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Chapter 4: grand tactics, and battles.

Battles are the definitive shock of two armies which are contending for great questions of policy or of strategy. Strategy leads armies upon the decisive points of the zone of operations, prepares the chances of battle, and influences in advance its results; but it is for tactics, united to courage, to genius and to fortune, to gain them.

Grand tactics is then the art of well combining and well conducting battles; the directing principle of the combinations of tactics is the same as that of strategy, it is the carrying the weight of our forces upon a part only of the hostile army and upon the point which promises the greatest results.

It has been said that battles were difinitively the principal and decisive action of war; this assertion is not always exact, for we have seen armies destroyed by strategic operations without there having been battles, but only a series of small combats. It is true also that a complete and decisive victory may give the same results without there having been grand strategic combinations.

The results of a battle depend ordinarily upon a union of causes which are not always in the domain of the military art; the kind of order of battle adopted, the wisdom of its measures of execution, the more or less loyal and enlightened concurrence of the lieutenants of the generalissimo, the cause of the struggle, the enthusiasm, the proportions and the quality [202] of the troops, the superiority in artillery or in cavalry, and their good employment, but above all the moral condition of armies and even of nations, are what give victories more or less decisive, and determine their results. Therefore has General Clausewitz advanced a great sophism in telling us that without turning manoeuvres, a battle could not procure a complete victory. That of Zama saw perish in a few hours, the fruit of twenty years of glory and success of Hannibal, without any one having thought of turning him. At Rivoli the turners were completely beaten, and they were not more happy either at Stockach in 1799, or at Austerlitz in 1805. As will be seen in Art. 33, I am far from rejecting manoeuvres tending to outflank and to turn a wing, for I have constantly insisted upon them, but it is important to know how to turn timely and skillfully, and I think that strategic manoeuvres for seizing communications without losing one's own, are more sure than those of tactics.

There are three kinds of battles: the first are defensive battles, that is to say, those which an army delivers in an advantageous position where it awaits the enemy; the second are offensive battles, delivered by an army for attacking the enemy in a chosen position; the third are unexpected battles delivered by the two parties on the march. We shall examine successively the divers combinations which they present.

Article XXXI: positions and defensive battles.

When an army expects a combat, it takes position and forms its line of battle. It has been seen, by the general definition of operations given at the commencement of this work, that I have made a distinction between lines of battle and orders of battle, objects which have been until this day confounded.

I shall give the name line of battle to the position deployed, or composed of battalions in columns of attack, which an army will take, in order to occupy a camp and a ground where it may receive combat without a determinate aim, it is the denomination proper for a troop formed according [203] to tactics, upon one or several lines, and which will make the more special object of Article 43. I shall call on the contrary, an order of battle that disposition of troops indicating a given manoeeuvre; for example, the parallel order, the oblique order, and the order perpendicular upon the wings.

This denomination, although new, appears indispensable, in order to designate clearly two objects which it is necessary to guard against confounding.1 From the nature of these two things, we see that the line of battle belongs more particularly to the defensive system, since the army which awaits the enemy, without knowing what he is going to do, truly forms a line of battle vague and without object. The order of battle indicating on the contrary, a disposition of troops formed with the intention for combat, and supposing a manoeuvre decided upon in advance, belongs more especially to the offensive order. I do not pretend, however, that the line of battle is exclusively defensive, for a troop might very well attack a position in this formation; in the same manner a defensive army might adopt an oblique order, or any other fit for the offensive. I speak only of the most frequent cases.

Without following absolutely what is called the system of a war of positions, an army may nevertheless, often await the enemy at an advantageous post, strong by nature, and chosen beforehand for receiving there a defensive battle. We can take such a post when we aim to cover an important objective point, such as a capital, grand depots, or a decisive strategic point which commands the country, finally, when a siege is to be protected.

There are besides several kinds of positions, the strategical, of which we have spoken in Article 20, and the tactical. These last are subdivided in their turn; there are first intrenched positions, selected for awaiting the enemy in a post sheltered, by works more or less connected, in a word, in intrenched camps; we have treated of their relations with strategic operations in Article 27, and we shall treat of their attack and defense in Article 36. The second are positions strong from their nature, where armies [204] encamp for gaining a few days. The last finally are open positions, but chosen beforehand for receiving battle.

The qualities which should be sought in these, vary according to the object had in view; it is important in the meanwhile, not to allow ourselves to lean to the prejudice too much in vogue, which causes to be preferred positions steep and difficult of access, very suitable perhaps for a temporary camp, but which are not always the best for delivering battle. Indeed, a position is not strong merely because it is composed of a steep ground, but rather when it is in harmony with the object which we propose in taking it, and when it offers the greatest possible advantages to the kind of troops which constitutes the principal strength of the army; finally, when the obstacles of the ground are more injurious to the enemy than to the army which shall occupy that position. For example, it is certain that Massena, taking the strong position of the Albis, would have committed a grave fault if he had been superior in cavalry and in artillery; whilst, for his excellent infantry, it was exactly what he needed. For the same reason, Wellington, whose whole strength consisted in his weight of fire, chose well the position of Waterloo, all the avenues of which he swept to a distance by a rasant fire. Moreover, the position of the Albis was rather a strategic position, that of Waterloo a position for battle. The maxims which must ordinarily be observed for these last are:

1. To have outlets more easy for falling upon the enemy when the moment is judged favorable, than the latter would have for approaching the line of battle.

2. To assure to the artillery all its defensive effect.

3. To have a ground advantageous for concealing the movements that might be made, from one wing to the other, with a view of directing masses upon the point judged suitable.

4. To be able, on the contrary, to discover easily the movements of the enemy.

5. To have an easy retreat.

6. To have the flanks well supported, in order to render an attack upon the extremities impossible, and to reduce the enemy to an attack upon the centre, or at least upon the front.

This last condition is difficult to fulfil; for if the army is supported by a river, by mountains or impracticable forests, and experiences the least check, it may be changed into a complete disaster, since the broken line would be thrown back upon those same obstacles which were believed suited to protect it. This incontestable danger authorizes the belief [205] that posts of an easy defense are better, on a day of battle, than insurmountable obstacles, since it suffices to have posts where we can maintain ourselves for a few hours by the aid of simple detachments.2

A defect of support for the flanks is remedied sometimes by crotchets in rear. This system is dangerous, inasmuch as a crotchet inherent to the line constrains the movements, and the enemy, by placing cannon upon the angle of the two lines, would cause in them great ravages. A double reserve, disposed in deep order behind the wing which we should wish to secure from insult, seems better to accomplish the object than a crotchet; localities ought to determine the employment of these two means. We shall give more ample details of them in the battle of Prague, (Chapter 2d of the Seven Years War.)

7. It is not only the flanks that we should seek to cover in a defensive position, it often happens that the front offers obstacles upon a part of its development, so as to necessitate the enemy to direct his attacks upon the centre. Such a position will always be one of the most advantageous for a defensive army, as the battles of Malplaquet and Waterloo have proved. To attain this object, immense obstacles are not necessary, the least accident of ground sometimes suffices; it was the miserable stream of Papelotte which forced Ney to attack the centre of Wellington, instead of assailing the left as he was ordered.

When such a post is to be defended, it is necessary to render movable a part of the wings thus sheltered, in order that they may participate in the action, instead of remaining idle witnesses thereof.

It cannot be dissembled, nevertheless, that all these means are but paliatives, and that the best of all for an army which awaits the enemy defensively, is to know how to retake the initiative when the moment has arrived for doing so with success.

We have placed in the number of qualities requisite for a position, that of offering an easy retreat; this leads us to the examination of a question raised by the battle of Waterloo. Would an army, backed against a forest, when it should have a good road in rear of the centre and each of [206] the wings, be compromised as Napoleon has pretended, if it chanced to lose the battle? As for myself I believe, on the contrary, that such a position would be more favorable for a retreat than a ground wholly uncovered, for the beaten army could not traverse a plain without being exposed to the greatest danger. Doubtless, if the retreat should degenerate into a complete rout, a part of the artillery left in battery before the forest would probably be lost, but the infantry, the cavalry and the remainder of the artillery would retire as well as across a plain. If the retreat, on the contrary, is made in order, nothing could better protect it than a forest; well understood, nevertheless, that there exist at least two good roads behind the line, that one does not allow himself to be pressed too near, without considering upon the measures necessary for the retreat, and that no lateral movement be permitted the enemy in advance of the army at the issue of the forest, as took place at Hohenlinden. The retreat would be all the more sure if, as was the case at Waterloo, the forest formed a concave line in the rear of the centre, for this reentrant would become a veritable place of arms for collecting the troops and giving them time to file successively upon the grand route.

