Page images
PDF
EPUB

NOTES ON MILITARY SCIENCE.
Addressed To Candidates For Commissions.

(Continued from page 236.) Lecture XII.

"La guerre est un metier pour les ignorans, et une science pour les habiles gens."

Having closed our survey of the Wars of the Ancients, it will, I consider, be advisable (previous to passing in review the military achievements of the British nation) that the mainspring, on which is dependent the true working of military science, should be investigated. For this purpose, we will not confine our views to the circumscribed boundaries of the present century, but commence at an epoch beyond the doubtful glimmering of science, and yet sufficiently distant to render interesting the research into the progressive stages of the Art of War. We will, moreover, avoid dogmatically forming our opinions from the perusal only of the publications of English historians; and, taking for our leader the celebrated Machiavelli, we will first avail ourselves of his judicious observations, and subsequently extract from, or comment on, other works in French or in our own language.

In the perusal of books, let me, however, impress upon you the advisability of reading them, if possible, in the actual words of the authors; for be assured that few if any translations convey the meaning of the writers as satisfactorily as it is expressed by the authors themselves. Throughout the lectures, I shall continue to specify the works from whence I have gleaned the information required, and in my translations I shall endeavour to give you the spirit and meaning conveyed in the words of the original:

"Neo verbum verbo curabo reddere fidus interpres." At the same time, however, some allowance must be made for the passages translated, which cannot be deemed as valuable or as perfect as those extracted from the original work.

The Art of War is indeed a noble subject for the contemplation of true soldiers, and yet how few give more than a passing thought to an art, on the knowledge of which the very existence of nations and kingdoms depends, and to the decadence of which may be traced the fall or extinction of nations, at one time the rulers of the world. As I have before mentioned, we will not revert to ages beyond the era of Machiavelli ; but, after a brief notice of the elements of the science of war, I shall endeavour to condense from various authors a clear exposition of the most judicious operations to be carried into execu tion, with a view to obtaining glory and success in " bellum, horridum bellum."

The Art of War comprises and combines together the theory and the practice of all the sciences which conduce to obtaining success in military operations.

The Science of War consists in the knowledge of the judicious application of those military sciences, which are required in arranging and carrying into effect either offensive or defensive projects; also the knowledge of the nature of the country of warfare, its inhabitants, rivers, mountains, fortifications, &c In the details of the science of war are to be included the composition, formation, organization, subsistence, clothing, arms, ammunition, stores, hospitals, and other requirements of an army, and to this must be added a knowledge of fortifying towns, villages, &c, in so efficient a manner that a small body of men may be able to resist the attacks or impede the advance of superior forces.

Hostile forces, consisting of men armed and trained for battle, may be termed instruments of attack and defence; and their modes of fighting are dependent on their national habits, the nature of the country, &c A war is carried on when nations or states send armed men to oppose each other, who, availing themselves of their knowledge of the seat of warfare, or of their numerical superiority, strenuously endeavour to baffle the enterprises of their opponents, or to vanquish them. From this it follows that wars are either offensive or defensive, the former of which is preferable, not only from its better prospect of success (the attacking party in most cases having the advantage), but also on account of the war being carried on in the enemy's country.

Every battle necessitates a movement, but every movement does not necessarily relate to a battle; both together form what is designated a military operation. But the part of military science which treats of movements appertaining directly to battles, forms Tactics; whilst everything in connection with movements that only relate to battles in an indirect or mediate manner is denominated Strategy.

The foregoing definitions of the elements of the science of war will for the present be sufficient, and I shall, therefore, now open for your instruction the venerable work of Nicolo Machiavelli, cittadino, et secretario Fiorentino, printed in italics in the year MDL., and having its title-page ornamented with a woodcut of the distinguished author.

Machiavellian policy has long been used as a term of reproach; and you will therefore not be surprised at finding our author state (Discorsi, libro terzo, cap. xi., "Come usarela fraude nel maneggiare la guerra e cosa gloriosa"), although to use fraud in every action may be abominable, nevertheless in warfare it is praiseworthy and glorious: and the commander, who vanquishes his enemy by fraud, is commended as highly as the commander who conquers by main force.

