Unfortunately nearly every volume of it is no more than bad hack-work. It is quite exceptional to find even regimental statistics, such as might have been obtained with ease from the pay-lists and other documents in possession of the battalion, or stored at the Record Office. Details obtained through enquiry from veteran officers who had served through the war are quite exceptional.
Some of his volumes are less arid and jejune than others and this is about all that can be said in favour of even the best of them. All the good regimental histories, without exception, are outside the official " Cannon " series. Some are excel- lent ; it may be said that, as a general rule, those written latest are the best : the standard of accuracy and original research has been rising ever since Among those which deserve a special word of praise are Colonel Gardyne's admirable The Life of a Regiment the Gordon Highlanders , published in ; Cope's History of the Rifle Brigade full of excerpts from first-hand authorities which came out in ; Moorsom's History of the 52nd Oxfordshire Light Infantry the first really good regimental history which was written , published in ; Da vis's History of the 2nd Foot Queen's West Surrey , and Colonel Hamilton's 14th Hussars.
By the time that these began to appear" the level of research was beginning to rise, and it was no longer considered superfluous to visit the Record Office, or to make enquiries for unpublished papers among the families of old officers. All those mentioned above are large volumes, but even the smaller histories are now compiled with care, and their size is generally the result not of scamped work as of old , but of the fact that some regiments have, by the chance of their stations, seen less service than others, and therefore have less to record.
I may mention as books on the smaller scale which have proved useful to me, Hayden's history of the 76th, Smyth's of the 20th, and Purdon's of the 47th. A rare example of the annals of a smaller unit, a battery not a battalion, is Colonel Whinyates' story of C Troop, R. Sir Alexander Dickson, it may be remarked, was Commanding Officer of the Artillery in the later campaigns of and in , and before he obtained that post had been in charge of all the three sieges of Badajoz as well as those of Olivenza and Ciudad Rodrigo. Since he had been lent to the Portuguese artillery, his papers give copious information as to the auxiliary batteries of that nation which were attached to the Peninsular Army.
It is devoutly to be wished that some officer would take up a corresponding task by compiling the annals of the Royal Engineers in the Peninsular War. Connolly's History of the Royal Sappers and Miners published so far back as , has much good information, but infinitely more could be compiled by searching the Record Office, and collating the memoirs of Boothby, Burgoyne, Landmann, and other engineer officers who have left journals or reminiscences. Along with the British regimental histories should be named two sets of volumes which are of the same type, though they relate to larger units than a regiment, and do not deal with our own troops.
The first class deals with our German auxiliaries, and is headed by Major Ludlow Beamish's valuable and conscientious History of the King's German Legion. This was written in , but is a very favourable example of research for a book of the date, when Cannon's miserable series represented the level of English regimental history. The two volumes contain many original letters and documents, and some excellent plates of uni- forms. The Brunswick Oels regiment, which served Wellington from to , has also a German biographer in Colonel Kort- fleisch, who has served in the 88th German Infantry, which now represents that ancient corps.
There is no similar history for the CJiasseurs Brittaniques, the last of the old Peninsular foreign corps. For the Portuguese Army a good description of the state of affairs in , when it had just been reorganized, is contained in Halliday's Present State of Portugal, published in Only the Portuguese artillery in the Peninsular War has been dealt with in Major Teixeira Botelho's Subsidies para a Historia da Artilheria Portegueza, which is very full and well documented.
The life of a British officer serving with a Portuguese regiment can be studied in the Memoirs of Bunbury 20th Line ,f and Blakiston 5th Cagadores 4 After regimental histories, the next most important source of information, in the way of books not written by those who served under Wellington, is personal biographies. Captain Delavoye's Life of Lord Lynedoch Sir Thomas Graham is perhaps the most useful among them, not so much for any merit of style or arrangement, as for the excellent use of contemporary documents not available elsewhere.
A large portion of the volume consists of excerpts from Graham's long and interesting military journal, and letters from and to him are printed in extenso. Thus we get first-hand information on many events at which no other British witness was present, e. J Twelve Years of Military Adventure, published Published in Unfortunately both journal and letters fail for the campaign of , in which Graham took such a distinguished part. But it is not nearly so bad a work as might have been expected from his way of treating it. Indeed I fancy that Napier was paying off an old Light Division grudge against Picton himself, whom he personally disliked.
The narrative is fair, and the quantity of contemporary letters inserted give the compilation some value. Sidney's Life of Lord Hill f is far inferior to Robinson's book : the author did not know his Peninsular War well enough to justify the task which he took in hand, and the letters, of which he fortunately prints a good many, are the only valuable material in it. It is curious that both Picton and Hill had their lives written by clergymen, when there were still a good many old Penin- sular officers surviving who might have undertaken the task.
Of the other chief lieutenants of Wellington, Beresford has never found a biographer, though the part which he played in the war was so important. There must be an immense accumulation of his papers somewhere, in private hands, but I do not know where they lie. The only account of him consists of a few pages in a useful but rather formal and patchy little book by J.
