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Engineers' Departments were not instructed in any of the duties of engineers in the field; but in that year their designation was changed to the equally inappropriate name of Sappers and Miners,* and an establishment was formed at Chatham for the instruction of this body of soldiers in the formation of military field-works, and more especially those connected with siege operations. It appears that this measure was urgently recommended by the Duke of Wellington immediately after the siege and capture of Ciudad Rodrigo, on which occasion, and previously, during the first siege of Badajos, the want of workmen trained for siege duties had been severely felt.f At the first siege of St. Sebastian, 1813, upwards of two hundred Sappers and Miners, who had gone through a rapid course of training at Chatham, were employed.
If we had no regularly trained soldiers for engineering duties up to the year 1812, neither did the means exist before that time of giving any practical training to the officers of engineers ; and it is truly a marvel in our eyes how, with untrained workmen, inexperienced officers, and apparently inadequate materials, such fortresses as Badajos and Ciudad Rodrigo were captured, in the face, too, of powerful armies, which had every motive to succour and protect them. These successes were, as everybody knows, obtained at a heavy sacrifice of brave troops, whose unflinching courage and determination had to compensate for our then engineering difficulties.
The establishment at Chatham was under the direction of Sir Charles Pasley from its commencement in 1812, for, we believe, about twenty-five years; and every officer who has been stationed at that depot can bear witness to the untiring zeal he always manifested. In all practical instruction it is impossible to be too methodical or too particular on any point; and we have a proof of the extreme care and attention with which Sir Charles Pasley conducted his duty, in the publication before us, wherein a careful description of every implement and material used by military workmen, and the mode of executing every operation, from the digging of a simple trench to the tracing of ziz-zags, parallels and batteries, is given with unmistakable precision ; so that we fancy ourselves competent, after reading it with some care, to make fascines and gabions, dig trenches, throw up works, and, in short, to perform a number of wonderful things which this hand-book seems to render easy of accomplishment.
We believe there is little doubt that some of the most celebrated foreign writers on fortification and the attack and defence of places, have committed many errors of detail with respect to practical operarations, owing to their having too readily taken things forgranted, which ought not to have been received till after the experimentum cruris;
* By an order issued from the War Department, dated Oct. 17,1856, it was signified that "The Queen has been graciously pleased to direct that the corps of Royal Sappers and Miners shall henceforward be denominated the Corps of Royal Engineers, and form one body with the existing Corps of Royal Engineers."
+ We once heard a highly distinguished officer, who was present at all the Badajos sieges, say that a report having prevailed amongst our troops that the best side for attack was mined, it was deemed necessary, as we had no men equal to the task of countermining, to make the attack on the strongest side.
and on this point Sir Charles makes the following pertinent remarks: "Without wishing to depreciate the writers alluded to, I may be permitted to observe, that both in France and Germany, where military knowledge is much more generally diffused than it has hitherto been in this country, a number of ingenious military officers or professors have occupied their minds with the studies in question, who appear to me either not to have had the means of trying experiments, or to have disdained them ; and, therefore, while their general ideas may be excellent, they fall short in the practical part, and are so far liable to mislead inexperienced readers, that they seldom or never distinguish between that which has and that which has not been actually tried. This is an omission so embarrassing to a student, as I have found by experience, that I have taken the utmost care to avoid it in everything I have written. Whatever is laid down as a rule, has been deduced from numerous experiments: that which has not been fairly and fully tried, is stated as a mere suggestion or untried idea. The former may be relied upon with confidence, the latter may or may not succeed; and in the practice of this establishment (i. e. Chatbam) we have so often found the most promising measures fail, that I consider everything untried as a matter of doubt, however plausible. And yet an engineer must necessarily hazard many new and untried measures in war.; but these should be suggested by circumstances occurring at the moment in which his own judgment is more likely to guide him right, than the authority of speculative writers, however highly talented.