In Libri dell' Arte della Guerra, the discourses are carried on between Fabritio, Cosimo, Zanobi, Battista, &c, in a most interesting and amiable manner; and they might be advantageously referred to by senior officers who were desirous to communicate to their juniors the result of their experience in the field, or the knowledge they had acquired from the perusal of historical and military publications. In reply to the offer of Fabritio to meet the wishes of his friends by discoursing with them on the art of war, Cosimo says, "You cannot confer a greater favour on them and on me, and if you are not wearied with talking to us, we shall never be wearied with listening to you." Voi non potete fare ed a me ed a questi altri cosa piil grata di questa. Et sa a voi non rincrescera il parlare, mai a noi non rincrescera l'udire.

With reference to exercises most appropriate for soldiers, Fabritio recommends—running, manual exercises, leaping, carrying arms heavier than their ordinary weapons, firing arrows, throwing darts, exercising with cannon (at that time a new instrument of warfare). The troops were also to be taught to swim, as bridges were not always to be found where required, nor could they be constructed in some cases; and the soldiers were to be instructed in riding, not only to become good horsemen, individually, but to be efficient cavalry when moving in a body. It is not, however, sufficient thus to have inured and practised the soldiers, rendering them active, quick, and brave ; to these attributes must be added that they keep their ranks firmly, are obedient to orders, signals, and the words of their commander; they must also be perfect in holding their ground, in retreating, in advancing, and engaging the enemy, and be able, at all times and under all circumstances, to execute these movements efficiently; because, without this discipline, an army, however well directed, can never be depended upon. There is no doubt that courageous and untrained men are much less strong in combat than even timid but well disciplined soldiers, because order banishes fear from the hearts of a united body, whereas disorder soon damps the ardour of the boldest men. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that soldiers should be well disciplined, steady in their ranks, equally prepared to advance or retreat, to pass through difficult defiles, &c, without confusion and delay: soldiers who can execute these movements efficiently are true soldiers; and, although they may not have ever encountered an enemy, they may be considered worthy of the name of old soldiers, whereas, on the contrary, those who possess not the foregoing qualifications, even if they have been engaged in a thousand actions, can only be considered as untrained soldiers, or raw recruits.

It is unnecessary for me to bring before you the author's description of the arming and mode of fighting of a Roman army, composed of Hastati, Principes, and Triarii, as these have been already noticed in the previous lectures; we will therefore pass over his remarks thereon, and also his allusions to the formation of Swiss armies, in imitation of the Grecian phalanx, and turn our attention to the author's views on the following subjects :—

War-cries of Ancient Armies.—"Various have been the opinions of the leaders of the ancients, as to whether, on coming to action with the enemy, it is desirable for the troops to cheer, and accelerate their pace, or to advance silently and calmly. The latter mode contributes more to the maintenance of firm and well-regulated order, and to hearing better the words of command of the officers ; the former mode excites more ardently the minds of soldiers; and, as I consider we ought to give due respect to each of these advantages, in some cases it is advisable to march towards the enemy with warlike cries, at other times silently. Nor does it appear that long-continued cries would be advantageous, because they would prevent commands being heard by the men, which would be most pernicious. Nor is it reasonable to conclude that the Romans, after the impetus of the first assault, continued their war-cries, as from their history it is apparent that at times the words of the commanders excited their followers to bold attacks, or induced those who were about to fly from the field to remain firm in their ranks, which could not have occurred had the cries of the soldiery been loud and continuous.

On the Extension of the Front of an Army.—There is no more dangerous formation than that of extending too far the front of an army, if it is not very numerous and highly disciplined: otherwise it is fur preferable to have a deep and firm formation instead of a more extensive and consequently weaker line. Therefore, when your army is small in comparison with that of the enemy, it should be strengthened by its tactical position, and an appropriate distribution of the forces; recourse should also be had to palisades, rivers, ditches, and other obstacles, to prevent your army being overlapped or surrounded. Care should be thus taken in all cases to regulate the extent of your frontage according to the strength of the enemy; and, should the forces of your opponent be weaker than your own, they should be drawn to open and extensive plains, where your well-disciplined troops might not only surround them, but carry into effect your orders; which advantageous results could not be expected in confined positions. On these accounts the Romans almost always selected the open country, and avoided limited or broken fields of warfare. If. on the contrary, your army is small in number, or ill disciplined, then you should select positions in which the numerical disparity of your troops, or their deficiency in discipline, may not be detrimental. Elevated ground should be taken possession of, in order the more readily to damage the enemy, caution being used in the selection, lest the opponents should be able to post their artillery in a position that would be more detrimental to your troops than the fire of your guns would be to theirs.

