Chapter 12: army organization—Engineers.—Their history, duties, and organization,—with a brief discussion, showing their importance as a part of a modern army organization.
Engineers.---The term engineer
is derived from the unclassical Latin word ingenium
, which was applied both to a machine
and the mind
of the person who devised or constructed it.
It was Philip Augustus
, say the French
writers,--who first introduced engineers (engigneurs
, or engignours
, as they were called) into France
, and restored the art of sieges.
The engineers of that age were seldom charged with the construction of works of military defence, but, like Archimedes
, and Longinus
, they directed their attention principally to devising implements of war and the most effective manner of using them.
Engines of war were at that time divided between the engigneurs
and the artilliers
, the former being charged with the heavier machines, and the latter with the smaller weapons used for throwing projectiles.
After the invention of gunpowder, the old battering-rams, cranes, helipoles, &c., disappeared, and with them the engigneurs
, or masters of engines.
The new inventions were united with the few old projectile machines that remained in the artillery, and the engineers were for a time left almost without employment.
The revival of the art of fortification was very slow, and the modern system scarcely began to be developed till near the sixteenth century.
We must omit for the present giving even an outline of
the history of military engineering, and pass to the troops of this arm, as constituting an essential element of an army organization.
The subject of fortification, and the history of its various changes, will be examined in the next chapter.
The engineers, in modern army organization, constitute the fourth arm of service, as, compared with artillery, their relative numbers are about as two to three.
They are divided in the same manner as the artillery, viz. :--1st, the staff; 2d, guards, or fort-keepers; 3d, artificers; and 4th, the troops.
I. The officers constituting the staff of this corps are charged in time of peace with planning, constructing, and repairing all fortifications and other defensive works; the construction and preparation of all military materials, and stores connected with this arm; and (in our service) with the disbursements of money connected with these operations: in time of war they are charged with the attack and defence of military works, the laying out and construction of field defences, redoubts, intrenchments, roads, &c.; in the attack they form a part of the vanguard, to remove obstructions ; and in retreat they form a part of the rear-guard, to erect obstacles, destroy roads, bridges, &c., so as to retard an enemy's pursuit.
From the important character of these duties as connected with the means essential to a national defence, and the vast amount of money expended in these operations, it is evident that a high order of acquirements should be deemed necessary to qualify one to perform the duties of a military engineer.
This officer requires a knowledge of chemistry, to guide his choice of materials for mortars, cements, and. mastics; of mineralogy and geology, for selecting stone; of botany, for timber and the means of preventing its decay; of mathematics, in laying out his work and calculating the thickness and stability of his
walls, embankments, &c.; of mechanical philosophy, in constructing his machinery; of military engineering, in his plans of fortifications; and of all the higher branches of military science, in selecting positions for these works, such that they shall have the proper relations to the means of national defence, and to the grand operations of armies in the field.
The avenues to appointment to this corps are guarded, in most European
armies, with special care, to prevent the influence of money, politics, or family connections ; and in our own army it is now specified by law of Congress, that the vacancies shall be filled only from the most distinguished graduates of the military academy.
Formerly our service suffered most severely from the employment of incompetent persons, introduced through political influence from civil life, and foreign charlatans, the refuse of European
Many of our earlier military works (as will be mentioned hereafter) were modelled upon systems for a long time discarded by the profession in Europe
, and even some of those which have been constructed within the last thirty years are made of such wretched materials and workmanship that they are already crumbling into ruins.
While the existing laws and regulations seem well calculated to prevent the recurrence of similar abuses and errors, it nevertheless can be shown that the organization of this arm of our service requires modifications and extensions to give it the requisite degree of efficiency, and to economize the public expenditures.
The wars of Louis XIV. first led to a regular military organization, and a regular system of defence.
In these wars the engineers received great development, and have ever since occupied a prominent position as parts of an army organization.
We therefore find in all the great sieges and battles of this era a large and continually increasing number of engineers and engineer troops, this orce being gradually
augmented as the true principles of war became better understood, and as the wants of the service required.
Even in the earliest of these battles we find the engineers taking a prominent and distinguished part.
In the war of 1688, twenty-four engineers were killed and wounded at the siege of Philipsbourg, eighteen at Namur
, eight at Huy, ten at Charleroi
, eight at Ath, thirty at Barcelona
, &c. Such losses were good proofs of the usefulness of these officers, and before this war was closed, their number was increased to six hundred; and in 1706 the army contained eight brigades of engineers and four companies of miners.
The engineer corps being partially disbanded in the early part of the French Revolution
, great difficulty was experienced in reorganizing it and in finding competent men to supply the places of those who had been driven into exile or sacrificed during the reign of terror.
