"Fools alone," says Napoleon I., "judge of the wisdom of measures by the result." It needs but little reflection, and a slight acquaintance with mankind to convince us of the truth of this maxim.
The wisest measures, the most carefully digested plane, are often thwarted when on the point of success, by some unforeseen incident of the most trivial importance, some accident which never could have entered into human calculation some mistake of some agent, which it was impossible to foresees.
Is the conception to be condemned as ridiculous because of the failure in the execution?
so say the class of persons to whom Napoleon
alludes, and so say the majority of the world, who take their opinions ready made, and never give themselves the trouble of thinking.
Of all other plans which are subject to this description of criticism, military plans are those which are most apt to be judged by the result, because, of all others, they are the most exposed to the caprice of fortune.
A campaign projected with the most profound wisdom, and having for its and the most important objects, may fail, while another conceived in folly and executed against all the rules of military science may succeed.
In such cases the public never fail to set down the first as an enterprise of such a nature that it could have succeeded in no possible combination of circumstances, while they always applaud the last as the perfection of wisdom.
The little fortress of Bard — so insignificant that it was entirely overlooked in the plan of campaign — was near baffling Napoleon
in his advance upon Milan
in 1800, and shutting up his army in the narrow Valley of Aosta, to be destroyed at leisure by the Austrians.
The sagacity of a peasant, by conducting the corps of the Prussian Gen. Bulow
along the road that led immediately to the flank and rear of the French
army when several others presented themselves, saved the English
army from utter destruction at Waterloo
If, in the first case, the unforeseen obstacle had caused the failure of the enterprise, the class of persons who judge of merit only by success would have pronounced Napoleon
a rash and indiscreet General, who has undertaken an enterprise above his strength and failed, as he ought to have known that he must
In the last mentioned case he actually is condemned in almost these very terms, because Bulow
chanced to meet with a guide possessing above the average intelligence of Flemish peasants, although his plan of campaign was fraught with the most consummate wisdom.
Some spring or wheel of the very complicated machinery with which the campaign against Cornwallis, terminating in his surrender at York
, was worked, might have jarred — and in order to ensure success it was necessary that every part of it should do its work faithfully — and Washington
might have failed.
Then, most assuredly, he and his plan would have been denounced by this class of persons.
We have been led into these reflections by the comments which we hear made every day upon the campaign of Gen Lee
To our mind it was one of the wisest, grandest, and most imposing schemes ever conceived by the mind of man. It proposed to force the Federal
army into a battle, the stake of which was Washington
the whole of Maryland
; and the recognition of our existence as a separate nation.
To succeed, the most ample means, as it was believed, were prepared.
He was at the head of an army that had never been beaten, and he was opposed to an army that had never been victorious.
According to all rational calculation success was certain.
Yet, from one of those accidents which are so common in war — from the failure of a division that had never failed before — he did not succeed to the full extent of public expectation.
instantly all the foots, who judge by results, cried out that the scheme was impracticable; and that the attempt to carry it out indicated a hardihood and desperation that ill became the commander of the chief Confederate army.-- Had he succeeded, as he would have done but for an accident past the power of human sagacity to foresee, these very men would have been the first to extol his wise foresight.
Persons of this description are unable to see any advantage that has been derived from the invasion of Pennsylvania
The immense stores, of every kind, which we captured; the relief to our own overburdened land by the transfer of the war to the country of the enemy; the terror with which the whole North
was struck, as by a thunderbolt the moral advantage obtained by proving to the enemy that his dominions were open to invasion; all these pass for nothing with these people.
But they fortunately do not pass for nothing with the enemy, who sees and appreciates them all at their full value.