« VorigeDoorgaan »
Ar first sight the proposition may appear startling and indeed absurd; yet hard facts, I venture to believe, will enforce the conviction on unprejudiced minds that the warfare of the present when contrasted with the warfare of the past is dilatory, ineffective, and inconclusive.
Present, or contemporary warfare may be taken to date from the general adoption of rifled firearms; the warfare of the past may fairly be limited, for purposes of comparison or contrast, to the smoothbore era; indeed, for those purposes there is no need to go outside the present century. Roughly speaking, the first five and a half decades of the century were smooth-bore decades; the three and a half later decades have been rifled decades, of which about two and a half decades constitute the breechloading period. Considering the extraordinary advances since the end of the smooth-bore era in everything NEW SERIES.-VOL, LIV., No. 1.
tending to promote celerity and decisiveness in the result of campaigns-the revolution in swiftness of shooting and length of range of firearms, the development in the science of gunnery, the increased devotion to military study, the vast additions to the military strength of the nations, looking to the facilities for rapid conveyance of troops and transportation of supplies afforded by railways and steam watercarriage, to the intensified artillery fire that can now be brought to bear fortresses, to the manifold advantages afforded by the electric telegraph, and to the crushing cost of warfare, urging vigorous exertions toward the speedy decision of campaigns-reviewing, I say, the thousand and one circumstances encouraging to short, sharp, and decisive action in contemporary warfare, it is a strange and bewildering fact that the wars of the smooth-bore era were, for the most part,
shorter, sharper, and more decisive. Spite of inferiority of weapons, the battles of that period were bloodier, and it is a mathematically demonstrable proposition that the heavier the slaughter of combatants, the nearer must be the end of a war. There is no pursuit now after victory won, and the vanquished draws off shaken but not broken; in the smooth-bore era a vigorous pursuit scattered him to the four winds. When Wellington in the Peninsula wanted a fortress, and being in a hurry could not wait the result of a formal siege or a starvation blockade, he carried it by storm. No fortress is ever stormed now, no matter how urgent the need for its reduction, no matter how obsolete its defences. The Germans in 1871 did attempt to carry by assault an outwork of Belfort, but failed utterly. It would almost seem that in the matter of forlorn hopes the Caucasian is played out.
Assertions are easy, but they go for little unless they can be proved; some examples, therefore, may be cited in support of the contentions advanced above. The Prussians are proud, and with justice, of what is known as the "Seven Weeks War," although as a matter of fact the contest with Austria did not last so long, for Prince Frederick Charles crossed the Bohemian frontier on the 23d of June, and the armistice which ended hostilities was signed at Nikolsburg on the 22d of July. The Prussian armies were stronger than their opponents by more than onefourth, and they were armed with the needle gun against the Austrian muzzleloading rifle. When the armistice was signed, the Prussians lay on the Marchfeld within dim sight of the Stephanien Thurm, it is true, but with the strong and strongly armed and held lines of Florisdorf, the Danube, and the army of the Archduke Albrecht between them and the Austrian capital. On the 9th of October, 1806, Napoleon crossed the Saale. On the 14th at Jena he smashed Hohenlohe's Prussian army, the contending hosts being about equal strength; on the same day Davoust at Auerstadt with 27,000 men routed Brunswick's command over 50,000 strong. On the 25th of October Napoleon entered Berlin, the war virtually over and all Prussia at his feet with the exception of a few fortresses, the last of which fell on the 8th of November. Which was the swifter, the more brilliant, and the
more decisive-the campaign of 1866, or the campaign of 1806 ?