Energy and activity, combined with republican zeal, could supply the place of skill in the other arms, but the science of the engineer could not be acquired in a day.
In 1799, the staff of the engineer corps consisted of four hundred and forty-nine officers, without including the general officers
, commanding departments, or those connected with the engineer troops.
The same organization was continued in 1804.
The engineer staff of the French
army now numbers four hundred and thirty-two officers.
We have in our service forty-three engineer officers
, for staff duty, who are now engaged in the construction and repairs of some sixty or seventy fortifications, and other works of a civil and military character.
II. Engineer Guards
, or Fort-Keepers
, are a class of men charged with the general care of forts, and all public property deposited in the several engineer depots and garrisons, and in the public works during their construction.
There are five hundred and fifty of these “gardens du
” in the Freich army, who rank next the sub-lieutenants of engineers, and are assimilated with the sub-lieutenants of infantry in the hospitals, marches, &c. In our service we have no engineer guards or fort-keepers
This defect in our organization has been the cause of serious inconvenience, and the consequent waste of public property.
The expense of hiring civil agents for this purpose has more than trebled the cost of supporting a suitable number of non-commrissioned guards to maintain the good order and efficiency of our forts, in the absence of engineer officers, and to preserve and keep in repair the military implements and stores connected with this department of the army.
It has already been shown that we have fifty-eight of these guards for the artillery service, and it really seems somewhat singular that the engineers, with a much greater amount of public property in their charge, are allowed no assistants of this kind.
III. Engineer artificers
are a class of men employed in the practical operations of constructing forts and other military defences, and in making and repairing all the implements used by the engineer troops in the operations of sapping and mining, in crossing rivers, in constructing field-defences, and in the attack and defence of field-works.
As very few new fortifications are now required in France
, the services of engineer artificers are less necessary and important than in our service, where large sums of money are annually expended upon military defences.
There are, however, in the French
army a corps of engineer artificers, consisting of eight officers and a cadre of fifty-four non-commissioned officers, with a variable number of privates, organized into two companies.
But in our army we have no regular engineer artificers
! In our artillery service we have three hundred and thirty enlisted artillery artificers.
If these are useful and necessary
to the artillery service, which no one doubts, for still stronger reasons would it be advantageous to the public service to employ at least an equal number of enlisted engineer artificers on our fortifications; for the annual expenditure of public money is here much greater than in the corresponding branch of the artillery service.
1st, sappers and pioneers;
and 3d, pontoniers
IV. Engineer troops
are divided into three classes--
In the French
army of 1799, there were four battalions of sappers, consisting of 120 officers and 7,092 men. In 1804, Napoleon
organized five battalions of these troops, consisting of 165 officers and 8,865 men. Even this number was found insufficient in his campaigns in Germany
, and he was obliged to organize an additional number of sappers from the Italian
The pioneers were then partly attached to other branches of the service.
There is, at present, in the French
army a considerable number of sappers or pioneers detached for the service of the infantry regiments, three companies of sapeurs-conducteurs
, and forty-two companies of sapcturs
. In the French
army of 1799, there were six companies of miners, consisting of 24 officers and 576 men. In 1804 Napoleon
increased these troops to nine companies, containing 36 officers and 864 men. The present French peace establishment contains six companies of miners, organized much the same as under Napoleon
In the French
army of 1799 there were two regiments of pontoniers, of 38 officers and 960 men. But this number was found too small in the remaining campaigns, and the deficiency was temporarily supplied by organizing sailors for these duties.
In the present French army organization, there are eleven companies of pontoniers, forming a regiment of sixty-three officers.
We have in our service no sappers, miners, or pontoniers
, and, in case of war, would be found without the means of
executing any military works, or performing any military operation which would require engineer troops.
In the preliminary stages of army organization under Louis XIV., infantry troops were detailed as sappers, and. instructed in these duties by the engineers.
This irregularity of service soon caused difficulties and losses, and the evils springing from it were so great, that Vauban
urged the propriety of a separate organization.
In 1670 he officially recommended to the king to establish a regiment of twelve hundred sappers and ouriers
, and in a subsequent report on the value of these troops, used the following language: “They would be useful in peace as well as in war, and would be the means of saving much in all fortifications where they should be employed.
In fact, I have not the least doubt that they would save annually to the king much more than their pay. I assert all I have said on this subject with as much confidence as if I had seen the result; and I can, with the same certainty, add, that this small troop will be the means of saving large numbers of good engineers and brave officers and soldiers, from the stern necessity to which we are reduced of exposing, almost always, the laborers and those who support them; which necessity would not arise had we at command a sufficient number of this kind of workmen well instructed.