There is a biography of him by Lady Combermere and Captain W. Knollys but the Peninsular chapters are short. J Two vols. Cole's book mentioned above. Sir James Leith, more fortunate, had a small volume dedicated to his memory by an anonymous admirer in , but it was written without sufficient material, Leith's private correspondence not as it seems being in the author's hands, while official documents were not for the most part avail- able at such an early date.
There is a good deal, however, concerning this hard-fighting general's personality and adventures to be gleaned from the memoirs of his nephew and aide-de-camp, Leith Hay. Of officers who did not attain to the highest rank under Wellington, but who in later years made a great career for themselves, there are two biographies which devote a large section to Peninsular matters, those of Lord Gough by R. Rait two vols. These are both excellent productions, which give much private correspondence of the time, and have been constructed on modern lines, with full attention to all possible sources first- and second-hand.
They are both indispensable for any one who wishes to make a detailed study of the Peninsular campaigns. The campaign of Sir John Moore can, perhaps, hardly be con- sidered as falling into the story of Wellington's army, but it is impossible to avoid mentioning the full and highly controversial biography of the hero of Corunna by Sir J. It is an indispensable volume, at any rate, for those who wish to study the first year of the Peninsular War, and to mark the difference between the personalities and military theories of Moore and Wellington. Beresford-Pack, Claud Vivian, For the Spanish version of the whole war he is absolutely necessary.
So, for the Portuguese version, is the immense work of Soriano da Luz, which is largely founded on Napier, but often differs from him, and brings many unpublished documents to light. Colonel Balagny has started a history of the war in French on a very large scale, delightfully documented, and showing admirable research. In five volumes he has only just got into , so the whole book will be a large one. For- tescue's fine history of the British Army has just started on the Peninsular campaign in its last volume. To my own four volumes, soon I hope to be five, I need only allude in passing.
There is one immense monograph on Dupont's Campaign by a French author, Colonel Titeux, which does not touch English military affairs at all. Two smaller but good works of the same type by Colonel Dumas and Com- mandant Clerc are both, oddly enough, dedicated to the same campaign, Soult's defence of the Pyrenean frontier in : the former is the better of the two : both have endeavoured, in the modern fashion, to use the reports of both sides, not to write from the documents of one only ; but Dumas has a better knowledge of his English sources than Clerc.
It is beyond my power to guess why similar monographs on separate campaigns of the war do not appear in English also. But the few brochures purporting to treat of such which have appeared of late on this side of the channel, are mostly cram-books for examinations, resting on no wide knowledge of sources, and often consisting of little more than an analysis of Napier, with some supplementary com- ments hazarded. They contrast very unfavourably with a book such as that of Colonel Dumas.
We may now proceed to discover what we can deduce from them. And we must inevitably begin with a consideration of the great leader of the British army. I am not writing a life of Wellington, still less a commentary on his campaigns with which I am trying to deal elsewhere. My object is rather to paint him as he appeared to his own army, and as his acts and his writings reveal him during the course of his Peninsular campaigns.
The Arthur Wellesley of is difficult to disentangle in our own memories from the familiar figure of Victorian reminiscences. We think of him as the " Great Duke," the first and most honoured subject of the crown, round whom centre so many stories, more or less well founded, illustrating his disinterestedness, his hatred of phrases, insincerities, sentiment, and humbug generally, his puncti- liousness, his bleak frugality, and his occasional scathing directness of speech for he could never " suffer fools gladly. For those who under- stood the greatness of his Indian exploits were few.
It was not Napoleon only who thought that to call Wellesley a " sepoy general " was sufficient to reduce his reputation to that of a facile victor over contemptible enemies. He was a slight but wiry man of middle stature, well built and erect, with a long face, an aquiline nose, and a keen but cold grey eye.
His reputation as a soldier was already high ; but few save those who had served under him in India understood the full scope of his abilities. Many undervalued him, because he was a member of a well-known, but ill-loved family and political group, and had owed his early promotion and opportunities of distinguishing himself to that fact. It was still open to critics to say that the man who had com- manded a battalion in the old Revolutionary War at the age of twenty-three, and who had headed an army in India before he was quite thirty, had got further to the front than he deserved by political influence.
And it was true though the fact is so often forgotten , that in his early years he had got much help from his connections, that he had obtained his unique chance in India because he was the brother of a viceroy, and that since his return from the East he had been more of a politician than a general.
Was he not, even when he won Vimeiro, Secretary for Ireland in the Tory government of the day? It was a post whose holder had to dabble in much dirty work, when dealing with the needy peers, the grovelling place-mongers, and the intriguing lawyers of Dublin. Wellesley went through with it all, and not by any means in a conciliatory way. He passed the necessary jobs, but did not hide from the jobbers his scorn for them. When the Secretary for Ireland had to deal with any one whom he disliked, he showed a happy mixture of aristocratic hauteur and cold intellectual contempt, which sent the petitioner away in a bitter frame of mind, whether his petition had been granted or no.
