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

. (page 34 of 35)
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 34 of 35)
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for one man wounded, or for one effective shot in a vessel's hull, so
many thousands of shot should be thrown uselessly into the air."

"But this question is _now_ asked, both in the use of the soldier's
rifled musket, and in the management of ships' guns, as well as of
artillery of all kinds."

"It is at last discovered that it is of more importance to teach the
soldier to direct his piece with accuracy of aim, than to perform
certain motions on parade with the precision of an automaton. The same
idea is now infused into all the departments of military and naval
science, and is a _necessary_ result of the recent great
improvements in the construction of arms. In short, the truth has at
last become apparent that the old-fashioned system of random firing,
though perhaps like the 'charge of the six hundred' at Balaklava, 'bien
magnifique, _n'est pas la guerre_.'"

"It is of the utmost importance that we should apply this principle
to the management of our sea-coast batteries, and give it a practical
effect. The _volunteers_ of our cities will constitute _mainly_, in
time of war, the gunners of our forts and manipulators of our sea-coast
guns. In time of war, they will probably be exercised in these duties.
But it is most desirable that we should have at _all times_ a body of
gunners, practised in these exercises. The result would be, not only to
give to our _citizens_, as well as citizen-soldiers, confidence in the
defences provided for their security, but it would disseminate military
knowledge, and an intelligent idea of the bearing and objects of the
different defensive works. To carry out this idea, it would be
desirable that there should be at each considerable seaport town, a
sufficient garrison of _artillery_ troops to aid in the instruction
of the volunteers. In the present condition of the army _this_ cannot
be hoped; but perhaps it might, at least, be found practicable to detail
an artillery officer or two for the purpose."


The author has seen nothing since this chapter was written to induce him
to change the views therein expressed with respect to the superior
strategic importance of the line of Lake Champlain, both as a line of
military operations, and as a line of defence. The mutual commercial
interests of the United States and the Canadas render a war between the
two countries less probable than formerly; nevertheless, such an event
is by no means impossible, and common prudence should induce us to
prepare in the best possible manner for such a contingency.


Since these chapters were written, several important changes have been
made in our army organization. The rank of Lieutenant-General (at
least, by brevet) has been revived, the staff, administrative corps,
infantry and cavalry have been increased, and a company of engineer
troops organized. But this company is mainly employed at West Point for
instruction of the cadets in the several branches of military
engineering, and thus serves to supply a deficiency long felt in the
system of education at the Military Academy. The want, however, of
troops of this arm for the construction, care, and preservation of our
permanent fortifications, and for the general duties of field
engineering, still remains to be supplied. Of all the arms of military
organization, this one most requires instruction in time of peace; it
cannot be supplied at the moment a war is declared.

In speaking of our present army organization, as compared with those of
the different European powers which he was sent to examine and report
upon, Captain McClelland says: -

"Our force of artillery is large in proportion to the other arms of
service, while the number of our engineer troops is ridiculously and
shamefully small; it is, therefore, more than probable that in any
future siege it will be easy for the artillery to construct their own
batteries, while the engineers will be sufficiently burdened by the
construction of the other works of attack; we have now, at last, the
germ of an artillery school of practice; I would then suggest, for the
consideration of the Secretary, the propriety of causing the artillery
to construct their own batteries. The position and armament of siege
batteries should be determined by consultation between the engineers and
the artillery, the former having the preponderating voice, in order to
secure the necessary harmony and connection between all parts of the
works of attack. This change," he says, "will require to be introduced
into the artillery manual and course of instruction everything in
relation to the preparation of the fascines, gabions, platforms, and
magazines, the dimensions of batteries, manner of arranging, working
parties, etc."

With regard to the suggestion of Captain McClellan, it is sufficient to
remark, that it seeks to remedy one evil by introducing another equally
as great and equally as objectionable. The defect in our present army
organization is that one of its arms is too small for the duties which,
from the very nature of military service, naturally and properly belong
to it; and it surely is no remedy for this defect to permanently
transfer a part of these duties to another arm. As well might it be
said, if our artillery force were "ridiculously and shamefully small" in
proportion to the infantry and cavalry, that the field batteries should
be permanently transferred to those arms, and that light artillery
tactics should be comprised in our infantry and cavalry manuals.