To such a degree have I felt the necessity of sappers, at every siege at which I have been present, that I have always had reason to repent of not having more urgently solicited the creation of this company.”
Such are the views of the greatest of military engineers, a man who fought one hundred and forty battles, conducted fifty-eight sieges, and built or repaired three hundred fortifications.
His anticipations of the usefulness of engineer troops were fully realized, and they have ever since received the most careful attention, and now form, as has just been shown, one of the most important
and efficient arms in the French
The fortifications constructed by the engineers, as organized by Vauban
, have ever since constituted one of the principal elements of the French
In the wars of Napoleon
there are innumerable instances in illustration of the delays and disasters attending the operations of armies not supplied with engineer troops; and, on the other hand, the advantages resulting from their services when properly organized and instructed.
We have already pointed out the influence which the fortifications in the hands of the French
exerted on the results of these wars, and the fatal consequences to the Allies of neglecting these works of national defence.
Every student of military history will immediately call to mind the influence of Savona, Coni, Mondovi, Ceva, Govi, Alessandria, Tortona, Pizzighitone, Peschara, Mantua
, PalmaNuova, Osopo, Klagenfurth, &c., in the campaigns of 1796-7; of Genoa
, Fort Bard, the fortifications of the Var
, Ingoldstadt, &c., in 1800; of Milan
, Roco d'aufo, Genoa
, Alessandria, &c., in 1805; the importance of Kehl
, &c., to the French
in 1806, and the fatal consequences to the Prussians in that campaign, of their total and culpable neglect of their own fortifications.
All military historians speak of the influence of fortifications in the Peninsular campaigns: those which had been given up to Napoleon
previous to the opening of hostilities, contributed very much to the success of his arms, while those which were retained by Spain
and her allies, contributed in an equal degree to hamper and embarrass his operations.
Some of these, like Saragossa
, with their broken walls and defective armaments, kept the enemy in check some sixty days each, and did much to weaken the French
power in the Peninsula
Temporary or field-fortifications also had an important influence here.
The lines of Torres
-Vedras, the field-works of Ronda, the intrenched camps of the Pyrenees
, &c., are examples under this head.
In fact, field-works played a most important part in all of Napoleon
We might mention the redoubt of Montenotte, the intrenchments at Milesimo, the batteries of Lobau
, the field-defences of Hougomont, La Haye-Sainte
, and Papelotte at Waterloo
, and numerous other cases equally striking.
Just before the battle of Waterloo
employed some eighteen. thousand peasants and two thousand horses, under the direction of British officers of engineers.
In speaking of these defences, Colonel Pasley
says: “It may be easily conceived that to have directed such a great body of workmen to proper advantage, by means of a few officers of engineers, would have been impossible, but for the system adopted of subdividing the various works among the non-commissioned officers and privates of the engineer troops, each of whom was made responsible for laying out the details of his own portion, and for the direction of a party of from twenty to one hundred m.en, or even more, according to circum-stances.”
But to return to the Peninsular war. These campaigns exhibit in strong colors the advantages derived, on the one side, from a well-organized engineer corps, and the losses, delays, and defects suffered on the other, until the defects of the organization were remedied.
with a well-appointed army, and soon, through strategy and well-directed force, gained possession of the important fortresses of the Peninsula
; seizing in this way the strategic routes and important geographical points, he was enabled to retain possession of the country for eight years, in spite of the numerous forces arrayed against him, the absence of himself and his best generals in Germany
and the great inefficiency of Joseph and of many of his generals.
These fortifications were old, and of strength inferior to modern works of defence, but it required years and the expenditure of millions in blood and treasure to expel from the country those who had possession of them.
For the first five years of this war the English struggled with a most imperfect army organizations.1
When “the first serious siege,” says Napier
, “was undertaken by the British
army,” to the discredit of the English
government, no army was ever so ill provided with the means of prosecuting such an enterprise.
The engineer officers
were exceedingly zealous; and many of them were well.
versed in the theory of their business.
But the ablest trembled when reflecting on their utter destitution of all that belonged to real service.
Without a corps of sappers and miners, without a single private who knew how to carry on an approach under fire, they were compelled to attack fortresses defended by the most warlike, practised, and scientific troops of the age.
“The best officers and finest soldiers were obliged to sacrifice themselves in a lamentable manner, to compensate for the negligence and incapacity of a government always ready to plunge.
the nation into war, without the
slightest care of what was necessary to obtain success.
The sieges carried on by the British
were a succession of butcheries; because the commonest materials, and the means necessary to their art, were denied the engineers.”
