I do not know that the attempt has ever been made to improve soldiers by an address to their reason and understanding.
I propose to try the experiment, beginning with the new recruits.
It has grown into a proverb that “one hundred regulars will whip four hundred raw troops.”
The history of all wars proves this to be substantially true.
And yet, the hundred and four hundred are made up of the same material.
How happens it that there is such a disparity between them?
Can mere drilling make one man bolder than another?
Impossible, as is proved by the fact, that when brought into battle for the first time they are all alike — all equally alarmed and all equally apt to run. But the regulars soon become accustomed to battle, and nothing gives us alarm to which we are accustomed.
They soon discover, too, that the roar of cannon and the bursting of bombs, which terrify them so much in the first battle, are the most harmless of all implements of warfare brought into the field.
They are better than raw troops simply because they have got over the fears of raw troops.
If, therefore, it were possible for new recruits to engage in their first battle with the coolness and self-possession of veterans, they would be equal to veterans.
Is this impossible?
Certainly not; for most of the troops with which Bonaparte
fought the battle of Waterloo
were new levies, and they fought as gallantly as the best on the field.
This they did from confidence in their General.
They, doubtless, felt all the alarms common to troops engaging in battle for the first time, but they did not yield to their fears.
And to this point it seems to me any raw troops may bring themselves by the force of reason alone, especially when assisted a little by experienced officers.
Let each man go into the battle-field with this
train of reflections: “I shall be frightened of course.
Why, at the danger to which my life is exposed.
Well, now, what is really the extent of the danger?
In the most sanguinary battle, not one fifth of the combatants are killed or wounded.
The chances are, therefore, five to one that I shall not be hurt.
The proportion of the slightly and recoverably wounded is to the killed and mortally wounded as five is to one.
The chances are, therefore, five to one, that if touched at all, I shall not be mortally wounded.
The cannon are the common engines which unnerve men. Now, of the whole number of killed in battle, not more than one in one hundred are killed by cannon.1
A hundred to one, therefore, that those noisy bellowers do not hurt me. The alternative is presented to me to stand my ground in spite of my fears, or to run. Now, in which is the most danger?
Why, surely in running; for, as a general rule, of a given number, more men are killed in flight than in fight.
While I stand my ground, I am all the time destroying, weakening, and disheartening the enemy, and encouraging my companions in arms.
Victory, therefore, is likely to insure my safety.
But in running, I may be killed by the very men whom I would have disabled had I stood firm.
I weaken our forces, throw the battle upon a reduced number, expose them to increased labors and losses, become then an object of their hatred and contempt, dispirit them and invigorate the foe, not only for this battle, but for all future battles.
The regulars show that battles lose their terrors when we become used to them; how am I ever to become used to them by running?
If I save my life by it, I increase the danger of being made prisoner a hundred-fold.
Fear or no fear, then, I will fight as long as the regulars fight.”
Now, in all this, I put love of country, Yankee insolence, and brutality entirely out of the question; for with panic-stricken troops, carrying in their bosoms no antidote for their fears or moral remedy for their natural defects, these considerations are utterly worthless, as has been most lamentably proven in our last great battle.
The remedy is found in the foregoing train of reflections.
They cannot make brave men of cowards; they cannot prevent fears on the battle-field; but they surely ought to make the coward and the timid fight manfully in spite of their infirmities.
Officers should impress them on the minds of their new recruits; and as such men fight well under a general in whom they have confidence, they should always, if practicable, be attached to the brigade, division or corps in whose generals they have the most confidence.
Lord Wellington is reported to have said that by nature he was a great coward, but that his pride of character, self-respect, and love of country predominated over his fears.
The consequence was, that he became the hero of heroes.
I see no reason why every soldier in the confederate army might not become a hero upon the same principle.
I am aware of the military dogma that men, to become good soldiers, must first become mere machines.
If this be true, then it were better for us (policy aside) to make up our armies of stout, able-bodied negroes, inured to toil, than of their high-minded, chivalrous, but more feeble masters.
At the opening of the war, our armies were composed mainly of troops of the latter class — men of science, men of wealth, men of the learned professions, Congressmen, legislators, professors, and students — all accustomed to a life of comparative ease.
