time unfavorable for retreat. Such was Wellington's position at Waterloo. The park of Hougomont, the hamlet of Haye Sainte, and the marshy rivulet of Papelotte, were serious obstacles against the attacking force; but the marshy forest of Soignies in rear, with but a single road, cut off all hope of retreat.

II. According to the strategic relations of the contending forces in a campaign, will it be determined whether we are to await the enemy, or to seek him out and attack him wherever he may be found. We may sometimes be obliged to make the attack at all hazards, for the purpose of preventing the junction of two corps, or to cut off forces that may be separated from the main body by a river, &c. As a general rule the attacking force has a moral superiority over the defensive, but this advantage is frequently more than counterbalanced by other conditions.

The main thing in an offensive battle is to seize upon the decisive point of the field. This point is determined by the configuration of the ground, the position of the contending forces, the strategic object of the battle; or, by a combination of these. For example, when one wing of the enemy rests on a height that commands the remainder of his line, this would seem the decisive point to be attacked, for its occupation would secure the greatest advantages; but this point may be so very difficult of access, or be so related to the strategic object as to render its attack out of the question. Thus it was at the battle of Bautzen: the left of the allies rested on the mountains of Bohemia, which were difficult of attack, but favorable for defence; moreover, their only line of retreat was on the right, which thus became the point of attack for the French, although the topographical and tactical key of the field was on the left.

III. It frequently happens in modern warfare that battles [117] result from the meeting of armies in motion, both parties acting on the offensive. Indeed, an army that is occupying a defensive position may, on the approach of the enemy, advance to meet him while on the march. Battles of this kind may partake of the mixed character of offensive and defensive actions, or they may be of the nature of a surprise to both armies. To this class belong the battles of Rosbach, Eylau, Lutzen, Luzzara, Abensberg, &c.

Surprises were much more common in ancient than in modern times, for the noise of musketry and the roar of artillery, belonging to the posts or wings assailed, will prevent any general surprise of an army. Moreover, the division into separate masses, or corps d'armee, will necessarily confine the surprise to a part, at most, of the forces employed. Nevertheless, in the change given to military terms, a surprise may now mean only an unexpected combination of manoeuvres for an attack, rather than an actual falling upon troops unguarded or asleep. In this sense Marengo, Lutzen, Eylau, &c. arc numbered with surprises. Benningsen's attack on Murat at Zarantin tin in 1812 was a true surprise, resulting from the gross negligence and carelessness of the king of Naples.

An order of battle is the particular disposition given to the troops for a determined. manoeuvre on the field of battle. A line of battle is the general name applied to troops drawn up in their usual order of exercise, without any determined manoeuvre; it may apply to defensive positions, or to offensive operations, where no definitive object has been decided on. Military writers lay down twelve orders of battle, viz.: 1st. The simple parallel order; 2d. The parallel order with a crotchet; 3d. The parallel order reinforced on one or both wings; 4th. The parallel order reinforced on the centre; 5th. The simple oblique order; 6th. The oblique order reinforced on the assailing [118] wing; 7th. The perpendicular order on one or both wings; 8th. The concave order; 9th. The convex order; 10th. The order by echelon on one or both wings; 11th. The order by echelon on the centre; 12th. The combined orders of attack on the centre and one wing at the same time,

(Figure 14.)2 The simple parallel order is the worst possible disposition for a battle, for the two parties here fight with equal chances, and the combat must continue till accident, superior numbers, or mere physical strength decides the day; skill can have little or no influence in such a contest.

(Figure 15.) The parallel order with a crotchet on the flank, is sometimes used in a defensive position, and also in the offensive with the crotchet thrown forward. Malplaquet, Nordlingen, Prague, and Kolin, are examples of this order. Wellington, at Waterloo, formed the parallel order with the retired crotchet on the right flank.

(Figure 16.) A line of battle parallel to the enemy's, if strongly reinforced on one point, is according to correct principles, and may in certain cases secure the victory; but it has many inconveniences. The weak part of the line being too near the enemy, may, notwithstanding its efforts to the contrary, become engaged, and run the risk of a defeat, and thereby counterbalance the advantages gained by the strong point. Moreover, the reinforced part of the line will not be able to profit by its success by taking the enemy's line in flank and rear, without endangering its connection with the rest of the line. [119]

(Figure 17) represents the parallel order reinforced on the centre. The same remarks are applicable to this as to the preceding.

