Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

armies begin to labour as soon as they are thrown on bad roads for their supplies. The seven miles of soft road which intervened between the British camp and Balaclava, cost England more lives than all the fighting throughout the war; and M'Clellan's failure to occupy Richmond, when he advanced against it from the York River, is mainly attributable to a like cause. These are facts which men little accustomed to reflect on what war and its requirements really amount to are prone to forget. They form pictures in their own mind of columns moving from point to point, without strictly inquiring how men, horses, and waggons are to travel. And because here and there, for the accomplishment of a special purpose, one of the first laws in the art of war is broken with impunity, they come to the conclusion—if, indeed, they reason about the matter at all—that care in the selection of a base, and planting it where good roads diverge from it, is mere pedantry. But practical soldiers know the reverse, and they are the better satisfied of the soundness of the law because exceptions to it are on record, such as Napoleon's inarch over St . Bernard into Italy, the Duke's pursuit of the French from the frontiers of Portugal to the Pyrenees, and Sherman's great march from Atlanta to Richmond.

On each of these occasions, however, the object to be attained was not an enterprise of dubious issue, but the establishment of a new base—success in which justified the abandonment of the old one, and proved that in running what was a great risk, the French, English, and American generals, equally obeyed the dictates of a far-seeing military genius.

At the opening of hostilities, one or other of the powers committed, finds it necessary, for the most part, to stand on the defensive. This was me case with the allies in 1815, when Europe declared war against Napoleon, because, though infinitely superior in numbers to the French, they were separated from each other by vast distances. And it was the case, also, with the armies of Wellington and Blucher, which, however well in hand, would have been injudiciously managed had they taken the initiative before the Russians and Austrians had come within easy distance of the enemy. Their business, therefore, was to hold Belgium as long as possible, which could be approached by many avenues, and especially by the three great roads communicating between Brussels, and the fortresses which cover France upon its northern frontier. Such a position necessarily required that both the English and the Prussian armies should be a good deal extended, because only by extending could they watch all the avenues, the neglect of any one of which must have opened a door for the enemy into Brussels.

Napoleon, Napoleon, on the other hand, collecting his columns behind the screen of the fortresses, was free to choose his own line of attack, and to act upon it with his entire force: and to what conclusions these adverse arrangements led, we shall take occasion to explain more fully when our author conducts us into a more advanced section of his able and interesting treatise.

Another rule applicable to the state of affairs here described is this: that armies should never be placed, especially when they act upon the defensive, on ground which is not crossed in the rear by practicable lines of intercommunication. It was along such lines that both Wellington and Blucher moved, as soon as the designs of the enemy had fairly developed themselves, and that they were able to fight in succession at Ligny, at Quatre Bras, and at Waterloo. For the same reason, namely, with a view to engaging in force, a general ought to advance upon his enemy in as many separate columns as possible; taking care, however, that between no two of these shall any insuperable obstacles be interposed. Thus in the Solferino campaign, the French and Austrian armies moved to meet one another; the former in five columns, the latter in seven; all, however, marching upon the same point, and communicating while they moved. The battle that ensued was lost to the Austrians because, though well brought up, they were wretchedly handled in action. Their strategy was good, their tactics miserable; whereas in 1796 it was in strategy that they failed, when advancing in two columns, with the lake of Garda between, they suffered themselves to be attacked and defeated in detail. And here, by the way, it is worthy of observation, that in the late brief but bloody war in Germany, the Prussians committed the same mistake which the Austrians had committed in 1796. They penetrated the defiles of the mountains which cover Bohemia in columns, which, though communicating with each other, and with the Tear by means of the telegraphic wire, were incapable of rendering mutual support had any one of them been attacked, as it ought to have been. Happily for them there was neither a Napoleon nor a Wellington at the head of that magnificent army against which they were moving, and which, had it been wielded by the hand of a master, must have made them pay dear for the gross blunder which they had committed.

Armies, however, must subsist as well as manoeuvre and fight, and to provide for their subsistence it is not enough to have established adequate magazines on the bases from which they start. Other and lesser depots must be set up, at convenient intervals on the line along which they operate. No doubt the system which Frederic the Great originated was, like his

formations, formations, too pedantic. Adhered to rigidly, it limited an advance into an enemy's country to one hundred miles or thereabouts; on attaining which a new base must be assumed, and new depots established. Frederic's armies conveyed with them bread, flour, and forage; the bread being baked on the spot, in field ovens, and the flour conveyed in waggons, which travelled to and fro between the troops and the magazines on which they depended. It was not any inspiration of genius, but sheer necessity, which led the generals of the French Republic to break through this system of method, and to succeed. They had no means of forming depots, and therefore in order that their men might find subsistence for themselves, they told them off into divisions and corps, each of which acted independently of all the rest, except when brought together to fight a great battle. This did extremely well at first. It gave to the most accomplished of marauders and the most individually intelligent of soldiers an immense advantage for a while over troops drilled and caned into the rigidity of machines. But had not the genius of Napoleon stepped in to mould it into form, it must have broken down. For neither Napoleon nor the marshals whom he trained, however prompt to avail themselves of the resources of the country through which they moved, neglected to establish magazines. Massena himself had his magazines at Ciudad Rodrigo, though his troops died by hundreds before the lines of Torres Vedras. Napoleon's first thought after the battle of Jena was to open a fresh and shorter line of communication with France, and to station on it great hospitals and depots of stores. So also the Duke of Wellington, as long as he looked to Lisbon as his base, had advanced magazines, approachable by the Tagus and the Douro, at Palencia and Frenada. No sooner, however, did he feel himself strong enough to strike for a new base than he broke off his communications even with Frenada, and carrying his own supplies, and causing herds of cattle to be driven after him, he marched by Burgos upon Santander and Bilboa. Through these harbours, and subsequently by way of Passages and St. Jean de Luz, he communicated thenceforth with England, till the war came to an end. We need scarcely add, first, that to interpose between an army and its base of communication is one of the most substantial advantages which the enemy can achieve, and next that a prudent general takes every possible precaution to avert that calamity, unless, indeed, the prospective advantages of the sacrifice be of such a nature as to justify the risk,—an incident of rare, yet of occasional occurrence, and in what is, from first to last, a game of risks.