There was little drilling of them, or time for drilling them, before they were engaged in a series of battles.
The conscript laws filled our ranks with men from all grades of society, and of all descriptions of character — in the main, hardworking strong-muscled, able-bodied men, accustomed to hard living and constant fatigue.
They have been long in the machine factory, long enough to have every attribute of humanity drilled out of them.
Has this class proved themselves to be better soldiers than the other?
Have they fought better?
Have they gained any more victories?
Have they endured any more hardships, and with more patience?
Let the advocates of machinery answer these questions.
The dogma which I have been considering is not only false, but is in the highest degree mischievous.
If scientific war be but a conflict of machines, it necessarily follows that the power which has the greatest number of machines must in the end be victorious.
How is it possible for nine millions of population--six, we may say — to bring into the field as many men as can twenty-three millions?
And yet we seem to be trying the hopeless experiment.
Every body is to be called to arms.
In reason's name, I ask, Why?
We have plenty of men enrolled to whip all the Yankees
in the field at this time, if our men will but fight as they did at the beginning of the war!
Did we lose the battle of Mission Ridge
from want of men?
No, but from derangement of our machinery.
And why should that defeat run us all crazy?
I see nothing alarming in it. One of the bitter fruits of the dogma in question is that officers who subscribe to it will take no pains to inspire their men with courage, self-confidence, and high-toned patriotism, but will treat them pretty much as they would so many prize-fighters.
Away with the false, demoralizing dogma!
Soldiers, you are moral agents; do for yourselves, then, what I would do for you, if I could.
Nerve yourselves up by your own mental energies to deeds of noble daring and unflinching valor, though your enemy be three to your one.
My first chapter was addressed to raw recruits.
It was not designed to dissipate their fears in battle, for no counsel can do this; but to teach them to be good soldiers in spite of their fears — to show them that if they will consult their own personal safety, they will fight in fear rather than run from fear.
I now address the soldiers generally.
Much that I have said to the first class is equally applicable to this.
Men who engage in battle expecting to be whipped, are very certain to be whipped.
The reason is plain; they fight without object and without spirit — their thoughts more occupied in finding apologies for running than the achievement of victory.
Now, I can conceive of but these four things which can induce a rational being to expect defeat in battle:
Superiority in numbers opposed to him.
Superiority in arms.
Superiority in valor.
Superiority in generalship.
Let us consider these matters in their order:
1. Superiority in Numbers
.--This is the bugbear that made cowards of us for thirty years before we seceded, which seems to have turned the heads of half the nation, civil and military, within the last two months, and which seems likely to make us destroy ourselves to keep the Yankees
from destroying us.
I have already bestowed a few remarks upon this head; let us consider it a little more in detail.
To give the instances in which brave men conquered twice and thrice their numbers would be to write a book.
Take a few cases from our own history.
At Big Bethel one thousand three hundred confederates put to confusion and flight four thousand Federals.
At the battle of Blackburn's Ford (Bull Run
) one brigade whipped twice its number.
At the first battle of Manassas
thirty-eight thousand completely routed seventy-five thousand.
It is said the Yankees
fight better now than they did then; and that the Western Federals
fight better than the Eastern
This may be true, but it would be a harmless truth if we did not fight worse.
We whipped Western troops at Chickamauga
, and we would have whipped them again at Mission Ridge
if a brigade or more of our men had not played the coward.
Even in the rout which these men led off, Cleburne
's gallant band arrested the whole Federal army, when they were probably four to one against him. This I regard as by far the most brilliant feat of the war. To have stood his ground would have been creditable to him and his men, but in the midst of confusion and flight to have formed his men in an advantageous position, and to have maintained it against repeated assaults of overwhelming numbers, and to have defeated them, entitles him to a monument as high as Lookout, and to each of his men one as high as Mission Ridge
I hope he will preserve with peculiar care the name of every man that stood by him in that memorable conflict.2
Here, then, we have an illustration from the same battle-field, of the difference between running from superior numbers and fighting them bravely.
demonstrated, under every discouragement, that Western troops, even in the exultation of victory, may be whipped by inferior numbers, when possessed of superior valor.
