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Rcriew of Military Books.
We know nothing that lias bien less understood than the principles of the French armies, and what has been termed, and very justly so, the French military system. To the terror and astonishment of Europe, the French revolutionary armies were not only sufficient for the defence of their own country, but became the conquerors of the most reputed generals, and the most disciplined armies of the age. The princes and ministers of Europe were für a time too much astounded to have even the faculty of reasoning upon the cause. They at length imputed it to what they termed the levy en masse, and adopting this conclusion without any limit or distinction, they deduced an inference upon which they afterwards acted; namely, that the best defence of a nation was in its national militia, and that regular armies' had been hitherto rated beyond their value.
The truth, however, was, that there was absolutely nothing in the French revolution which encouraged this inference. France, at the time of the revolution, instead of having no army, was in possession of a niost admirable army, a most elaborate military composition of her staff, and the best officers in Europe. This regular army, therefore, was at hand to receive all the leaders of the revolution, and to form them as it received them. The levy en niasse filled the ranks of the regular army, and this arnıy being thus complete in its numbers, and being supplied infinitely beyond the wear and tare of war, or even the more sweeping destruction of battle, became that tremendous engine which we have seen it. The energy of the revolutionary armies, therefore, was not the energy of a militia, guerilla, or merely national army, but of a regular army, incessantly filled up by a standing and almost infinite lety; and this army, moreover, impelled by the enthusiasm of the new principles.
The European nations, however, and England amongst the number, mistook, as we have above said, the principle of this energy, and imputed it to the mere numerical superiority of a national militia, and levy en masse.Under ibis error they proceeded to seek the same kind of defence for themselves. Hence all the absurd measures of our national defence, our training acts, &c. i.e. all that incuinbering lumber and ostentatious bustle and jargon which had for its principle the forming the nation into so many distinct armies of militia, volunteers, &c. This was a principle totally different from that of the French levy en masse, which was never employed to compose an army by itself, but to fill up the battalions of the regular arıny, and to assume its discipline and character.
But did the Freuch generals, at the tine of the revolution, it will be demanded, add nothing to the science of war, or to the energy and order of the previous tactics? Most certainly they did. The French resolutivu introduced many able men into offices of command; it shook every thing loose, moreover, and as the old building was destroyed, a beiter oue was certainly put in its place. The art of war, therefore, was assuredly most materially im. proved; the levy in kasse was itself a most astonishing augmentation to the former means of recruiting; the organization of the armies was cast in an
Reziew of Military Books. immense and uniform mould. A greater number of light troops was employo ed; and the experience of the French officers in the American war suggested the regular use, establishment, and peculiar tactic for riflemen. A great reform, likewise, was made with respect to the baggage and beavy artillery. Great amendments, also, in the article of field pieces, which were rendered less unwieldy. A general suppression of saddle horses belonging to the subaltern officers of infantry. Very few or scarcely any magazines. A rigorous obligation of generals to march at the head of their respective divisions. These are some of the few important changes which the generals of the revolution introduced; and Buonaparte has maintained them and improved them by the exertion of a similar genius.
These improvements, perhaps, do not look very considerable upon paper. Experience proves, however, that they are most important and efficient. An army is an engine of war composed of many parts, having its force and momentum only in the union of the movement of all these component numbers. Whatever, therefore, tends to give it order and sinplicity; to render it more manageable and versatile, tends, in the same proportion, to augment its force and efficacy. And such is the effect of the French system: it reduces an army to the simplicity of a regiment; a regiment to that of a battalion; and a battalion to that of a company. In a word, it reuders the mighty monster of war, as it were, a beast of the menage. It puts the tremendous machine of a hundred thousand men in a condition to be turned this way or that; to be accelerated, retarded, diverted, or altogether stopped, by a single band.A good mechanist has not his own steam engine, or spinning jenny more immediately under bis finger, to give it what direction he pleases, directly, obliquely, or inversely, than has Buonaparte this tremendous enginery of war and battle.