These two orders were frequently used by the ancients; as at the battle of Zama, for example; and sometimes by modern generals. Turenne employed one of them at Ensheim.

(Figure 18) is the simple oblique order.

(Figure 19) is the oblique order, with the attacking wing reinforced. This last is better suited for an inferior army in attacking a superior, for it enables it to carry the mass of its force on a single point of the enemy's line, while the weak wing is not only out of reach of immediate attack, but also holds the remainder of the enemy's line in check by acting as a reserve ready to be concentrated on the favorable point as occasion may require.

The most distinguished examples under this order are the battles of Leuctra and Mantinea, under the celebrated Epaminondas; Leuthen, under Frederick; the Pyramids, Marengo, and Jena, under Napoleon.

(Figure 20.) An army may be perpendicular upon a flank at the beginning of a battle, as was the army of Frederick at Rosbach, and the Russian army at Kunersdorff; but this order must soon change to the oblique. An attack upon both wings can only be made when the attacking force is vastly superior. At Eylau, Napoleon made a perpendicular attack on one wing at the same time that he sought to pierce the enemy's centre.

(Figure 21.) The concave order may be used with advantage in certain cases, and in particular localities. Hannibal employed it at the battle of Cannae, the English at Crecy and Azincourt, and the Austrians at Essling, in 1809.

(Figure 22.) The convex order is sometimes formed to cover a defile, to attack a concave line, or to oppose an [120] attack before or after the passage of a river. The Romans formed this order at the battle of Cosilinum; the French at Ramilies in 1706, at Fleurus in 1794, at Essling in 1809, and at the second and third days of Leipsic in 1813, and at Brienne in 1814.

(Figure 23.) The order by echelon on one wing may be frequently employed with advantage; but if the echelon be made on both wings, there is the same objection to its use as to the perpendicular order on both wings. At Dresden, Napoleon attacked both wings at the same time; this is the only instance in his whole history of a similar attack, and this was owing to peculiar circumstances in the ground and in the position of his troops.

(Figure 24.) The echelon order on the centre alone may be employed with success against an army formed in a thin or too extended line of battle, for it would be pretty certain to penetrate and break the line.

The echelon order possesses in general very great advantages. The several corps composing the army may manoeouvre separately, and consequently with greater ease. Each echelon covers the flank of that which precedes it; and all may be combined towards a single object, and extended with the necessary ensemble. At the battle of the Pyramids, Napoleon formed the oblique order in echelon by squares. Portions of his forces were arranged in echelon in some of his other battles.

(Figure 25.) The combined order in columns on the centre and one extremity at the same time, is better suited than either of the preceding for attacking a strong contiguous line. Napoleon employed this order at Wagram, Ligny, Bautzen, Borodino, and Waterloo.

It is impossible to lay down, as a general rule, which of these orders of battle should be employed, or that either should be exclusively followed throughout the whole battle. The question must be decided by the general himself [121] on the ground, where all the circumstances may be duly weighed. An order well suited to one position might be the worst possible in another. Tactics is in this respect the very reverse of strategy — the latter being subject to more rigid and invariable rules.

But whatever the plan adopted by the attacking force, it should seek to dislodge the enemy, either by piercing or turning his line. If it can conceal its real intentions and deceive him respecting the true point of attack, success will be more certain and decisive. A turning manoeuvre may frequently be employed with advantage at the same time with the main attack on the line. The operations of Davoust at Wagram, and Richepanse at Hohenlinden, are good examples under this head. The manoeuvre is, however, a difficult one, and unless executed with skill, may lead to disasters like the turning manoeuvres of the Austrians at Rivoli and Austerlitz, and of the French under Jourdan at Stackach, and under Marmont at Salamanca.

We will now discuss the particular manner of arranging the troops on the line of battle, or the manner of employing each arm, without entering, however, much into the detailed tactics of formation and instruction.

We shall begin with infantry, as the most important arm on the battle-field.