Let the renegades remember this, and retrieve their credit by fighting gallantly in their next battle.
There are other considerations which it seems to me should divest numbers of their terrors to reflecting troops; at least so far as to raise them above cowardly conduct.
These truths all will admit; the more men in the army, the more unwieldy and sluggish does it, become, the more difficult is it to make them effective in action, the more on the sick-list, the more killed by a given number of shots, the more transportation and provisions do they require, and the more unlikely that they will have a commander capable of directing their movements skilfully and usefully.
These are most serious drawbacks to a large army, especially when far away from home.
They will, of themselves, exhaust it in time.
A small army, then, has every advantage of a large one, except in the single matter of numbers.
They are more immediately under the eye of their commander, more readily concentrated, more prompt in reaching the points of attack, lose fewer in battle, and in retreat (orderly retreat I mean) are absolutely unapproachable by their cumbersome foe. These facts are of themselves sufficient to account for the many victories which inferior numbers have gained over superior.
Let us suppose that Grant
commands a hundred thousand men, and Johnston
but fifty thousand.
There are twenty positions between Dalton
may occupy, with the certainty of whipping Grant
, if his men will fight bravely.
(It is to be hoped he has examined all these positions.) Should he be driven from one of these positions after hard fighting, his losses, compared with those of the enemy, will be about as one to five.
And so of all the other positions.
But there is one view of the subject which should quiet all fears of the soldier on the score of numbers, and it is this: that it is absolutely impossible for Grant
to conquer Johnston
in the case supposed, because it is absolutely impossible for him to force Johnston
into a fight upon ground of his own choosing.
Upon the whole, then, there is no great cause of alarm to the soldier in the numbers opposed to him. The Fabian
policy avoids defeat at least.
2. Superiority in Arms
.--Except in artillery, I know of no advantage the enemy have of us in arms — certainly none to be feared.
Of artillery I have already spoken, and shown that they are the least formidable implements of war of any that are used.
For the destruction of fortifications, ships, and towns, cannon are useful; but for field service they are the most inconvenient, cumbersome, inefficient, expensive, worthless engines of war that ever were invented.
A man told me he had been in six battles, and he had never seen a man killed by a cannon or bomb in his life.
Another told me that he had belonged to an artillery corps for two years; that in that time they had broken down four teams of horses, and been brought into action but once, in which he had no reason to believe that they
had killed a single man. They fear cannon, then, simply because men cease to reason when they engage in battle, and surrender themselves to their instinctive impulses.
3. Superiority in Valor
.--This the Yankees
have never shown, and never will show, until our troops become the biggest of fools and the meanest of cowards.
4. Superiority of Generalship
.--Certainly there is no cause for fear from this source, as yet.
Reason down your fears then, soldiers; but if you cannot, fight them out.
In all that I have said to you, or mean to say to you, I suppose you fight against superior numbers.
I have endeavored to demonstrate to you that there is not near the danger in meeting superior numbers in the field that is generally supposed.
In a conflict of one thousand against two thousand, the first of unyielding valor, and the second of common soldiery, which is likely to conquer?
Every man in the world will answer: “The first.”
Is not this an unquestionable truth?
Why, then, will not reasonable beings reduce it to practice in the war?
“Because,” it will be answered, “men cannot screw themselves up to unyielding valor.”
True, but with a man of common-sense, it should require but very little screwing to do that which will insure him victory, or no valor.
When I was a boy, about thirteen years of age, my father lived fourteen miles from Augusta
On the road to the city, there was one point where a man had been murdered, and another where a woman had been killed, and stories were rife in the neighborhood of terrific sights seen at these places at night.
I do not suppose that a house full of gold could have induced me to pass them alone at night.
One day my father remarked, in my presence: “I never allowed my children to be frightened with foolish stories about ghosts, etc. There is my----, who, if necessary, would go from here to Augusta
at midnight, with no more fear than I would feel at doing so.”
“Mercy on me!”
thought I; “how little my father knows of his----!”
But the remark had a magical effect upon me. It set me to thinking of the folly of my fears, the glory I should have in verifying my father's opinion of me, and the shame that I should feel at his discovering that he had over-estimated me, and I began to entertain a timid desire to prove my heroism.