We have already indicated, in speaking of strategic operations, the divers chances which the two systems, offensive and defensive, procure an army, and we have seen, that in strategy especially, he who took the initiative, had the great advantage of directing his masses, and of striking where he judged agreeable to his interests to do so; whilst he who waits in position, anticipated everywhere, and often taken by surprise, was always forced to subject his movements to those of his adversary. But we have recognized equally that in tactics, those advantages are less positive, because the operations not being upon so vast a circuit, he who has the initiative could not conceal them from the enemy who, discovering him instantly, can, by the aid of good reserves, remedy it upon the spot. Besides that, he who marches upon the enemy, has against him all the disadvantages resulting from obstacles of the ground which he has to overcome, in order to approach the line of his adversary; however flat a country may be, there are always inequalities in the ground, little ravines, small forests, hedges, farm houses, and villages to gain or to pass; add to these natural obstacles, hostile batteries to carry, and the disorder which always introduces itself more or less in a troop long exposed to the fire of artillery or musketry, and we shall be convinced that at least, the advantage of the initiative is balanced.

However incontestable these truths may be, there is another which rises above them, and which is demonstrated by the greatest events of history. [207] It is that in the long run, every army which awaits the enemy in a fixed post, will end by being forced, whilst that by profiting at first of the advantages of the defensive, in order to seize afterwards those which the initiative procures, it may hope for the greatest successes. A general who waits for the enemy like an automaton, without taking any other part than that of fighting valiantly, will always succumb when he shall be well attacked. It is not so with a general who awaits with the firm resolution of combining great manoeuvres against his adversary, to the end of retaking the moral advantage which the offensive impulse gives, and the certainty of placing his masses in action upon the most important point, which in the simple defensive never has place.

In fact, if he who awaits is found in a well chosen post, where his movements may be free, he has the advantage of seeing the enemy arrive; his troops well disposed beforehand according to the ground, and favored by batteries placed in such a manner as to obtain the greatest effect, may make his adversaries pay dear for the ground which separates the two armies; and when the assailant, already shaken by sensible losses, shall be vigorously assailed himself at the moment when he believed himself within reach of victory, it is not probable that the advantage will remain on his side, for the moral effect of such an offensive return on the part of the enemy who was considered beaten,, is calculated to shake the most audacious.

A general may then employ with the same success, for battles, the offensive or defensive system; but it is indispensable to this effect:

1st. That, far from limiting himself to a passive defense, he should know how to pass from the defensive to the offensive when the moment has arrived;

2d. That he should have a sure coup d'oeil and much calmness;

3d. That he command troops upon whom he can count;

4th. That in retaking the offensive he should not neglect to apply the general principles which would have presided over his order of battle, if he had commenced by being the aggressor;

5th. That he direct his blows upon the decisive points.

The example of Bonaparte at Rivoli and at Austerlitz, that of Wellington at Talavera, at Salamanca and at Waterloo, prove these truths.


Article XXXII: offensive battles, and different orders of battle.

We understand by offensive battles those which an army delivers which assails another in its position.3 An army reduced to the strategic defensive often takes the offensive in the attack, as the army which receives the attack can, in the course even of the battle, reseize the initiative and retake the superiority which it procures. History is not wanting in a host of examples for each of these different kinds of battles. As we have already spoken of the last in the preceding Article, and as we have presented there the advantage which may be found in awaiting the attack, we will limit ourselves here to speaking of what concerns the assailants.

It cannot be concealed that the latter have, in general, the advantage which the superiority of moral confidence procures, and that they know almost always better what they want and what they are doing.

When it is resolved to assail the enemy, some order of attack should be adopted, and this is what I have thought it my duty to name orders of battle. However, it also frequently happens that we have to begin the battle without a settled plan, for the want of knowing exactly the position of the enemy. In both cases it is always necessary to be well impressed beforehand, that there is in each battle one decisive point which procures the victory better than others, by assuring the application of the principles of war, and it is necessary to place ourselves in condition to carry our efforts upon this point.

The decisive point of a field of battle is determined as we have already said: by the configuration of the ground, by the combination of the localities with the strategic end that any army proposes to itself, finally, by the position of the respective forces.

Let us give an example. When a hostile wing, is supported upon heights whence it could batter our line in its whole prolongation, the occupation [209] of those heights seems the most advantageous tactical point; but it may happen, nevertheless, that these heights are of a very difficult access, and situated precisely at the least important point relatively to strategic views. At the battle of Bautezen, the left of the Allies was supported by the steep mountains of Bohemia, then rather neutral than hostile; it seemed then that, tactically, the side of those mountains would be the decisive point to carry, and it was just the opposite; because that the ground was very favorable there to the defense, that the allied army had only a single line of retreat upon Reichenbach and Gorlitz, and that the French, by forcing the right in the plain, seized upon this line of retreat, and threw the allied army into the mountains, where it would have lost all its materiel and a great part of its personnel. This last course offered then more facilities of ground, more immense results, and less obstacles to vanquish.

From all that precedes, we can, I believe, deduce the following truths: 1st. The topographical field of battle is not always the tactical key. 2d. The decisive point of a field of battle is unquestionably that which unites the strategic advantage with the most favorable localities. 3d. In the case where there are not too formidable difficulties of ground upon the strategic point of this field of battle, that point is ordinarily the most important. 4th. However, it happens also that the determination of this point depends above all upon the position of the respective forces; thus, in lines of battle too extended and cut up, the centre will be always the most essential to attack; in close lines the centre is on the contrary, the strongest point, since independently of the reserves which are found there, it will be easy to cause it to be sustained by the wings; then the decisive point will be on the contrary, upon one of the extremities. With a great superiority of forces, we may attack the two extremities at the same time, but not with forces equal or inferior. It is seen then that all the combinations of a battle consists in employing our forces in such a manner that they obtain the greatest possible action upon that one of the three points which offers the most advantages, a point which it will be easy to determine, by submitting it to the analysis which we have just explained.

The aim of an offensive battle can only be to dislodge and break the enemy, unless by strategic manoeuvres the entire ruin of his army has been prepared; now an enemy is dislodged, either by overthrowing his line upon some point of his front, or by outflanking it, in order to take it in flank or in reverse, or in making the two means concur at the same time, that is to say, by an attack in front at the same time that an acting wing should double and turn the line.

In order to attain these various ends, it is necessary to choose the order of battle most appropriate to the mode which shall be preferred. [210]

There are counted at least twelve kinds of orders of battle, viz: 1st. The simple parallel order; 2d. The parallel order with the defensive or offensive crotchet; 3d. The order reinforced upon one or two wings; 4th. The order reinforced upon the centre; 5th. The oblique order, either simple or reinforced upon the assailing wing; 6th and 7th. The order perpendicular upon one or both wings; 8th. The concave order; 9th. The convex order; 10th. The order in echelon upon one or both wings; 11th. The order in echelon upon the centre; 12th. The order combined of a strong attack upon the centre and upon one of the extremities at the same time. (See plate opposite, figures 1 to 12.)

Each of these orders may be employed simply or be combined, as has been said, with the manoeuvre of a strong column destined to turn the hostile line. In order to judge of the merit of each of them, it is necessary to be assured of their relations with the general principles which we have laid down.

We see, for example, that the parallel order (No. 1) is the worst; for there is no skill in causing the two parties to fight with equal chances, battalion against battalion; it is the absence of all tactics. There is, nevertheless, an important case in which this order is suitable; it is when an army having taken the initiative of grand strategic operations, shall have succeeded in carrying itself upon the communications of its adversary, and in cutting him off from his line of retreat while covering its own; then when the definitive shock between the armies has place, he who is found upon the rear may deliver a parallel battle, since having made the decisive manoeuvre before the battle, his whole aim consists in repelling the effort of the enemy to open himself a passage; except this case the parallel order is the least advantageous. Nevertheless, that is not saying that a battle cannot be gained by adopting it, for it is necessary that some one should gain it, and the advantage will remain then to him who shall have the best troops, who shall know best how to engage them at the proper time, who shall manoeuvre best with his reserves, or finally who shall be favored by fortune. The parallel order with a crotchet upon the flank, (fig. 2) is taken most ordinarily in a defensive position; it may, however, be also the result of an offensive combination, but then it will be found in advance of the line, whilst in the defensive it is in rear. There may be seen in the battle of Prague, one of the most extraordinary examples of the fate which such a crotchet may experience when it is well attacked.