Colonel J. T. Jones
writes in nearly the same terms of the early sieges in the Peninsula
, and with respect to the siege of Badajos
, adds in express terms, that “a body of sappers and miners, and the necessary fascines and gabions, would have rendered the reduction of the work certain.”
Soon after this siege a body of engineer troops arrived from England
, but their number was insufficient, and Wellington
, having learned by sad experience the importance of engineer troops, ordered a body of two hundred volunteers to be detached from the line, “and daily instructed in the practice of sapping, making and laying fascines and gabions, and the construction of batteries, &c.”
The siege of Ciudad Rodrigo
, which immediately followed this organization, was conducted with greater skill and success than any other till nearly the close of the war; and all military writers have attributed this result to the greater efficiency of the engineer force engaged in the siege.
This arm was now gradually increased, and the last year of the war the engineer force with the English
army in the field consisted of seventy-seven officers, seven assistant-engineers
and surveyors, four surgeons and assistants, one thousand six hundred and forty-six sappers, miners, aitificers, &c., one thousand three hundred and forty horses, and one hundred and sixty carriages.
During all this time the French
furnished their armies
with well-organized engineer forces.
We have endeavored to form a comparison of the number of French engineers and artillerists employed on these peninsular sieges.
But from the loose manner in which these details are usually given by historians, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the two.
Both are not unfrequently given under the same head, and when a distinction is apparently kept up, only the engineer staff
is mentioned under the head of engineers — the sappers, miners, artificers, the train, &c., all being put down as artillery.
In the following table we have endeavored to arrange them as is done in our own army.
The trains of both arms are left out, for frequently that of one arm performed the duties of the other.
Moreover, in our service a portion of these duties of engineer and artillery trains is performed by the quartermaster's department.
For those who wish to know the exact organization of the French
engineer train, we give it as it existed in 1811, viz.:--seven troops, each troop consisting of three officers, one hundred and forty-one non-commissioned officers and privates , two hundred and fifty horses, and fifty wagons, conveying five thousand two hundred and seventy intrenching tools, one thousand seven hundred cutting tools, one thousand eight hundred and two artificers' tools, two hundred and fifty-three miners' tools, and eight thousand three hundred and eighteen kilogrammes' weight of machinery and stores, each article being made to a particular pattern.
The pioneers in Spain
acted sometimes with one arm and sometimes with the other, and we have assigned them accordingly in the table.
The pontoniers, however, in our service are included with the engineers; we have therefore put them, in our table, in the same column with the engineers.
|Name of Siege. ||Engineer staff, sappers, miners, pontoniers, and pioneers. ||Artillery staff, horse and foot artillery, ouvriers, and pioneers. ||Total of engineers, sappers, miners, pontoniers, and pioneers. ||Total of artillery staff, horse and foot artillery, ouvriers, and pioneers. |
|Offic. ||Men. ||Offic. ||Men. |
|Saragossa, ||86 ||1189 ||90 ||1276 ||1275 ||1360 |
|Rosas, ||21 ||211 ||-- ||-- ||232 ||461 |
|Girona, ||54 ||603 ||62 ||1299 ||657 ||1361 |
|Astorga, ||7 ||91 ||17 ||427 ||98 ||444 |
|Lerida, ||15 ||316 ||11 ||208 ||331 ||219 |
|Meguinenza, ||34 ||278 ||-- ||-- ||312 ||136 |
|1st Ciudad Rodrigo, ||34 ||441 ||-- ||-- ||475 ||1019 |
|Almeida, ||34 ||489 ||-- ||-- ||523 ||1019 |
|Tortosa, ||43 ||429 ||32 ||381 ||472 ||413 |
|Tarragona, ||50 ||681 ||46 ||701 ||731 ||747 |
|Olivensa, ||10 ||106 ||-- ||-- ||116 ||186 |
|1st Badajos, ||25 ||707 ||41 ||699 ||732 ||740 |
|Tarifa, ||12 ||235 ||17 ||148 ||247 ||165 |
|Peniscola, ||13 ||138 ||9 ||183 ||151 ||192 |
|2d Ciudad Rodrigo, ||3 ||12 ||8 ||160 ||15 ||168 |
|2d Badajos, ||9 ||256 ||-- ||-- ||265 ||268 |
|Burgos, ||4 ||124 ||3 ||126 ||128 ||129 |
|Castio Udiales, ||5 ||68 ||8 ||197 ||73 ||205 |
|St. Sebastian, ||13 ||248 ||7 ||166 ||261 ||173|
From this table it appears that the ratio of the two arms at these sieges, making the comparison on the basis of our own organization, is about the same as for the present French army in Algeria
, or a little more than five of engineers to six of artillery.