There are four different ways of forming infantry for battle: 1st, as tirailleurs, or light troops; 2d, in deployed lines; 3d, in lines of battalions, ployed on the central division of each battalion, or formed in squares; 4th, in deep masses.

These different modes of formation are reduced to four separate systems : 1st, the thin formation of two deployed lines; 2d, a line of battalions in columns of attack on the centre, or in squares by battalions ; 3d, a combination of these two, or the first line deployed, and the second in [122] columns of attack ; and 4th, the deep formation of heavy columns of several battalions. The tirailleurs are merely accessories to the main forces, and are employed to fill up intervals, to protect the march of the columns, to annoy the enemy, and to manoeuvre on the flanks.

1st. Formerly the line of battle for infantry was very generally that of two deployed lines of troops, as shown in Fig. 26. But reason and experience have demonstrated that infantry in this thin or light order can only move very slowly; that in attempting rapid movements it breaks and exhibits great and dangerous undulations, and would be easily pierced through by troops of a deeper order. Hence it is that the light formation is only proper when the infantry is to make use of its fire, and to remain almost stationary.

2d. If the formation of a line of battalions in columns of attack be employed, the depth and mobility will depend upon the organization or habitual formation of this arm.

In our service a battalion is supposed to be composed of ten companies, each formed in three ranks. The two flank companies are designed for tirailleurs. This would give a. column of four divisions, and consequently twelve files deep; and as only two of these files could employ their fire, there would be much too large a portion of noncombatants exposed to the enemy's artillery. In practice, however, we employ the two-rank formation, which, if the flank companies be detached, would give a column of attack eight files in depth, which is not objectionable. If, however, the flank companies should be present in the battalion, the depth of the column would still be ten files.

In the French service, each battalion is composed of four divisions, formed in either two or three ranks. The two-rank formation is the one habitually employed. If all the companies be present, and the formation in three ranks, the depth of column will be twelve files ; if in two ranks. [123] the depth will be eight files. If the flank companies be detached, the depth of column will be, for three ranks nine files, and for two ranks six files. (Figs. 27 and 28.)

In the Russian service each battalion has four divisions of three ranks each. But the third rank is employed as tirailleurs, which gives a depth of column of eight files. The employment of the third rank for tirailleurs is deemed objectionable on account of the difficulty of rallying them on the column. For this reason, the best authorities prefer detaching an entire division of two companies.

The formation of squares is exceedingly effective in an open country, and against an enemy who is superior in cavalry. Formerly very large squares were employed, but they are now formed either by regiment or by battalion. The former are deemed best for the defensive, and the latter for offensive movements. The manner of arranging these is shown in Figure 29.

3d. The mixed system, or the combination of the two preceding, has sometimes been employed with success. Napoleon used this formation at Tagliamento, and the Russians at Eylau. Each regiment was composed of three battalions, the first being deployed in line, and the other two formed in columns of attack by division in rear of the two extremities, as shown in Fig. 30. It may in some cases be better to place the second and third battalions in line with the first, and on the two extremities of this battalion, in order to prolong the line of fire. The centre of the line of each regiment would be less strong, however, than when the two battalions by column are placed in rear of the other which is deployed. This mixed system of formation has many advocates, and in certain situations may be employed with great advantage.

4th. The deep order of heavy columns of several battalions is objectionable as an habitual formation for battle, inasmuch as it exposes large masses of men to the ravages [124] of artillery, and diminishes the mobility and impulsion of an attack without adding greatly to its force. Macdonald led a column of this kind at the battle of Wagram with complete success, although he experienced enormous losses. But Ney's heavy columns of attack at Waterloo failed of success, and suffered terribly from the concentric fire of the enemy's batteries.

Whenever deep columns are employed, Jomini recommends that the grand-division of twelve battalions should have one battalion on each flank, (Fig. 31,) marching by files, in order to protect its flanks from the enemy's attacks. Without this defence a column of twelve battalions deep becomes an inert mass, greatly exposed to be thrown into disorder or broken, as was the column of Fontenoy, and the Macedonian phalanx by Paulus Emillus. A grand-division is sometimes arranged in two columns by brigade, as is represented in Figure 32. These are less heavy than a single column of grand-division by battalion, but are subject to nearly the same objections.