Unfortunately, he carried this manner from the Irish Secretaryship on to the Headquarters of the Peninsular Army. It did not tend to make him loved. Every one who came into personal contact with Arthur Wellesley soon recognized that Castlereagh and the other ministers had not erred when they sent the " Sepoy General " to Portugal in , and when they, despite of all the clamour following the Convention of Cintra, despatched him a second time to Lisbon in , this time with full control of the Peninsular Army.
From the first opening of his Vimeiro campaign the troops that he led had the firmest confidence in him they saw the skill with which he handled them, and criticism very soon died away. It was left for Whig politicians at home, carpers with not the slightest knowledge of war, to go on asserting for a couple of years more that he was an over-rated officer, that he was rash and reckless, and that his leadership would end, on some not very distant day, with the expulsion of the British army from the Peninsula. At the front there were very few such doubters though contemporary letters have proved to me that one or two were to be found.
He did everything that could win confidence, but little that could attract affection. They recognized that he was marvellously capable, but that he was without the supreme gift of sympathy for others. I will venture to say that there was not a heart in the army which did not beat more lightly when we heard the joyful news of his arrival.
Another Light Division officer sums up the position in the coldest words that I have ever seen applied to the relations of a great general with his victorious army. Now I can assert with respect to the Light Division that the troops rather liked Mm than otherwise. Although Wellington was not what may be called popular, still the troops pos- sessed great confidence in him, nor did I ever hear a single individual express an opinion to the contrary. Though he knew the military virtues of his rank and file, and acknowledged that they had more than once " got him out of a scrape " by performing the almost impossible, he did not love them.
He has left on record unpardonable words concerning his men. English soldiers are fellows who have enlisted for drink that is the plain fact : they have all enlisted for drink. Naturally enough a leader with such views never appealed to the better side of his men : he never spoke or wrote about honour or patriotism to them, but frequently reminded them of the lash and the firing-party, that were the inevitable penalty for the straggler, the drunkard, the plunderer, and the deserter.
South of France, pp. It was possible to have a full apprecia- tion of his marvellous powers of brain, and a complete confidence in him as a leader, without feeling the least touch of affection for this hard and unsympathetic figure. The distressing point in all this is that the Peninsular Army, though it had its proportion of hardened sots and criminals, was full of good soldiers who knew what honour and loyalty meant, and were perfectly capable of answering any stirring appeal to their heart or their brain.
And we ; may add that if anything was calculated to brutalize an army it was the wicked cruelty of the British military punishment code, which Wellington to the end of his life' supported. There is plenty of authority for the fact that the man who had once received his lashes for a fault which was small, or which involved no moral guilt, was often turned thereby from a good into a bad soldier, by losing his self-respect and having his sense of justice seared out. Good officers knew this well enough, and did their best to avoid the cat-of -nine-tails, and to try more rational means more often than not with success.
As a rule he did not. Sir George Napier's Autobiography, pp. Sir Thomas Picton was one of his most distinguished lieutenants, and was specially summoned by him to come over to Brussels to take his part in the campaign of The moment that he arrived in the Belgian capital he sought the Duke, who was walking in the Great Park. We have the witness of Picton's aide-de-camp for the following reception. The Duke bowed coldly to him, and said, ' I am glad you are come, Sir Thomas. The sooner you get on horseback the better : no time to be lost.
You will take the command of the troops in advance. Another picture of Wellington's manners may be taken from the memoir of one of his departmental chiefs, Sir James McGrigor. An engineer captain first made his request : he had received letters informing him that his wife was dangerously ill, and that the whole of his family were sick. His lordship quickly replied, ' No, no, sir. I cannot spare you at this moment. Then a general officer, of noble family, commanding a brigade, advanced saying, ' My lord, I have lately been suffering much from rheumatism '. By all means.
Go there imme- diately. Wellington's temper was tried by having to deal with some inefficient and slack officers foisted upon him from home for never till the end of the war as he bitterly com- plained was he allowed complete liberty in choosing his subordinates.
But it was not on them alone that his thunders fell. He often raged at zealous and capable subordinates, who had done no more than think for them- selves in an urgent crisis, when the orders that they had received seemed no longer applicable.
Sir James McGrigori whom I have just quoted above, once moved some com- missariat stores to Salamanca, where there was a great accumulation of sick and wounded. I establish one route, one line of communication you establish another by ordering up supplies by it. As long as you live, sir, never do that again.
Never do anything without my orders. He peremptorily desired me ' never again to act without his orders. This is why he preferred blind obedience in his lieutenants to zeal and energy which might lead to some contravention of his own intention. Hence, too, his commission of the cavalry arm throughout the war to such a mediocre personage as Stapleton Cotton of whom he used the most unflattering language. It may be noted that Hill, Beresford, Graham and Crau- furd, were the only officers to whom Wellington ever con- descended in his correspondence to give the why and wherefore of a command that he issued : the others simply received orders without any commentary.
