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Napoleon's Judgment on men and things.

[Translated from the French for the Mobile Advertiser.] The presence of the general on the field is absolutely necessary — he is the head; he is the whole army. It was not the Roman army that conquered the Gauls, it was Cæsar. It was not the Carthaginian army that threw terror among the Romans at the gates of Rome, it was cannibal. It was not the Macedonian army that marched on the Indus, it was Alexander. It was not the French army that carried war on the Weser and on the Inn, it was Turenne. It was not the Prussian army that defended Prussia during seven years against the three greatest powers of Europe, it was Frederick the Great.

Generals in chief are guided by their own experience or their genius. Tactics, evolutions, the silence of the engineer and the artillerist, may be learned from books, or treatises, like geometry; but the knowledge of the high parts of war is only acquired by experience, and by the study of the history of wars and battles of great captains. The study of grammar could not teach any one how to write the Iliad or one of Corneille's tragedies.

The first quality of a general — in — chief is a cool head which receives just impressions of things, which is never excited nor flushed, nor discouraged by good or bad news. The sensations, either successive or simultaneous, which he receives in the course of one day, must class themselves in his head and occupy no more place in his thoughts than they respectively deserve; for, good sense, reason, are the result of comparison between several sensations taken under equal consideration.

There are men who, by their physical and moral constitution, see everything as a picture. Whatever may be the knowledge, wit, courage, or other good qualities of such men, nature has not destined them to the command of armies or to the direction of great operations of war.

All the qualities necessary to form a great general are very rarely combined; the most desirable is a perfect equilibrium between the or talent, and the nerve or courage; for, if the courage predominates, the general would imprudently undertake things beyond his power: whilst, on the other hand, if his courage was not equal to his genius, he would not dare to accomplish the great things which his mind would conceive. Much was said about physical and moral courage. On that subject Napoleon said that it was impossible to have more courage than Ney or Murat; but it was also impossible to have less brains than they had, especially Ney.

As to moral courage, Napoleon remarked that there were very few men who possessed moral courage at two o'clock in the night; that is to say, courage without time for reflection, and which, in the face of the most sudden events, retains the same liberty of mind, of judgement, of decision. Napoleon did not hesitate to presume that he was the one that possessed the greatest amount of that courage of two o'clock at night as he called it; and that he had seen but very few who did not remain for behind himself on that point.

He also remarked that it was difficult to conceive the strength of mind necessary to give one of those great battles on which depends the fate of an army, of a country, or of a throne. It was for the reason that Generals were seldom anxious to give battle. They would take position, fix it, meditate all their plans — but then would commence their indecision; and nothing is more necessary and more difficult than to know when and how to decide.

Speaking of some of his Generals, Napoleon remarked: "Kieher was gifted with the greatest talent. But he was only the man of the moment.--He sought glory as the only route to pleasure; he had no patriotism, and would, without hesitation, have taken service with any foreign power. In his youth he had served Prussia, and he had remained very much attached to that power.

Desaix possessed to an eminent degree the desirable equilibrium spoken of above. Morean did not deserve to be placed among the first generals Nature, with him, had not completed its creation; he had more instinct than real genius.

With Lannes courage at first carried it over the mind. But his mind rose every day to regain the equilibrium. He possessed superior ability when he perished. I took him a pigmy; when I lost him he was a giant.

Speaking of bravery, courage, the Emperor said:

‘ There is not one of my Generals whose draft, as I call it, is not known to me. Some go in up to their waist; others to the chin; and some plunge in overhead. But the fast, I assure you are very few in number. Massena was a very superior general, who, by a singular gift, only possessed the desired equilibrium at the time of danger. It grew on him in the midst of danger and fire.

’ The responsibility of a general in chief is not covered by an order from a minister, or from a prince who is not present on the field of operations, and who knows but imperfectly, or even does not know at all, the last state of things.

  1. 1st. Every general who undertakes to execute a plan which he considers bad or disastrous is criminal. He must remonstrate, insist to have the plan changed, and finally resign rather than be the instrument of the ruin of his own people.
  2. 2d. Every general who, in consequence of superior orders, gives battle when he is certain to lose it, is equally criminal.
  3. 3d. A general in chief is the first officer of the military hierarchy. The minister, the prince, give instructions which the general must faithfully follow. But such instructions are never considered as military orders, and are not to be passively obeyed.
  4. 4th. Even a military order is only to be passively obeyed when it is given by a superior officer who, being present at the time he gives it, has a full knowledge of the state of things, and who can listen to objections and give explanation to the one who has charge of the execution.


A body of troops in line must never capitulate during battle. No Sovereign, no people, no general, have any guarantee if they allow officers to capitulate in the field, and to lay down their arms in consequence of a contract favorable to them, but unfavorable to the army. Such conduct ought to be held infamous and punished with death. It is quite different with the commander of a fortified place. When the place is invested the general-in-chief knows that such place can only be held for a certain time; and if he cannot rescue it, he knows that the place must surrender after that time.

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