That we may not lose ourselves, however, in generals, let us proceed to the detail of this French system. We shall not find it a mere wooden horse, which o'ertops our walls merely by its ostentatious but innocent magnitude, but a womb pregnant with peril and death.
This French system may be said to be composed of three parts: that is to say, to have its main characteristics in three branches of composition; namely its Commissarjat-its Staff —and its Order of Battle. We shall errdeavour to explain each of these in its order.
1. Cummissariat.-The equipage of a French army consists in a fine train of field pieces, a light and well furnished field hospital; the heavy artillery follows at a distance; ammunition is not wanting. The muskets must be in the best condition, and when, after that, the soldier is furnished with two pairs of shoes, and provisions for two days, he is, in Buonaparte's opinion, abundantly provided.
If the regiments can fire and march well, the army is capable of any thing; a few veterans (I call those so who have served during one campaign) dispersed in the companies, in a few days initiate the raw recruits. The officers
Review of Military Books. know their business and perform it well. The generals having had twenty years experience, know how to manæuvre when there is occasion, a thing which seldom happens but on days when a pitched battle takes place, and then the niarshals execute no grand movements but under the eye of Buonaparte or Berthier.
A large French army, on taking the field, is divided into several corps of 20 or 25,000 wen each, under the command of different marshals. Buonaparte acts as commander-in-chief: Berthier, as major-general, receives bis orders, and communicates then to the different corps. This is all that can be known by the enemy respecting the dispositions of a French army; the rest is a secret which Buonaparte confides to his major-general alone, and if thé case require it, to his marshals.
The army takes the field; it is divided into several coluinns, the business of the day is marked out for each of the marshals, independent of the general instructions they have received, and each corps of the army advances as if it were acting alone, without concerning itself whether it forms the right or left wing. Its aim is to accomplish the object assigned to it, which consists in occupying, after a few hours march, a position which may favour the execution of the general plan. Having reached the rendezvous, a brigade, for instance, composed of several divisions, the commander-in-chief, as marshal, points out to each division the position it is required to occupy. If the weather should be rainy, and nothing to be apprehended from the enemy, it often happens in such cases that the troops are billeted, and the assessment is such, that each soldier, partaking of the provisions of the inhabitant, may have sufficient to satisfy his appetite. The resources have been calculated before-hand.
However inclement the weather, if the case require it, the troops lie in the open air, except the cavalry, unless when an attack by night is expected. A brigade is thus encamped by the side of a river, at the foot of a mountain, or the skirts of a wood, &c. a strong guard is on the watch; out-posts are placed in every convenient spot. The centinels are numerous, the patroles on the look-out the whole night, and it seldom happens that the generals, in person, fail secretly to visit the camp.
A sufficient number of men are detached from each company. They go to the neighbouring farms and villages in quest of straw, boards, &c. in short, every thing that is necessary to the preparation of the bivouacque. Others are engaged in cutting wood, or felling trees. Fires are kindled throughout the army. Places of shelter are erected. If the time and place permit, the soldier will make of these temporary erections very convenient lodgings.They only require permission to act, every thing is inmediately in motion. Some plant pickets, others lay floors; oue attends to the boiling of the pot, waiting for the provisions, which are not far off.
If oxen are to be procured in the neighbourhood, a regular distribution is made of them; but at all events the soldier wbo is commissioued to go for
Review of Military Books. provisions, never thinks of returning empty-handed. If beef is not to be obtained, he brings veal, pork, or mutton; the poultry is terribly persecuted. Bread and vegetables are not forgotten. The German must be very cunning who is able to conceal his wine from their scrutiny, and the country must be very poor, if the soldier does not find for himself something more than his ration. After eating heartily, he will sleep soundly, is up at day-break, and continues his march contented and alert. Such a life bas for the French soldier charms which assist him in supporting the most incredible fatigues, and the most arduous marches.