Thus far we have spoken of the field-operations of engineer troops in connection with fortifications, alluding only incidentally to the use of military bridges and the passage of rivers.
In the early wars of the French Revolution
the want of pontoniers was severely felt, and from the deficiency of this branch of service, the operations of the French
generals were on several occasions very much restricted.
The evil was afterwards remedied in a great degree by the introduction of several battalions of pontoniers in the regular army organization.
On many occasions, during his wars, did Napoleon
feel and acknowledge the importance of these troops; but on. none, perhaps,
was this importance more clearly shown than in the passage of the Beresina during his retreat from Moscow
with the wreck of his army.
had cut the bridge of Borisow and taken position in great strength on the right bank of the river, both at this point and below; the French
, wearied with long and difficult marches, destitute of artillery, provisions, and military stores, with a wide and deep river in front, and a powerful enemy on their flank and rear, benumbed by the rigors of a merciless climate, and dispirited by defeat — every thing seemed to promise their total destruction.
,” says an. English general officer, in his remarks on this retreat, “who, from the beginning of the campaign, had made all the arrangements for the equipment and construction of military bridges, was specially charged with the important duty of providing for the passage of this river; and he discharged that duty with a degree of forecast and ability to which certainly Napoleon
owed his escape and the wreck.
of his army its safety.
had begun to prepare, at Smolensko, for the difficulties which he foresaw in this operation.
He formed, with every care, a train sufficient for the transport of all the tools and stores that might be required; and, further to provide against casualties and accidents, every man belonging to the, companies of pontoniers was obliged to carry from Smolensko a tool or implement of some kind, and a proportion of nails: and fortunate was it for the army that he did so; for such was the difficulty in getting through the carriages containing stores, that only two forge-wagons and six caissons of tools and nails could be preserved.
To these the general added a quantity of iron-work
taken from the wheels of carriages that were abandoned on the march.
Much was sacrificed to bring off these valuable materials for making clamps and fastenings, but, as Segur
observes, that exertion ‘ sauva l'armee
But it is not always in the possession of a thing that we are most likely to appreciate its utility; the evils and inconveniences resulting from the want of it not unfrequently impress us most powerfully with its importance and the advantages to be derived from its possession.
A few examples of this nature, drawn from military history, may be instructive.
We need not go back to the disastrous passage of the Vistula by Charles XII., the failure of Marlborough
to pass the Dyle, and Eugene to cross the Adda in 1705, nor of the three unsuccessful attempts of Charles of Lorraine
to cross the Rhine
The wars following the French Revolution
are sufficiently replete with useful instruction on this subject.3
In 1794 so great was the disorder in the direction of affairs, that the boats of the bridges across the Wahal and the Rhine
were disposed of for commercial purposes; and in the beginning of 1795, says Jomini
, “the conquerors of
had not even a bridge equipage, at a time too when the success of the campaign depended solely on the means of crossing a river.”
A few boats were procured from the Wahal and the Meuse, and others manufactured in the forests of the Moselle
; but “these operations consumed precious time, and four months
thus passed away in preparations.”
Even after other things were all ready, the army was obliged to wait thirty days for the arrival of boats for ponton bridges; during this delay the Austrians strengthened their position, and with very little exertion they might easily have prevented the passage.
In 1796, profiting by the errors of the former campaigns, the French
collected more suitable bridge equipages, and the two armies passed the Rhine
at Neuweid and Kehl
without loss or delay.
The latter of these passages has often been referred to as a model for such operations, and certainly does credit to the general who directed it. But Moreau
's bridge equipage having been destroyed during this disastrous campaign, his operations the following year were considerably delayed in preparing a new one, and even then he was under the necessity of seizing all private boats that could be found within reach; but the difficulty of collecting and using boats of all sizes and descriptions was so great as entirely to defeat his plan of surprising the enemy on the opposite bank of the river.
The necessity of co-operating with Hoche
admitted of no further delay, and he was now obliged to force his passage in the open day, and in face of the enemy.
Undertaken under such circumstances, “the enterprise was extremely sanguinary, and at one time very doubtful ;” and had it failed, “Moreau
's army would have been ruined for the campaign.”
's celebrated passage of the Po
, at Placentia
, shows plainly how important it is for a general to possess
the means of crossing rivers.
“I felt the importance of hastening the enterprise in order not to allow the enemy time to prevent it. But the Po
, which is a river as wide and deep as the Rhine
, is a barrier difficult to be overcome.