The parallel order (No. 3,) reinforced upon one of the wings, or that (No. 4,) reinforced upon the centre, in order to pierce that of the enemy, are much more favorable than the two preceding, and are also much more conformable [211] to the general principle which we have pointed out, although with an equality of forces, the part of the line which should be weakened, in order to reinforce the other, might also be compromised, if it were placed in battle parallelly to the enemy.

The oblique order (No. 5,) is that which suits the best an inferior army, which attacks a superior; for, while offering the advantage of carrying the mass of the forces upon a single point of the enemy's line, it procures two others equally important; in fact, we do not only refuse the weakened wing, by keeping it beyond the blows of the enemy, that wing fulfills still the double destination of holding in respect the part of the line which it is not wished to attack, and in the mean time of being able to serve as reserve at need to the acting wing. This order was employed by the celebrated Epaminondas at the battle of Leuctra and Mantinea; but we shall present the most brilliant example of the advantages of this system, which was given by Frederick the Great at the battle of Leuthen. (See Chapter 7, Treatise of Grand Operations.)

The order perpendicular upon one. or both wings, such as is presented in figures 6 and 7, should only be considered a theoretical form to indicate the tactical direction upon which we should direct our efforts. Never would two armies be found in positions relatively perpendicular, such as we see them traced on the plate, for if the Army B took in fact its first direction in a perpendicular line upon one or both of the extremities of the Army A, the latter would change immediately the front of a part of its line, and even the Army B, when it should have attained or passed the extremity, would not fail to change the direction of its columns to the right or to the left, in order to approach the enemy's line, so that the part C would take it in reverse, and there would result two true oblique lines like those pointed out in figure 6. It must be inferred hence, that a single division of the assailing army should be carried perpendicularly upon the enemy's flank, whilst that the remainder of this army should approach the other extremity, in order to disquiet it, which would lead to one of the oblique dispositions indicated by figures 5 and 12.

Besides, the attack upon two wings, whatever form we may give it, may be very advantageous, but it is when the assailant is found very superior in number; for if the fundamental principle consists in carrying the major part of the forces upon the decisive point, an inferior army would violate this principle in forming a double attack against a single superior mass; we shall demonstrate this truth in the course of the work.

The order, concave upon the centre, (No. 8,) has found partisans, since Hannibal owed to it the signal victory of Cannae. This order may be, in [212] fact, very good when it is taken in consequence of the events of the battle, that is to say, when the enemy engages in the centre which yields before him, and when he allows himself to be enveloped by the wings. But if this formation is taken before the battle, the enemy, instead of throwing himself upon the centre, would only have to fall upon the wings which would of themselves present their extremities, and would be thus in the same situation as if they were found assailed upon a flank. Therefore, this position is seldom taken, except against an enemy who should himself be formed in convex order to deliver battle, as will be seen hereafter.

In truth, an army will rarely form a semi-circle, and will rather take a broken line reentrant towards the centre, (like figure 8 bis.) If we believe several writers, it was such a disposition which caused the English to triumph on the celebrated days of Crecy and Agincourt. It is certain that this order is better than a semi-circle, because it does not lend the flank so much, allows the marching in advance by echelon, and preserves with that all the effect of concentration of fire. However, its advantages disappear if the enemy, instead of throwing himself madly in the concave centre, confines himself to observing it from a distance, and throw himself with the mass of his forces upon one wing only. The battle of Essling, in 1809, offers still an example of the advantage of a concave line; but it cannot be inferred that Napoleon did badly in attacking its centre; we cannot judge an army fighting with the Danube at its back, and not having the power to move without uncovering its bridges, as if it had had full liberty of manoeuvering.

The convex order salient at the centre, (No. 9,) is taken for fighting immediately after the passage of a river, when we are forced to refuse the wings, in order to rest on the river and cover the bridges, or better still, when we fight defensively, backed against a river, in order to repass it and cover the defile as at Leipsig; finally we can take it naturally, in order to arrest an enemy who forms a concave line. If the enemy directed his effort upon the salient, or upon one of the extremities alone, that order would cause the ruin of the army.4 The French took it at Fleurus in 1794, and succeeded, because the Prince of Coburg, instead of attacking in force the centre, or a single extremity, divided his efforts upon five or six divergent rays, and especially upon the two wings at the [213] same time. It was nearly in the same convex order that they fought at Essling, as well as on the second and third days of the famous battle of Leipsig; it had, on the last occasions, the infallible results which it ought to have.

The order of echelons upon the two wings (No. 10) is in the same case as the perpendicular order; (No. 7); it must be observed nevertheless that the echelons approaching towards the centre, where would be held the reserve, this order would be better than the perpendicular, since the enemy would have less facility, space and time to throw himself in the interval of the centre and direct there a menacing counter-attack.

The order of echelons upon the centre only (No. 11) might especially be employed with success against an army which should occupy a line broken and too much extended, because his centre being found then isolated from the wings in a manner to be overcome separately, this army, cut thus in two, would probably be destroyed. But by the application of the same fundamental principle this order of attack would be less certain against an army occupying a compact and united position, for the reserves being found ordinarily within reach of the centre and the wings being able to act either by a concentric fire or by taking the offensive against the first echelons, could easily repulse them.

If this formation offers some resemblance to the famous triangular wedge or caput porci of the ancients and with the column of Winkelried; it differs from them however essentially, because in place of forming a full mass, which would be impracticable in our days on account of the artillery, it would offer on the contrary a great open space in the middle, which would facilitate the movements. This formation suitable, as has been said, for piercing the centre of a too extended line, could equally succeed against a line which should be condemned to immobility; but if the wings of the line attacked know how to act seasonably against the flanks of the first echelons, it would not be without its inconveniences. A parallel order considerably reinforced upon the centre would perhaps be better, (figures 4 and 12) for the parallel line, in this case would have at least the advantage of deceiving the enemy upon the true point of the projected effort and of preventing the wings from taking in flank the echelons of the centre.

This echelon order was adopted by Laudon for the attack of the intrenched camp of Burzelwitz (Treatise of Grand Operations Chapter 28). In such a case it is really suitable, since we are sure then that the defensive army being forced to remain in its intrenchments, there would be no attack to fear on his part against the flanks of the echelons. However [214] this formation having the inconvenience of indicating to the enemy the point of the line which he wishes to attack, it would be indispensable to make upon the wings simultaneous attacks strong enough to mislead the enemy upon the real point where the effort should be directed.

The order of attack in columns upon the centre and upon one extremity at the same time (No. 12) is more suitable than the preceding, especially when it is applied to a continuous hostile line; it may even be said that of all the orders of battle it is the most rational; in fact the attack upon the centre seconded by a wing that outflanks the enemy, prevents the latter from doing as Hannibal and Marshal Saxe did; that is to say, from rushing upon the assailant taking him in flank ; the hostile wing which is formed pressed between the attack of the centre and that of the extremity, having almost the whole of the assailing masses to combat,will be overwhelmed and probably destroyed. This was the manoeuvre which caused Napoleon to triumph at Wagram and at Ligny; it was what he wished to attempt at Borodino and which only succeeded imperfectly on account of the heroic defense of the troops of the left wing of the Russians, that of the division Paskevitch il the famous redoubt of the centre, then by the arrival of the corps of Baggavout upon the wing which he hoped to outflank. Finally he employed it also at Bantzen where he would have obtained unexampled success but for an incident which deranged the manoeuvre of his left destined to cut off the route of Wurschen, and which had already everything disposed for that purpose.