There are instances known in which a word of reasonable explanation to a subordinate would have enabled him to understand a situation, and to comprehend why directions otherwise incomprehensible were given him. Tiresome results occa- sionally followed. This foible of refusing information to subordinates for no adequate reason has been shared by other great generals e. He trained admirable divisional commanders, but not leaders of armies. The springs of self-confidence were drained out of men who had for long been subjected to his regime.
Jr Probably the thing which irritated Wellington's sub- ordinates most was his habit of making his official mention of names in dispatches little more than a formal recital in order of the senior officers present, v Where grave mistakes had been committed, he still stuck the names of the misdemeanants in the list, among those of the men who had really done the work.
A complete mystification as to their relative merits would be produced, if we had only the dispatches to read, and no external commentary on them. He honourably mentioned Murray in his Oporto dispatch, Erskine in his dispatch concerning the actions during Massena's retreat in , Trip in his Waterloo dis- patch, though each of these officers had done his best to spoil the operations in which he was concerned. On the other hand, he would make the most unaccountable omissions : his Fuentes de Ofioro dispatch makes no mention of the British artillery, which had done most brilliant service in that battle, not merely in the matter of Norman Ramsay's well-known exploit, which Wellington might have thought too small a matter to mention, but in the decisive checking of the main French attack.
There are extant heart-rending letters from the senior officers commanding the artillery, deploring the way in which they have been completely ignored: "to read the dispatch, there might have been no British artillery present at all. Perhaps, however, the most astounding instance of Wellington's ungracious omissions is that his famous Waterloo dispatch contains no mention whatever of the services of Colborne and the 52nd, the battalion which gave the decisive stroke against the flank of the Imperial Guard, during Napoleon's last desperate assault on the British line.
Colborne, the most unselfish and generous of men, could never forget this slight. He tried to excuse it, saying, " dispatches are written in haste, and it is impossible for a general to do justice to his army. One would think that you forgot that the 52nd had ever been in battle before. I don't mean to say that this was peculiar to him. It used to be a common thing with general officers.
Henry Shore of Mount Elton, Clevedon. Moore Smith, pp. But they compel me to acquiesce in the hard judgment which v Lord Roberts wrote in his Rise of Wellington " the more we go into his actions and his writings in detail, the more do we respect and admire him as a general, and the less do we like him as a man. How that promise has been kept every one knows.
That the Duke of Wel- lington is one of the most remarkable perhaps the greatest men of the present age, few will deny. But that he neglected the interests and feelings of his Peninsular army, as a body, is beyond all question. And were he in his grave to-morrow, hundreds of voices that now are silent would echo what I write. To com- prehend the actual merit of his military career, it is not sufficient to possess a mere knowledge of the details of his tactics and his strategy. The conditions under which he had to exercise his talents were exceptionally trying and difficult.
When he assumed command at Lisbon on April 22, , the French were in possession of all Northern and Central Spain, and of no inconsiderable part of Northern Portugal also. The task set before Wellesley was to see if he could defend Portugal, and co-operate in the protection of Southern Spain, it being obvious that the French were in vastly superior numbers, and well able to take the offensive if they should chose to do so.
There were two armies threatening Lisbon. The one under Soult had already captured Oporto and overrun two Portuguese pro- vinces, shortly before Wellesley's landing. The other, under Victor, lay in Estremadura close to the Portuguese border, and had recently destroyed the largest surviving Spanish army at the battle of Medellin on March Was it possible that 19, British troops could save the Peninsula from conquest, or even that they could keep up the war in Central Portugal?
Never was a more unpromising task set to the commander of a small army. Fortunately we possess three documents from Wellesley's own hand, which show us the way in which he surveyed the position that was before him, and stated his views as to the future course, of the Peninsular War.
He recognized that it was about to be a very long business, and that his task was simply to keep the war going as long as possible, with the limited resources at his disposition. Ambitious schemes for the expulsion of the French from the whole Peninsula were in perfectly futile. The hypothesis which he sets forth in the first of the three documents to which I allude, his Memorandum on the Defence of Portugal, laid before Castlereagh on March 7, before he had taken ship for Lisbon, is a marvel of prophetic genius. No more prescient document was ever written.
Its pre- sence on the Tagus would paralyse all offensive movements of the enemy, and enable the Spaniards to make head in the unsubdued provinces of their realm, so long as Portugal should remain intact. The French ought, if they were wise, to turn all their disposable forces against the British army and Portugal, but he believed that even then, when the geography of the country was taken into consideration, they would fail in their attempt to overrun it. They could not succeed, as he held, unless they were able to set aside , men for the task, and he did not see how in the spring of they could spare such a large detachment, out of the forces which they then possessed in the Penin- sula.
If they tried it with a smaller army, he thought that he could undertake to foil them. He believed that he could cope with Soult and Victor, the two enemies who immediately threatened Portugal. If a war should break out between Napoleon and Austria, as seemed likely at the moment in March, , to one who like himself was in the secrets of the British Cabinet, the Emperor would not be able to send reinforcements to Spain for many a day. But, even so, the position of the French in the Peninsula was so strong that it could only be en- dangered if a very large allied force, acting in unison under the guidance of a single general, should be brought to bear upon them.