There are certain duties which the military experience of ages has shown
to properly and almost necessarily belong to each particular arm of an
army organization, and every attempt to make one branch perform the
appropriate duties of another has invariably destroyed its efficiency
for either service. Suppose our medical corps were "ridiculously and
shamefully small" in proportion to our pay department, shall our
paymasters perform the duties of surgery, and be instructed in the use
of the scalpel and amputating instruments! This is, perhaps, an extreme
case, but it serves to illustrate the principle.

The defect referred to by Captain McClelland, and which has so often
been pointed out by our best military men, cannot be obviated by any
transfer or assignment, whether temporary or permanent, of the
appropriate duties of one corps to another. Indeed, such a measure would
only tend to make this defect permanent, and to convert a temporary into
a lasting evil. It can readily be remedied by legislative action, but in
no other way. The executive action suggested would be deprecated by all.
Moreover, the evil is now so obvious and so generally admitted, that
there can be little doubt that Congress will soon perceive the
importance of applying the only proper and effective remedy.


Although the general principles of the plan and arrangement of a
permanent fortification, as established by the great masters of this
branch of military science, remain the same; nevertheless, the vast
improvements which have, within the last few years, been made in
projectiles, require some changes in the details of defensive works of
this character. These changes consist mainly in an increased thickness
of stone and earthen parapets and of the covering of magazines, in the
arrangement of embrasures, and in protecting the garrison from an
enemy's sharpshooters. The introduction of heavier siege guns, and of
heavier ordnance on ships of war, and especially on those propelled by
steam, require much larger ordnance in forts designed for the defence of
harbors. In the Russian war, Sweaborg was made to suffer from a distant
bombardment which left her fortifications intact. These modifications in
the arrangements and armaments of forts are absolutely necessary in
order to restore the relative power of defence against the improvements
made in the means of attack. They can very easily be introduced without
changing the form or general character of the works, and they are really
so very essential that, without them, a fort constructed 25 or 30 years
ago, and well suited to the then existing state of the military art,
will be likely to offer no very considerable resistance to modern siege
batteries or well organized maritime attacks.

Some have gone much further in their estimate of the effect produced by
the increased size and force of military projectiles, and boldly assert
that masonry works of strong relief can no longer be used, and that the
increased range of small arms requires an entire change of the bastioned
front, with lines more extended.

With respect to the effect of the increased range of small arms, it is
very natural that a superficial observer should adopt the opinion that
this improvement must be followed by an extension of the lines of a
defensive military work; but a close study of the subject will probably
lead to a different conclusion. Such at least is the opinion of the
ablest military engineers of Europe. The lines of the bastioned front
now generally in use, were really too long for a good defence with the
arms in use at the time it was adopted; and, in theory, the "rampart
gun" was to be relied upon for the defence of certain exposed points.
But this weapon is no longer in use; its place, however, is better
supplied by the increased range of the musket and rifle. The latter
weapon is almost invaluable for defending the approaches to a permanent

With respect to the breaching of stone masonry by siege batteries, it
has long been an established principle that all masonry exposed to the
fire of land batteries should be masked by earthen works. The neglect of
this rule caused the fall of Bomarsund. Those who so readily draw, from
the results of that siege, the inference that the present mode of
fortifying land fronts must be abandoned, exhibit their ignorance of
military engineering. The facts do not justify their conclusions.

With respect to sea fronts, which can be reached only by guns afloat,
the case is very different. They are usually casemates of masonry, not
masked by earthen works. Whether the increased efficiency of projectiles
thrown by ships and floating batteries now require a resort to this mode
of protecting masonry on the water fronts of fortifications, is a
question well worthy of discussion. This subject has already been
alluded to in the Note on Sea-coast Defences, and it is there shown that
no facts have yet been developed which require or authorize any change
in our present system.


As Mexico had no permanent fortifications to be besieged, the war in
that country afforded very little practice in that branch of engineering
which is connected with the attack and defence of permanent works,
particularly sapping and mining. The only operation resembling a siege
was the investment and bombardment of Vera Cruz, and it is worthy of
remark that if General Scott had stormed that place, weak as it was, he
must have lost a large number of his men, while from his trenches and
batteries he reduced it with scarcely the sacrifice of a single life.

Nor did either party in this war make much use of field works in the
attack and defence of positions. Nevertheless, no one can read the
history of the war without appreciating the important influence which
Fort Brown had upon General Taylor's defence of the left bank of the Rio
Grande. Again if we compare our loss in other Mexican battles with that
which the Americans sustained in their attacks upon Monterey,
Churubusco, Molino del Key, and Chapultepec, - places partially secured
by field works - we shall be still more convinced of the value of
temporary fortifications for the defence of military positions, although
it was manifest that the Mexicans neither knew how to construct nor how
to defend them.