The Day of Battle.—In marshalling the troops in battle array, due consideration must be paid to sunshine and wind, lest one or other should be disadvantageons to your troops; the former by its dazzling rays, the latter by its accompanying dust. Moreover, the wind, when in your favour, diminishes the effect of the enemy's missiles, and the results therefrom are less severe to your soldiers. With regard to sunshine, respect to this must not only be paid at the commencement of the engagement, but, as the day advances, care must be taken that the rays of the sun do not inconvenience your troops. On this account, in drawing up the army, the sun should be in the direction of the line, so that a considerable time may elapse before it will shine on the front of the soldiers.

Engagements.—When a commander has an army less numerous than that of his enemy, in order that his weaker force may not be surrounded, he should draw up his troops with a front equal to that of his opponent; and, when the action has commenced, the centre should retire, thus extending the flanks, by which movement the enemy will be taken by surprise, and be surrounded on all sides. When a commander is desirous to engage the enemy without the risk of a defeat, he should draw up his forces in a secure position, either protected by fieldworks, or strengthened by hills, &c, or with a strong city or town, in which he can take refuge; because in this case the enemy cannot profit by any advantage he may gain, and may be pursued by the victorious troops of his adversary. Some commanders, in order to break the ranks of the enemy, have ordered soldiers armed with pikes to attempt to force through the enemy's ranks, and, during the confusion attendant on this movement, have moved forward troops to turn the flanks of the broken and confused ranks of the opponents. If inferior in cavalry, in addition to the foregoing stratagem it is advisable to post pikemen in rear of the cavalry, and in the combat the latter should be strengthened by the advance of the former, which would tend to their obtaining superiority over their assailants. Other commanders have intermingled light-armed infantry amongst the horsemen, which formation has sometimes been most advantageous. Of all the battles of the ancients, that between Hannibal and Scipio, in Africa, is most deserving of commendation. The army of the former being composed of Carthaginians and auxiliaries of various nations, he posted in the front eighty elephants, in rear of these were stationed the auxiliary troops, next to them the Carthaginians, and in the rear the Italians, in whom he placed little confidence. This formation was adop'ed in order that the auxiliaries, having in their front the enemy, and their rear closed in by the other troops, might be forced to fight desperately; and in the event of their vanquishing or throwing into confusion the Romans, Hannibal felt confident that by bringing up fresh and well-disciplined troops, he should without difficulty obtain a victory over the wearied and broken Roman troops. Opposed to this order of battle, Scipio drew up his army in the accustomed manner, Hastati, Principes, and Triarii equally, and mutually prepared for offensive and defensive operations. Intervals were thus left in the front, but, to prevent the appearance of an opening, light troops were there posted, with instructions to retire to their usual positions in the legionary formation, as soon as the elephants advanced. The passage being thus judiciously opened in front of the elephants, the advantages expected to be gained by the impetus of their advance were rendered abortive, and, in the subsequent combat, the troops of Scipio obtained the victory over their opponents.

Stratayems—Advantageous as feigned assaults may be during an engagement, real attacks are far preferable, especially if, in the midst of an action, the enemy can be unexpectedly attacked in flank, or rear; this, however, is difficult to be accomplished, except in peculiar localities, for, if the country is open, your movements cannot be concealed from the enemy; but, in woody or hilly positions, some troops may be posted under cover, and, at a suitable moment, take the enemy by surprise and obtain a victory. Sometimes during a battle great benefit has been derived from spreading false reports—the death of the commander of the enemy, the discomfiture of a portion of the army, &c; these and similar stratagems have often assisted in gaining a battle. Bodies of cavalry are often broken and thrown into confusion by unexpected modes of attack, and by noises to which the horses are unaccus

« PreviousContinue »