"At the same time that the foreign authors now alluded to recommend untried or new experiments with that confidence which ought only to attach to things tried and known, they generally overrate the means both of men and materials, that ought to be employed by engineers in the field. For example, Bousmard, in his valuable and celebrated elementary work on fortification and on the attack of places, talks seriously of revetting the whole of the first parallel in a siege with fascines. It is difficult to conceive a more useless waste of a useful material.
"The same author, and after him Gai de Vernon, in another deservedly esteemed elementary work, recommend the passage of a wet ditch in a fortress, in which there is a current, to be effected by means of a floating bridge of six feet fascines, to be put together in the water, moored by means of anchors, and consolidated by baulks and pickets. On the side exposed to the enemy's fire it is to be protected by a massy epaulement or flanking parapet of fascines. I must confess that a floating-bridge of this description appears to me to be impracticable; for, independent of the difficulties of working in a current with such materials, I conceive that the weight of the epaulement would be sure to capsize the bridge before it could be completed in the profile described by Bousmard.''*
* We must look upon every plan put forth by writers on the subjeet of sieges for passing the wet ditch of a fortress after breaches have been made, as coming under the head of "matter of doubt;" since we believe no instance has ever occurred of a wet ditch being crossed and the place thereby assaulted.
Again, with reference to the number of men and materials to be employed in consructing batteries, &c, our author is of opinion that both French and German writers are greatly in excess j and he even asserts that, by using less than one-half of the quantity of materials, and about one-fourth of the number of men, the same amount of work may be performed. "Indeed we once tried, for the sake of experiment, what effect would be produced by employing the greatest number of men that could possibly work together, namely 220, in making an elevated battery for two guns, with two epaulements. The earth for the parapet was, of course, obtained both from the front and rear, but without extending the men beyond the flanks of the battery, which would not have been a fair experiment. Such a mass of men, working and moving about in so small a space, resembled a swarm of ants, and it almost dazzled the eyes to behold them; but although they were all robust young men, and as diligent as could reasonably be expected, and relieved every four hours, to our great surprise, the work was not finished much quicker than such batteries had formerly been by about one-third of the number of men."
We must recommend the following remark of Sir Charles Pasley to all future writers on fortification. He says in his advertisement to the present edition, "I have now no employment under government, and consequently a great deal of time at my own disposal, I have been able to give almost undivided attention to the subject; and on reflecting more maturely on siege operations than I ever did before, I have come to the conclusion, that the rules laid down by all elementary writers on fortification, and copied by one after another during the last two centuries, for determining the proper strength of besieging armies, and for constructing lines of circum and counter-vallation, are not only erroneous in themselves, but have been entirely set aside in the most celebrated and successful sieges within the last fifty or sixty years, which ought to have failed entirely for want of means, had those rules which come under the poet's definition of the 'precept and the pedantry of cold mechanic warfare' been founded in reason."
The establishment at Chatham commenced, as aforesaid, by Sir Charles Pasley in 1812, has undoubtedly been of very great service, as the only training school for our young engineer officers and soldiers. No doubt it is susceptible of improvement in common with all our military institutions; but believing, as we do, that the arduous duties of the late memorable siege were performed by the officers and soldiers of the Royal Engineers in a manner highly creditable to them, and as every individual had been employed at Chatham for a longer or shorter period, it would be unjust not to attribute much of their efficiency to the care and diligent supervision of the eminent officers who have successively presided over that establishment—viz., Sir Charles Pasley, Sir Frederick Smith, and Sir Harry Jones.
HOSPICES ON BARREN ISLANDS.
"And every tongue through utter drought
Generally speaking there is a public opinion on most questions, which acts as a pioneer and opens the case. It deals with the inefficient and useless parts of a raw and immature scheme, and removes the rubbish out of the way. Every important innovation ought to pass through an ordeal of this sort, so that after fermenting in the public mind, all exotic matter may evaporate and leave the subject clear and distinct to the commonest intellect.