We should observe that those different orders could not be taken literally as the geometrical figures indicate them, A general who should wish to establish his line of battle with the same regularity as upon paper, or upon a field of exercise, would unquestionably be deceived in his expectations and beaten, especially after the present method of making war. In the times of Louis XIV, and Frederick the Great, when armies encamped under tents, almost always united; when one found himself several days face to face with the enemy, when he had leisure to open marches or symmetrical roads in order to cause his columns to arrive at uniform distances; then a line of battle could be formed almost as regular as the figures traced, But now that armies bivouac, that their organization into several corps renders them more moveable, that they approach each other in consequence of orders given out of the visual ray and often without even having had time to reconnoitre exactly the position of the enemy, finally that the different arms are found mingled in the line of battle: then all orders drawn by compass must necessarily be found at fault. Therefore those kinds of figures have ever served only to indicate an approximate disposition. [215]

If armies were compact masses which could be moved in a single body by the effect of a single will and as rapidly as thought, the art of gaining battles would be reduced to choosing the most favorable order of battle, and we might count upon the success of manoeuvres combined previous to the combat. But it is quite otherwise: the greatest difficulty in the tactics of battles will ever be to assure the putting in simultaneous action all those numerous fractions which should concur in the attack upon which the hope of victory is founded, or more properly speaking, the execution of the capital manoeuvre which, according to the primitive plan, should bring about success.

The precise transmission of orders, the manner in which the lieutenants of the general-in-chief shall conceive and execute them; the too great, energy of some, the laxity or the defective coup d'oeil of others; all may hinder that simultaneous action, without speaking of fortuitous accidents which may suspend the arrival of a corps.

From thence result two incontestible truths, the first is that the more simple a decisive manoeuvre shall be, the more certain will be its success; the second is that the seasonableness of sudden dispositions, taken during the combat, is of more probable success than the effect of manoeuvres combined in advance; unless the latter reposing upon interior strategic movements, have led the columns which are to decide the battle, upon points where their effect will be assured. Warterloo and Bautzen attest this last truth; from the moment when Bulow and Blucher had arrived upon the height of Frischermont, nothing could have prevented the loss of the battle by the French, they could struggle only to render the defeat more or less complete. In the same manner at Bautzen as soon as Ney had arrived at Klix, the retreat of the Allies on the night of the 20th of May, would alone have been able to save them, for on the 21st it was no longer time, and if Ney had better executed what he was advised, the victory would have been immense.

With regard to manoeuvres for breaking a line, by counting upon the co-operation of columns departing from the same front as the rest of the army, to the end of operating by great circular movements around a hostile wing, their success is always doubtful, for it depends upon a precision of calculation and of execution which is seldom met with; we shall speak of them in Article 33.

Independently of the difficulty of counting upon the exact application of a premeditated order of battle, it often happens that battles commence without determinate objects, even on the part of the assailant, although the shock was anticipated. This uncertainty results either from the precedents [216] of the battle or from want of knowledge of the position of the enemy and of his projects, or finally from the waiting for a portion of the army which might yet be in rear.

Hence many people have concluded against the possibility of reducing the formations of orders of battle into different systems, and against the influence which the adoption of such or such another of those orders could exercise upon the issue of a combat; a false conclusion, in my opinion, even in the cases before cited. Indeed, in those battles commenced without a decided plan, it is probable that at the commencement of the action the armies are found in line nearly parallel to each other, more or less reinforced upon one or the other point; the defender ignorant upon what side the storm will burst, will hold a good part of his forces in reserve to guard against events; he who is resolved to attack will do the same at first in order to have his masses disposable; but as soon as the assailant shall have determined the point upon which he shall decide to strike, then his masses will be directed, either upon the centre, or upon one of the wings, or upon both at the same time. Now, whatever may happen there will ever result approximately one of the dispositions prescribed in the different figures of the preceding plate. Even in unexpected rencounters the same thing would happen, which will demonstrate, I hope, that this classification of the various systems or orders of battle is neither chimerical nor useless.

Indeed there is nothing even in the battles of Napoleon which does not prove this assertion, although they are less than all others susceptible of being figured by lines traced with the compass; we see, for example, that at Rivoli, Austerlitz, Ratisbon, he concentrated his forces upon the centre in order to watch the moment for falling upon that of the enemy. At the Pyramids he formed an oblique line in echelon squares; at Essling, at Leipsic, at Brienne, he presented a kind of convex order nearly like that in figure 7, at Wagram we see him adopt an order quite like that in figure 12, directing two masses upon his centre and his right, refusing his left, which he wished to repeat at Borodino, as well as at Waterloo before the arrival of the Prussians. At Eylau, although the encounter was almost unforeseen on account of the unlooked for offensive return of the Russian army, he outflanked the left almost perpendicularly, whilst upon another side he sought to break the centre; but there was no simultaneousness in those attacks, that of the centre being already repulsed at eleven o'clock, whilst Davoust was not actively engaged upon the left until towards one o'clock.

At Dresden he attacked by the two wings, for the first time perhaps in [217] his life, because his center was sheltered by a fort and an intrenched camp; moreover, the attack of his left was combined with that of Vandamme upon the line of retreat of the Allies.

At Marengo, if Napoleon himself is to be trusted, the oblique order which he took in resting his right upon Castel Ceriolo, saved him from an almost inevitable defeat. Ulm and Jena were battles gained strategically, before being delivered even, and tactics had but little part in them; at Ulm there was not even a battle.

I think then I can conclude that, if it be absurd to expect to draw upon the ground rectilinear orders of battle such as are traced upon a plan, a skillful general can nevertheless have recourse to dispositions which would produce a distribution of the acting masses, similar very nearly to what it would have been in one or another of the orders of battle indicated. He should apply himself in those dispositions, whether foreseen or unexpected, to judge soundly of the important point of the field of battle, which he will be able to do by comprehending the relations of the hostile line with the decisive strategic directions; he will then direct his attention and efforts upon that point, by employing a third of his forces to hold in check or to observe the enemy, then by throwing the other two-thirds thirds upon the point the possession of which would be the pledge of victory. Acting thus he will have fulfilled all the conditions that the science of grand tactics can impose upon the most skillful captain; he will have obtained the most perfect application of the principles of the art. We have already indicated in the preceding chapter the means of recognizing easily those decisive points.

Since I have given the definition of the ten orders of battle above mentioned, the thought has occurred to me to reply to some assertions in the memoirs of Napoleon published by General Montholon, which refer to this subject:

The great Captain seems to suppose that the oblique order is a modern conception an inapplicable utopia, which I equally deny, for the oblique order is as ancient as Thebes and Sparta, and I have seen it applied under my own eyes; those assertions will appear all the more astonishing that Napoleon, as we have just said, has himself boasted of having applied with success, at Marengo, this same order the existence of which he denies.

If we took the oblique system in the absolute sense which General Ruchel gave to it in the Academy of Berlin, certainly Napoleon would be right in regarding it as an hyperbole: but I repeat, a line of battle was never a perfect geometrical figure; and if we have used such figures in tactical discussions, it was in order to put in force an idea and to explain [218] it by a symbol. It is certain nevertheless that every line of battle which should neither be parallel nor perpendicular to that of the enemy, would of necessity be oblique. Now if an army attacks an extremity of the enemy, by reinforcing the wing charged with the attack and refusing the enfeebled wing, the direction of its line will be in reality a little oblique, since one extremity will be more removed from the hostile line than the other. The oblique order is so far from a chimera, that every order in echelons upon a wing will always be oblique (pl. 2, fig. 10,) now I have seen more than one combat thus disposed in echelons.

As for the other figures traced upon the same plate, it could not be contested that at Essling, as well as at Fleurus, the general disposition of the Austrians was concave, and that of the French convex. But those two orders may form parallel lines as well as two right lines: now these orders would be systematically parallel if no part of the line were not more reinforced nor brought nearer to the enemy than another.

As for the rest, let us leave geometrical figures, and acknowledge that the true scientific theory of battles will always be limited to the following points:

1. The offensive order of battle should aim to dislodge the enemy from his position by every rational means.

2. The manoeuvres which the art indicates are to overwhelm a wing only, or else the centre and a wing at the same time. The enemy may also be dislodged by manoeuvres for outflanking and turning him.

3. We shall succeed all the better in these enterprises if we are able to conceal them from the enemy until the moment of assailing him.

4. To attack the centre and the two wings at the same time, without having very superior forces, would be a total absence of the art, unless we should reinforce considerably one of the attacks, taking care not to compromise the others.

5. The oblique order is nothing else but a disposition tending to unite the half at least of one's forces in order to overwhelm a wing, holding the other fraction out of the reach of the enemy, either by echelons, or by the inclined direction of the line (figs. 5 and 12, pl. 2).