Of the collection of such a force, and still more of the possibility of its being entrusted to his own command, there was as yet no question. It was, indeed, only in , when he had acquired for himself a much greater reputation than he owned in , and when the Spanish Government had drunk the cup of humiliation to the dregs, that he was finally given the position of commander-in-chief of the Spanish armies. This memorandum is a truly inspired document, which shows Wellesley at his best. It is not too much to say that it predicts the whole course of the Peninsular War whose central point was to be invasion of Portugal in by a French army of 65, instead of the required , men, and that army, as he had foreseen, Wellesley was able to check and foil.
The second document of a prophetic sort that we have to notice is Wellesley's reply to Mr. Canning's question to him as regards the future general policy of the war, written on September 5, The whole aspect of affairs had been much changed since March, by the fact that Austria had tried her luck in a war against Napoleon, and had been beaten at Wagram and forced to make peace.
It was therefore certain that the Emperor would now have his hands free again, and be able to reinforce his armies in the Peninsula. Wellesley replies that it is hopeless to attempt to defend both Southern Spain and Portugal also, even if the British army were raised to 40, men. But Portugal can still be defended.
The third great prophetic despatch is the Memorandum of October 26, , ordering the construction of the Lines of Torres Vedras. Wellesley looks a full year ahead. He sees that Napoleon can now reinforce his Spanish armies, but that the new troops cannot get up till the next spring. Meanwhile the countryside shall be cleared of population and provisions, so that the French, if they keep concentrated, must starve, and the allied army shall so conduct its operations that the enemy will be compelled to remain en masse.
Then follow directions to Colonel Fletcher commanding the engineers to make his plans for an immense line of redoubts covering the Lisbon penin- sula from sea to sea.
What was foreseen came to pass : the French reinforcements arrived: the invasion of Portugal under Massena took place in But the whole country- side was swept clear of food, and when the marshal reached the Lines with his half -starved army, he was completely blocked, refused to attack the formidable positions, and, after a few weeks of endurance in front of them, withdrew with his famished troops.
It was on October 26, , that Wellington ordered the Lines to be laid out. He had an immense grasp of detail, kept intelligence officers of picked ability out on every front, and had compiled an almost exactly correct muster- roll of the forces opposed to him. Once he complained that he and Marmont were almost equally handicapped as regards information from the natives for if the Frenchmen got none, he himself got too much : the proportion of it which was inaccurate spoiled the value of the rest.
But Grant or Waters never made mistakes. Part of his system was the cross-ques- tioning of every deserter and prisoner as to the number and brigading of his regiment, and the amount of battalions that it contained. By constant comparison of these reports he got to know the exact number of units in every French corps, and their average strength.
But this was less important than his faculty for judging the individual characters of his opponents. After a few weeks he got his fixed opinion on Masse"na or Victor. Soult or Marmont, and would lay his plans with careful reference to their particular foibles. I think that this is what he meant when he once observed that his own merit was, per- haps, that he knew more of " what was going on upon the other side of the hill," in the invisible ground occupied by the enemy and hidden by the fog of war than most men.
This insight into the enemy's probable move, when their strength, their object, and the personal tendencies of their leader were known, was a most valuable part of Wellesley's mental equipment. The best known instance where it came into play was on the day of Sorauren. In the midst of the battles of the Pyrenees, when the British army had taken up its fighting position, though its numbers were as yet by no means complete, and two divisions were still marching up, Wellington arrived from the west to assume command.
He could see Soult on the opposite hill sur- rounded by his staff, and it was equally certain that Soult could see him, and knew the reason of the cheer which ran along the front of the allied army as he rode up. Wellington played off a similar piece of bluff on Mar- mont at Fuente Guinaldo in September, , when he drew up in a position strong indeed, but over-great for the numbers that he had in hand, and seemed to offer battle. He was aware that his own reputation for caution was so great that, if the enemy saw him halt and take up his ground, they would judge that he had concentrated his whole force, and would not attack him till their own reserves were near.
He absconded unmolested in the night, while Marmont's rear columns were toiling up for the expected battle of the next day. For a long time in Wellesley had to assume a de- fensive attitude. But, in the earlier years of his command, he was always hopelessly outnumbered, and forced to parry rather than to strike. He had to run no risks with his precious little army, the 30, British troops on whom the whole defence of the Peninsula really depended : because if it were destroyed it could not be replaced. V With these 30, men he had covenanted, in his agreement with Castlereagh, when first he sailed to take command at Lisbon, that he would keep up the war indefinitely.
If by taking some great risk he had lost 15, or even 10, men, the government would have called him home, and would have given up the struggle. Thus he had to fight with the consciousness that a single disaster might ruin not only his own plans, but the whole cause of the allies in Spain. No wonder that his actions seem cautious! When even a partial defeat would mean his own recall, and the evacuation of Portugal, it required no small resolution even to face such chances as these.