Nor was there much practice in this war in the use of military bridges,
for, with the exception of the Rio Grande, our armies had no important
rivers to cross. We must not, however, omit to note the important fact
that General Taylor was unable to take advantage of the victories of
Palo Alto and Resacade La Palma to pursue and destroy the army of
Arista, _because_ he had no pontoon equipage to enable him to follow
them across the Rio Grande. It should also be remarked that even a very
small bridge equipage would have been of very great use in crossing
other streams and ravines during the operations of this war. One of our
cavalry officers writes: -

"On our march from Matamaras to Victoria and Tampico, in 1846
and 1847, we had infinite difficulty in bridging boggy streams (there
being no suitable timber), and in crossing ravines with vertical banks;
a few ways of the Birago trestles would have saved us many days and
a vast amount of labor. In the operations in the valley of Mexico, our
movements, checked as they so often were by impassable wet ditches
and sometimes by dry ravines, would have been rendered so much more
free and rapid by the use of the Birago trestles, that our successes
could have been gained at far less cost, and probably with more rapidity
than they were."

With regard to military reconnaissance, the splendid achievements of Lee
and others connected with the operations of General Scott, proved the
value and importance of this particular branch of field engineering.

But field engineering, as a branch or arm of the military service,
received its greatest development and most brilliant application in the
Crimean war, particularly in the siege of Sebastopol, and the measures
resorted to by General Todtleben to defend that place against the attack
of superior forces.

A brief sketch of these defensive works may be of interest to the
reader: -

When the allies reached Balaklava, Sebastopol was defended on the south
side only by a loop-holed wall about four feet and a half thick, and
from eighteen to twenty feet high, and a semicircular redoubt with two
stories of loop-holes, and five guns in barbette. These works would have
afforded some protection against a _coup-de-main_ by infantry and
cavalry, but could have offered no very considerable obstacle to a
combined attack of these arms with artillery.

The Russian engineer commenced his operations for strengthening this
position by occupying the most important points in his line of defence
with detached field works of sufficient relief to resist an assault, and
generally closed at the gorge. These works were afterwards connected by
re-entering lines of a weaker profile, which served to enfilade the
ravines and to flank the advanced works. The old wall was strengthened
with earth, and rifle-pits for sharpshooters were constructed at a
considerable distance in front.

The most important points of the main line of defence were: 1st. The
Flag-staff Bastion. 2d. The Central Bastion. 3d. The Malakoff. 4th. The
Redan. 5th. The little Redan. The command of the first was about fifteen
feet, its ditch thirty feet wide and from twelve to fifteen feet deep. A
portion of the scarp was provided with palisades some ten feet high. The
construction of the Central Bastion was similar to that of the
Flag-staff, but weaker in profile. The relief of the other works was
still less. The command of the Malakoff was about fourteen feet, its
ditch eighteen feet wide and twelve feet deep. The thickness of parapet
in these works was generally about eighteen feet, and the bombproofs
were covered with timber eighteen inches thick and six feet of earth.
The loop-holed walls connecting these works were covered by a rampart
and parapet, or entirely replaced by a simple parapet. Many of the
embrasures were revetted with the common boiler iron ships' water-tanks
filled with earth. The same material was sometimes used for traverses.
Rope mantelets were used to protect the artillerists at the pieces from
rifle balls and small grape. Great attention was given to the
construction of bombproofs to cover the men from vertical firing. These
were sometimes under the rampart and the second line of defence (where
there was one), often under special traverses, or entirely under ground,
and occasionally excavated in the solid rock. Some had fireplaces and
chimneys, and were well ventilated. Interior slopes were revetted with
gabions, crowned by fascines and sand bags. Gabions were also employed
to repair the damage caused by the enemy's artillery. Abattis, military
pits, caltrops and spikes, stuck through planks, and explosive machines
were employed in front of different parts of the defences. Mines were
resorted to in front of the Flag-staff Bastion to retard the French
approaches. They were made in rocky soil with craters from twelve to
fifteen feet deep. The Russian counter-approaches generally consisted of
fleches, united by a simple trench.

