Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de Marmont.

The spirit of military institutions online

. (page 4 of 33)
Online LibraryAuguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de MarmontThe spirit of military institutions → online text (page 4 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

make theni march without confusion. They treat of the art to main-
tain order in the midst of apparent disorder, produced by that multitude
of men, horses, and machines, the union of which composes an army,
and to draw the greatest possible advantage from it.

Tactics are the science of the application of manœuvres. A man can
be great in manoeuvres without possessing any genius, the perfection
in which is only attained after much practice; nothing is easier to un-
derstand than the theory, but the practice is not without difficulties.
The general must be familiar with the means provided and calculated
upon by the orders, that, with a moment's glance of the eye, he should
know how to judge the ground upon which he will be engaged ; he must
know how to calculate distances, determine the precise direction, ap-
preciate the details, and to knit the links of circumstances into a chain.

This kind of merit was incomplete in Napoleon, which is explained
by the first portion of his career.

Simply an officer of artillery, until the moment when he was called
to the head of armies, he has never commanded either a regiment,
brigade, division, or corps d'armée.* Ho could not have acquired this
faculty of moving troops upon a given ground, which, by varying
incessantly the combinations, developes the skill with every day's move.
The wars of Italy scarcely ever offered to him any application of this
nature, because generally the actions were reduced to conflicts for
posts, the attack and defence of defiles, and to operations in the moun-

Later, when he had assumed supreme power, the strength of the
armies which he conducted requiring their organization into army

* It was Brigadier-Genera] Chanee, commanding at Paris during the winter of
1795— '96, who taught the manoeuvres to General Bonaparte, then general-in-chief of
the Arm] Of the Interior. — Note, of Author.


4 V 2 the spirit op

corps, rendered skill in manœuvres still less necessary. A general, at
the head of eighty, one hundred, or one hundred and fift}- thousand
men, gives but the impulse; he fixes the principal points of move-
ments, issues orders concerning the general circumstances of the army,
and provides for the great accidents which occur; he is the living prov-
idence of the army. Generals who manceuvro and lead are those
who* command thirty thousand men and the generals under their
orders ; they must be familiar with tactics. If I have had some repu-
tation in this respect, I owe it to my long sojourn at the camp of
Zeist, 1 where, for more than a year, I have been constantly occupied
with the instruction of excellent troops, and sought to instruct myself
with that emulation and fervor which a first command-in-chief gives
in the beautiful years of youth.

Tactics have the same aim as strategy, but upon a smaller scale and
a different theatre. Instead of operating upon a vast country and
during entire days, the action is upon a battle-field which the eye can
overlook, and where the movements are accomplished in a few hours.
The base of combinations, the proposed aim, is alwa3 r s to be stronger
than the enemy upon a certain point of the field. The talent is to
bring suddenly upon the most accessible and most important positions
the means to break the equilibrium and to gain the victory ; and finally,
to execute, with promptitude, the movements which disconcert the
enemy, and which take him unawares.

To effect this, it is essential that the reserves be employed at the
right time; and this is the genius of war. It will be carefully avoided
to engage them too soon or too late; too soon, is to employ uselessly
one's means, and to miss them at the moment when they will be most
necessary : too late, is either to permit the victory to remain incom-
plete, or the reverses to thicken until they become irreparable.

Every one should be obliged to expend the total amount of the ener-
gy he possesses ; but when the moment of exhaustion comes — and it
is that moment which to recognize is so important — theu it is urgent
to send succor; finally, do not fail to ask for them some time in ad-
vance of the urgency.