6. The divers formations, convex, concave, perpendicular, &c., all present the same combination of attacks parallel or reinforced, upon a portion only of the hostile line.

7. The defense desiring the contrary of the attack, the dispositions of defensive order should have for their object, to multiply the difficulties [219] of the approach, then to provide strong reserves well concealed, in order to fall, at the decisive moment, where the enemy should expect to find but a feeble point.

8. The best mode to employ for constraining a hostile line to quit its position is difficult to determine in an absolute manner. Every order of battle or of formation which could combine the advantages of fire with those of the impulsion of attack and the moral effect it produces, would be a perfect order. A skilfull mixture of deployed lines and of columns, acting alternately according to circumstances, will ever be a good system. As regards its practical application, the coup d'oeil of the chief, the moral of the officers and soldiers, their instruction in all kinds of manoeuvres and fires, the localities or the nature of the ground, will always have a great influence upon the variables which might present themselves.

9. The essential object of an offensive battle being to force the enemy from his position, and especially to cut him up as much as possible, it will be our especial duty ordinarily to count upon the employment of material force as the most efficacious means for succeeding in it.

It happens however that the chances for the employment of force alone, would be so doubtful, that we would succeed more easily by manoeuvres tending to outflank and to turn that one of the wings which should be nearest to the line of retreat of the enemy, which would decide him to a retrograde movement for fear of being cut off.

History abounds in examples of the success of like movements; especially against generals of a feeble character: and although victories obtained by this means only are less decisive, and the hostile army is never seriously broken up by them, those half-successes suffice to prove that such manoeuvres ought not to be neglected, and that a skilfull general should know how to employ them at the proper time, and especially to combine them as much as possible with attacks by main force.

10. The union of these two means, that is to say, the employment of material force upon the front, seconded by a turning manoeuvre, will give more surely the victory than if we limited ourselves to employing them separately; but in both cases it is necessary to guard against movements too disconnected, in the face of the least respectable enemy.

11. The various means of carrying a hostile position, that is to say of breaking its line and compelling it to retreat by the use of material force are, to shake it at first by the effect of a superior artillery fire, to introduce into it some confusion by a well directed and timely cavalry charge, [220] then to approach finally this line thus shaken, with masses of infantry preceded by skirmishers and flanked by a few squadrons.5

In the meanwhile admitting the success of an attack so well combined against the first line, it will remain yet to conquer the second, and even the reserve: now it is here that the embarrassment of the attack would be more serious, if the moral effect of the defeat of the first line did not often carry with it the defeat of the second, and did not cause the general attacked to lose his presence of mind.

In fact, in spite of their first success, the assailing troops would also be a little disunited on their side; it will often be very difficult to replace them by those of the second line, not only because the latter do not always follow the march of the acting masses under the fire of musketry, but above all because it is ever embarrassing to replace one division by another in midst of a combat, and at the instant when the enemy might combine his greatest efforts to repel the attack.

Everything then induces the belief that, if the troops and the general of the defensive army did equally well their duty and displayed equal presence of mind, if they were not menaced on their flanks and their line of retreat, the advantage of the second shock would almost always be on their side: but for that purpose it is necessary to seize, with a sure and rapid coup d'oeil the instant when it is proper to throw the second line and the cavalry upon the victorious battalions of the adversary, for a few minutes lost may become irreparable, to such a degree that the troops of the second line would be carried away with those of the first.

12. From what precedes, there results for the attacking party the following truth : “it is that the most difficult as well as the most sure of all” the means of success, is to cause the line already engaged to be well sustained “by the troops of the second line, and the latter by the reserve;” then to calculate accurately the employment of masses of cavalry and “that of batteries, to facilitate and to second the decisive effort against” the second hostile line, for here is presented the greatest of all the problems “of the tactics of battles.”

It is in this important act that theory becomes difficult and uncertain, because it is found then insufficient and will never be equal to natural genius for war, nor the instructive coup d'oeil which experience in combats will give to a general brave and of a tried sang-froid. [221]

The simultaneous employment of the greatest possible number of forces, of all the arms combined, except a small reserve of each of them, which it is proper always to have on hand,6 will be then, at the decisive moment of the battle, the problem which every skilfull general will apply himself to resolve, and which should make his rule of conduct. Now this decisive moment is very generally that when the first line of one of the parties should be broken, and when the efforts of the two adversaries should tend, either to complete the victory or to wrest it from the enemy. There is no need of saying that in order to render the decisive blow more sure and more efficacious a simultaneous attack upon a flank of the enemy would have the most powerful effect.

13. In the defensive the fire of musketry will always play a greater part than in the offensive where the object is to march if we wish to carry a position; now to march and to fire are two things which skirmishers alone can do at the same time : it is necessary to renounce it for the principal masses. The object of the defender not being to carry positions, but to break and put in disorder the troops which advance against him, artillery and musketry will be the natural arms for his first line; then when the enemy shall press the latter too closely, it will be necessary to launch against him the columns of the second. with a part of the cavalry; every thing leads to the belief that he will be repulsed.

I could not, without entering into vague theories, which would besides pass the limits of this treatise, say any thing more upon battles, unless it be to offer a sketch of the combination of the formation and the employment of the three arms, which will make the subject of Chapter 7.

With regard to details of application and execution of the various orders of battle, nothing more complete could. be recommended than the work of the Marquis de Tiernay; it is the remarkable part of his book. Without believing that all which he indicates can be practiced in presence of an enemy, yet it is just to acknowledge that it is the best tactical work that has been published in France up to this day.


Article XXXIII: turning manoeuvres, and too extended movements in battles.

We have spoken, in the preceding article, of manoeuvres undertaken for turning the enemy in the day of battle, and of the advantage that might be expected from it. It remains for us to say a few words upon the too extended movements to which those manoeuvres often give place, and which have caused the failure of so many projects in appearance well concerted.

In principle, every movement sufficiently extended to give the enemy time to beat separately half of the army whilst it is being operated, is a loose and dangerous movement. In the meanwhile as the danger which may result from it depends upon the rapid and sure coup d'oeil of the adversary, as well as upon his habitual system of warfare, it is easily comprehended why so many similar manoeuvres have failed against some, and succeeded against others, and why such a movement which would have been too extended before Frederick, Napoleon or Wellington, has had entire success against mediocre generals, wanting tact to take the initiative or habituated themselves to disconnected movements. It appears very difficult to trace an absolute rule of conduct, there exists no other than that “of holding the weight of our forces in hand in order to cause them to act at the opportune moment, but without falling into the contrary excess of too much accumulating them: we shall be sure then of always being in condition to meet events. But if the affair is with an adversary of little skill, or inclined to extend too much, we can then venture more.”

A few examples taken from history will be the best explanations for rendering these truths more sensible, and cause to be appreciated the difference which exists in the results of like movements, according to the army and the general with which we are to be measured.

We have seen in the Seven Years War, Frederick gain the battle of Prague, because the Austrians had left a feeble interval of from a thousand to twelve hundred yards between their right and the rest of their [223] army, and because this remainder of the army continued immoveable whilst that the right was overwhelmed; this inaction was all the more extraordinary as the left of the imperialists had much less distance to make in order to succor their own, than Frederick to attain the right, which, formed in crotchet, compelled a semi-circular movement

Frederick came near on the contrary losing the battle of Torgau for having made with his left, a movement too extended and loose, (near two leagues), to the end of turning the right of Marshal Daun.7 The affair was re-established by a concentric movement of the king's right, which Mollendorf conducted upon the heights of Siptitz in order to re-unite with him.

The battle of Rivoli was one of the kind: it is known that Alvinzi and the chief of his staff Weyrother wished to surround the little army of Napoleon, concentrated upon the plateau of Rivoli, and how their centre was beaten whilst the left was accumulated in the ravine of the Adige, and that Lusignam with the right gained by a long circuit the rear of the French army, where he was soon surrounded and taken. The splendid map and the narratives which I have published of it, are the best study that can be made upon this kind of battles.