We had no means of constructing a bridge, and were obliged to content ourselves with the means of embarkation found at Placentia
and its environs.
Lannes, chief of brigade, crossed in the first boats, with the advanced guard.
had only ten squadrons on the other side, and these were easily overcome.
The passage was now continued without interruption, but very slowly.
If I had had a good ponton-equipage, the fate of the enemy's army had been sealed; but the necessity of passing the river by successive embarkations saved it
In the campaign of 1799, the Archduke
attempted to pass the Aar, and attacked the French
on the opposite side, but for want of suitable equipage his operation was delayed till the enemy had collected sufficient forces to intercept the passage; he was now obliged to enter into a stipulation for a suspension of hostilities, and to withdraw his bridges.
The operations of the French
in the campaign of 1800, led to the most glorious results, but their execution was attended with the greatest difficulties.
The passage of the Alps
was greatly facilitated by the ability of the chief engineer
, Marescot, and the skill of the troops under his command; and the facility of passing rivers afforded Napoleon
by his pontoniers, had an important influence upon the success of the campaign.
“The army of the reserve had many companies of pontoniers and sappers ; the pontons of course could not be taken across the St. Bernard
, but the pontoniers soon found materials on the Po
for constructing bridge equipages.”
's army in the same year profited well by his pontoniers, in the passages of the Inn
, the Salza, the Traun, the Alza, &c.,
and in the pursuit of the Austrian army — a pursuit that has but a single parallel example in modern history.
The facility with which Napoleon
crossed rivers, made forced marches, constructed redoubts, fortified depots, and grasped the great strategic points of the enemy in the campaign of 1805, resulted from the skilful organization of his army, and the efficiency given to the forces employed in these important operations.
The engineer staff of the French
army at this period, consisted of four hundred and forty-nine officers, and there were four battalions of sappers, of one hundred and twenty officers and seven thousand and ninety-two men; six companies of miners, of twenty-four officers and five hundred and seventy-six men; and two regiments of pontoniers, of thirty-eight officers and nine hundred and sixty men. On the contrary, the enemy's neglect of these things is one of the most striking of the many faults of the war, and his ill-directed efforts to destroy the great wooden bridge across the Danube
, and the successful operations of the French
sappers in securing it, formed one of the principal turning points in the campaign.
The same organization enabled the French
to perform their wonderfully rapid and decisive movements in the Prussian campaign of 1806, and the northern operations of 1807.
In 1809, Napoleon
's army crossed, with the most wonderful rapidity, the Inn
, the Salza, the Traun, and other rivers emptying into the Danube
, and reached Vienna
before the wonder-stricken Austrians could prepare for its defence.
It was then necessary for the French
to effect a passage of the Danube
, which was much swollen by recent rains and the melting snow of the mountains.
Considering the depth and width of the river, the positions of the enemy, and his preparations to oppose a passage, with the disastrous consequences that would result to the
French from any failure in its execution; taking all these things into consideration, Jomini
pronounced it “one of the most hazardous and difficult of all the operations of war.”
Here the fate of the army depended, apparently, upon the skill and efficiency of the engineers and pontoniers, and nobly did they discharge the trust reposed in them.
When the pontons failed, tressel-bridges were substituted, and even fifty-four enormous boats were put in requisition.
So skilfully were these operations conducted, that Napoleon
's immense army crossed over in safety, directly in the face of a superior enemy, and the same day fought the memorable battle of Esling.
Forced to retire before numbers vastly superior to his own, Napoleon
concentrated his forces on the island of Lobau
, and intrenched his position.
Surrounded by the broad and deep channel of the Danube
, and watched by numerous and skilful enemies, it required the most constant activity and the greatest good fortune to effect a passage.
Here the skill and efficiency of the engineers shone conspicuously; a number of bridges were thrown across the river in the face of the Austrians, and against obstacles almost insurmountable; the whole French army passed in safety, and soon put the finishing stroke to that brilliant campaign.
So high an estimate did Napoleon
attach to the construction of these bridges, that, when the passage was completed, he offered to place Bertrand
, the constructing engineer, though of comparatively low rank, at the head of the French corps du genie
On many occasions during the retreat in 1812-13, from the Beresina to the left of the Rhine
, across the Niemen, the Vistula, the Oder, the Elbe
, and the numerous other rivers which divide that immense country, the French
derived vast advantages from the experience and skill of their engineers and pontoniers, several times whole corps escaping through their means from the grasp of their pursuers.