Napoleon was very skilful in this respect; he knew precisely when
the turning point of the battle was at hand. At Liitzen he furnished
mo with a striking example. The battle was begun unexpectedly.
Believing that the enemy was retreating, the emperor had left Leipzig
with two corps d'armée, and had prescribed to me to make a strong
reconnaissance upon Pegau. Sotting out from Wippach, where I had
passed tho night, I thought it prudent to move by the right of the
ravine, although that road was longer; I did not wish to compromise
my communications with the main body of the army, which owed it»



safety to this circumstance. I arrive! at Starsiedel, perfectly formed,
at the precise nioniout when the enemy, having surprised the third
corps, was about to surround and to destroy it. I had time partly to
cover it and to protect its right while it hastened to arms. The battle
opened instantly ; immense masses of troops, an enormous cavalry, and
considerable artillery, attacked me. While the third corps sustained at
Kaya a very obstinate conflict with the infantry, Napoleon fell upon
that point. The forces which were in my front not ceasing to aug-
ment, I scut to him to demand reinforcements ; he replied that the
battle was at Kaya and not at Starsiedel; and he was right. I had
prevented that tho battle was not lost in the beginning, but it was
gained by him in the centre.

On other occasions Napoleon determined loss judiciously.

On the Moskowa' 2 he showed a sad want of circumspection in refus-
ing to orfler his guard to march, although General Belliard asked for it
at two o'clock. The Russian army was then in the greatest confusion;
immense results would have been obtained with fresh troops ; one hour
of respite saved the enemy.

Napoleon thus was untrue to one of his favorite principles, which I
have heard him pronounce: "Those who retain fresh troops for the day
after the battle are nearly always beaten." He added : " If useful
the last man should be given, because the day after a complete suc-
cess there are no other obstacles ahead; prestige alone assures new
triumphs to the conqueror."

Alike, at Waterloo, Napoleon gave his guard too late. If it had
marched, while the cavalry performed prodigies, the English infantry
would probably have been overthrown, and the French army, rid of
the English, would have been able to receive, fight, and conquer the

In review, tactics can thus be defined: the art of movements, exe-
cuted in presence of the enemy, with that formation offoring most
advantages, and which is most in harmony Avith the circumstances.


1. Zeist.— A. village in tho Netherlands, in the province of Utrecht.

2. Battle of Borodino.— This battle, which is also called the Battle of the
Moskowa. was fought on the 6th of September, 1812, and opened Napoleon the way
into the City of Moscow. The Village of Dorodino is seventy-five miles west-south-
west of this ancient capital of the Russian empire, and in the centre of an ex-

Hngly strong )> >-itiun. hilly and full of ravines, traversed by tho river Kolots-
cha, an affluent of the Moskowa. In this position, protected by strong redoubts
and extensive field-works, the Russians, under KutusofT, one hundred and thirty-
two thousand strong, with pix hundred Bad forty cannon, essayed to bar Napoleon's
march upon their capital, who was advancing with part of his forces, quite as


strong, however, as Kutusoff, yet Laving sixty cannon the Leas. It an enemy's
strength, posted behind such fortifications as the Russians had, and th>- remains "t"
which can be traced to this very day, is thereby doubled or even tripled, then
Napoleon's victory, although one of direct attacks, may be classed among the most
remarkable, and certainly the most sanguine he ever fought.

On the day preceding the battle a strong advanced work had been carried by tlie
French with great slaughter. Davoust propositi to Napoleon to march during that
eight, with forty thousand men, around the extreme left of the Russians, and by
Ney simultaneously attacking in the centre, to carry consternation into their ranks.
Had Davoust's suggestion been followed, and had the emperor evinced more vigor
and resolution individually, there is no doubt that the Russians would have been
thoroughly beaten. After a most frightful carnage, the Russians having lost thirty-
three generals, fifteen thousand killed, and forty thousand wounded, and the French
thirty-five generals, thirteen thousand killed, and thirty-seven thousand wounded,
the Russian army remained intact, and slowly retreated upon Moscow. In this
battle four hundred pieces of artillery were at one time directed against a single
redoubt. Napoleon attacked in echelons, with the right under Davoust in front.
There Marshals Ney and Davoust earned immortal glory.



Means of tactics— March and battle order— Formations for both— Deployment mixed
with columns— Example— March in the plains of the Tagliamento in 1797— At-
tack of position — Skirmishers in advance of columns— They cover the deployment
— Formation in square— Its speciality— Their difficulties— Squares formed on
march — Example in Egypt — Two special causes indicated this formation — Forma-
tion of six ranks became superfluous, and is abandoned — Difficulties of formation
in squares for march.

