A case and a parallel.
In the year 1811, Marshal Massens
, "the spoiled child of victory," as he had been styled, with an army of 70,000 veterans, the flower of Napoleon
's legions, undertook the invasion of Portugal
by the Northern
He had been ordered to take Lisbon
at all hazards, and to drive the English
into the sea. "On to Lisbon
" was the word, and not a man in the French
army doubted that Lisbon
would soon be captured.
, with an army of 60,000 men, 35,000 of them British soldiers, and the rest Portuguese
, who had proved themselves equal to any soldiers on the continent, took post on the crest of the Sirra de Busaco
, a long range of lofty heights, which lay directly across the line of the invader's march.
, by inclining to his right, might have passed entirely around this formidable position, and pursued his way without the loss of a single man. But the direct road to Lisbon
ran over the mountain, and he determined to "fight it out on that line, if it took him the whole summer." He accordingly attacked Wellington
in this formidable position, which might have defied the assault of half a million of men, and being strongly impressed with the idea that the allies would make little resistance, he attacked with but twenty-five thousand men. Of course he was repulsed with enormous slaughter, losing two thousand men killed on the spot, and a proportionate number of wounded.
This attempt having convinced him that the position of Busaco was too strong to be carried by any force he had at command, he quietly drew off, by his right, and took the unobstructed road, which he might have taken at first without the loss of a man. Not withstanding he had been so roughly handled at Busaco the impression that the English
would take to their ships as soon as he appeared before Lisbon
was so strong in him that he actually left his baggage and wounded without a guard at Colmbra, where they were "gobbled up," to use the Yankee
phrase, by the Portuguese guerillas.
When he arrived within twenty-five miles of Lisbon
he came upon the works of Torres Vedras, and Wellington
behind them with his whole army, and 40,000 Portuguese militia to boot, Finding the works too strong to be carried by storm, and that it was impossible to reduce them by famine, after loitering before them for two months, and losing half his army in partial attacks, in which, from the protection afforded by their works, he inflicted scarcely any loss upon the enemy, he fell back, and was pursued by Wellington
, who drove him entirely out of Portugal
and into Spain
Every military writer who has written upon this campaign — among them Napoleon
himself, and Napier
— has described the attack upon Busaco as an enormous blunder, which occasional the loss of eight or ten thousand men, which was productive of unalloyed evil, which might have been avoided without difficulty, which failed to obtain an object that was afterwards obtained, and might have been obtained at first without fighting at all, and which formed the first of a series of causes that led to the disastrous issue of the campaign.
entered upon this campaign with a high reputation.
He had saved the Republic
by his brilliant campaign of 1799--he had enabled Gen. Bonaparte
to reconquer Italy
by his obstinate defence of Genca in 1800--and, with inferior forces, he had baffled the Archduke Charles
But this great blunder destroyed his reputation as a strategist and tactician forever.
He was recalled shortly after his retreat, and never again commanded a French army.--Napoleon
, at St. Helena, apologized for him, by saying that his health was extremely had — that he made the campaign in a litter — that he could not reconnoitre on account of his continued illness — and that trusting to the report of others he knew not how formidable the position of Busaco really was.
This is the "case," Now for the "parallel." In the year 1864 Lieut. Gen. Grant
, of the United States Army, invaded Virginia
.--He, too, had a high reputation.
He had taken Fort Donelson
, and these exploits had made him the idol of Yankeedom, who worshipped him as no professional destroyer of the human race had ever been worshipped since the days of the god Mars
He had been ordered to take Richmond
, drive the "rebels" out of Virginia
, and "crush the rebellion" in thirty days--that is to say, before the Presidential Convention
met at Baltimore
He commenced his march in the direct line to Richmond
He had the choice of two others, the possession of which would not have cost a drop of blood.
But he is a straight up and down man, and preferred the direct line.
He had not proceeded far before he found that Lee
had thrown himself across his line of march.
Day after day he attacked his position, and after having lost 35,000 men drew off by his left, and pursued a route which he might have pursued at first without losing a man. He had not proceeded on this sidelong route more than a day's march when he arrived at the direct road once more, and there he found Lee
again in his front strongly posted, and evincing no disposition to get out of the way. Resolved to "fight it out on this line, if it took him all summer," he again attacked Lee
, and was repulsed with unheard-of slaughter.
Being utterly unable to force his position, having lost, from the opening of the campaign 75,000 men, and not being able to bring his men up to the scratch any longer, he again sided off upon his left, as he might have done without fighting at all, and upon reaching the direct road again found Lee
in his front.
Grown wiser by an experience which had cost him half his army, he sided off this time without fighting at all, and is now in front of Lee
, trying to reach at all, and is now in front of Lee
, trying to reach the James river
, which, in the first instance, he might have reached without bloodshed.
Here we see the blunder of Massena
, and the very manœuvre by which he hoped to retrieve it, repeated on an enormously extended scale.
had but one path by which he could have avoided bloodshed.
fought but one unsuccessful battle; Grant
has fought eight or ten.
's unnecessary battle cost him at most eight or ten thousand men. Grant
's cost him, at the lowest estimate, 75,000 men. If Massena
blundered greatly, Grant
has blundered enormously.--He has thus far shown the qualities of a mad bull, who shuts both eyes, and rushes upon the hunter with the lasco ready prepared for ensuring him.
We have presented this parallel because we have heard it said that Grant
manifested great talent in slinking off by his left, after he had in vain attempted to drive his enemy by a front attack.
Yet the very same manœuvre destroyed the reputation of Massena
with all military men. Massena
's worst blunder is, it seems, Grant
's wisest manœuvre.