Page images
PDF
EPUB

tended facts. "Tactics" pertains to handling an army in the field; "strategy" projects the campaign, and directs the movement of the armies. "Tactics" fights the battle; "strategy" teaches when and where to fight it, and under what conditions. It remained for the master-mind of Napoleon to apply the doctrine of "long chances" to war; that is, so to arrange and plan his campaign that if of ten battles he should lose seven, yet the results of the three gained would be such as to give him the campaign. The campaign ending at Marengo is an instance in point. While Napoleon was preparing to cross the Alps, Massena held Genoa with an obstinate valor that immortalized his name, with the view of detaining the Austrians in that corner of Italy, until the Grand Army should have gained their rear. This was accomplished, and the French troops were so disposed along the only route between the Alps and the Apennines by which Melas could retreat, that he would require to win six battles to get through, whereas the loss of one was ruin. That one he lost at Marengo. Therefore, when the English historian, Alison, wrote that the charge of Kellermann at Marengo "placed the crown on Napoleon's head,” he showed a want of appreciation of the military situation, since the gain of that battle and four others would not have saved Melas from destruction if he had lost the sixth.

It is a remarkable fact that in the history of the world there have been but about fifteen battles which drew after them such consequences as decided a war. Such a battle was Austerlitz, which was the result of masterly "strategic" movements which brought the Allies to fight at that place, and of consummate "tactical" skill which utterly destroyed them in the field. When Napoleon sat on his horse that misty morning, surrounded by his generals, with his cold gray eyes fixed with grim satisfaction on the movements of the Allied generals, as with presumptuous fatuity they marched their troops by the flank, from left to right, he quietly restrained the ardor of his lieutenants by admonishing them "never to interrupt an enemy while he was making a mistake." "If," said he, "you stop him now, it will be an ordinary battle; let him complete his movement, and we shall destroy him." The result was, that before the glorious "sun of Austerlitz" had set, the Allied centre was taken, and the victory won. This was but a repetition of what had occurred years before on a smaller scale, on the plateau of Rivoli. An Austrian force had there passed to the left and rear of the French, who looked uneasily over their shoulders at what they thought a danger. "Those people are ours," said the young commander; "we will take them at our leisure." The unerring sagacity with which the required blow was discerned, and the celerity and vigor with which it was delivered, astounded slike friend and foe. When shut up in Mantua, with the immense Austrian armies approaching, Napoleon did not dig and "work i' the earth," but sallied out, chose his battle-field, made the bridge of Arcole famous while the world stands, destroyed his enemies, and returned in triumph. Neverthele-s, the ablest generals said he had no plan, and was fighting by hazard. Thus, when the army invaded Spain, and was stopped before the pass of the Somosierra, a steep acclivity, at the top of which the

guns of thirteen thousand Spanish troops were in position, the French generals reported the place impassable. Napoleon reconnoitred in person, ordered the Polish legion to charge up the pass, and take the guns. They did so, and the army proceeded. Such a movement was out of all rule, and was pronounced foolhardy. But genius is above all rules. The prompt application of common sense to the exigencies of the moment is a mark of genius. Thus an obvious want of prompt conveyance for men, where the necessity exists, of combining the strongest force on a given point, as well in the "strategy" of a campaign as in the "tactics" of the battle-field, produced continual changes. For this end Napoleon organized the voltigeurs, or regiments of infantry, acting with regiments of cavalry. When required at certain points on the battle-field, the infantry man vaults behind the horseman, and a double force is thus transported with celerity to a given point. This innovation produced great discussion among military martinets and theorists-as to whether an infantry soldier was any better for being taught cavalry exercise. A pamphlet war raged fiercely on the subject, while the real motive of the master-mind that directed the organization was not at all comprehended.