No person can have forgotten the battle of Stockach where General Jourdan conceived the unfortunate idea of causing to be attacked an army of sixty thousand combattants, by three small divisions from seven to eight thousand men, distant from each other several leagues, whilst that Saint-Cyr with the third of the army (ten thousand men), was to pass the right flank at four leagues distance upon the rear of those sixty thousand men, which could not fail to be victorious over these scattered fractions and to capture that one which wished to cut off their retreat, a fate from which Saint-Cyr escaped by a miracle.

It is recollected how the same General Weyrother, who had wished to surround Napoleon at Rivoli, designed to do the same at Austerlitz, in spite of the severe lesson. which he had received without profit to him. It is known how the left of the Allies, wishing to outflank Napoleon's right, in order to cut him off from the road to Vienna, (where he did not desire to return,) by a circular movement of about two leagues, left an opening of half a league in its line, from which Napoleon profited by falling upon the isolated centre, and surrounding afterwards that left, thrust between the lakes of Tellnitz and Melnitz.

Finally, it is known how Wellington gained the battle of Salamanca by a manoeuvre nearly similar, because the left of Marmont, which wished to [224] cut him off from the route to Portugal, ]eft a gap of half a league, from which the English general profited for beating that wing stripped of its support.

The narratives of ten wars which I have published, are full of similar examples, of which it would be superfluous to multiply here the number. Since it can add nothing to what we have already said for causing to be appreciated the dangers, not only of turning manoeuvres, but of every gap left in the line of battle, when we have to fight an enemy accustomed to play a close game.

It will be readily judged, that if Weyrother had had to do with Jourdan, at Rivoli as at Austerlitz, he would perhaps have ruined the French army, instead of sustaining himself, a total defeat. For the general who attacked at Stockach a mass of sixty thousand men with four little masses, isolated and unable to second each other, would not have known how to profit by the two extended movements attempted against him. In the same manner, Marmont was unlucky at Salamanca, in having to struggle against an adversary whose best acknowledged merit was a tried and rapid tactical coup d'oeil; before the Duke of York or More he would probably have succeeded.

Among the turning manoeuvres which have succeeded in our day, Waterloo and Hohenlinden were those which had the most brilliant results; but the first was almost a strategic movement, and accompanied by a host of fortunate circumstances, the concurrence of which is rarely presented. As regards Hohenlinden, we should vainly seek in military history for another example where a single brigade adventured in a forest in the midst of fifty thousand men, produces there all the miracles which Richepanse operated in that cut-throat place of Matenpot, where it was much more probable that he would be obliged to lay down his arms.

At Wagram, the turning wing of Davoust had a great part in the success of the day; but if. the vigorous attack executed on the centre by Macdonald, Oudinot and Bernadotte had not opportunely seconded it, it is not certain that it would have been so.

So many examples of opposite results might cause it to be concluded that there is no rule to give upon this matter, but this would be wrong, for it appears to me on the contrary evident:

That by adopting in general a system of battles very compact, and well connected, we will be found in condition to meet every contingency, and will leave little to chance; but it is important, nevertheless, above all, to judge accurately of the enemy whom we are to combat, in order to measure the boldness of our enterprises [225] after his character, and the system which he shall be known to follow.

That in case of numerical superiority, we can, as well as in that of moral superiority, attempt manoeuvres, which, in an equality of numerical forces and of capacity in the chiefs, would be imprudent.

That a manoeuvre for outflanking and turning a wing, ought to be connected with the other attacks, and sustained in time by an effort which the remainder of the army should make upon the enemy's front, either against the wing turned, or against the centre.

Finally, that strategic manoeuvres for cutting an army off from its communications before battle, and thus attacking it in reverse, without losing our own line of retreat, are of a much more sure and much greater effect, and moreover do not require any disconnected manoeuvre in the combat.

For the rest, this is sufficient upon the chapter of combined battles, it is time to pass to those which are unforeseen.

Article XXXIV rencounter of two armies in march.

One of the most dramatic acts in war, is that which results from this kind of unforeseen collision of two armies.

In the greater part of battles, it happens that one of the parties awaits the enemy at a post determined beforehand, and that the other army goes to attack it thereon, after having reconnoitred that position as well as possible. But it also frequently happens, especially in the modern system, and in the offensive returns of one of the parties, that two armies march each upon the other, with the reciprocal intention of making an unexpected attack; then there results a kind of mutual surprise, for the two parties are equally deceived in their combinations, since they find the enemy where they in no wise expected to meet him. Finally, there are also cases where one of the two armies allows itself to be attacked in march [226] by its adversary who prepares for it this surprise, as happened to the French at Rosbach.

It is on those great occasions that all the genius of a skillful general, of a warrior capable of governing events, displays itself; it is where we recognize the seal of the great captain. It is always possible to gain a battle with brave troops, without the chief of the army being able to ar-rogate to himself the least part in the success of the day, but a victory like those of Lutzen, of Luzzara, of Eylau, of Abensberg, can be the result only of a great character, joined to great presence of mind, and to wise combinations.

There is too much of chance and too much of poetry in these kinds of rencounters, easily to give positive maxims upon them; however, it is, especially in this case, that it is necessary to be well penetrated with the fundamental principle of the art and of the different modes of applying it, in order to make tend to that end all the manoeuvres which we will be in the condition to order on the instant even, and in the midst of the tumult of arms. What we have said of impromptu manoeuvres, in Article 32, is the only rule then to give for those unforeseen circumstances; it will suffice to combine them with the antecedents and with the physical and moral condition of the two parties.

Two armies marching, as they did formerly, with all the equipage of the encampment, and meeting each other unexpectedly, would have doubtless nothing better to do than to deploy at first their advanced guards to the right or to the left of the routes they pass over. But each of them should at the same time assemble the bulk of its forces, in order to launch them afterwards in a suitable direction, according to the object it should have in view; a grave fault would be committed in deploying the whole army behind the advanced guard, because even in the case where we should succeed in it, it would never be any thing but the formation of a defective parallel order, and if the enemy pushed the advanced guard somewhat vigorously, there might result from it the rout of the troops which should be in movement in order to form. (See the battle of Rosbach, Treatise on Grand Operations.)

In the modern system, with armies more moveable, marching upon many routes, and forming as many fractions capable of acting independently of each other, these routs will be less to be feared, but the principles remain the same. It is necessary always to halt and form the advanced guard, then to unite the mass of our forces upon the suitable point, according to the end which is proposed in putting them in march; whatever [227] may be the manoeuvres of the enemy, we will find ourselves prepared for everything.

Article XXXV: surprises of armies.

We do not intend to examine here those petty surprises of detachments which constitute the war of partisans, or of light troops, and for which the Russian and Turkish light cavalry have so much superiority. We mean to speak of the surprises of entire armies.

Before the invention of fire-arms, these surprises were more easy, because the explosion of artillery and musketry scarcely permit in our day the entire surprise of an army, unless it forget the first duties of the service, and allow the enemy to arrive in the midst of its ranks, for the want of advanced posts which should do their duty. The Seven Years War offers the memorable surprise of Hochkirch, as an example worthy enough of being pondered upon; it proves that the surprise does not consist positively in falling upon sleeping and badly guarded troops, but also in combining an attack upon one of their extremities, in such a manner as to surprise them, and to outflank them at the same time. In effect, the question is not the seeking to take the enemy so much at fault, that one could burst upon his isolated men in their tents, but rather to arrive with his masses, without being perceived, upon the point where he should desire to assail the enemy before the latter have time to make counter dispositions.

Since armies no longer encamp in tents, surprises combined in advance are more rare and more difficult, for, in order to premeditate them, it is necessary to know precisely the situation of the hostile camp. At Marengo, at Lutzen, at Eylau, there were a kind of surprises, but these were in reality only unexpected attacks to which this name cannot be given. The only great surprise that we could cite, is that of Taroutin, in 1812, where Murat was assailed and beaten by Benningsen; in order to justify his want of prudence, Murat alleged that he reposed upon a tacit armistice, [228] but there existed no such convention, and he allowed himself to be surprised by an unpardonable negligence.

It is evident that the most favorable manner of attacking an army, is to fall upon its camp a little before day, at the moment when it is expecting nothing of the kind; confusion will then be inevitable, and if to this advantage is joined that of being well acquainted with the localities, and of giving to the masses a suitable tactical and strategic direction, we may flatter ourselves with a complete victory, barring unexpected events. This is an operation of war which must not be despised, although it is more rare and less brilliant than great strategic combinations which assure victory, thus to speak, before having fought.