When, however, the disasters of this retreat had absorbed most of the material of the army, and had sadly thinned the ranks of men of skill.
and experience, they sustained many severe, and, in other circumstances, unnecessary losses Of this character we may mention the passage of the Elster by the bridge of Lindnau, where, through the ignorance and carelessness of those charged with the mines, and through the want of suitable bridge arrangements, thousands of brave men were buried in the muddy waters of this small river.
So sensibly did Napoleon
feel this want of bridge equipages, in the winter of 1813-14, that he addressed to his minister of war, on this subject, the following remarkable words: “If I had had pontons, I should have already annihilated the army of Schwartzenberg, and closed the war; I should have taken from him eight or ten thousand wagons, and his entire army in detail; but for want of the proper means I could not pass the Seine.”
Again, on the 2d of March he wrote: “If I had bad a bridge equipage this morning, Blucher
's army had been lost.”
examine the details of the operations of this campaign, will be convinced of the full force of these remarks.
in 1808, Sir John Moore
, in order to assist the native forces, had penetrated so near the army of Napoleon
, that retreat became exceedingly difficult, and he was several times on the point of being lost.
The English army was at this time very deficient in engineer troops, and Moore
suffered much for want of miners to destroy bridges, and pontoniers to construct new ones.
In order to cover his retreat and impede the advance of the French
, the commander-in-chief
, says Napier
, “directed several bridges to be destroyed, but the engineers [for want of miners and miner's tools] failed of success in every attempt.”
's retreat, in 1809, he crossed the Duero
, and destroyed the bridges so as to cut off the pursuit of Wellington
But while Soult
, deceived by treachery in his own corps, neglected to guard the river with proper vigilance, Wellington
collected boats at different points, crossed over his army, surprised the French
, and, had it not been for the singular delay and indecision of General Murray
, would most certainly have forced the entire army to capitulate ; as it was, his operation produced a decided influence on the campaign, and effected the safety of Beresford
destroyed his artillery and baggage, and hastily retreated through the mountain passes; but his army was again arrested at the river Cavado
, and placed on the very brink of destruction, when the brave and skilful Dulong succeeded in effecting a passage at the Ponte Nova
; the same daring officer opened, on the same day, a way for the further escape of the French
across the Misarella by the Saltador.
In the pursuit of Massena
, in 1810, it was important to the English
to cross the Guadiana
, and attack the French
could be put in a state of defence.
was directed by Wellington
to pass this river at Jerumina, where the Portuguese had promised to furnish pontons ; but they neglected to fulfil their engagement, and the army had to wait till Capt. Squire
, an able and efficient officer of engineers, could construct other means for effecting a passage.
Every thing was done that genius could devise and industry execute; nevertheless, the operations of the army were greatly delayed--“a delay
,” says the historian, “that may be considered as the principal cause of those long and bloody operations which afterwards detained Lord Wellington more than a year on the frontiers of Portugal
We might prolong these remarks by discussing the passages of the Ceira and Alva, and their influence on the pursuit of Massena
's passage of the Tagus
and his retreat from Burgos in 1812 ; the passage of the Adour and Garonne in 1814 ; and the failure of the mines to blow up the bridges of Saltador, Alcantara
, &c.; but a sufficient number of examples, it is believed, has already been adduced to show the advantage of maintaining a properly organized and instructed body of sappers, miners, and pontoniers, and the fatal results attending the want of such troops, as a component part of an army organization.
It has already been remarked that the infantry of an. army must always form the basis of the apportionment; and by the general rule laid down by military writers, the cavalry should be from one-fourth to one-sixth of the infantry, according to the character of the war; the artillery about two-thirds of the cavalry, or one-seventh of the infantry; and the engineers from one-half to three-fourths of the artillery,--say about two-thirds.
The staff and administrative corps must vary according to the nature of the organization, and the character of the theatre of war. The former ought to be from two to five in a thousand, and the latter from twenty-five to seventy-five,4
as a general rule.
These ratios would give for a good army organization:
|Staff, about ||5|
|Administrative service — pay, medical, commissary, quarter-master, &c. ||65|
In a broken country, and against savage and undisciplined foes, like the Indians in this country, the natives opposed to the English
, to the French
or to the Russians in Circassia, the cavalry, artillery, and engineers would be diminished, and the infantry and administrative corps proportionably increased; the former because light troops are always preferable against an undisciplined foe, and the latter because of the difficulty of moving and procuring supplies in new and uncultivated countries.
The French forces in Algeria
, in 1844, amounted to about sixty thousand men, in the following proportion:--
| ||1000 men.|
In small peace establishments the relative proportion of infantry and cavalry should be much less than when prepared for the field, because troops for these two arms can be much more readily formed in case of emergency, than for those which require more scientific information, and technical skill and instruction.