Thus of

The vast strategic abilities of the great captain were not shared by his lieutenants, great as they were as "tacticians." The battle once arranged, each fulfilled his duties in a masterly manner. Lannes, the emperor remarked, that he found him a "pigmy, and left him a giant," referring to the ability with which, as a tactician, he could handle twenty thousand men on the battle-field. Soult, he said, was the "only military head" in Spain, under Joseph. He could bring his army into the field, and properly place it, but could go no further. When Napoleon himself was in Spain, driving the English, under Sir John Moore, before him, he heard of the approach of the Archduke Charles, the first general of the Allies, upon Ratisbon, with two hundred thousand Austrians; he hastened to the spot, and found his own immense army so misplaced that he said to Bessières, "If I did not know your friendship, I should think you were betraying me." He spent the night receiving reports, and issuing his orders to the various corps, and thus brought about those marvellous results on the following day which caused Wellington to exclaim, "The art of war was never perfected until now." The same strategic combination directed his armies with fatal effect upon the Allies at Lutzen and Bautzen, when, after the Russian campaign, he was struggling against combined Europe. The several corps fufilled their orders with the usual vigor, and on the field of Bautzen all that saved the Allies from annihilation, was the hesitation of Ney to follow up his advantage, from a misunderstanding of the "strategical" combination, although Jomini, present with him in the field, advised him to develop his blow.

The Allied generals were slow to learn, and unable to compete with the great captain. When prolonged war had weakened the resources of France, and Europe was banded in vast numbe s against him, their theory was not to fight, but to elude his grasp. The conquest of Europe under such a leader was effected by lieutenants, each of whom in his own person represented the highest order of some species of

military talent, and these talents had been drawn out in a lifetime of camp duty; but very few, if any, of the lieutenants ever arrived at the necessary ability to manage an independent corps of fifty thousand men in the field. Without the master-mind, the vast power of France ceased to be formidable to the overwhelming numbers brought against her. In the early days of the French Revolution, vast numbers of men were sent to the frontiers to defend the country, and these gradually became veteran soldiers of the best description. From their ranks rose the celebrated marshals who were the instruments of Napoleon's glory. But the draft was too great upon the male population of France, and as the struggle was prolonged through the life of a generation, although the genius of the emperor remaired, the material of execution began to fail, and disaster closed the wars of the empire.

The United States have now reached a position where not only have armies and military abi ity become necessary to the safety of the nation in its integrity, but Europe has been brought nearer to us by steam, and other empires are becoming consolidated to the continent, in such a manner as to make a foreign policy necessary, as we'l in regard to Canada, Mexico, and South America, as to Europe. The great conflict between the North and the South, like the revolution of France, has had the effect of calling over a million of men from peaceful pursuits to the camps, and experienced foreigners agree that no nation ever presented finer material for soldiers. The difficulty at the outset was not a want of officers who had studied the mil rary theory, but of those who had so constantly applied the principles of science to actual warfare, as to have them all at command to apply with prompt energy at the critical moment. It is evident that a man who, twenty years ago, read medicine for a few months only, and then went into some other pursuit, is not a physician to be compared to him who has employed his life in continual practice at the bedside. The military science, equally with all o hers, requires practical experience. The greatest writers on the science in Europe were very indifferent commanders in the field. It is for these reasons that with such unequalled material for troops, and such lavish resources, patience became the chiefest of public virtues. General Scott, it is true, performed a brilliant, short, and effective campaign in Mexico, b it it will be remembered that he was a life-long commander, of considerable natural skill, and that his command, composed of regular troops mostly, was, after all, but a trifle in numbers as compared with any of the corps now in the field. In relation to the "tactical aspects" of the contest, it will be observed that the Union troops at the commencement of the war occupied an immense line, running from the Potomac to the Mississippi, and another running on the Atlantic coast down to the Gulf of Mexico; while the enemy held the centre of the region enclosed by these lines, which, as we have seen of France in respect to Eu ope, is the strong position. The law of strategy in this case requires the party occupying the circumference to close his circle, and gradually contract it. But no commander or nation ever before had so vast a circle to close. The enemy, in accordance with the same,

laws, was required to concentrate his force, remain on the defensive at all points, keeping his internal communications always clear, and prepared to direct his condensed columns against the first opposing army that should approach. He held what is known in military parlance as "interior lines;" that is to say, a greater number of Confederate troops could reach a given point at a given time than of Federal troops, unless the latter should be so enormously superior in numbers as to make any resistance to them hopeless. This, however, was by no means the case at that stage of the war of which we are now writing, and it will be seen in the course of this narrative how the rebels, by a skilful use of their interior lines, for years baffled the efforts of the best Federal generals to penetrate to the heart of the revolted territory.

In the following pages we shall observe expeditions sent to hold each of the Atlantic cities, thus forming a chain on that line; and on the northern line a succession of armies, which have to perform a leftwheel movement, turning on the army of McClellan in front of Washington. The whole, in so moving, must preserve the line like the simple left-wheel of a single platoon, because the army which outmarches the others so as to lose their support, will be crushed by a vigilant enemy. The whole line will then be broken.