The Franco-German war is generally regarded as an exceptionally effective performance on the part of the Germans. The first German force entered France on the 4th of August, 1870. Paris was invested on the 21st of September, the German armies having fought five great battles and several serious actions between the frontier and the French capital. An armistice which was not conclusive, since it allowed the siege of Belfort to proceed and Bourbaki's army to be free to attempt raising it, was signed at Versailles on the 28th of January, 1871, but the actual conclusion of hostilities dates from the 16th of February, the day on which Belfort surrendered. The Franco-German war, therefore, lasted six and a half months. The Germans were in full preparedness, except that their rifle was inferior to the French chassepot; they were in overwhelmingly superior numerical strength in every encounter save one with French regular troops, and they had on their banners the prestige of Sadowa. Their adversaries were utterly unready for a great struggle; the French army was in a wretched state in every sense of the word; indeed, after Sedan there remained hardly any regulars able to take the field. In August 1805 Napoleon's Grande Armée was at Boulogne looking across to the British shores. Those inaccessible, he promptly altered his plans and went against Austria. Mack with 84,000 Austrian soldiers was at Ulm, waiting for the expected Russian army of co-operation, and meantime covering the valley of the Danube. Napoleon crossed the Rhine on the 26th of September. Just as in 1870 the Germans on the plains of Mars la Tour thrust themselves between Bazaine and the rest of France, so Napoleon turned Mack, and from Donauwörth to Ingolstadt stood between him and Austria. Mack capitulated Ulm and his army on the 19th of October, and Napoleon was in Vienna on the 13th of November. Although he possessed the Austrian capital, he was not, however, master of the Austrian empire. The latter result did not fall to him until the 2d of December, when, under "the sun of Austerlitz," he with 73,000 men defeated the Austro-Russian army 85,000 strong, inflicting on it a loss of 30,000 men at the cost of 12,000 of his own soldiers hors de
combat. It took the Germans in 1870 a month and a half to get from the frontier to outside Paris; just in the same time, although certainly not with so severe fighting by the way, but nearly twice as long a march, Napoleon moved from the Rhine to inside Vienna. From the active commencement to the cessation of hostilities the Franco-German war lasted six and a half months; reckoning from the crossing of the Rhine to the evening of Austerlitz, Napoleon subjugated Austria in two and a quarter months. Perhaps, however, his campaign of 1809 against Austria furnishes a more exact parallel with the campaign of the Germans in 1870-71. He assumed command on the 17th of April, having burried from Spain. He defeated the Austrians four times in as many days, at Thann, Landshut, Eckmuhl and Regensburg; and he was in Vienna on the 13th of May. Baulked at Aspern and Esslingen, he gained his point at Wagram the 5th of July, and hostilities ceased after lasting under his command for a period of two and a half months.
The Russians have a reputation for good marching, and certainly Suvaroff made good time in his long march from Russia to Northern Italy in 1799; almost as good, indeed, as Bagration and Barclay de Tolly made in falling back before Napoleon when he invaded Russia in 1812. But they have not improved either in marching or in fighting at all commensurately with the improved appliances. In 1877, after dawdling two months, they crossed the Danube on the 21st to the 27th of June. Osman Pasha, at Plevna, gave them pause until the 10th of December, at which date they were not so far into Bulgaria as they had been five months previously. After the fall of Plevna the Russian armies would have gone into winter quarters, but for a private quasi-ultimatum communicated to the Tzar from a high source in England to the effect that unpleasant consequences could not be guaranteed against, if the war was not finished in one campaign. Alexander, who was quite an astute man in his way, was temporarily enraged by this restriction, but, recovering his calmness, realized that nowhere in war books is any particular time specified for the termination or duration of a campaign. It appeared that so long as an army keeps the field uninterruptedly a campaign may con
tinue until the Greek kalends. In less time than that Gourko and Skobeleff undertook to finish the business; by the vigor with which they forced their way across the Balkans in the heart of the bitter winter, Sophia, Philippopolis, and Adrianople fell into Russian hands; and the Russian troops had been halted some time almost in face of Constantinople, when the treaty of San Stephano was signed on the 3d of March, 1878. It had taken the Russians of 1877-78 eight weary months to cover the distance between the Danube and the Marmora. But fifty years earlier a Russian general had marched from the Danube to the Ægean in three and a half months, nor was his journey by any means a smooth and bloodless one.
Diebitch crossed the Danube in May 1828, and besieged Silistria from the 17th of May until the 1st of July. Silistria has undergone three resolute sieges during the century; it succumbed but once, and then to Diebitch. Pressing south immediately, he worsted the Turkish Grand Vizier in the fierce battle of Kuleutscha, and then by diverse routes hurried down into the great Roumelian valley. Adrianople made no resistance, and although his force was attenuated by hardship and disease, when the Turkish diplomatists procrastinated the audacious and gallant Diebitch marched his thin regiments forward toward Constantinople. They had traversed on a wide front half the distance between Adrianople and the capital, when the dilatory Turkish negotiators saw fit to imitate the coon and come down. Whether they would have done so had they known the weakness of Diebitch may be questioned; but again it may be questioned whether, that weakness unknown, he could not have occupied Constantinople on the swagger. His master was prepared promptly to reinforce him; Constantinople was, perhaps, nearer its fall in 1828 than in 1878, and certainly Diebitch was much smarter than were the Grand Duke Nicholas, his fossil Nepokoitschitsky, and his pure theorist Levitsky.
The contrast between the character of our own contemporary military operations and that of those of the smooth-bore era is very strongly marked. In 1838-39 Keane marched an Anglo-Indian army from our frontier at Ferozepore over Candahar to Cabul, without experiencing any