All offensive operations on the field of battle require mobility, solidity, and impulsion; while, on the other hand, all defensive operations should combine solidity with the greatest possible amount of fire.

Troops in motion can make but little use of their firearms, whatever may be their formation. If in very large masses, they move slower and are more exposed; but the moral effect of these large moveable columns is such, that they frequently carry positions without ever employing their fire. The French columns usually succeeded against the Austrian and Prussian infantry, but the English infantry could not so easily be driven from their ground; they also employed their fire to greater advantage, as was shown at Talavera, Busaco, Fuente de Honore, Albuera, and Waterloo. The smaller columns and the mixed formation were always most successful against such troops. [125]

From these remarks we must conclude--1st, That the very thin as well as the very deep formation is objectionable under ordinary circumstances, and can seldom be employed with safety.

2d. That the attack by battalions in columns by division is the best for carrying a position; the column should, however, be diminished in depth as much as possible, in order both to increase its own fire and to diminish its exposure to the fire of the enemy ; moreover, it should be well covered by tirailleurs and supported by cavalry.

3d. That the mixed formation of the first line deployed and the second in columns of battalion by division is the best for defence.

4th. That either of the last two may be employed in the offensive or defensive, according to the nature of the ground, the character of the general, and the character and position of the troops. Squares are always good against cavalry.

Troops should be habituated to all these formations, and accustomed to pass rapidly from one to another in the daytime or at night. None, however, but disciplined troops can do this: hence the great superiority of regulars on the field of battle, where skilful manoeuvres frequently effect more than the most undaunted courage.

The arm next in importance on the battle-field is cavalry. The principal merit of this arm consists in its velocity and mobility. Cavalry has little solidity, and cannot of itself defend any position against infantry; but in connection with the other arms, it is indispensable for beginning a battle, for completing a victory, and for reaping its full advantage by pursuing and destroying the beaten foe.

There are four different modes of forming cavalry, the same as for infantry: 1st, in deployed lines; 2d, a line of regiments in column of attack on the centre; 3d, the [126] mixed formation; and 4th, the deep formation of several columns.

1st. The thin formation was deemed objectionable for infantry, on account of its liability to be penetrated by cavalry. The same objection does not hold so forcibly with respect to this latter arm; but full lines are deemed less advantageous than lines deployed checker-wise or in echelon. In either case the distance between the lines should be sufficient to prevent the second line from coming in contact with the first, in case the latter receives a slight check. This distance need not be so great in lines deployed checker-wise, as when they are full, or in echelon.

2d. The second system of formation, that is, a line of columns of attack on the central division for infantry, is by battalion, but for cavalry, by regiment. If the regiment is composed of eight squadrons, the column will contain four lines, two squadrons forming a division; but if composed of only six squadrons, the column will contain only three lines, and consequently will be six files in depth. In either case the distance between the lines should be that of a demi-squadron, when the troops are drawn up in battle array; but when charging, the divisions may close to a less distance.

3d. In forming a grand division of two brigades, by the third or mixed system, two regiments may be deployed in the first line, and three formed in columns of attack in rear of the flanks and centre, as is shown in Fig. 33, the sixth being held in reserve. This formation is deemed a good one.

4th. The fourth system, of deep columns of cavalry, is entirely unsuited for the charge, and this formation can only be employed for troops drawn up in reserve.

The flanks of lines or columns of cavalry are always much exposed, and squadrons should therefore be formed [127] in echelon on the right and left, and a little in rear of the main body, in order to protect the flanks from the attacks of the enemy's horse. Irregular cavalry is usually employed for this purpose.

In the formation of a grand division in line of battle, care should be taken not to give too great an extent to the command of the generals of brigade. If the formation be in two lines, neither brigade should. form an entire line but each should form a wing of the division, two regiments of the same brigade being placed in rear of each other. This rule is an important one, and should never be neglected.

It may also be laid down as a maxim, in the formation of cavalry on the battle-field, that the first line after the charge, even if most successful, may require reforming in rear of the second line, and that this last should be prepared to act in the front line after the first onset. The success of the battle frequently depends upon the charge of the final reserve of cavalry on the flanks of lines already engaged.