But his serene and equable temper could draw the exact line between legitimate and over-rash enterprise, and never betrayed him. All the more striking, therefore, was the sudden de- velopment into a bold offensive policy which marked the commencement of that year of victories The chance had at last come : Napoleon was ceasing to ptmr rein- forcements into Spain the Russian War was beginning to loom near at hand. The French no longer possessed their former overwhelming superiority : in order to hold in check Wellington's army, now at last increased by troops from home to 40, British sabres and bayonets, they had to concentrate from every quarter, and risk their hold on many provinces in order to collect a force so large that the British general could not dare to face it.
At last, in the winter of , Napoleon himself intervened as Wellington's helper, by dispersing his armies too broadcast. The actually fatal move was the sending of It was the absence of this great detachment, which could not return for many weeks, that emboldened Wellington to make his first great offensive stroke, the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo on January 19, , after a siege of only twelve days. Following on this first success came the dear-bought but decisive success of the storming of Badajoz on April 7 ; this was a costly business, because Wellington had to operate " against time," since, if he lingered over-long, the French armies from north and south would combine, outnumber him.
Badajoz had to be stormed by sheer force, before all the arts of the engineer and artillerist had worked their full effect. The fire of the besieged had not been subdued, nor had the approaches of , the assailants been pushed close up to the walls, as science would have dictated. But by making three simultaneous attacks on different points of the fortress, and succeeding at two of them, Wellington achieved his object and solved his " time problem. This was to his French enemies a revelation of a new side of his character. He had been esteemed one who refused risks and would not accept losses.
If they had known of the details of his old Indian victory of Assaye, they would have judged his character more truly. Wellington hurled his army unexpectedly at the enemy, who was manoeuvring in full confidence and tranquillity in front of his line, thinking that he had to deal with an adversary who might accept a battje as at Vimeiro, Talavera, or Bussaco , but might be trusted not to force one on.
It brings up Lord Wellington's reputation almost to the level of that of Marlborough. Up to this day we knew his prudence, his eye for choosing good positions, and the skill with which he used them. It is perfectly true, and it reflects the greatest credit on Foy's fair-mindedness and readiness to see facts as they were. The conqueror of Salamanca was for the future a much more terrifying enemy than the victor of Bussaco or Talavera had been.
It is one thing to be repulsed that had often happened to the French before another to be suddenly assailed, scattered, and driven off the field with crushing losses and in hopeless disorder, as happened to Wellington's enemies under the shadow of the Arapiles on July 22, Wellington as a great master of the offensive came into prominence in , and for the rest of the war it is this side of him which is most frequently visible, though the retreat from Burgos shows that his prudence was as much alive as ever. But, Wellington, knowing that his own total numbers were much inferior to those of the enemy, and that to concentrate in front of either Soult or Souham would be to take a terrible risk on the other flank, preferred a concentric retreat towards his base on the frontier of Portugal, to a battle in the plains of Castille, where he was far from home and support, and where a defeat might lead to absolute ruin.
This was the last time that he was outnumbered and forced back upon his old methods. In , owing to Napoleon's drafts from the army of Spain, which were called off to replace the troops lost in the Moscow campaign, the allies had at last a superiority in numbers, though that superiority consisted entirely in Spanish troops of doubtful solidity. But even these were conditions far more favour- able than Wellington had ever enjoyed before he knew how to use his newly joined Spanish divisions in a useful fashion, without placing them in the more dangerous and responsible positions.
The campaigns of and are both essentially offensive in character, though they contain one or two episodes when Wellington was, for the moment, on the defensive in his old style, notably the early part of the battles of the Pyrenees, where, till his reserves came up, he was fending off Soult by the use of his more advanced divisions. But the moment that his army was assembled he struck hard, and chased the enemy over the frontier, again in the series of operations that begun on the last day of Sorauren. There was a very similar episode during the operations that are generally known as the battle of the Nive, where Wellington had twice to stand for a movement in position, while one of his wings was assailed by Soult's main body.
But this was distinctly what we may call defensive tactical detail, in a campaign that was essentially offensive on the whole. Invariably the French army was nailed down to the position which it had taken up, by demonstrations all along its front, while the decisive blow was given at selected points by a mass, of troops collected for the main stroke.
And on the other hand it would not be true to imagine that all French fighting, without exception, was conducted in column, or that blows delivered by the solid masses whose aspect the English knew so well, were the only ideal of the Napo- leonic generals. It is not sufficient to lay down the general thesis that Wellington found himself opposed by troops who invariably worked in column, and that he beat those troops by the simple expedient of meeting them, front to front, with other troops who as invariably fought in the two-deep battle line.
The statement is true in a general way, but needs explanation and modification. Armies had a stereotyped array, with infantry battalions deployed in long lines in the centre, and heavy masses of cavalry covering the wings. A glance at the battle-plans of the War of the Austrian Succession, or of the Seven Years' War, shows a marvellous similarity in the. Frederic the Great's famous "oblique order," or advance in echelon, with the strong striking-wing brought forward, and the weaker " containing - wing"held back and refused, is sufficiently well known.