Note. — The Tagliamento.

Manœuvres are the means of tactics. They consist in the art of
moving masses, and to pass them, without confusion, but with rapidity,
from the order of march to the order of battle, even in the midst of fire,
and reciprocally.

The battle and the march can be executed with all the formations ;
but there are preferable formations, both for the battle and the march;
and, again, those for the battle vary according to circumstances.

Thus, the deployment is used when the enemy is to be received in po-
sition and when he marches, in order to subject him to the greatest
fire ; otherwise, he would approach scarcely without any danger. I


troops march against him, the deployment can still be used, but not
without great dangers, by reason of the wavering which the march in
line of battle always occasions, and from the disorder which results
therefrom. It is then preferable to have only a part of the troops de-
ployed, and to intermix them with columns, which are so many com-
pact points where the authority of the officers experiences less trouble to
maintain order. In this formation the right and centre of the French
Army of Italy traversed, in 1797, the vast plains of the Tagliamento,
and in presence of the Austrian army.

The attack of a position roquires the most rapid march, and the
ground to be run over being often bristling with obstacles, the troops
should always be formed in columns by battalions. These small masses
are easily moved; they traverse all defiles without any effort : the rear,
less exposed to the fire of the enemy than tho head, pushes the latter,
and the column arrives sooner.

In order to complete this disposition, numerous skirmishers should
precede the columns and march in a direction corresponding with the
intervals of battalions, so as to divide the fire of the enemy, and, if nec-
essary, to cover the deployment, without, however, masking the heads
of the columns, which can immediately commence firing. Skirmishers
thus placed have points of support; their rallying places are designated
and within their reach, so that they can never be compromised.

The formation by square can only be accidental, and to resist the at-
tack of a numerous cavalry in an open country. As it is very difficult
to move in that formation, especially when engaged with infantry, the
troops should bo accustomed to pass in the quickest possible manner
from the deployed into the deep order, and reciprocally.

Still, in Egypt, we have seen troops marching by squares, and during
entire days. But this was owing to two causes : to accustom the soldiers
to the impetuous attacks of a new enemy, and to cover the sick, tho
wounded, and the artillery. The squares were even formed unnecessarily
and almost ridiculously heavy, by placing the men in six ranks. It
is true that this was suppressed as soon as it became apparent that
these precautions were exaggerated, and squares of three and even two
ranks were considered sufficient, and then the formation was only em-
ployed at the moment when an immediate charge of the enemy could be
foreseen. •

Generally, the march in square is detestable; however short, it leads
to disorders ; because the rules of the march are not the same upon the
different sides of the square — two march in lino of battle, and the others
by the flank.



The Tagliamento descends from the mountains which enclose, the upper
course of the Piavc, and taking a course from the north-west to south-east, it
washes Tolmezzo. defended by a fort : receives the Fella, which comes from the Gorgo
of Tarvis, and bathes Chiusa-Veneta, a fortified position; flowing thence, from
north to south, it passeB Osopo, a fortified place Of great Importance to the
defence of the road from Italy into Austria; forms a multitude of islands and
canals; bathes Valvasone. near which, in 1797. Napoleon defeated the Archduke
Charles, and finishes its course in the lagunes. This river is very Important 00
account of the road which it opens into Germany, and which was that followed by
the French in 1797, 1S05, and 1S09.





Both consist of the faculties of the man and the nature of the arm. Order and

Tho organization and formation of troops are no arbitrary matters ;
their aim being to form a compact mass from an assemblage of men
and to make a whole of, them, and a unit which is movable; the regu-
lations to be adopted repose upon conditions determined by the facul-
ties of the man, and by the nature of the weapons he uses.

To form troops, order must first be established and obedience be as-
sured. With this aim, a classification and successive bands have been
created, which, with skill combined, oblige a large mass of individuals
to submit to the action of authority.