For the same reason that it is necessary to profit of every occasion for surprising our adversary, it is important also to take every necessary precaution for securing ourselves against such enterprises. The standing regulations of every country have provided against them; it only remains to follow them exactly.

Article XXXVI: attack by main force of fortified places, of intrenched camps or lines, and coups-de-main in general.

There exist many strong-holds which, without being regular fortresses, are reputed secure from a coup-de-main, and which are however, susceptible of being carried by escalade, either at the first onset, or by breaches as yet little practicable, whose slope would require always the employment of ladders, or other means of arriving at the parapet.

The attack of these kinds of posts presents nearly the same combinations as that of intrenched camps, for it enters like the latter in the category of grand coups-de-main.

These kinds of attacks vary naturally according to circumstances; 1st, the strength of the works; 2d, the nature of the ground upon which they [229] are situated; 3d, their connection or isolation; 4th, the moral condition of the two parties. History does not lack examples for all the species.

For example, the intrenched camps of Rehl, of Dresden, of Warsaw; the lines of Turin, and of Mayence; the strong intrenchments of Feldkirch, of Scharnitz, of the Assiette; here are ten events, the. conditions of which vary like the results. At Kehl, (1796,) the intrenchments were more connected and better finished than at Warsaw; they were almost a tete-de-pont in permanent fortification, for the Arch-Duke believed it his duty to pay them the honors of a regular seige, and, in fact, he could not think of attacking them by main force without running great risks. At Warsaw the works were formed isolated, but meanwhile of a very respectable relief, and they had for redoubt a great city surrounded with created walls, armed, and defended by a body of desperate men.

Dresden had for redoubt in 1813, a bastioned enceinte, but the front of which, already dismantled, had only a field parapet; the camp, properly speaking, was composed only of simple redoubts far removed from each other, and of very incomplete execution, the redoubt alone made its strength.8

At Mayence and at Turin there were continuous lines of circumvallation; but if the first were strongly traced, we could not say as much of the latter which, upon one of the important points, offered but a bad parapet of three feet above the ground and a proportionate ditch. Moreover, at Turin, the lines, turned and attacked from without, were found taken between two fires, since a strong garrison attacked them in reverse, at the moment when the Prince Eugene assailed them on the side of their line of retreat. At Mayence they were attacked in front, a slender detachment only outflanked the right.

The practicable measures to take in these kinds of attacks against field works, are of small number. If you think yourself able to attempt the surprise of a work by attacking it a little before day, nothing is more natural than to try it; but if this operation is the most advisable for a detached post, it is difficult to suppose that an army, established in a great intrenched camp, in presence of the enemy, would do its duty so badly as to allow itself to be surprised; the more so as the rule of every service is to be under arms at the break of day. As it is probable then that the attack will always be made by main force, it results, from the nature even [230] of the operation, that the following precautions are indicated as the most simple and the most rational.

1st. To extinguish at first the fire of the works by a formidable artillery, which fulfills at the same time the double object of shaking the moral of the defenders.

2d. To provide the troops with all the necessary objects, (as fascines and small ladders,) in order to facilitate the filling up of the ditch, and the mounting of the parapet.

3d. To direct three small columns upon the work which it is wished to carry, seconding them by skirmishers, and holding reserves in sustaining distance.

4th. To profit by all the accidents of the ground for putting the troops under shelter, and uncovering them only at the last moment.

5th. To give precise instructions to the principal columns as to what they will have to do when the work shall be carried, and that it will be the object to charge the enemy's forces which occupy the camp; finally to designate the corps of cavalry which are to assist in the attack with those forces, if the ground permit it. After these recommendations there is only one thing more to do, this is to launch one's troops with all the vivacity possible upon the works, whilst that a detachment shall then turn them by the gorge, for the least hesitation is worse in such a case than the most audacious temerity.

We shall add, nevertheless, that gymnastic exercises for familiarizing the soldiers with escalades and the attacks of barricaded posts, would be as useful at least as all the exercises that could be prescribed to them ; and that modern balistics might well exercise the mind of the engineers, for finding the means of facilitating, by portable machines, the crossing of a field ditch and the escalade of a parapet. the assault of Warsaw, and of the intrenched camp of Mayence are the best

Of all the dispositions which I have read upon these matters, those of conceived. Thielke gives us a disposition of Laudon for the attack of the camp of Bunzelwitz, which was not executed, but which is not the less a good example to offer.

The attack of Warsaw especially may be cited as one of the most splendid operations of this kind, and does as much honor to Marshal Paskevitch as to the troops which executed it. Here is an example of what it is suitable to do. With regard to the examples of what it is necessary to shun, we can cite nothing worse than the dispositions prescribed for the attack of Dresden in 1813. Those who were the authors of it could not have done better if they had wished to prevent the taking [231] of the camp; those dispositions may be seen in the work of General Plotho, although they are there already revised and corrected.

By the side of attacks of this nature, may be placed the memorable assaults or escalades of Port Mahon, in 1756, and of Bergen-Op-Zoom, in 1747; both, although they were preceded by a seige, were not the less brilliant coups de main, since there was not a sufficient breach for a regular assault. The assaults of Praga, Oczakoff and Ismaiel, can also be ranged in the same class, although in the latter cities the earthen parapets, partly fallen in, favored the escalade, there was not the less merit in the execution.

As for continuous intrenched lines, although they seem better connected than isolated works, they are yet more easy to carry, because constructed upon an extent of many leagues, it is almost impossible to prevent the enemy from penetrating upon some one point; the taking of those of Mayence, and Wissemburg, which we have reported in the history of the wars of the Revolution, (Chap. 21, and 52,) that of the lines of Turin, by Prince Eugene of Savoy, in 1706, are great lessons to study.

This famous event of Turin, which we have already often cited, is too well known for us to recall its circumstances, but we could not dispense with observing that never was a triumph bought so cheaply, nor more difficult to conceive. In truth, the strategic plan was admirable; the march from the Adige by Placentia upon Asti by the right of the Po, leaving the French upon the Mincio, was perfectly combined; but as for the operations under Turin, it must be owned that the conquerors were more fortunate than wise. The Prince Eugene had no need of a great effort of genius to draw up the order which he gave his army, and he must have cruelly despised his adversaries to execute the march which was to direct thirty-five thousand allies of ten different nations, between eighty thousand French and the Alps, marching for forty-eight hours around their camp, by the most famous flank march which has ever been attempted. Besides that, the disposition for the attack was, in itself, so laconic and so little instructive, that any officer of the staff would in our day give one more satisfactory. To prescribe the formation of eight columns of infantry by brigades in two lines, to give the order to crown the intrenchments, and to make therein practicable openings, in order that the columns of cavalry which followed could penetrate into the camp, is all the science which the Prince Eugene could call to the assistance of his audacious enterprise. It is true that he had chosen well the feeble point of the intrenchment, for it was so miserable that it was not three feet above the ground, and did not cover its defenders to the middle.

With regard to the generals who commanded this camp of Turin, their [232] panegyric has been given by one of the historians of the Prince Eugene; M. de M * * , without fearing to diminish the glory of his heroes, exclaims against the court of France, which eulogised generals whose conduct would, in all justice, have merited the scaffold. Doubtless he wished only to speak of Marsin, for every body knows that the Duke of Orleans had protested against the idea of awaiting the enemy in the lines, and that two wounds disabled him from the commencement of the attack; as for the truly culpable person he expiated, by an honorable death, a fault which nothing could justify9.

But I am carried away by my subject, and it is necessary to return to the measures most suitable for an attack against lines. If these are of a relief sufficiently strong to render their assault dangerous, and if on the contrary there are means for outflanking or turning them by strategic manoeuvres, this course would ever be more suitable than a doubtful attack. In the contrary case, and if you have some motive for preferring this, a point upon one of the wings would be necessary, because it is natural enough that the centre is more easy to sustain. However it has been seen, that an attack upon a wing being regarded with reason by the defender as the most probable, you might succeed in deceiving him by directing a somewhat strong false attack upon that side, whilst that the true, made upon the centre would succeed precisely because it was not probable. In these kinds of combinations, the localities and the spirit of the generals ought to decide as to the best mode to follow.