Having devoted five chapters, constituting one distinct part of his work, to the discussion of these matters, Colonel Hamley proceeds to examine 'the considerations which must precede the opening of a campaign,' and to a great extent, at least, regulate its conditions. War being of necessity either offensive or defensive, Governments choose between them on grounds which are political, or geographical, or dependent upon the relative strength of the two belligerents. Political considerations induced the Federals, at the opening of the great civil war in America, to act entirely on the defensive. Geographical considerations—the possession of the two fortresses of Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo—justified the Duke of Wellington in holding his position on the frontiers of Portugal, when his proper base was Lisbon. And the Danes, for every reason—political, geographical, and military—when attacked by Germany, had nothing for it except to hold their own, if they could. Generally speaking, the Power which assumes the initiative has the best chance of success. It chooses its own field of operation, and brings superior forces to bear upon the necessarily extended line of the enemy. This is especially the case at the opening of a campaign, unless the defensive line be protected by fortified places; but, in proportion as the attacking force advances and the defenders retire, the difficulty of keeping open their communications grow greater to the former, while opportunities multiply for the latter, if they be active and enterprising, to strike in upon the enemy's line and cut off his supplies. Napoleon was often successful, because of the rapidity of his movements and the determined way in which he followed up a first success. He broke down, at last, from carrying the system too far; his communications having been cut off by the two Russian corps which moved,—one from Finland, the other from the south on the Beresina, while he himself was pushing for Moscow. And this shows that defensive warfare must be something more than mere attempts to stop the heads of advancing columns; for, unless ho strike often and vigorously at the enemy's communications, no amount of courage and endurance will give to the defender, especially if he be weak in point of numbers, the slightest chance of coming successful out of the contest.

In most cases the capital of the country invaded is the objective point of an aggressive campaign. It by no means follows, however, as a matter of course, that the occupation of his capital induces the invaded power to submit. Joseph held Madrid for four years; yet the resistance of the Spaniards continued. In like manner Napoleon, after seizing Vienna both in 1805 and 1809, was compelled, on each occasion,

to to fight a great battle before the Emperor of Austria succumbed. Still it is of vital importance to fix upon an objective point, and to ruin and disorganise the enemy's force in the field, with a view to reach and retain that point . The annexation of Silesia was the object of Frederic's first campaign: he grasped it, out of hand, but it cost him twenty years of doubtful war to retain it. The fall of Sebastopol opened no road to St. Petersburgh or Moscow; yet the capture of that place constituted the object of the AngloFrench campaign in the Crimea. The place was taken, and the war ended. Prussia, in her recent struggle with Austria, seems to have been enticed by the blunders of her enemy into an enterprise more gigantic than she originally contemplated. Had she been constrained to fight for Saxony and Hanover, the march through the defiles of the Bohemian frontier might never have taken place. Had the Austrian General availed himself of that false move, and restraining two of the enemy's columns, fallen with all his force upon the third, as soon as it debouched into the plain, the war would probably not have ended as it did. Under existing circumstances Prussia, whose primary object was the north of Germany, changed her plan, and pushed for Vienna—a course which ought to have been fatal to her, and probably would have been, but for the political complications in which the Austrian Empire was involved.

The invading power has usually more than one line of approach to choose from, when meditating an attack upon the enemy. The whole seaboard of the South lay open to the Federals, in the late civil war, as well as the roads by Alexandria, Ccnterville, Fredericksburgh, Whitehouse, &c., upon Richmond. Napoleon made war upon Spain in Catalonia and Arragon on the east of the Pyrenees, and in Castile, Leon, and Estremadura, on the west. The valley of the Danube has been approached by the French along the northern border of the Black Forest, from Kehl, by Ulm and the Swiss portion of the Rhine; along the southern border of the Black Forest, from Carlsruhe, Spire, and Manheim, upon Donawerth. Assuming England to be still, as she was once, the dominant naval power in the world, there arc no limits to her aggressive capabilities, war being determined upon, so long as her enemy shall possess a seaboard. But this renders more necessary, in her case, than in the case of almost any other state, the exercise of exceeding caution before she commit herself to an enterprise on shore. Aiming at no conquests for herself, she must well consider the political effect which a demonstration in any quarter is likely to produce, both on the ally whom she comes to assist, and the enemy whom she desires to combat. In helping the Peninsular nations, for example, to

free

« AnteriorContinuar »