Page images
PDF
EPUB

taken care of hitherto to an extent which has scarcely given scientific knowledge a chance. Is there any fair prospect of seeing the tables turned? If there is not, it would seem we are making a fuss and adding one more to the many things which must end in nothing in talking so much about military education.

For more than a century, the officers of the artillery and engineers (our scientific corps, as they are designated) have received a military education, commencing at an early age, and are supposed to be entirely devoted, on their entrance at the Royal Military Academy, to a military life. It is not possible for any officer to obtain a commission in either of these corps without passing a tolerably severe examination as to his acquirements; and, both practically and theoretically, the greatest pains are taken, and a considerable expense to the public, as well as to the friends of the candidate, is incurred, to give his education an efficient character. Here is, one would think, a mine of what we have so long been clamouring for, and which, if we were anxious to work it, might, if science could do it, have tided us over our recent difficulties, and which, even as it is, may afford us a test of the practical advantages to the country to be obtained by a more extended application of professional education. The results so far do not offer much encouragement. Whatever may be the high qualities of our artillery and engineers in other respects, and the satisfactory performance of the duties allotted to them has been over and over again declared, a very high degree of scientific knowledge or a very close application to tho higher branches of the profession they belong to—of strategy or tactics —is not a charge which would particularly apply to them. They are very like the officers of the rest of the army, and it is doubtful, if ths Woolwich Academy were abolished to-morrow, whether they would be at all deteriorated, or whether the public service would be less efficiently served.

When a work on gunnery or engineering appears in England it is usually the result of the labour of some foreign officer, of either arm, whose information we are glad to translate. Our best, in fact our only work on gunnery in England, is due to that able and distinguished officer Sir Howard Douglas, who is not, though he once was, an artillery officer. The article on gunnery in our " Aide Memoiri," is written by an officer of engineers. An artillery officer (since dead) was applied to to write it, but he declined the task, and it would seem that no other was thought capable. Neithertheone corps nor theother has contributedmnch to our military knowledge in the higher walks of the profession, or indeed in any of them. The fact is, we have never employed or encouraged any of them to suppose that military knowledge or professional attainments would be of the slightest use to them in any way; and the consequence is, that, as far as the inducement to a continuation of their studies is concerned, the expense and trouble of education is just so much expense and trouble thrown away. If we carry the system further, and apply the same rule of not employing those who come under it, or of doing so in exceptional instances only, what will the country gain? We are almost in a frenzy on this subject; but we have, and have actually had all along, a very large body of educated officers, a great number of whom could be spared, whom we not only do not employ, but whom we steadily refuse to employ in any way out of their own immediate line. There has never been known in the annals of the British army such a thing as an artillery or engineer adjutantgeneral or quartermaster-general, and there is not even a solitary instance of an officer of either of these corps holding a general staff appointment of any importance at all. There are frequent examples in foreign armies of officers of artillery and engineers rising to the highest possible distinction in command; but no such instances, nor any approach to them, exist in the British army. Here the system of the French and ourselves is much the same; but the results are widely different, showing how much national habits and institutions influence these matters. The French educate their artillery officers, or at least a portion of them, highly (the illustration applies to the engineers also), and thus educated, they are looked upon as a body of the first military importance—with a wide field of employment, and the highest objects of ambition before them, the officers of these arms rise to the highest eminence.

In the British army we educate the same body; but it is well known that they are secondary in consideration both to the cavalry and the infantry. Their usefulness is carefully restricted to their own arm, and scarcely ever allowed free scope in that. The consequence is most marked, if we contrast it with foreign services; for no artillery or engineer officer has ever obtained a high name in general connection with our army. No peerage has ever fallen to the lot of one of them, nor any honour beyond that of a Grand Cross of the Bath. We must change in more ways than we are likely to do, for a long time to come, before the causes which influence all this can be materially altered, and before the action of military education can do much to benefit us. Much as we crave for educated officers, no such appointment (unless, perhaps, seconded by overpowering interest) as that of an engineer or artillery officer, however qualified he might be, to the command of a division or brigade of our army, or to any minor portion of it, can ever be hoped for, and has never yet been attempted. The success of such a step, with the feelings of hostility which it would call forth in the other branches of the service, would be more than doubtful. Some of the most distinguished generals in the French army, side by side with us in the Crimea, came from their "scientific corps." No English officer belonging to either, be his talents, services, and acquirements what they might, could rise to anything higher, by the continuance of the war, than the command of two field batteries; nor could he attain any rank beyond that of full colonel, without relinquishing active service and returning home, to be, for the rest of his life, placed upon the shelf.