It is on account of this frequent manoeuvring of the cavalry on the battle-field, its reforming for repeated charges, that great bodies deployed in full lines are principally objected to. They cannot be handled with the facility and rapidity of columns of regiments by divisions. The attack of Nansouty's cavalry, formed in this way, on the Prussian cavalry, deployed it advance of Chateaou-Thierry, in 1814, is a good proof of this.

Cavalry may be brought to a charge--1st, in columns; 2d, in line ; and 3d, in route, or at random, (à la debandade.) These may also be varied by charging either at a trot or a gallop. All these modes have been employed with success. In a regular charge in line the lance offers great advantages; in the melee the sabre is the best weapon; hence some military writers have proposed arming [128] the front rank with lances, and the second with sabres. The pistol and the carabine are useless in the charge, but may sometimes be employed with advantage against convoys, outposts, and light cavalry; to fire the carabine with any effect, the troop must be at a halt. In all charges in line, especially against cavalry, the fast trot is deemed preferable to the gallop, on account of the difficulty of keeping up the alignment when the speed is increased. Lances are utterly useless in a melee, and in employing troops armed in this way, it is of the greatest importance to keep then in order and in line. In charging with the sabre against artillery the gallop may sometimes be employed, for velocity here may be more important than force.

We will now consider the formation and use of artillery on the field of battle. It may be laid down as a fundamental principle, that the fire of artillery should be directed on that part of the enemy's line which we design to pierce; for this fire will not only weaken this point, but will also aid the attack of the cavalry and infantry when the principal efforts are directed towards the intended point.

In the defence,the artillery is usually distributed throughout the whole line, on ground favorable for its fire; but the reserve should be so placed that it can easily be brought to bear on the point where the enemy will be most likely to direct his principal attack.

Artillery placed on a plain, or with ground slightly inclined in front, and using the point-blank or ricochet fire, is the most effective; very high points are unfavorable. If possible, the concentric fire should be employed against the ememy's columns of attack. The position of the English artillery on the field of Waterloo, and the use of the concentric fire, furnishes one of the best examples for the disposition of this arm to be found in moderm military history. [129]

The proper use of artillery on the battle-field is against the enemy's infantry and cavalry, consequently only a small part of it should be employed to respond to the fire of the enemy's batteries ; not more than one third at most can be spared for this object.

If possible, batteries should be established so as to take the enemy's line in flank, either by an oblique or enfilading fire. A direct fire against columns of attack, with a few light pieces thrown out to take it in flank at the same time, will always be advantageous. A direct and flank fire was employed with success by Kleist against the column of Ney at the battle of Bautzen; the French marshal was forced to change his direction.

Batteries should always be well secured on the flanks, and constantly sustained by infantry or cavalry. If attacked by cavalry, the artillery should keep up its fire as long as possible, first with ball, and then with grape when the enemy arrives within a suitable distance. The same rule will apply to attacks of infantry, except that the fire of solid shot at a great distance is much less effective than against mounted troops.

The engineer troops are employed on the field of battle principally by detachments, acting as auxiliaries to the other arms. Each regiment of infantry should have a detachment of sappers armed with axes to act as pioneers, for the removal of obstacles that may impede its advance. These sappers are of the utmost importance, for without them an entire column might be checked and thrown into confusion by impediments which a few sappers with their axes would remove in a very short time. Detachments of engineer troops must also act in concert with the cavalry and artillery for the same purpose as above. In establishing the batteries of artillery, in opening roads for their manoeuvres, and in arranging material obstacles for their defence, the axes, picks, and shovels of the sappers are of [130] infinite value. Field-works, bridges, and bridge-defences, frequently have a decisive influence upon the result of a battle, but as these are usually arranged previous to the action, they will be discussed in another place. In the attack and defence of these field-works, the engineer troops play a distinguished part. The consideration of this part of the subject, though perhaps properly belonging to the tactics of battles, will also be postponed to another occasion.

We will now discuss the employment of the combined arms on the field of battle.