Under the title of " Hospices on Barren Islands," several letters have lately appeared in the daily papers, some advocating, and others opposing the scheme, but as the intention is a benevolent one, and appeals to the sympathies of a maritime people, it is worth a thought. A nation that annually sends to sea and receives in its ports 120,000 vessels, manned by half a million of men, ought not to be indifferent to any reasonable project that may afford assistance to shipwrecked sailors. It is true that our shores are pretty well dotted with life-boat stations, and our coast boatmen have earned a world-wide reputation for humanity and daring while assisting ships in distress; but our commerce takes a wide sweep, and calaamties too frequently overtake vessels in distant seas, where no such aid can be afforded. Some of these shipwrecks are so distressing that the fate of the survivors, even when plainly narrated, appears as though dressed in the borrowed hues of romance or fiction.
Extraordinary transitions must, however, be expected to befall men whose existence is ever varying between the extremes of a calm and a tempest. It is the business of sailors to visit the deep and impressive solitudes of the ocean as well as the busiest haunts of men —they sometimes step from the quays of a brilliant capital crowded with the triumphs of science and commerce, and the next time they put a foot on shore it may be in a wilderness of howling savages. They may be to-day sailing merrily over a sunny sea, and to-morrow there may be one solitary survivor of the good ship, perched upon some dry and arid rock, thousands of miles away from succour and relief. Men, we repeat, whose avocation leads them into such opposite extremes are liable to be reduced to great straits, and the erection of hospices on certain barren islands lying in the track of ocean navigation, wherein some of the most fatal shipwrecks have occurred, appears to have interested many benevolent individuals as a plan worthy of serious consideration, with a view to its adoption for their relief.
Objections have been made to every project that has appeared at all out of the usual course of events by people of all nations and in every age ,- we think, however, the utility of hospices upon certain barren islands to be pointed out, can be understood in a few words. Let anyone, fcr instance, imagine what his feelings would be if he found himself with empty pockets, an empty stomach, and a perfect stranger, about one o'clock in the day, on London-bridge. What would he do ? what story would he fudge up to get a dinner? "Would he take the world by storm or by solicitation? This unpleasant position is, however, to be borne; it is a trifle indeed when compared with the terrible reality of standing alone, or in company with a dozen or more other shivering, despairing castaways, upon a barren rock or reef a thousand miles away from all communication with the civilised world. As the Americans say, it is difficult for landsmen to fully realize the sum total of the horrors of such a situation. None but sailors and emigrants—who have the luck somehow of meeting with more mishaps than falls to the lot of any other class—know anything about the matter in all its fearful details. We may indeed imagine the dreadful shipwreck in the dead of the night, the desperate struggle to reach the rugged and inhospitable shore, and the patience of anxious expectation, but who can realize the agony of seeing shipmates die one by one, and of being the last starving wretch, the only one living within a thousand miles?
That such calamities frequently occur is, alas! no fiction, and hence it is proposed that hospices should be erected on certain islands whereon such accidents are most likely to happen. It has been proposed that the hospices should, in addition to other necessaries and comforts, be furnished with suitable stores—such as clothing, fuel, preserved meats, biscuits, and, we suppose, spirits, or some restorative of that kind. These articles are intended only for any wrecked mariners that may be unhappily flung upon barren islands, and are to be deposited in a suitable building.
Having briefly stated what appears to be the intention of the advocates of hospices on barren islands, let us see if the scheme, as proposed, is not as it stands more benevolent in its intention than practical in its results, and in so doing we have no design to thwart the project but aid it, in all its useful bearings, believing it to be the result of that deep-rooted feeling of charity which is so conspicuous in the British people. For our part, we believe that the project may not only be made practicable but self-supporting; should it, however, fail in this latter respect, we still have duty and humanity on our side. Which of the many islands that stud the track of ocean navigation it may be most advisable to select is another affair, and also whether such hospices should be protected or left unprotected are matters we imagine to be worth a few moments' consideration.
Having had considerable experience during an extended survey in different parts of the earth, amongst barren and uninhabited islands, we propose to lay the result before our readers in as brief a form as the circumstances will permit.
The reader will perhaps be surprised to hear that there are not many uninhabited islands in any part of the globe, except in cold climates, although we found that, according to our best gazetteers, many were so described. But, with very few exceptions, we dis