What used to be called the ordnance corps are now, and have been for some time, under the Horse Guards; but not the slightest symptom appears of a relaxation in the systematic exclusion of them from high employment to which they have always been subjected, and, amidst all this clamour for educated officers of which we hear so much, this exclusion is steadily maintained. Is this principle to be continued under altered circumstances, or is it one easily to be got rid of? May it not be a national instinct in us, springing from that overeonfidence in our individual prowess for which we are distinguished, to underrate the advantages of science in the purposes of war, and in the conduct of armies, and to look upon bull-dog courage as the more valuable quality to pull us through? If our establishments were better arranged, a well-considered military code introduced, more order and system acted upon, with, if possible, fewer masters at the head of affairs, and if favour and affection gave more way than they do to talent and abilities, it is more than probable that the British army, as at present constituted, would not work so badly; but until some of these matters are improved, no change in other respects will increase our efficiency.

It is stated upon authority, with regard to our senior department at Sandhurst (and when we speak about the want of military education, we seem to ignore the existence of that establishment altogether), that out of 216 officers who received certificates after going through a course of military instruction there since 1836, only fifteen were found in staff employment in May, 1854. When we give a grant of money, as is advocated, for educational purposes, will the proportion between those officers employed, and those educated for employment, be much varied? Until we can satisfactorily assure ourselves on this point, and even, perhaps, after we have done so, we may find that our present system, with more attention to working it out, is not the worst in the world. It gives us generally, if not in every case, a sound mind in a sound body; and if to these are added a good nervous system, and such attainments as indicate a generally educated mind and a clear judgment —matters in which our staff officers are not commonly deficient—it is hard to say what higher qualities can be usefully required, or to point out the way in which they are to be obtained. If we cannot bear a few errors in war with a little patience and philosophy, all that can be said is, that we are very unreasonable. If we intend to alter our system, with a view of effectually preventing the recurrence of anything of the kind, we have embarked upon an undertaking which will lead to a great deal of disappointment. If we had educated our staff to the utmost pitch from 1815 until 1854, unless we could have extemporized some practical performance of the Crimean campaign, meanwhile, with all the misfortunes of wind and weather, and all the bungling of stores missent or improperly stowed, it is more than probable we should have had just as much to mourn over as we have at the present moment.

There are varied circumstances in war which scientific education will never meet, and which energy and decision—a clear mind and a strong will and health to support them—may completely overcome. There seems an anxiety that the new system should confine itself to the educational test only. We used to be accustomed to look upon our army as perfect; and it is really difficult to understand the grounds upon which we seem to have suddenly come to a directly opposite opinion. If it is owing to Crimean shortcomings, we are bound to remember that the operations carried on in that quarter depended more upon naval arrangements than upon the exertions of those on shore; and, if scientific education is the best means to improve matters, the sooner we apply it to the Admiralty and the Transport Boards, and some of the other of the public offices, the better. It is our administration, and not the officers of our army or staff, which requires to be amended and improved. The little expedition to China, which has been forming for so many weeks, and which has not all gone yet, is not, one would think, an affair much dependent upon scientific knowledge, or the want of it. And yet what a labour and puzzle it has been is only kuown to Woolwich and a few of our public departments. It is not the Horse Guards that perpetrates all the bungling. Our army always does well when dependent on its own energies and resources. It is only when it becomes involved with other portions of our government establishments that any grievous mistakes or errors arise. Our military system, before the war, was said to work well, and the condition of our little army was the pride of the country; but now, all of a sudden, it is found quite ignorant of its duties, and scientific instruction is to be applied to it to make it perfect. We are determined to forget what our army has done, and the valuable services it has rendered to the country under the present system; and we are going to condemn that system upon no reasonable evidence of its defects or its unsuitableness to present circumstances. At this moment the whole of the officers of the artillery and engineers are educated; and Sandhurst, besides affording opportunities to a senior class, sends a good many professionally educated youths into the army generally. In the French army only two-thirds of the officers of the scientific corps have the same advantages, and but one-third of these for the line. All the rest come from the ranks; if this is considered, our proportion of educated officers, professionally speaking, would perhaps be found quite equal to theirs; and yet these are the officers, which we have taken it into our heads to fancy are, as a body, so much superior to our own. It is true, all the staff officers in France pass through a staff school, and their professional education is very carefully attended to; but it is not so certain, considering the class in society from which the great mass of the officers of the British army are taken, and the education consequent on their position before they enter it, that the difference is, after all, so very considerable. The French army is officered from the population generally, and on the most democractic principles: ours, on the contrary, as an invariable rule, are taken almost exclusively from the higher classes. In the one case, education is required, and the State steps in with the necessary assistance. "With us the choice is always amongst an educated class, and the same interference of the government is not required. Practically we have not shown any marked military deficiency yet, as compared with our neighbours. On the contrary, if events are broadly considered, we have rather proved our advantages; and, it is submitted, that no satisfactory reasons have been shown why we should copy any one, or depart from those institutions which, independent of their having long existed, have worked with the best results to the public interests. The French army has not shown so remarkably beyond our own, either in peace or in war, against domestic foes or foreign enemies, that we are to take up their system and adopt it for our own.