Occasionally he was able to vary it, as at Rossbach and Leuthen, and to throw the greater part of his troops across the enemy's flank at right angles, so as to roll him up in detail. But these were " uncovenanted mercies " obtained owing to the abnormal sloth or unskilf ulness of the opposing general. Torgau needs a special word of mention, as Frederic's only battle fought of choice in a thoroughly irregular formation.
There were one or two cases in the old eighteenth- century wars of engagements won by the piercing of a hostile centre, such as Marshal Saxe's victory of Roucoux , and we may find, in other operations of that great. But this was exceptional as exceptional as the somewhat similar formation of Cumberland's mass of British and Hanoverian infantry at Fontenoy, which, though often described as a column, had originally consisted of three successive lines of deployed battalions, which were ultimately constricted into a mass by lateral pressure. Some of Mar- shal Broglie's and Ferdinand of Brunswick's fights during the Seven Years' War were also fought in a looser order of battle than was normal.
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Normally the tactics of the eighteenth century were directed to the smashing up of one of the enemy's wings, either by outflanking it, or by assailing it with very superior forces, while the rest of the enemy's army was " contained " by equal or inferior numbers, according as the assailant had more or less troops than his enemy. The decisive blow was very frequently delivered by a superior force of cavalry concentrated upon the striking wing, which commenced the action by breaking down the inferior hostile cavalry, and then turned in upon the flank of the infantry of the Ming which it had assailed.
Such a type of battle may sometimes be found much later, even in the Peninsular War, where Ocana was a perfect example of it. Speaking roughly, however, the period of set battles v fought by enemies advancing against each other in more or less parallel lines ended with the outbreak of the war of the French Revolution. V There had been a fierce controversy in France from to between the advocates of the linear, or Frederician, battle-order headed by General Guibert, and the officers who wished to introduce a deeper formation, which they claimed to have learnt from the instructions of Marshal Saxe of whom the chief was General Menil-Durand.
The former school had triumphed just before the war began, and the Btglement d'Infanterie of accepted aU their views.
It was on this drill-book that the French infantry stood to fight in the following year, when the war on the Rhine and in Belgium began. The troops of the Republic had been demoralized by the removal or desertion of the greater proportion of their commissioned officers, and their cadres had been hastily filled with half -trained recruits.
At the same time hundreds of new units, the battalions of volunteers, had been formed on no old cadre at all, but, with officers and men alike little better than untrained civilians, took the field along with the reorganized remains of the old royal army. It is hardly necessary to remark, that these raw armies suffered a series of disgraceful defeats at the hands of the Austrian and other allied troops in They were beaten both in tactics, in manoeuvring, and in fire-discipline by the well- drilled veteran battalions to which they were opposed.
The French Republic, when it came under the control of the Jacobins, tried to set matters right by accusing its generals of treason, and arrested and guillotined a consider- able proportion of the unfortunate commanders -in-chief to whom its armies had been entrusted. But neither this heroic device, nor the sending to the armies of the well known " representatives en mission " from the National Assembly, who were to stimulate the energy of the generals, had satisfactory results.
As the representatives were generally as ignorant of military affairs as they were self- important and autocratic, they did no more than confuse and harass the unhappy generals on whom they were inflicted. One thing, however, the Jacobin government did accom- plish : it pushed into the field reinforcements in such myriads that the armies of the allies were hopelessly out- numbered on every frontier. For they had inexhaustible reserves behind them, from the newly-decreed levies en masse, while the bases of the allies were far off, and their trained men, when destroyed, could only be replaced slowly and with difficulty.
When the generals of the Revolution threw away the old linear tactics learned in the school of Frederic the Great, as inapplicable to troops that could not manoeuvre with the same speed and accuracy as their enemies, the impro- vised system that succeeded was a brutal and wasteful one, but had the merit of allowing them to utilize their superiority of numbers. It is possible that those of them who reasoned at all upon the topic and reasoning was not easy in that strenuous time, when a commander's head sat lightly on his shoulders saw that they were in a manner utilizing the idea that had been tried in a tentative way by Maurice de Saxe, and by one or two other generals of the old wars the idea that for collision in long line on a parallel front, partial attacks in heavy masses on designated points might be substituted.
But it is probable that there was more of improvisation than of deliberate tactical theory in the manoeuvres of even the best of them. The usual method was to throw at the hostile front a very thick skirmishing line, which sheathed and concealed mass of heavy columns, concentrated upon one or two critical points of the field.
The essential part of the system was the enormously thick and powerful skirmishing line : whole battalions were dispersed in chains of tirailleurs, who frankly abandoned any attempt at ordered movement, took refuge behind cover of all sorts, and were so numerous that they could always drive in the weak skirmishing line of the enemy, and get closely engaged with his whole front. The orderly battalion- volleys of the Austrian, or other allied troops opposed to them, did comparatively little harm to these swarms, who were taking cover as much as possible, and presented no closed body or solid mark for the musketry fire poured upon them.