Before the French Revolution, all the infantry, formed by regiments and brigades, was united in a single body and drawn up in two lines. The cavalry was placed on the two flanks, and the artillery distributed along the entire line. In moving by wings, they formed four columns, two of cavalry and two of infantry: in moving by a flank, they formed only two very long columns; the cavalry, however, sometimes formed a third and column in flank movements, but this disposition was rarely made.

The French Revolution introduced the system of grand divisions composed of the four arms combined; each division moved separately and independently of the other. In the wars of the Empire, Napoleon united two or more of these divisions into a corps d'armee, which formed a wing, the centre, or reserve of his grand army. In addition to these divisions and corps d'armee, he had large reserves of cavalry and artillery, which were employed as distinct and separate arms.

If the forces be sufficiently numerous to fight by corps d'armee, each corps should have its own reserve, independent of the general reserve of the army. Again, if the forces be so small as to act by grand divisions only, each division should then have its separate reserve.

An army, whether composed of separate corps or of [131] grand divisions, usually forms, on the field of battle, a centre, two wings, and a reserve. Each corps or division acts by itself; with. its infantry, cavalry, artillery, and engineer troops. The reserve of cavalry may be formed in rear of the centre or one of the wings. In small forces of fifty or sixty thousand men, the cavalry may act with advantage on the wings, in the manner of the ancients. If the reserve of this arm be large enough to form three separate bodies, it may itself very properly be formed into a centre and wings. If it be formed into two columns only, they may be placed in rear of the openings between the centre and the wings of the main force. The reserve of artillery is employed either to reinforce the centre or a wing, and in the defensive is frequently distributed throughout the whole line of battle. In offensive operations, it may be well to concentrate as much fire as possible on the intended point of attack. The mounted artillery either acts in concert with the cavalry, or is used to reinforce that arm; the light-foot acts with the infantry and the batteries of heavy calibre are distributed along the line, or concentrated on some important point where their fire may be most (effectual. They reach the enemy's forces at a distance, and arrest the impulsion of his attack. They may also be employed to draw the fire of his artillery; but their movements are too slow and difficult for a reserve.

The order of succession in which the different arms are engaged in a battle, depends upon the nature of the ground and other accidental circumstances, and cannot be determined by any fixed rules. The following, however, is most frequently employed, and in ordinary cases may be deemed good.

The attack is first opened by a cannonade; light troops are sent forward to annoy the enemy, and, if possible, to pick off his artillerists, The main body then advances in [132] two lines: the first displays itself in line as it arrives nearly within the range of grape-shot; the second line remains in columns of attack formed of battalions by division, at a distance from the first sufficient to be beyond the reach of the enemy's musketry, but near enough to support the first line, or to cover it, if driven back. The artillery, in the mean time, concentrates its fire on some weak point to open a way for the reserve, which rushes into the opening and takes the enemy in flank and rear. The cavalry charges at the opportune moment on the flank of the enemy's columns or penetrates an opening in his line, and cutting to pieces his staggered troops, forces them into retreat, and completes the victory. During this time the whole line of the enemy should be kept occupied, so as to prevent fresh troops from being concentrated on the threatened point.

The following maxims on battles may be studied with advantage :--1st. General battles are not to be fought but under the occurrence of one of the following circumstances: when you are, from any cause, decidedly superior to the enemy; when he is on the point of receiving reinforcements, which will materially effect your relative strength; when, if not beaten or checked, he will deprive you of supplies or reinforcements, necessary to the continuance or success of your operations; and, generally, when the advantage of winning the battle will be greater than the disadvantage of losing it.

2d. Whatever may be your reason for risking a general battle, you ought to regard as indispensable preliminaries,---a thorough knowledge of the ground on which you are to act; an ample supply of ammunition; the most perfect order in your fire-arms; hospital depots regularly established, with surgeons, nurses, dressings, &c., sufficient for the accommodation of the wounded; points of rendezvous established and known to the commanders of [133] corps; and an entire possession of the passes in your own rear.

3d. The battle being fought and won, the victory must be followed up with as much alacrity and vigor, as though nothing had been gained,--a maxim very difficult of observance, (from the momentary disobedience which pervades all troops flushed with conquest,) but with which an able general will never dispense. No one knew better the use of this maxim than Napoleon, and no one was a more strict and habitual observer of it.