Moreover, as regards the execution of the attack, we can scarcely employ other means than those recommended for intrenched camps. Meanwhile as these lines, heretofore at least, often had the relief and propor, tions of permanent works, it may happen that their escalade be difficultexcept for earthen works already rather old, the slopes of which might be the worse for time and accessible to a somewhat dexterous infantry.

Such were, as we have already said, the ramparts of Ismaiel and of Prague; such was also the citadel of Smolensk which General Paskevitch defended with so much glory against Ney, because he preferred to defend the ravines which were in front of it rather than take refuge behind a parapet scarcely 30 degrees inclined.

If a line is supported by a river, it seems absurd to think, even, of penetrating upon that wing, because the enemy, collecting his forces, the weight [233] of which would be near the centre, could overturn the columns which should advance thus between them and the river, in such a manner that their total loss would be certain. Meanwhile this absurdity has been seen to succeed, because the enemy, forced behind his lines, rarely thinks of an offensive return, however advantageous it may appear; for a general and soldiers who seek a refuge in lines are already half conquered, and the idea of taking the offensive does not happen to them when their intrenchments are found already invaded. However, it would be impossible to counsel the trial of such a manoeuvre; the general who should expose himself by it, and who should experience the fate of Tallard at Hochestaedt, could not complain of it.

Considering the defense of intrenched camps and of lines, there are not many maxims to give: the first is unquestionably to assure one's self two good reserves, placed between the centre and each of the wings, or, more properly speaking, upon the right of the left wing, and upon the left of the right wing. By this means, you can run to the succor of the point which should be forced with all the promptitude possible, which a single central reserve would not permit. It has been thought even that three reserves would not be too many, if the intrenchment were very extended; as for myself, I should incline for having but two. A recommendation not less essential, is to thoroughly impress the troops with the idea that an affair would not be desperate because the line should be found crossed upon a point. If you have good reserves which take the initiative seasonably, you will be none the less victorious, by preserving your presence of mind in order to engage them well at the suitable point and moment.

The troops which shall defend the ditch and the parapet will conform to instructions given by the engineers according to the usages practiced in sieges; however, it must be acknowledged, a good work upon the details of the infantry service in sieges and intrenched camps, which may be within the reach of the officers of that arm, is a work yet to make; such an enterprise has nothing in common with this treatise, for it should be the object of a regulation and not of a dogmatic book.


Coups de main.

Coups de main are hardy enterprises which a detachment of an army attempts for seizing a more or less important or more or less strong post.10 They participate at the same time of surprises and of attacks by main force, for we employ equally those two kinds of means in order to arrive at our ends. Although in appearance these kinds of enterprises seem to belong almost exclusively to tactics it cannot be concealed nevertheless that they draw all their importance from the relations which the posts taken would have with the strategic combinations of the operations. Thus we have already been called to say some words of them in Art. 28, in speaking of detachments: but however troublesome these repetitions may be we are obliged to make mention of them here for what concerns their execution which enters into the domain of attacks of intrenchments.

It is not nevertheless that we pretended to subject them to tactical rules, since a coup de main, as the name implies, is in some sort an enterprise outside of all ordinary rules. We wish only to cite them here for reference, directing our readers to the various historical or didactic works which might make mention of them.

We have already pointed out the nature of the results, often very important, which may be promised from them. The taking of Sizipoli in 1828; the unsuccessful attack of General Petrasch upon Kehl in 1796; the singulor surprises of Cremona in 1702, of Gibralter in 1704, and of Bergen-op-Zoom in 1814, as well as the escalades of Port Mahon and Badajos, may give an idea of the different kinds of coups de main. Some are the effect of surprise, others are made by main force; address, ruse, terror, audacity, are elements of success for these kinds of enterprises.

In the present mode of making war, the carrying of a post, however strong it may be from its situation, would no longer have the importance formerly attached to it, unless it offered a strategic advantage susceptible of influencing the results of a great operation.

The taking or the destruction of an intrenched bridge, that of a grand convoy, that of a small fort barring important passages, like the two attacks which took place in 1799 upon the Fort of Lucisteig in the Grisons; the taking of Leutasch and of Sharnitz by Ney in 1805; finally [235] the carrying of a post not fortified even but which should serve as g<*> depot for provisions and munitions indispensable to the enemy, such<*> the enterprises which may recompense the risk to which a detachi<*> would be exposed for their execution.

The Cossacks at times also attempted coups de main in the late w<*> the attack of Laon by Prince Lapoukin, those of Cassel and of Cha<*> had advantages, but enter altogether nevertheless into the class of se<*> dary enterprises the positive effect of which is to harrass and disquiet<*> enemy.

Whatever instruction could be given upon these kinds of enterprise<*> general, the memoirs of Montluc and the strategems of Frontin, those histories which one would believe of another world, will give more in mation than I can in this chapter; the escalade, the surprise and the pa<*> do not admit of being reduced to maxims.

Some have carried posts by filling up the ditches, sometimes with cines, sometimes with wool sacks, even dung has been employed for others have succeeded by the means of ladders without which such an terprise is rarely attempted; finally they have used also cramp hooks tached to the hands and the shoes of the soldiers for climbing the ro<*> which command an entrenchment. Others have introduced themselves the sewers, like the Prince Eugene at Cremona.

It is in the reading of these facts that we must seek, not precepts, b<*> inspirations, if however, what has succeeded with one may serve as<*> rule for another. It would be desirable that some studious offic<*> would apply himself to unite in one detailed historical abstract, all t<*> most interesting coup-de-mains; this would be rendering a signal servi<*> not only to the generals, but to each of the subordinates who may ha<*> to co-operate in like attempts, where often the intelligence of a single p<*> son may lead to success.

As for what concerns us, we have accomplished our task by indicatij<*> here their principal relations with the ensemble of operations. We ref<*> besides to what has been said in the commencement of this article up<*> the manner of attacking field intrenchments, the only military operate<*> which has. any analogy to those coups-de-main, when they are made<*> main force.

1 It is not the pleasure of innovating which induces me to modify the received denominations for creating new ones; to develop a science, it is important that the same word do not signify two altogether different things. If we adhere to naming order of battle, the simple distribution of troops in the line, then at least the names oblique order of battle, concave order of battle, must not be given to important manoeuvres. In this case, it would be necessary to designate these manoeuvres by the systematic terms of oblique battle, &c., but I prefer the denomination I have adopted; the order of battle upon paper could be called plan of organization, and the ordinary formation upon the ground might take the name line of battle.

2 The park of Hougoumont, the hamlet of la Haie-Sainte, and the stream of Papelotte, presented to Ney obstacles more serious than the famous position of Elchingen, where he forced the passage of the Danube in 1805, upon the remnant of a burnt bridge. The courage of the defenders could, in fact, not have been absolutely equal in the two circumstances; but, apart from this chance, it must be owned that the difficulties of a ground, when they are turned to good account. need not be insurmountable, in order to baffle any attack. At Elchingen, the great elevation and the steepness of the banks, rendering the effect of the fire almost null, was more injurious than useful to the defense.

3 In all battles there is an attacking party and the party attacked, each battle will then be offensive for the one and defensive for the other

4 An attack upon the two extremities might succeed well also in some circumstances, either when one should have sufficient forees to attempt it, or when the enemy should be unable to uncover his centre in order to sustain his wings. But as a general thing, a false attack, in order to hold the centre and a grand effort upon a single extremity, would be especially the most favorable against such a convex line.

5 At the moment when I decide to republish this article, I receive a pamphlet from General Okouneiff, upon the employment of artillery for breaking a line. I shall say a few words upon it in Art. 46.

6 The grand reserves should naturally also be engaged when it is necessary, but it is well always to keep two or three battalions and five or six squadrons in hand. General Moreau decided the battle of Engen with four companies of the 58th regiment, and it is known what the 9th Light and the cavalry of Kellerman did at Marengo.

7 See for these two battles, Chapts. 2 and 25, of the Treatise of Grand Military Operations

8 At Dresden the number of defenders was the first day, (25th August,) twenty-four thousand men. the next day there were already sixty-five thousand, and the third day upwards of a hundred thousand.

9 Albergotti was not less culpable than Marsin; placed with forty battalions on the right bank of the Po, where there was no attack, he refused to march to the succor of Marsin, which always happens in such cases, each troubling himself only about the point which he occupies.

10 It is necessary to distinguish between the importance and the strength of a post, for a strong post is far from always being an important one.

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