It looks as if the proper antidote against such a swarm-attack would have been local and partial cavalry charges, by squadrons judiciously inserted in the hostile line, for nothing could have been more vulnerable to a sudden cavalry onslaught than a disorderly chain of light troops. On many occasions in the campaigns of the French infantry had shown itself very helpless against horsemen who pushed their charge home, not only in cases where it was caught unprepared, but even when it had succeeded in forming square with more or less prompti- tude.
The masses which supported the thick lines of tirailleurs were formed either in columns of companies or columns of " divisions," i. In the latter the front was formed by a " division," and the depth was only twelve men. But such a column, Avhen properly sheathed by the skirmishing line till the last moment, generally came with a very effective rush against the allied line opposed to it, which would have been already engaged with the tirailleurs for some time, and had pro- bably been much depleted by their fire.
It is equally clear that, without its protective sheath of skirmishers, such a heavy column would have been a very clumsy instrument of war, since it combined the minimum of shooting power with the maximum of vulnerability. But when so shielded, the columns which attacked in masses at a decisive spot, leaving the rest of the hostile line " con- tained " by an adequate force, had a fair chance of pene- trating, though the process of penetration might during the last two or three minutes be very costly to the troops forming the head of the column.
The best early summary of this change in French tactics which I know occurs in an anonymous English pamphlet published in , which puts the matter in a nutshell. They experienced defeats in the beginning, but in the meantime war was forming both officers and soldiers. In an open country they took to forming their armies in columns instead of lines, which they could not preserve without difficulty. They reduced battles to attacks on certain points, where brigade succeeded brigade, and fresh troops supplied the places of those who were driven back, till they were enabled to force the post, and make the enemy give way.
They were fully aware that they could not give battle in regular order, and sought to reduce engagements to important affairs of posts : this plan has succeeded. The troops had im- proved immensely in morale and self-confidence : a neAv race of generals had appeared, who were neither obsessed by reminiscences of the system of Frederic the Great, like some of their predecessors, nor spurred to blind violence and the brutal expenditure of vast numbers of men like certain others.
The new generals modified the gross and unscientific methods of the Jacobin armies of , which had won victory indeed, but only by the force of numbers and with reckless loss of life. There remained as a permanent lesson, how- ever, from the earlier campaigns two principles the avoidance of dispersion and extension, by which armies " cover everything and protect nothing," and the necessity of striking at crucial points rather than delivering " linear " battles, fought out at equal intensity along the whole front.
In general French tactics became very supple, the units manoeuvring with a freedom which had been unknown to earlier generations. The system of parting an army into divisions, now introduced as a regular organization,! As a matter of fact this last necessary precaution was by no means always observed, and there are cases in the middle, and even the later, years of the Revolutionary War, in which French generals brought their armies upon the field in such disconnected bodies, and with such want of co-operation and good timing, that they were deservedly defeated in detail.
Hoche, Jourdan, and Moreau the last especially , all committed similar mistakes from time to time. But these errors were at least better than an adhesion to the stereotyped tactics of the older generation, where formal set orders of battle had been thought absolutely necessary. As a rule we find the French operating in the later years of the Republic with methods very different from those of , with skill and swiftness, no longer with the mere brute force of numerical superiority, winning by brilliant manoeuvring rather than by mere bludgeon work.
Yet, oddly enough, there was no formal revision of official tactics ; the Reglement d'Infanterie which had been drawn up in , whose base was the old three-deep line of Frederic the Great, had never been disowned, even when it was for the most part disregarded, in the period when swarm-attacks of tirailleurs, supported by monstrous heavy columns, had become, perforce, the practical method of the French armies.
When that unsatisfactory time passed by, the same old drill-book continued to be used, and was no longer so remote from actual practice as it had been. Only the early Revolutionary War had left two marks upon French tactics for hard and heavy work, such as the forcing of passes, or bridges, or defiles, or the breaking of a crucial point in the enemy's line, the deep column remained habitually employed : while the old idea of the orderly continuous line of battle was gone for ever, or almost gone, for oddly enough in Napoleon's last and least lucky fight, Waterloo, the order of the imperial host was more like the trim and symmetrical array of a Frederician army than any French line of battle that had been seen for many a year.
Certainly it would have pleased the eye of the Prussian king much better than the apparently irregular, though carefully thought out, plans of battle on which Jena or Wagram, Borodino or Bautzen were won. It would be doing injustice to Napoleon to represent him as a general whose main tactical method rested solely on the employment of massive columns for the critical operation on each battlefield.
He was quite aware that infantry ought to operate by its fire, and that every man in the rear ranks is a musket wasted. If the Emperor had any favourite formation it was the ordre mixte, recommended by Guibert far back before his own day, in which a certain combination of the advantages of line and column was obtained, by drawing up the brigade or regiment with alternate battalions in line three-deep and in column.
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