The countries through which it may be necessary to pass are not all equally fertile. Let it not however be imagined, that a barren country in any degree impedes the rapidity of their progress. The army, instead of being impeded, rather proceeds with more rapidity. The soldier, desirous to leave behind him sands or heath, is anxious to cross them--the success of the operations is not less certain. The troops rush forward to the attack with more alacrity, as victory, by delivering them froin misery and hunger, will be the means of transporting them into a country where resources abound. But it may be asked, how is the army to subsist in a country where absolutely nothing is to be procured? The soldier can with ease load himself with provisious for two or even four days; his small provision will last longer, if there be a necessity. Besides, an army that has so few incumbrances, can march a great distance in forty-eight hours, and the enemy who imagines that thirty leagues in a barren or desolated country form an insurmountable barrier, is miserably surprised at finding himself attacked at all points by troops whom be considered far distant, and who, at their rate of proceeding, resein ble devils, rather than feeble men.
However, the enemy assembled in great force, will at length oblige the French army to halt. The coluinns approach, the troops seek a position, and the army encamps. This frequently takes place near some large city, the neighbourhood of whicb certainly affords immense resources. Provisions are at length distributed, and the powerful system of requisition extends to a great distance. The magazines are filled with all sorts of provisions. From that moment all is order and regularity. If it is foreseen that the army will remain a length of tiine, the inhabitant receives in money the value of the provisions he furnishes; by which means they never fail.
The military chest is not impoverished on that account; the contributions bring in supplies, which is an art the French possess in perfection. The army, entirely freed from the care of providing for its subsistence, thinks only of the means by which the campaign may be terminated, and it may be concluded that employment is not wanting. Marches, counter-inarches, reconnoitering, skirmishing, false attacks, are sufficient to keep them constantly occupied, and it is a species of warfare of which Buonaparte is seldom sparing. The army is in continual motion, till a favourable opportunity offers to come to a decisive battle,
Review of Military Books. Such is the manner in which the French troops subsist in the course of a campaign; and this in part is the secret of their increbible celerity.
2. Staff. If the French armies astonish by the rapidity of their marches; the harinony which prevails in their operations, and the unity of their movements, deserve to be considered with equal attention. It has been observed, that a large French army at the moment of its commencing a campaign is divided into several bodies. Buonaparte himself acts as commander-in-chief; bis major-general receives his orders, and transmits them to the marshals. The major-general having with him one or more adjutants-general, forms, with. the addition of a certain number of officers of all ranks, what is called the grand staff. The grand staff is the sole centre of operations; during the whole campaign, it is in the suit of the commander-in-chief, to whom every circumstance is reported, from whom every order issues; and the situation it occupies is called the Head-quarters. · The staff of a division is composed of a certain number of officers known by the name of adjutants, whose number varies in proportion to the urgency of the case.
These officers are under the immediate command of a general of division, acting as head of the general staff. This term corresponds to that of major-general, whose duty is, on a large scale, what the duty of chief of the general staff is on a small one. Each
is formed into several divisinns, which have likewise their private staffs, organized in the same manner as the general staffs, whence they receive their orders.
Froin the moment an army takes the field, the chief of the general staff belonging to each of the corps keeps an exact journal of the operations, under the immediate inspection of the commander-in-chief or field marshal. This journal is inodelled after the manner of the private journals in the staffs of each division: it contains every thing that relates to the movements of the brigade, from the commencement of its march, to the time of its taking a position. It gives an account of the difficulties wbich they have had to surmount, of the advantages they have gained, the losses sustained, of all memorable exploits, &c. It details with brevity and precision the actual situation of the brigade, its encampment, the extent and nature of the ground it occupies, and the commander-in-chief rectities, if there be a necessity, the work of his chief of the staff, and adds his own observations. An extract from this journal compiled in the most clear and simple manner, is confided to an officer of the staff appointed to convey it to the head-quarters. He goes thither with all possible diligence, baving strict orders not to give his dispatches to any but the major-general, or Buonaparte himself.
Each of the brigades having dispatched, and perhaps at the same time, an officer to the grand staff, the different reports are there read, compared, and the officers dispatched are expected to answer all the questions put to them by the major-general, relative to their respective corps. By these means, she major-general is enabled to form an exact idea of the position of all the brigades. He possesses the most extensive information respecting their