We have no extra educational test for our bishops or our judges when we select them; they come from an educated class; and it is usual, though perhaps not always the case, to appoint the best. We apply much the same rule in obtaining the staff officers of our army, but we take less pains on the subject, and make mistakes more frequently. It is not always the most learned man, or the best educated man that is fittest to be chosen for further promotion, either in the church or at the bar; and it certainly is much less so in the military profession, where many physical qualities are, if anything, much more desirable. In France, all the aspirants for public appointments, whether of a civil or military nature, pass through the Polytechnic; but the civil appointments are considered the higher prizes, and the best pupils almost invariably choose them. There is nothing like this in England, to the detriment of the military service. The best of our Woolwich or Sandhurst cadets do not pass into the civil departments, leaving the rest for our military service. If our officers, as a class, come, as they undoubtedly do, from the best public schools in England, there can be, after they have obtained a thorough knowledge of their military duties with their regiments, no better criterion of their fitness for higher employment connected with the profession than a conscientious and careful selection of them by those who are placed in high authority. There is no more fallacious test possible for military fitness than that of scientific information, and so it will most assuredly be found if it is once adopted. Take any two youths of equal ability, or let one of them be inferior to the other. If the latter is more of a sedentary and studious turn, he will probably outstrip the former in a technical or scientific examination, though his general knowledge, soundness of judgment, nerve, and manliness of character can bear no comparison. He will always have the best chance under a strictly educational system, and it is here that the objection lies to the agitation for reform which is now raging. It is not intended to say one word against education, all officers should come into the army with a fair amount of knowledge, and it is maintained that, as a general rule, quite as much as in other professions, they do so. For further promotion, and for the staff especially, they must be chosen; they can only be chosen for their general qualities, to be judged of by those responsible for the appointments. A mere examination test will not suffice; confidence must be placed in the authorities, and they must be held responsible for their appointments.

The French officers and soldiers in the East showed a military aptness far superior to our own at the first outbreak of the war, and for some time after; but the reasons of that superiority are not to be sought for or found in the military schools of France, but in the practical school of Algeria. If we desire to improve our officers, while the alliance lasts, let us apply for permission to attach as many officers as we can to the French service in Africa; we will do far more to secure our fitness for the next war than by sending out commissioners to import theoretical and scientific schemes of military education. Let any artillery officer be asked the question, what benefit has he derived, in the course of his service, from the education, mathematical as it was, of the Royal Military Academy? We will venture to say there is not one in a hundred who would say he had derived any whatever; nor would it appear that this arm of the service, comparatively small and more manageable as it was, suffered one bit less than any other, through the struggle of the late war. The sinking of the "Prince" lost the warm clothing of the army generally,

« PreviousContinue »