In squal, unit is the man — In company, squad forms uuit — In battalion, com-
pany — In army, battalion — Company for organization and administration — Bat-
talion for manœuvre and battle — True limits of battalion — Conditions of bat-
talion — Necessity to form it with regard to reach of voice — One officer for
forty soldiers — Strength of battalions in Austrian and English armies — In-
conveniences and advantages of number in the battalion — French battalions-
Limit indicated by author — Necessary diminutions of the entire strength — Ita
greatest reduction when arrived before the enemy — Strength of battalion accord-
ing to adopted formation — Three ranks — Two ranks — Fire of three ranks —
Purely theoretical — Inevitable fusion of third rank into the two first — Cause of
disorganization — Object of formation in three ranks — Modifications to ba made
in formation of two ranks— How this formation becomes best — Formation of
regiment — Is ttrbitrary — Question of administration and economy— Keginaent s
nith strong bnttalions — Their great advantages — Economy, spirit of corps, facill-


ty of echelons-— Qualities of colonel— Order, justice, and firmness— Special corps
/—Principles applied— Regiments of light infantry in France and Russia— Only
so in name— Chasseurs of Tincennes — Austrian chasseurs— English chaasenrs—
Voltigeurs — Their application with strong advance guards and in mountain war-
fare — Necessity of strong companies — Particular inst ruction, strength, and youth
—Good garrison battalions for guard of places— Dangers of confiding the guard
to bad corps — The point of support of the army in the field escapes at moment
of need — Examplo : garrison of Ciudad Rodrigo — Major Aubert.

Note. — Remarks on Confederate infantry.

In the beginning a small aggregation, easily governed, was formed ;
several of these aggregations were united, and their chiefs submittod to
a superior chief; in that case the unit was no longer man, but a union
of men.

Thus a squad, composed of eighteen to twenty men, obeys a sergeant,
aided by corporals; the squads united form a company, which the captain
commands, aided by officers ; aud several companies form another mass,
which is called battalion. The chief comes into contact with only four,
six, or eight men, and he commands through their intervention, and acts
thus upon the whole.

The company is the element of organization, discipline, and adminis-
tration ; the battalion is the true military element in infantry, and the
unit for battle ; the movements and manœuvres are by battalion, and
by battalion the battle is delivered.

As to strength, the battalion can vary, but in certain limits, deter-
mined by the nature of the organizations themselves. The proverb
should not be understood literally: The God of armies is with (he heavi-
est battalions — a proverb which undoubtedly has been also applied to
large armies, designating a part for the whole. Two conditions must
be observed in the numerical composition of the battalion : it must be
movable; and when deployed, the voice which commands must be heard
at the two extremities of the line. Within these limits tho number of
companies composing a battalion, and the strength of each, can more or
less be increased.

A proportion must be established between the number of officers and
soldiers. That indicated by experience as agreeing best with the econ-
omy of a well-established service is one officer for forty soldiers, or
twenty-five officers for a battalion of one thousand. men. It must be,
however, understood that a large number of officers has but one incon-
venience — that of costing too much to the state; in every other respect
it is useful, be it in multiplying the means of action, of surveillance, and
of examples of courage, or in facilitating rewards by a more rapid ad-


The effective of the organization varies with the different nations.
The strongest battalions are in Austria; England has the weakest.

The total in Austria exceeds twelve hundred men ; this is too much
for a good servico ; such a number can not be moved with order and

I see, however, an advantage in this disposition ; since the losses
during war continually take place, and when reinforcements have not
yet arrived, a battalion of such strength can resist longer; a large dimi.
nution of strength does not unfit it for service.

In France weak battalions are habitually employed, and their effec-
tive strength, evon upon the entrance of a campaign, is still almost
always below tho complement of organization.

I shall put one thousand men as tho limit for the strength of a bat-
talion, because even this number is not always maintained during
peace, and at tho moment when it leaves the garrison to take the field.
After constant observation I have found that the best administered bat-
talion is the strongest one; and assuming a diminution of one-fifth for
hospital details, workmen who remain with the depots, those required
for the trains, etc., etc., a battalion of one thousand men will then have
but eight hundred men under arms; after several months of active ser-
vice it is reduced to five hundred — a force still sufficient to face the

The formation adopted for battalions influences their numerical com-
position also.

In all armies of the Continent, infantry is formed in three ranks; it is
formed in two in England. This last formation appears to me far pref-
erable. Nothing justifies a third rank.

Without entering into the detail of fires, I will appeal to experience.
On drill the fire may be delivered in three ranks, but not in war. Tho
French regulations prescribe that the weapon be passed to the third
rank, which is uniformly required to load it. This theory is not ap-
plicable before the enemy, and long practice has demonstrated its in-
utility. The battle is fought by firing when in position. The best
formation, then, is that which mostly facilitates firing, gives it a better
direction, and the greatest development; in fact, the third rank will
soon be confounded with tho two first, because instinct teaches the most
advantageous formation ; but this change being against orders, it
brings about a kind of disorganization ; it is, therefore, better to sanc-
tion this formation at once, and make it permanent.

In placing troops in three ranks, the object has undoubtedly been to
give greater consistence to the march in line of battle ; but this msans
is not sufficient. Even with three ranks, a line moving is but little
solid; and for the march in lino of battle I should prefer a less heavy


With a slight modification, tho formation in two ranks is equal to all
requirements. Thus :

In position, the troops, when formed in two ranks, have for action a
front by one-half greater than thoy would have were they formed in
three ranks. In the march in line of battle, ploy the first and fourth
divisions in rear of the second and third, and you will have four ranks;
and at the moment of halting you will present a front, it is true, less
by one-fifth than that of the actual formation (four divisions in line of
battle, each composed of three ranks), but in two minutes it will be
doubled. Here is, then, a solid and compact formation for tho march,
which permits a battalion to fire everywhere in case of a sudden charge
of the surrounding cavalry of the enemy, by a simple about-face, exe-
cuted by the first and fourth divisions, which double the second and

The formation in two ranks, with this disposition introduced into the
march by line of battle, appears to me incontestably the best.

After the formation of the battalion comes that of the regiment.
Here everything is arbitrary, and depends upon the caprices of those in
power ; the regiment may be two or three, or from four to five and six
battalions strong ; it is only a question of administration and economy,
numbers of men ; there are less staff officers, and the advantages arising

Regiments composed of many battalions are less costly, with equal
from living together are given to a greater number of men. Generally,
these regiments are in better moral condition and have a more energetic
esprit de corps, because a larger number of individuals partake of its
reputation and glory. The consciousness of their ability to distinguish
themselves is more powerfully developed — so much so, that they would
cheerfully endeavor to execute tho most heroic deeds. In wars of in-
vasion, in the occupation of vast countries, regiments thus constituted
are able to form echelons to assemble the men who have remained in
the rear. These intervening corps receive the recruits, drill them, and
strengthen the battalions which are in face of the enemy. Thus a great
economy in men is obtained — an economy which is not less important
than that of money.

In general, the regiment is an essentially administrative formation;
it again acquires a kind of social constitution, animated by a love equal
to that of country and of home.

The colonel is the chief of this social assembly — its father and magis-
trate ; and certainly, without wishing to depreciate his courage, the first
military virtue, the essential qualities of a colonel, and those which
chiefly influence the efficiency of hi3 regiment, are less an extraordinary
intrepidity, than the spirit of order, of justice, and great firmness. Tho
best corps are those thus commanded.

It should be a principle to instruct a regiment of infantry in all


branches of the service, and the exigencies of war point to the light in-
fantry as the most proper organization. However, special corps have
been considered useful, and I partake of this opinion. For advanced
guards, and detachments in broken and mountain countries, men are
required who have been endowed with a particular instruction — who

Online LibraryAuguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de MarmontThe spirit of military institutions → online text (page 4 of 33)