Not long after this I was belated, and had to pass one of these places at night, and alone.
I was awfully alarmed as I approached the spot, but I determined to go slowly by it. When I reached it my fears rapidly subsided; “and now,” thought I, “if I can only tell, when I get home, that I stopped and searched for ghosts and blue-lights, and listened for groanings, etc., what an honor it will be for me!”
I did so, and thenceforward became a tolerably brave boy.
Now, if such inducements as these could make a timid boy act the hero, why should not love of country, the glory of victory, and the shame of defeat, make even cowards act the hero?
But I am departing from the subjects proposed for this article.
I come now to speak of actual operations in the field.
If ten thousand engage twenty thousand, the labor of fighting is about equal on both sides.
The human constitution can only endure a certain amount of labor and fatigue, and at this point the belligerents must stop.
All other things being equal, then, if the ten thousand hold on to this point, they cannot possibly be conquered; and it's a hundred to one, that the twenty thousand yield the contest before they reach the point of exhaustion.
Charge of Bayonets
.--If the soldier forgets all else that I have written or may write, let him not forget what I say upon this head.
It has been said that in all Bonaparte
's battles there were but three instances of a fight with bayonets.
With these exceptions, whenever he or his adversaries brought the battle to a hand-to-hand fight, one or the other party invariably gave way. Now he fought every nation in Europe
, and, with one exception, always with inferior numbers.
he fought in Egypt
--a barbarous people.
, he fought the Turks, assisted by the English
I do not remember that his troops ever recoiled from a charge of bayonets.
Be that as it may, we all know that up to his Russian
campaign, his battles were little else than one unbroken series of victories.
I have inquired of a number of our officers and soldiers whether they ever witnessed a fight with bayonets during the war, and I have not found the man who has seen such a thing.
And yet I have heard of a hundred, if not five hundred, charges being made during the war. In all these charges, then, one or the other party must have given way. Now what is the conclusion from all this?
Why, that whether you fight with civilized or barbarous nations, or with civilized and barbarous mixed, with royalists or republicans, with equal or unequal numbers, (the disproportion not being very great,) you have only to stand firm in a bayonet-fight, to assure you of victory.
There is nothing in war more certain than this.
When the battle, then, comes to a cross of bayonets, whatever may be your alarms, see it through, and your triumph is sure.
Charging up to the Cannon's Mouth
.--This is considered the very acme of heroism.
Well, now, there is not the one tenth part of the danger in it that is generally supposed.
The reason is plain.
Cannon cannot be constantly adjusted to an ever-approaching object.
Many of you know how wildly they shoot, until the gunner, by a number of experimental shots, “gets the range,” as it is called, even of a stationary object.
But that range is lost with every approach of the object to the cannon.
None but the most expert riflemen could hit a squirrel rapidly descending a tree.
Now, the movement of a cannon to hit an approaching regiment must be like that of the rifleman's gun, constantly lowering, but with a variable velocity, as the regiment approaches more or less rapidly.
If the regiment oblique a little from the first line of approach, the cannon
must undergo two adjustments to hit it: the one perpendicular, and the other lateral.
Now, who is competent to make the lubberly thing fulfil all these conditions?
No man that ever lived or ever will live.
To keep a cannon sighted upon a moving object is difficult enough, but to load and fire it, and still keep it on the moving object, is impossible.
“Marching up to the cannon's mouth,” then, if done quickly, is demonstrably less dangerous than remaining stationary at exact ca monrange.
A word more and I have done.
Possibly, before the war ends, you may get under a general who may command you to pursue a routed foe. In that event, stop not as long as you can keep your feet.
Bear hunger and thirst to the utmost point of endurance, rather than stop; and cut off your arm sooner than pause to gather booty at such a time.
The reason is obvious: when your enemy is in flight, he is impotent, and you destroy him without hazard to yourselves.
His dispersion is so great that he cannot be brought to face you again for months, if ever.
His all falls into your hands.
His spirit is broken for all time.
remember, as we pass along, that all these evils, half told, become yours, when you flee.
Soldiers! lay to heart the things that I have written, and reduce them to practice, and our liberty is sure.