The staff and engineers are evidently the most difficult to be formed in case of war, and next to these the artillery and administrative corps.
In this country we can maintain, in time of peace, only the frame-work of an army, looking to our citizen soldiery to form, in case of need, the great mass of our military force.
This is the starting point in our military system, and the basis of our army organization.
Let us see whether this principle is carried out in practice.
For every thousand men in our present organization5
|For the staff,||2|
We see from this table, that while our artillery is nearly six times as numerous as in ordinary armies, our staff is less by one-half, and our engineers not more than one-half what ought to be their proportion i a war establishment To this excess of artillery over infantry and cavalry in our army in time of peace there is no objection, inasmuch as the latter could be more easily expanded in case of war than the artillery.
But for a still stronger reason our staff and engineers should also be proportionally increased, instead of being vastly diminished, as is actually the case.
Experience in the first campaigns of the American Revolution
strongly impressed on the mind of Washington
the absolute necessity of forming a regular and systematic army organization.
But so difficult was it to obtain properly instructed engineers, that he was obliged to seek his engineer officers in the ranks of foreign adventurers, and to make drafts from the other arms of service, and have them regularly instructed in the duties of engineer troops, and commanded by the officers of this corps.
An order, in his own handwriting, giving the details of this temporary arrangement, is dated March 30th, 1779.
Until men are enlisted for the purpose, companies of sappers and miners shall be formed by drafts from the line, “The duties of the companies of sappers and miners,”
he continues, “shall be under the direction of the engineers, to construct field-works of every kind, and all works necessary for the attack or defence of places, as circumstances may require.
On a march in the vicinity of an enemy, a detachment of the companies of sappers and miners shall be stationed at the head of the column, directly after the vanguard, for the purpose of opening and mending the roads, and removing obstructions,” &c.
The great difficulties encountered by Washington
in. instructing his inexperienced forces in the more difficult branches of the art, made him the more earnest, in alter years, to impress on us how important it was for us In peace to prepare for war
. The preparation here meant is not the keeping up, in time of peace, of a large standing army, ever ready to take the field; but rather the formation of a small body, educated and practised in all the scientific and difficult parts of the profession; a body which shalt serve as the cadre
or framework of a large army, capable of imparting to the new and inexperienced soldiers of the republic that skill and efficiency which has been acquired by practice.
How far have we accomplished this object, and what will be the probable operations in case of another contest with a European power?
New and inexperienced troops will be called into the field to oppose a veteran and disciplined army.
From these troops we shall expect all the bravery and energy resulting from ardent patriotism and an enthusiastic love of liberty.
But we cannot here expect much discipline, military skill, or knowledge of the several branches of the military art. The peaceful habits of our citizens tend but little to the cultivation of the military character.
How, then, are we to oppose the hostile force?
Must human blood be substituted for skill and preparation, and the dead bodies of our citizens serve as epaulements
against the inroads of the enemy?
To some extent, we fear it must be the case ; but not entirely so, for government has not altogether neglected to make preparation for such an event.
Fortifications have been planned or erected on the most important and exposed positions; military materials and munitions have been collected in the public arsenals ; a military school has been organized to instruct in the military sciences ; there are regularly kept up small bodies of infantry and cavalry, weak in numbers, but capable of soon making good soldiers of a population so well versed as ours is in the use of the musket and the horse; an artillery force, proportionally much larger, is also regularly maintained, with a sufficient number of men and officers to organize and make good artillery-men of citizens already partially acquainted with the use of the cannon.
But an acquaintance within infantry, cavalry, and artillery duties is not the only practical knowledge requisite in war. In the practical operations of an army in the field, rivers are to be crossed, bridges suddenly erected and suddenly destroyed, fieldworks constructed and defended, batteries captured and destroyed; fortifications are to be put in order and defended, or to be besieged ad recaptured; trenches must be opened, mines sprung, batteries established, breaches made and stormed; trous-de-loup, abattis, palisades, gabions, fascines, and numerous other military implements and machinery are to be constructed.
Have our citizens a knowledge of these things, or have we provided in our military establishment for a body of men instructed and. practised in this branch of the military art, and capable of imparting to an army the necessary efficiency for this service?
Unfortunately this question must be answered in the negative ; and it is greatly to be feared that the future historian will have to say of us, as Napier
has said of the English
:--“The best officers and soldiers were
obliged to sacrifice themselves in a lamentable manner, to compensate for the negligence and incapacity of a government always ready to plunge the nation into a war, without the slightest care of what was necessary to obtain success.
Their sieges were a succession of butcheries; because the commonest materials, and the means necessary to their art, were denied the engineers