4th. The battle being fought and lost, it is your first duty to do away the moral effect of defeat,--the want of that self-respect and self-confidence, which are its immediate followers, and which, so long as they last, are the most powerful auxiliaries of your enemy. It is scarcely necessary to remark that, to effect this object,--to reinspire a beaten army with hope, and to reassure it of victory,--we must not turn our backs on an enemy, without sometimes presenting to him our front also ;--we must not confide our safety to mere flight, but adopt such measures as shall convince him that though wounded and overpowered, we are neither disabled nor dismayed; and that we still possess enough both of strength and spirit to punish his faults, should he commit any. Do you operate in a covered or mountainous country?--avail yourself of its ridges and woods; for by doing so you will best evade the pressure of his cavalry. Have you defiles or villages to pass?--seize the heads of these, defend them obstinately, and make a show of fighting another battle. In a word, let no error of your enemy, nor any favorable incident of the ground, escape your notice or your use. It is by these means that your enemy is checked, and your troops inspirited; and it was by these that Frederick balanced his surprise at Hohenkirchen, and the defeat of his plans before Olmutz. The movement of our own [134] Washington, after losing the battle of Brandywine, was of this character. He hastily recrossed the Schuylkill with the professed intention of seeking the enemy and renewing the combat, which was apparently prevented only by a heavy and incessant fall of rain. A rumor was now raised that the enemy, while refusing his left wing, was rapidly advancing upon his right, to intercept our passage of the river, and thus gain possession of Philadelphia. This report justified a retreat, which drew from the General repeated assurances, that in quitting his present position and giving to his march a retrograde direction, it was not his object to avoid, but to follow and to fight the enemy. This movement, though no battle ensued, had the effect of restoring the confidence as well of the people as of the army.3

1 “ It does not come within the view of this work to say any thing of the merely mechanical part of the art; because it must be taken for granted, that every man who accepts the command of an army knows at least the alphabet of his trade. If he does not, (unless his enemy be as ignorant as himself,) defeat and infamy await him. Without understanding perfectly what are called the evolutions, how is it possible that a general can give to his own army that order of battle which shall be most provident and skilful in each particular case in which he may be placed? How know which of these evolutions the enemy employs against him? and, of course, how decide on a counter-movement which may be necessary to secure victory or avoid defeat? The man who shall take the command of an army without perfectly understanding this elementary branch, is no less presumptuous than he who should pretend to teach Greek without knowing even his letters. If we have such generals, let them, for their own sakes, if not for their country's, put themselves immediately to school.”

2 In the plans, B is the army in position, and A the attacking force arranged according to the different orders of battle. To simplify the drawings, a single line represents the position of an army, whereas, in practice, troops are usually drawn up in three lines. Each figure represents a grand division of twelve battalions.

3 There are innumerable works in almost every language on elementary tactics; very few persons, however, care to read any thing further than the manuals used in our own service. Our system of infantry, cavalry, and artillery tactics is generally taken from the French; and also the course of engineer instruction, so far as matured, for sappers, miners, and pontoniers, is based on the French manuals for the varied duties of this arm.

On Grand Tactics, or Tactics of Battles, the military and historical writings of General Jomini abound in most valuable instructions. Napoleon's memoirs, and the writings of Rocquancourt, Hoyer, Decker, Okouneff, Rogniat, Jocquinot-de-Presle, Guibert, Duhesme, Gassendi, Warnery, Baron Bohan, Lindneau, Maiseroy, Millor, and Ternay, are considered as being among the best authorities.

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 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.
Histoire De Napoleon (8)
Wellington (2)
Ney (2)
Jomini (2)
Turenne (1)
Thierry (1)
Ternay (1)
Sainte (1)
Rogniat (1)
Nansouty (1)
Murat (1)
Marmont (1)
MacDonald (1)
Jourdan (1)
Fuente Honore (1)
Hannibal (1)
Guibert (1)
Decker (1)
Davoust (1)
Bohan (1)
Benningsen (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.
1814 AD (2)
1809 AD (2)
1813 AD (1)
1812 AD (1)
1794 AD (1)
1706 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: