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 31 of 35)
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energy and enterprise; but this efficiency is gained by injustice to the
poor man, who is without the means of purchasing rank. In some respects
it is preferable to our ruinous system of exclusive seniority and
executive favoritism, but far more objectionable than that based on
merit. Wellington has recently said that the system of exclusive
seniority would soon utterly destroy the efficiency of the army, by
preventing young men from reaching the higher grades. "At first," says
an officer of some distinction in the British navy, in speaking of
promotions in that arm of service, "it certainly looks very hard to see
old stagers grumbling away their existence in disappointed hopes; yet
there can be little doubt that the navy, and, of course, the country at
large, are essentially better served by the present system of employing
active, young, and cheerful-minded officers, than they ever could be by
any imaginable system by seniority. It must not be forgotten, indeed,
that at a certain stage of the profession, the arrangement by which
officers are promoted in turn is already made the rule, and has long
been so: but, by a wise regulation, it does not come into operation
before the rank of post-captain be attained. Antecedent to this point,
there must occur ample opportunities of weeding out those persons, who,
if the rule of mere seniority were adopted, would exceedingly embarrass
the navy list." We fully agree with this writer respecting the evils of
a system of exclusive seniority, but not respecting the best means of
remedying these evils. In England, where the wealthy and aristocratic
classes govern the state, they may very well prefer a system of military
appointment and promotion based exclusively on wealth and political
influence; but in this country we are taught to consider _merit_ as a
claim much higher than wealth, or rank, or privilege.

The various changes in the rules of appointment and promotion in the
French service, and the various results of these changes, both on the
character of the army and the welfare of the state, are so instructive
that we regret that our limits will not allow us to enter into a full
discussion of them. We can give only a very brief outline.

Previous to the Revolution, military appointment and promotion were
wholly subject to the rules of nobility, certain grades in the army
belonging of right to certain grades of the _noblesse_; merit and
service being excluded from consideration. But the constituent assembly
changed this order of things, and established the rule that
three-fourths of the sub-lieutenants be appointed by selection, _after a
concours_, and the other quarter be appointed from the sub-officers,
alternately by seniority and selection, without _concours_; the captains
and lieutenants by seniority; the colonels and lieutenant-colonels
two-thirds by seniority and one-third by selection; _maréchaux-de-camp_
and lieutenant-generals one-half by seniority and one-half by selection.
In 1793 the grades were still further opened to selection, and in the
turbulent times that followed, a part of them were even thrown open to
election by the soldiers. But in 1795 the combined system of merit and
seniority, with certain improvements, was restored. In 1796 and the wars
that followed, _merit_ was the only qualification required, and
Bonaparte, Moreau, and other young generals were actually placed in
command of their seniors in rank. Military talent and military services,
not rank, were the recognised claims for promotion, the _baptism of
blood_, as it was called, having equalized all grades. Bonaparte, in
leaving Egypt, paid no attention to seniority of rank, but gave the
command to Kleber, who was then only a general of brigade, while Menou
was a general of division. Everybody knows that on the death of Kleber,
General Menou succeeded in the command; and that Egypt, saved by the
_selection_ of Kleber, was lost by the _seniority_ of Menou.

Napoleon formed rules for promotion, both for peace and war, based on
merit. His peace regulations were much the same as the system of 1795;
his field regulations, however, from the circumstances of the times,
were almost the only ones used. The following extract from the
_Reglement de Campagne_ of 1809, (title XX.,) gives the spirit of this
system: - "The next day after an action the generals of brigade will
present to the generals of division the names of all such as have
distinguished themselves in a particular manner; the generals of
division will immediately report these to the commander-in-chief, and
also the names of the generals and superior officers whose conduct has
contributed most to secure success, so that the general-in-chief may
immediately inform his majesty."

On the restoration of the Bourbons there were also restored many of the
ancient privileges and claims of rank by the officers of the _maison
militaire du roi,_ and court favoritism was substituted for merit and
service. But the revolution of 1830 produced a different order of
things. "The laws now regulate military promotion; the king can appoint
or promote only in conformity to legal prescriptions; and even in the
exercise of this prerogative, he is wise enough to restrain himself by
certain fixed rules, which protect him from intrigues, and from the
obsessions of persons of influence, and of party politicians." Would
that the same could always be said of the executive of this country in
making appointments and promotions in the army.

The existing laws and regulations of the French service differ slightly
for different corps, but the general rule is as follows: No one can be
appointed to the grade of officer in the army who has not graduated at
one of the military schools, or has not served at least two years as a
sub-officer in a _corps d'armée_. In time of peace, no one can be
promoted to the rank of lieutenant, captain, or major, (_chef-d'escadron_
and _chef-de-bataillon_,) till he has served two years in the next
lower grade; no one can be made lieutenant-colonel till he has served four
years, nor be made colonel till he has served three years, in the next
lower grade; no one can be made _maréchal-de-camp_, lieutenant-general,
or marshal of France, till he has served two years in the next lower
grade. These numbers are all diminished one half in time of war. For the
grades of first-lieutenant and captain, two-thirds of the promotions are
by seniority, and one-third by selection; for the _chef-de-bataillon_
and _chef-d'escadron_, one-half by seniority and one-half by selection;
for all the other grades by selection only. In time of war, one-half of the
promotions to the grades of first-lieutenant and captain are filled by
selection, and all the promotions to other grades in this way. For
promotion by selection, a list of the authorized candidates for each
grade is made out every year by inspectors, and boards of examiners
appointed _ad hoc_, and the name, qualifications, and particular claim
are given of each officer admitted to the _concours_. The
recommendations of these inspectors and examiners are almost invariably
followed by the government in its selections. This combined system of
seniority and merit secures a gradual promotion to all, and at the same
time enables officers of great talents and acquirements to attain the
higher grades while still young and efficient. Merit need not,
therefore, always linger in the subaltern grades, and be held
subordinate to ignorance and stupidity, merely because they happen to be
endowed with the privileges of seniority. Moreover, government is
precluded from thrusting its own favorites into the higher grades, and
placing them over the heads of abler and better men.

If such a system of appointment were introduced into our army, and fixed
by legal enactments, and no one were allowed to receive a commission
till he had either distinguished himself in the field, or had passed an
examination before a board of competent officers, we are confident that
better selections would be made in the appointments from civil life than
have been within the last ten years by the present system of political
influence. It would scarcely be possible to make worse selections.[50]
And if the combined system of seniority and examination were pursued in
promoting the subalterns already in service, it certainly would produce
less injustice, and give greater efficiency to the army, than the
present one of exclusive seniority and brevet rank, obtained through
intrigue and political influence, or high military appointments bestowed
as a reward for dirty and corrupt party services. As a military maxim,
_secure efficiency, by limiting the privileges of rank; exclude
favoritism, by giving the power of selection to boards of competent
officers, totally independent of party politics_. Such a system has been
for some time pursued in the medical department of our army; it has
produced the most satisfactory results; stupidity, ignorance, and aged
inefficiency have been _overslaughed_, and will soon entirely disappear
from that corps; they have been replaced by young men of activity,
talent, character, intelligence, and great professional skill. Is it
less important to have competent military officers to command where the
lives of thousands, the honor of our flag, the safety of the country
depend upon their judgment and conduct, than it is to have competent
surgeons to attend the sick and the wounded?

[Footnote 50: To show the working of this system of political
appointments, we would call attention to a single fact. On the formation
of an additional regiment of dragoons in 1836, _thirty_ of its officers
were appointed from civil life, and only _four_ from the graduates of
the Military Academy. Of those appointed to that regiment from civil
life, _twenty-two_ have already been dismissed or resigned, (most of the
latter to save themselves from being dismissed,) and only _eight_ of the
whole _thirty_ political appointments are now left, their places having
been mainly supplied by graduates of the Military Academy.

In case of another increase of our military establishment, what course
will our government pursue? Will it again pass by the meritorious young
officers of our army, - graduates of the Military Academy, - who have
spent ten or twelve of the best years of their life in qualifying
themselves for the higher duties of their profession, and place over
their heads civilians of less education and inferior character - men
totally ignorant of military duties, mere pothouse politicians, and the
base hirelings of party, - those who screech the loudest in favor of
party measures, and degrade themselves the most in order to serve party
ends? - and by thus devoting the army, like the custom-house and
post-office, to political purposes, will it seek to increase that vast
patronage of the executive which is already debasing individual
morality, and destroying the national character? Should any
administration of the government be so unmindful of the interests and
honor of the country as to again pursue such a course, it is to be hoped
that the sword of political justice will not long slumber in its

We wish to call particular attention to this subject. It deserves
attention at all times, but at the present moment it more especially
demands a close and candid consideration. The higher grades of our peace
establishment are now filled with men so far advanced in life that, in
case of an increase of the army, many of them must undoubtedly be
either passed over, or put on a retired list. Sooner or later some
change of this kind will undoubtedly be made. It is demanded by the good
of service, even in time of peace; and in time of war, it will be
absolutely necessary to the success of our arms.[51] But the great
danger is that the change may be made for the worse - that all the
appointments and promotions to the higher grades will be made through
political influence, thus converting the army and navy into political
engines. Let proper measures be taken to prevent so dangerous a result;
let executive patronage in the army be limited by wholesome laws, like
those in France and Prussia; and let military merit and services, as
determined by boards of competent military officers, be the only
recognised claims to appointment and promotion, thus giving to the poor
and meritorious at least an equal chance with the man of wealth and the
base hireling of party. In actual service the system of exclusive
seniority cannot exist; it would deaden and paralyze all our energies.
Taking advantage of this, politicians will drive us to the opposite
extreme, unless the executive authority be limited by wholesome laws,
based on the just principles of _merit_ and _service_.

[Footnote 51: Even at the present moment, in ordering troops to Texas,
where immediate and active service is anticipated, it is found necessary
to break up regiments and send only the young and efficient officers
into the field, leaving most of the higher officers behind with mere
nominal commands. Very many of the officers now in Texas are acting in
capacities far above their nominal grades, but without receiving the
rank, pay, and emoluments due to their services.]

But the importance of maintaining in our military organization a
suitable system of military instruction is not confined to the
exigencies of our actual condition. It mainly rests upon the absolute
necessity of having in the country a body of men who shall devote
themselves to the cultivation of military science, so as to be able to
compete with the military science of the transatlantic powers. It is not
to be expected that our citizen soldiery, however intelligent,
patriotic, and brave they may be, can make any very great progress in
military studies. They have neither the time nor opportunities for such
pursuits, and if they can acquire a practical acquaintance with
elementary tactics - the mere alphabet of the military art - it is as much
as can reasonably be expected of them. As a general rule, the militia
are individually more capable and intelligent than the men who compose a
regular army. But they must of necessity be inferior in practical
professional knowledge.

Technical education is necessary in every pursuit of life. It is
possible that the lawyer may succeed in some particular cases without a
knowledge of law, but he will probably have few clients if he remain
ignorant of the laws and precedents that govern the courts. The
unlearned chemist may succeed in performing some single experiment, but
his progress will be slow and uncertain if he neglect to make himself
familiar with the experiments and discoveries of his predecessors.

Learning, when applied to agriculture, raises it from a mere mechanical
drudgery to the dignity of a science. By analyzing the composition of
the soil we cultivate, we learn its capacity for improvement, and gain
the power to stimulate the earth to the most bountiful production. How
different the results attending the labors of the intelligent
agriculturist, guided by the lamp of learning, from those of the
ignorant drudge who follows the barren formula of traditional precepts!
As applied to manufactures and the mechanical arts, learning develops
new powers of labor, and new facilities for subsistence and enjoyment.
Personal comforts of every kind are greatly increased, and placed within
the reach of the humbler classes; while at the same time the "appliances
of art are made to minister to the demands of elegant taste, and a
higher moral culture." As applied to commerce, it not only greatly
increases the facilities for the more general diffusion of civilization
and knowledge, but is also vastly influential in harmonizing the
conflicting interests of nations.

Nor is learning less humanizing and pacific in its influence when
applied to the military art. "During the dark ages which followed the
wreck of the Roman power, the military science by which that power had
been reared, was lost with other branches of learning. When learning
revived, the military art revived with it, and contributed not a little
to the restoration of the empire of mind over that of brute force. Then,
too, every great discovery in the art of war has a life-saving and
peace-promoting influence. The effects of the invention of gunpowder are
a familiar proof of this remark; and the same principle applies to the
discoveries of modern times. By perfecting ourselves in military
science, paradoxical as it may seem, we are therefore assisting in the
diffusion of peace, and hastening on the approach of that period when
swords shall be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks."


Since the first edition of this work was published, two important wars
have been commenced and terminated - that between the United States and
the Republic of Mexico, and that between Russia and the Western Powers
of Europe - and another is now being waged between France and Austria,
upon the old battle fields of Northern Italy. In issuing a new edition
of these Elements of Military Art and Science, it is deemed proper to
refer to these wars, and to apply the principles here discussed to the
military operations carried on in Mexico and in the Crimea. It is
proposed to do this in the form of Notes to the several Chapters. The
war in Italy being still undetermined, and the details of the several
battles which have already been fought being but imperfectly known, it
is obviously improper to attempt to criticize their strategic character
or tactical arrangement.


NEW YORK, _July_, 1859.


In the invasion of Mexico, the United States formed four separate
armies, moving on _four distinct lines of operation:_ 1st. The "Army of
the West," under General Kearny, moving from St. Louis on New Mexico and
California; 2d. The "Army of the Centre," under General Wool, moving
from San Antonio de Bexar on Chihuahua; 3d. The "Army of Occupation," on
the Rio Grande, under General Taylor, moving from Corpus Christi on
Matamoras, Monterey, and Saltillo; and 4th. The "Main Army," under
General Scott, moving from Vera Cruz on the capital of Mexico.

The Army of the West, under General Kearny, moved upon a separate and
distinct line of operations, having no strategic relations to the other
three; its objects were the conquest and occupation of New Mexico and
Upper California. The first was readily accomplished; but the general
then detached so large a force to operate on Chihuahua after the
diversion of Wool's column, that his expedition to California must have
utterly failed without the assistance of the naval forces in the

The lines of Taylor and Wool were evidently ill chosen, being so distant
as to afford the enemy an opportunity to take a central position between
them. Fortunately Wool proceeded no further than Monclova, and then
turned off to occupy Parras, thus coming under the immediate command of
General Taylor. The latter fought the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de
la Palma, and sustained the siege of Fort Brown; then crossing the Rio
Grande at Matamoras, he captured Monterey, and, forming a junction with
Wool, defeated the army of Santa Anna at Buena Vista. This battle ended
the campaign, which, however brilliantly conducted, was entirely without
strategic results.

Scott landed his army near the Island of Sacrificios without opposition,
and immediately invested Vera Cruz, which surrendered after a short
siege and bombardment. Having thus secured his base, he immediately
advanced to the city of Puebla, meeting and defeating the army of Santa
Anna at Cerro Gordo. Remaining some time at Puebla to reinforce his
army, he advanced into the valley of Mexico, and after the brilliant
victories of Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec,
captured the city and terminated the war.

With respect to the double line of operations of Taylor and Scott it may
be sufficient to remark, that Santa Anna, from his central position,
fought, with the same troops, the battles of Buena Vista and Cerro
Gordo. It should also be remarked, that the line of operations of the
army of the Rio Grande was not approved by either Scott or Taylor, nor,
it is believed, by any other officer of our army. Scott's line of
operations, however, was truly strategic, and in turning the Mexican
flank by Lake Chalco and the Pedregal, he exhibited the skill of a great

The war in the Crimea, from the limited extent of the theatre of
operations, afforded but little opportunity for the display of strategic
skill on either side. Nevertheless, the movements of both parties, prior
to the investment and siege of Sebastopol, are fair subjects for
military criticism with respect to the plans of operation.

When the allies landed their troops at the Old Fort, three plans were
open for the consideration of the Russian general: 1st. To destroy or
close the harbors of Balaklava, Kamiesch, Kazatch and Strelitzka, and,
garrisoning Sebastopol with a strong force, to occupy with the rest of
his army the strong plateau south of the city, and thus force the allies
to besiege the strong works on the north. 2d. Having closed the harbors
on the south, and secured Sebastopol from being carried by the assault
of any detachment of the allies, to operate on their left flank,
annoying and harassing them with his Cossacks, and thus delay them many
days in the difficult and precarious position which they would have
occupied. 3d. To advance with his whole force and offer them battle at
the Alma. The last and least advantageous of these plans was adopted,
and as the garrison of Sebastopol, during the battle, consisted of only
four battalions and the sailors of the fleet, it might, considering the
weakness of its works, have been easily carried by a detachment of the
allied forces.

For the allies at the Alma two plans presented themselves: 1st. To turn
the Russian left, cut him off from Sebastopol, and occupy that city in
force. 2d. To turn the Russian right, and, throwing him back upon
Sebastopol, cut him off from all external succor. Neither plan was fully
carried out. The column of General Bosquet turned the Russian left and
decided his retreat; but no strategic advantage was taken of the
victory. The battle was fought on the 20th of September, and by noon of
the 26th the allies had only advanced to the Balbeck, a distance of a
little more than ten miles in six days! On the 27th they regained their
communication with the fleet at Balaklava, without attempting to occupy
Sebastopol, and having exposed themselves to destruction by an
ill-conducted flank march. Fortunately for the allies, the Russians
failed to avail themselves of the advantages which the enemy had thus
gratuitously afforded. The fleet having entered the open harbor of
Balaklava, the allies now commenced the labor of landing and moving up
their siege material and of opening their trenches, while the Russians
prepared their fortifications on the south of Sebastopol for resisting
the operations of that gigantic siege which stands without a parallel in


In the war between the United States and Mexico, the latter had no
fortifications on her land frontiers, and, with the single exception of
Vera Cruz, her harbors were entirely destitute of defensive works. The
Americans, therefore, had no obstacles of this kind to overcome on three
of their lines of operation; and, when Scott had reduced Vera Cruz, his
line of march was open to the capital. Moreover, nearly every seaport on
the Gulf and Pacific coast fell into our hands without a blow. Had the
landing of Scott been properly opposed, and Vera Cruz been strongly
fortified and well defended, it would have been taken only after a long
and difficult siege. Moreover, had the invading army encountered strong
and well-defended fortifications on the line of march to Mexico, the war
would, necessarily, have been prolonged, and possibly with a different

The Russian fortifications in the Baltic prevented the allies from
attempting any serious operations in that quarter, and those in the
Black Sea confined the war to a single point of the Heracleidan
Chersonese. Had Russia relied exclusively upon her fleet to prevent a
maritime descent, and left Sebastopol entirely undefended by
fortifications, how different had been the result of the Crimean war.

This subject will be alluded to again in the Notes on Sea-coast
Defences, and Permanent Fortifications.


The war in Mexico exhibited, in a striking manner, our superiority over

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 31 of 35)