The art and science of War.

Wilmington, N. C., December 20, 1864.
To the Editor of the Richmond Dispatch;
Notwithstanding we have now been engaged in this great contest for nearly four years, and have had experience unrivalled in history, there is no subject so little or so imperfectly understood as that of war! The struggle was commenced with the mistaken and unfortunate idea that generals were born and not made — military knowledge unnecessary; that Bowie-knives, pikes, revolvers and brave men would alone gain battles and give us liberty and independence. The absurdity of such ideas has been proved by a terrible and sad experience. An army not in good discipline, well drilled, and commanded by competent officers, is still but the shadow of an army, incapable of executing great enterprises or of gaining permanent results. Of this the history of war contains abundant proof; and yet, in our own army, we see the elementary branches of the profession grossly neglected. Even the school of the soldier, company and battalion, evolutions of the line, as well as the duties of guards and sentinels, are but imperfectly understood, and are considered by far too many as useless knowledge, because they do not understand them, and do not care to take the trouble of learning.

That the people should be taught that war is a simple matter, requiring no special information or study, was, under the circumstances, to be expected, as it accords with human experience. The country was full of gentlemen of education and those distinguished in civil life, but without military information.--A few ideas gained from reading the campaigns of Wellington, Napoleon or Marlborough, was, perhaps, its greatest extent. When the time came for the people to arise these gentlemen must be officers, and, acting upon the popular but dogma "that generals are born and not made"-- Nemo vir magnus sine afflutu aliquo divino unquam fuit --and the army was soon filled with general and other officers incapable of performing the solemn and important duties that devolved upon them. Thus the good of the nation was scarified to ambition, personal selfishness and nepotism; and disaster upon disaster has been the result. Many generals now in the field holding responsible commands are ignorant of the evolutions of the line, and, to a great majority, grand tactics, strategy, and the other branches of the art, is a perfect mystery. It is in consequence of this want of professional information that so many battles have been fought without any great results.

By the impossibility of manœuvring our army, our battles are fought in parallel lines — decidedly the worst order of battle, since there is no skill in causing armies to fight, where the chances are equal, regiment against regiment, in the absence of all tactics. A battle thus gained is merely the shifting of positions without any substantial advantages, as experience in this war has shown. The best combinations of a general-in-chief will fall with incompetent generals and a badly-instructed army. The great advantages of grand tactical combinations and manœuvres are lost to us on the day of battle because our generals dare not attempt them — distrusting their own abilities — as they would most probably result in disaster and our probable ruin.

The fundamental principles of war consist mainly in carrying, by strategic combinations, the mass of an army upon the decisive point of the theatre of operations, and as much as possible upon the communications of the enemy, without endangering your own; then manœuvring so as to engage with the weight of your forces fractions only of the hostile army. Then strategy prepares the chances of victory and influences in advance its results.

The directing principle of the combinations of grand tactics is the same as that of strategy. It is in well combining and carrying the mass of your forces upon a part only of that of the enemy, and upon that point it is most important to overwhelm, and promises the greatest advantages. When the numerical strength and discipline of opposing armies are nearly equal, the result of battles depends mainly upon the order of battle adopted, the abilities of the generals, the cause of the struggle, and the moral condition of the troops. These render victories more or less decisive and determine their results and importance. The formation and cultivation of the morale of an army is the peculiar province of a general-in-chief; and none but a great general and a just man can fully succeed in inspiring the troops with this important and indispensable sentiment. It is one of the surest pledges of victory.

Such are the cardinal principles of the elevated branches of the art of war, which appear simple in themselves, but which no one can sufficiently comprehend, to be a general, without first mastering its elementary branches any more than one can learn mathematics by commencing with the differential and integral calculus, or to read before learning the alphabet. The nation that ignores professional information, and undertakes to back its generals in war, must, if this suicidal policy is continued, be languished. Four years of experience in military matters has well taught us that no man can be fit to be a general who has not received a military education, or has not well studied the different branches of the science as a profession.

Another consideration enters into the scale in calculating victories. Our country has been divided as to whether the war should be conducted offensively or defensively. For three years the latter policy was adopted, and with success. So marked were its advantages to our cause that its opposers lessened and was confined to a few, with, perhaps, more ambition and bravery that prudence.--Those who are in favor of carrying the war into the enemy's territory should remember that Hannibal of Italy lost Carthage.


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