In resuming the thread of military events from the defeat of Manassas, it may be considered that preparations for the war were but fairly commenced with the recovery of the public mind from the effects of that disaster. The whole movement, from the attempt to re-enforce Fort Sumter in the beginning of April, had been irregular and spasmodic. It was impelled by the first impatient burst of popular enthusiasm, and had not been prepared or directed by the sagacious foresight which important movements require. If the secession movement at the South had been long planned and deliberately considered, with all the contingencies foreseen and the necessities of the case provided for, such had not been the case at the North. The last session of the thirty-seventh Congress had passed away amidst vain attempts at compromise on the part of the minority, to which the majority only opposed a "masterly inactivity," while the impression was disseminated that no outbreak would take place. The fall of Sumter, the sudden activity of the Executive, the calling out of the militia, the hasty assembling of troops, the hurried marches, and the premature attacks, were all apparently impulsive, without any deliberately considered policy, and, as was but natural, the result was by no means encouraging. All the armies that were forming, and which composed the aggregate of two hundred and forty thousand men reported by the Secretary of War on the meeting of Congress, felt the paralyzing influence of the defeat at Bull Run. The force at Fortress Monroe, under General Butler, was diminished in order hastily to re-enforce Washington. General Banks evacuated Harper's Ferry, and concentrated nearer to Washington, at Point of Rocks, where he was anxiously watching Western Maryland.

The Army of the Potomac was now massed for the protection of Washington, and General Wool, appointed on the 20th of August to the command of Fortress Monroe, found little beside Newport News

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

and the fortress itself in his possession. In Western Virginia, Rosecrans, the successor of McClellan, held his position and commanded the key of the mountain passes. The seventy-five thousand militia, or what was left of them, who had been called out for three months, had returned to their homes, and their places were more than filled by a body of stalwart volunteers, who had enlisted for three years or the war, but who, though furnishing the best material for soldiers in the world, were as yet utterly undisciplined. The Confederate force was scarcely so strong as ours; had it been, the Capital would have been in serious danger. The brilliant victories of Rich Mountain and Beverly had given a prestige to the name of General McClellan, which seemed to justify the Government in calling him to the work of organizing this rapidly increasing mass of volunteers into a well-ordered, well-disciplined army. There was no lack of money, and the munitions of war were becoming abundant; but the formation of an army required time and patience, and the people, convinced of this by the sad disaster of Bull Run, were disposed to grant both. They felt that henceforth it was no holiday work in which they were engaged. The Southern volunteers, inflamed to hate of the North by the artful proclamations and appeals of their leaders, were a more formidable foe than they had been supposed, and though not the equals of the Northern soldiery in steady, persistent valor, they were brave, and under able and efficient leaders.

It was felt, indeed, that there was some danger of European interference, which the desire for cotton, the eagerness for free trade, and the misrepresentations of the agents of the Confederacy, combined with the disaster of Bull Run, seemed likely to provoke. Such an interference the aristocratic element in Great Britain and the friends of despotism in France would have rejoiced to see; but, fortunately, the scanty and insufficient crops of England and France, and the necessity of procuring breadstuffs from us, bound these two great powers to keep the peace; and thus, enormous as was the expenditure, there was time for the needful delay.

When the Army of the Potomac retired upon Washington, many regiments were in a state of demoralization. Military duties were, to a considerable extent, abandoned, and disorderly troops, with the remains of their equipments, crowded the streets. The bars and hotels were filled with officers whose commands were scattered and disorganized. The citizens were uneasy, and the small shop-keepers trembled for their little stores. There was no efficient head to enforce obedience or restore order. In the midst of this condition of affairs, General McClellan was called nom Western Virginia to take command, the extent of which was designated in the following order:

"WAR DEPARTMENT, ADJUTANT-GENERAL'S OFFICE, "WASHINGTON, July 25th, 1861.

"There will be added to the Department of the Shenandoah the counties of Washington, Alleghany, in Maryland, and such other parts of Virginia as may be covered by the army in its operations. And there will be added to the Department of Washington the counties of Prince George, Montgomery, and Frederick. The remainder of Maryland, and of ali Pennsylvania and Delaware, will constitute the Department of

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »