Henry Wager Halleck.

Elements of Military Art and Science Or, Course Of Instruction In Strategy, Fortification, Tactics Of Battles, &C.; Embracing The Duties Of Staff, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, And Engineers; Adapted online

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Online LibraryHenry Wager HalleckElements of Military Art and Science Or, Course Of Instruction In Strategy, Fortification, Tactics Of Battles, &C.; Embracing The Duties Of Staff, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, And Engineers; Adapted → online text (page 24 of 35)
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well-directed force, gained possession of the important fortresses of
the Peninsula; seizing in this way the strategic routes and important
geographical points, he was enabled to retain possession of the country
for eight years, in spite of the numerous forces arrayed against him,
the absence of himself and his best generals in Germany, and the great
inefficiency of Joseph and of many of his generals. These fortifications
were old, and of strength inferior to modern works of defence, but it
required years and the expenditure of millions in blood and treasure to
expel from the country those who had possession of them.

For the first five years of this war the English struggled with a most
imperfect army organization.[37] When "the first serious siege," says
Napier, was undertaken by the British army, "to the discredit of the
English government, no army was ever so ill provided with the means of
prosecuting such an enterprise. The engineer officers were exceedingly
zealous; and many of them were well versed in the theory of their
business. But the ablest trembled when reflecting on their utter
destitution of all that belonged to real service. Without a corps of
sappers and miners, without a single private who knew how to carry on an
approach under fire, they were compelled to attack fortresses defended
by the most warlike, practised, and scientific troops of the age."

[Footnote 37: In a letter dated February 11th, 1812, Wellington wrote
to the Secretary of State as follows: - "I would beg leave to suggest to
your lordship the expediency of adding to the engineer establishment a
corps of sappers and miners. It is inconceivable with what disadvantages
we undertake any thing like a siege for want of assistance of this
description. There is no French _corps d'armée_ which has not a
battalion of sappers and a company of miners; but we are obliged to
depend for assistance of this description upon the regiments of the
line; and although the men are brave and willing, they want the
knowledge and training which are necessary. Many casualties among them
consequently occur, and much valuable time is lost at the most critical
period of the siege."]

"The best officers and finest soldiers were obliged to sacrifice
themselves in a lamentable manner, to compensate for the negligence and
incapacity of a government, always ready to plunge the nation into war,
without the slightest care of what was necessary to obtain success. The
sieges carried on by the British in Spain were a succession of
butcheries; because the commonest materials, and the means necessary to
their art, were denied the engineers." Colonel J.T. Jones writes in
nearly the same terms of the early sieges in the Peninsula, and with
respect to the siege of Badajos, adds in express terms, that "a body of
sappers and miners, and the necessary fascines and gabions, would have
rendered the reduction of the work certain."[38] Soon after this siege a
body of engineer troops arrived from England, but their number was
insufficient, and Wellington, having learned by sad experience the
importance of engineer troops, ordered a body of two hundred volunteers
to be detached from the line, "and daily instructed in the practice of
sapping, making and laying fascines and gabions, and the construction of
batteries, &c." The siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, which immediately followed
this organization, was conducted with greater skill and success than any
other till nearly the close of the war; and all military writers have
attributed this result to the greater efficiency of the engineer force
engaged in the siege. This arm was now gradually increased, and the last
year of the war the engineer force with the English army in the field
consisted of seventy-seven officers, seven assistant-engineers and
surveyors, four surgeons and assistants, one thousand six hundred and
forty-six sappers, miners, artificers, &c., one thousand three hundred
and forty horses and one hundred and sixty carriages.

[Footnote 38: Colonel Pasley states that only _one and a half yards of
excavation_, per man, was executed _in a whole night_, by the untrained
troops in the Peninsular war; whereas an instructed sapper can easily
accomplish this _in twenty minutes_, and that it has been done by one of
his most skilful sappers, at Chatham, _in seven minutes!_]

During all this time the French furnished their armies in Spain with
well-organized engineer forces. We have endeavored to form a comparison
of the number of French engineers and artillerists employed on these
peninsular sieges. But from the loose manner in which these details are
usually given by historians, it is almost impossible to distinguish
between the two. Both are not unfrequently given under the same head,
and when a distinction is apparently kept up, only the engineer _staff_
is mentioned under the head of engineers - the sappers, miners,
artificers, the train, &c., all being put down as artillery. In the
following table we have endeavored to arrange them as is done in our own
army. The trains of both arms are left out, for frequently that of one
arm performed the duties of the other. Moreover, in our service a
portion of these duties of engineer and artillery trains is performed by
the quartermaster's department. For those who wish to know the exact
organization of the French engineer train, we give it as it existed in
1811, viz.: - seven troops, each troop consisting of three officers, one
hundred and forty-one non-commissioned officers and privates, two
hundred and fifty horses, and fifty wagons, conveying five thousand two
hundred and seventy intrenching tools, one thousand seven hundred
cutting tools, one thousand eight hundred and two artificers' tools, two
hundred and fifty-three miners' tools, and eight thousand three hundred
and eighteen kilogrammes' weight of machinery and stores, each article
being made to a particular pattern. The pioneers in Spain acted
sometimes with one arm and sometimes with the other, and we have
assigned them accordingly in the table. The pontoniers, however, in our
service are included with the engineers; we have therefore put them, in
our table, in the same column with the engineers.

| Engineer |Artillery staff,| Total | Total of
|staff, sappers,| horse and foot | of | artillery
| miners, | artillery, |engineers, |staff, horse
| pontoniers, | ouvriers, and | sappers, | and foot
|and pioneers. | pioneers. | miners, |artillery,
Name of Siege. |________________________________|pontoniers,|ouvriers,
| | | | | and | and
|Offic. | Men. |Offic. | Men. | pioneers. | pioneers.
Saragossa, | 86 | 1189 | 90 | 1276 | 1275 | 1360
Rosas, | 21 | 211 | - | - | 232 | 461
Girona, | 54 | 603 | 62 | 1299 | 657 | 1361
Astorga, | 7 | 91 | 17 | 427 | 98 | 444
Lerida, | 15 | 316 | 11 | 208 | 331 | 219
Meguinenza, | 31 | 278 | - | - | 312 | 136
1st Ciudad | | | | | |
Rodrigo, | 34 | 441 | - | - | 475 | 1019
Almeida, | 34 | 489 | - | - | 523 | 1019
Tortosa, | 43 | 429 | 32 | 381 | 472 | 413
Tarragona, | 50 | 681 | 46 | 701 | 731 | 747
Olivensa, | 10 | 106 | - | - | 116 | 186
1st Badajos, | 25 | 707 | 41 | 699 | 732 | 740
Tarifa, | 12 | 235 | 17 | 148 | 247 | 165
Peniscola, | 13 | 138 | 9 | 183 | 151 | 192
2d Ciudad | | | | | |
Rodrigo, | 3 | 12 | 8 | 160 | 15 | 168
2d Badajos, | 9 | 256 | - | - | 265 | 268
Burgos, | 4 | 124 | 3 | 126 | 128 | 129
Castio Udiales, | 5 | 68 | 8 | 197 | 73 | 205
St. Sebastian, | 13 | 248 | 7 | 166 | 261 | 173

From this table it appears that the ratio of the two arms at these
sieges, making the comparison on the basis of our own organization, is
about the same as for the present French army in Algeria, or a little
more than five of engineers to six of artillery.

Thus far we have spoken of the field-operations of engineer troops in
connection with fortifications, alluding only incidentally to the use of
military bridges and the passage of rivers. In the early wars of the
French Revolution the want of pontoniers was severely felt, and from the
deficiency of this branch of service, the operations of the French
generals were on several occasions very much restricted. The evil was
afterwards remedied in a great degree by the introduction of several
battalions of ponioniers in the regular army organization. On many
occasions, during his wars, did Napoleon feel and acknowledge the
importance of these troops; but on none, perhaps, was this importance
more clearly shown than in the passage of the Beresina during his
retreat from Moscow with the wreck of his army. The Russians had cut the
bridge of Borisow and taken position in great strength on the right bank
of the river, both at this point and below; the French, wearied with
long and difficult marches, destitute of artillery, provisions, and
military stores, with a wide and deep river in front, and a powerful
enemy on their flank and rear, benumbed by the rigors of a merciless
climate, and dispirited by defeat - every thing seemed to promise their
total destruction. "General Eblé," says an English general officer, in
his remarks on this retreat, "who, from the beginning of the campaign,
had made all the arrangements for the equipment and construction of
military bridges, was specially charged with the important duty of
providing for the passage of this river; and he discharged that duty
with a degree of forecast and ability to which certainly Napoleon owed
his escape and the wreck of his army its safety. General Eblé had begun
to prepare, at Smolensko, for the difficulties which he foresaw in this
operation. He formed, with every care, a train sufficient for the
transport of all the tools and stores that might be required; and,
further to provide against casualties and accidents, every man belonging
to the companies of pontoniers was obliged to carry from Smolensko a
tool or implement of some kind, and a proportion of nails: and fortunate
was it for the army that he did so; for such was the difficulty in
getting through the carriages containing stores, that only two
forge-wagons and six caissons of tools and nails could be preserved. To
these the general added a quantity of iron-work taken from the wheels of
carriages that were abandoned on the march. Much was sacrificed to bring
off these valuable materials for making clamps and fastenings, but, as
Segur observes, that exertion '_sauva l'armée_.'"

But it is not always in the possession of a thing that we are most
likely to appreciate its utility; the evils and inconveniences resulting
from the want of it not unfrequently impress us most powerfully with its
importance and the advantages to be derived from its possession. A few
examples of this nature, drawn from military history, may be
instructive. We need not go back to the disastrous passage of the
Vistula by Charles XII., the failure of Marlborough to pass the Dyle,
and Eugene to cross the Adda in 1705, nor of the three unsuccessful
attempts of Charles of Lorraine to cross the Rhine in 1743. The wars
following the French Revolution are sufficiently replete with useful
instruction on this subject.[39]

[Footnote 39: Before recurring to these, it might be useful to give one
example, as it is often referred to, in the campaign of 1702. It was
deemed important for the success of the campaign to attack the Prince of
Baden in his camp at Friedlingen. Accordingly, a bridge was thrown
across the Rhine at Huningen, the passage effected, and the victory
gained. But Villars was several times on the point of losing all for
want of a sufficient ponton equipage. Having but a _single_ bridge, the
passage was necessarily slow; the artillery and stores were frequently
interrupted by the infantry hurrying to the field of battle; disorder
ensued, and the whole movement was retarded; Villars could bring only a
small part of his artillery into action, and towards the close of the
battle the infantry were in want of ammunition: moreover, the whole
operation had nearly failed from the attempt of the enemy to destroy
this bridge, but the skill of the French pontoniers saved it. We here
remark, 1st, the passage secured to Villars an important victory; 2d,
from having an inefficient bridge-equipage his whole army was placed in
great peril, and the operation had nearly failed; 3d, if the Prince of
Baden had possessed a skilful corps to oppose that of Villars, this
single bridge would have been destroyed, and the army cut to pieces;
4th, the skill of the little corps of French pontoniers saved the
bridge, and of consequence, the army.]

In 1794 so great was the disorder in the direction of affairs, that the
boats of the bridges across the Wahal and the Rhine were disposed of for
commercial purposes; and in the beginning of 1795, says Jomini, "the
conquerors of Belgium and Holland had not even a bridge equipage, at a
time too when the success of the campaign depended solely on the means
of crossing a river." A few boats were procured from the Wahal and the
Meuse, and others manufactured in the forests of the Moselle; but "these
operations consumed precious time, and _four months_ thus passed away in
preparations." Even after other things were all ready, the army was
obliged to wait thirty days for the arrival of boats for ponton bridges;
during this delay the Austrians strengthened their position, and with
very little exertion they might easily have prevented the passage.

In 1796, profiting by the errors of the former campaigns, the French
collected more suitable bridge equipages, and the two armies passed the
Rhine at Neuweid and Kehl without loss or delay. The latter of these
passages has often been referred to as a model for such operations, and
certainly does credit to the general who directed it. But Moreau's
bridge equipage having been destroyed during this disastrous campaign,
his operations the following year were considerably delayed in preparing
a new one, and even then he was under the necessity of seizing all
private boats that could be found within reach; but the difficulty of
collecting and using boats of all sizes and descriptions was so great as
entirely to defeat his plan of surprising the enemy on the opposite
bank of the river. The necessity of co-operating with Hoche admitted of
no further delay, and he was now obliged to force his passage in the
open day, and in face of the enemy. Undertaken under such circumstances,
"the enterprise was extremely sanguinary, and at one time very
doubtful;" and had it failed, "Moreau's army would have been ruined for
the campaign."

Napoleon's celebrated passage of the Po, at Placentia, shows plainly how
important it is for a general to possess the means of crossing rivers.
"I felt the importance of hastening the enterprise in order not to allow
the enemy time to prevent it. But the Po, which is a river as wide and
deep as the Rhine, is a barrier difficult to be overcome. We had no
means of constructing a bridge, and were obliged to content ourselves
with the means of embarkation found at Placentia and its environs.
Lannes, chief of brigade, crossed in the first boats, with the advanced
guard. The Austrians had only ten squadrons on the other side, and these
were easily overcome. The passage was now continued without
interruption, but very slowly. _If I had had a good ponton-equipage, the
fate of the enemy's army had been sealed; but the necessity of passing
the river by successive embarkations saved it."_

In the campaign of 1799, the Archduke attempted to pass the Aar, and
attacked the French on the opposite side, but for want of suitable
equipage his operation was delayed till the enemy had collected
sufficient forces to intercept the passage; he was now obliged to enter
into a stipulation for a suspension of hostilities, and to withdraw his

The operations of the French in the campaign of 1800, led to the most
glorious results, but their execution was attended with the greatest
difficulties. The passage of the Alps was greatly facilitated by the
ability of the chief engineer, Marescot, and the skill of the troops
under his command; and the facility of passing rivers afforded Napoleon
by his pontoniers, had an important influence upon the success of the
campaign. "The army of the reserve had many companies of pontoniers and
sappers; the pontons of course could not be taken across the St.
Bernard, but the pontoniers soon found materials on the Po and Tesin for
constructing bridge equipages." Moreau's army in the same year profited
well by his pontoniers, in the passages of the Inn, the Salza, the
Traun, the Alza, &c., and in the pursuit of the Austrian army - a pursuit
that has but a single parallel example in modern history.

The facility with which Napoleon crossed rivers, made forced marches,
constructed redoubts, fortified depots, and grasped the great strategic
points of the enemy in the campaign of 1805, resulted from the skilful
organization of his army, and the efficiency given to the forces
employed in these important operations. The engineer staff of the French
army at this period, consisted of four hundred and forty-nine officers,
and there were four battalions of sappers, of one hundred and twenty
officers and seven thousand and ninety-two men; six companies of miners,
of twenty-four officers and five hundred and seventy-six men; and two
regiments of pontoniers, of thirty-eight officers and nine hundred and
sixty men. On the contrary, the enemy's neglect of these things is one
of the most striking of the many faults of the war, and his ill-directed
efforts to destroy the great wooden bridge across the Danube, and the
successful operations of the French sappers in securing it, formed one
of the principal turning points in the campaign.

The same organization enabled the French to perform their wonderfully
rapid and decisive movements in the Prussian campaign of 1806, and the
northern operations of 1807.

In 1809, Napoleon's army crossed, with the most wonderful rapidity, the
Inn, the Salza, the Traun, and other rivers emptying into the Danube,
and reached Vienna before the wonder-stricken Austrians could prepare
for its defence. It was then necessary for the French to effect a
passage of the Danube, which was much swollen by recent rains and the
melting snow of the mountains. Considering the depth and width of the
river, the positions of the enemy, and his preparations to oppose a
passage, with the disastrous consequences that would result to the
French from any failure in its execution; taking all these things into
consideration, Jomini pronounced it "one of the most hazardous and
difficult of all the operations of War." Here the fate of the army
depended, apparently, upon the skill and efficiency of the engineers and
pontoniers, and nobly did they discharge the trust reposed in them. When
the pontons failed, tressel-bridges were substituted, and even
fifty-four enormous boats were put in requisition. So skilfully were
these operations conducted, that Napoleon's immense army crossed over in
safety, directly in the face of a superior enemy, and the same day
fought the memorable battle of Esling. Forced to retire before numbers
vastly superior to his own, Napoleon concentrated his forces on the
island of Lobau, and intrenched his position. Surrounded by the broad
and deep channel of the Danube, and watched by numerous and skilful
enemies, it required the most constant activity and the greatest good
fortune to effect a passage. Here the skill and efficiency of the
engineers shone conspicuously; a number of bridges were thrown across
the river in the face of the Austrians, and against obstacles almost
insurmountable; the whole French army passed in safety, and soon put the
finishing stroke to that brilliant campaign. So high an estimate did
Napoleon attach to the construction of these bridges, that, when the
passage was completed, he offered to place Bertrand, the constructing
engineer, though of comparatively low rank, at the head of the French
_corps du genie_.

On many occasions during the retreat in 1812-13, from the Beresina to
the left of the Rhine, across the Niemen, the Vistula, the Oder, the
Elbe, and the numerous other rivers which divide that immense country,
the French derived vast advantages from the experience and skill of
their engineers and pontoniers, several times whole corps escaping
through their means from the grasp of their pursuers. When, however, the
disasters of this retreat had absorbed most of the material of the army,
and had sadly thinned the ranks of men of skill and experience, they
sustained many severe, and, in other circumstances, unnecessary losses.
Of this character we may mention the passage of the Elster by the bridge
of Lindnau, where, through the ignorance and carelessness of those
charged with the mines, and through the want of suitable bridge
arrangements, thousands of brave men were buried in the muddy waters of
this small river. So sensibly did Napoleon feel this want of bridge
equipages, in the winter of 1813-14, that he addressed to his minister
of war, on this subject, the following remarkable words: "If I had had
pontons, I should have already annihilated the army of Schwartzenberg,
and closed the war; I should have taken from him eight or ten thousand
wagons, and his entire army in detail; but for want of the proper means
I could not pass the Seine." Again, on the 2d of March he wrote: "If I
had had a bridge equipage this morning, Blücher's army had been lost."
Whoever will examine the details of the operations of this campaign,
will be convinced of the full force of these remarks.

In Spain in 1808, Sir John Moore, in order to assist the native forces,
had penetrated so near the army of Napoleon, that retreat became
exceedingly difficult, and he was several times on the point of being
lost. The English army was at this time very deficient in engineer
troops, and Moore suffered much for want of miners to destroy bridges,
and pontoniers to construct new ones. In order to cover his retreat and
impede the advance of the French, the commander-in-chief, says Napier,
"directed several bridges to be destroyed, but the engineers [for want
of miners and miner's tools] failed of success in every attempt."

In Soult's retreat, in 1809, he crossed the Duero at Oporto, and
destroyed the bridges so as to cut off the pursuit of Wellington. But
while Soult, deceived by treachery in his own corps, neglected to guard
the river with proper vigilance, Wellington collected boats at different
points, crossed over his army, surprised the French, and, had it not
been for the singular delay and indecision of General Murray, would most
certainly have forced the entire army to capitulate; as it was, his
operation produced a decided influence on the campaign, and effected the
safety of Beresford's corps. Soult destroyed his artillery and baggage,
and hastily retreated through the mountain passes; but his army was
again arrested at the river Cavado, and placed on the very brink of
destruction, when the brave and skilful Dulong succeeded in effecting a
passage at the Ponte Nova; the same daring officer opened, on the same
day, a way for the further escape of the French across the Misarella by
the Saltador.

In the pursuit of Massena, in 1810, it was important to the English to
cross the Guadiana, and attack the French before Badajos could be put in
a state of defence. Beresford was directed by Wellington to pass this
river at Jerumina, where the Portuguese had promised to furnish pontons;
but they neglected to fulfil their engagement, and the army had to wait
till Capt. Squire, an able and efficient officer of engineers, could

Online LibraryHenry Wager HalleckElements of Military Art and Science Or, Course Of Instruction In Strategy, Fortification, Tactics Of Battles, &C.; Embracing The Duties Of Staff, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, And Engineers; Adapted → online text (page 24 of 35)