Captain McClelland, one of our officers sent to the Crimea, from whose
valuable Report most of the foregoing details are gathered, adds the
following remarks upon these works of defence: -

"From the preceding hasty and imperfect account of the defences
of Sebastopol, it will appear how little foundation there was for
the generally-received accounts of the stupendous dimensions of the
works, and of new systems of fortifications brought into play. The
plain truth is, that these defences were simple temporary fortifications
of rather greater dimensions than usual, and that not a single new
principle of engineering was developed. It is true, that there were
several novel minor details, such as the rope mantelets, the use of
iron tanks, etc., but the whole merit consisted in the admirable
adaptation of well-known principles to the peculiar locality and
circumstances of the case. Neither can it be asserted that the plans
of the various works were perfect. On the contrary, there is no
impropriety in believing that if Todtleben were called upon to do
the same work over again, he would probably introduce better close
flanking arrangements."

"These remarks are not intended to, nor can they, detract from the
reputation of the Russian engineer. His labors and their results will
be handed down in history as the most triumphant and enduring monument
of the value of fortifications, and his name must ever be placed in the
first rank of military engineers. But, in our admiration of the
talent and energy of the engineer, it must not be forgotten that the
inert masses which he raised would have been useless without the skilful
artillery and heroic infantry who defended them. Much stronger places
than Sebastopol have often fallen under far less obstinate and
well-combined attacks than that to which it was subjected. There can be
no danger in expressing the conviction that the siege of Sebastopol
called forth the most magnificent defence of fortifications that has
ever yet occurred."

We will now pass to the works of attack. When the allies decided that
the works of Sebastopol could not be carried by a simple cannonade and
assault, but must be reduced by a regular siege, the first thing to be
considered was to secure the forces covering the siege works from
lateral sorties and the efforts of a relieving army. The field works
planned for this purpose were not of any great strength, and many of
them "were only undertaken when a narrow escape from some imminent
danger had demonstrated their necessity." The French line of defence
consisted of eight pentagonal redoubts, connected by an infantry
parapet. The English seemed to attach but little importance to field
works for the defence of their position; the terrible slaughter at
Inkerman was the natural consequence of this neglect.

In describing the engineering operations of the allies at this siege.
Captain McClelland says: -

"In regard to the detailed execution of the French attacks, little or
nothing novel is to be observed. Even when coolly examining the
direction of their trenches, after the close of the siege, it was very
rare that a faulty direction could be detected; they always afforded
excellent cover, and were well defiladed; in some cases the excavation
of the double direct sap was carried to the depth of six and a half feet
in the solid rock! The execution of many of the saps and batteries was
worthy of a school of practice. In the parallels, bombproofs were
provided as temporary hospitals, offices for the generals on duty, etc.
They did not use the sapper armor. The use of the sap-roller was
often attempted, but it could be employed only during the latter part of
the attack upon the Malakoff, when the fire of the Russian artillery was
nearly extinguished by the mortars; before that, as soon as a sap-roller
was placed in position - some thirty guns would be brought to bear
upon it, the result being its immediate destruction. It may justly be
said of the French approaches, that they admirably carried into practice
their system of sapping. The technical skill and patient courage
evinced by their officers and men in pushing forward such excellent
approaches, under a most deadly fire, is worthy of all commendation, and
is such as might have been expected from the antecedents of their
corps of engineers."

"With regard to the English, the case was different; it seemed as
if they systematically abandoned the excellent system taught and
perfected with so much care at Chatham. Whenever the ground was
difficult, their trenches generally ceased to afford shelter; a
shallow excavation in the rock, and a few stones thrown up in front,
appeared to be all that was considered necessary in such cases. They
were often faulty in direction as well as in profile, being not
unfrequently badly defiladed, or not gaining ground enough and
entirely too cramped; nor were they pushed as close to the Redan as
they ought to have been before giving the assault. In too many
cases the expression '_t√Ґtonnement_ of the French would seem
to convey the best idea of their operations. Their batteries, however,
were very well constructed. The magazines, platforms, etc., were
usually similar to those adopted at Chatham, although
unnecessary deviations were sometimes complained of. They
employed neither armor nor the full sap, sometimes the half-full, but
generally the flying-sap were employed."

It may also be added, that, at the time of the assault, the French
approaches had been pushed to the distance of thirty-two paces of the
counterscarp of the Malakoff, while the English had scarcely reached
within two hundred and twenty-five yards of the ditch of the Redan.

This description of the operations of the English at the siege of
Sebastopol carries the professional reader directly back to their sieges
in the Spanish Peninsula. It certainly is very strange that a great
nation leading the van of civilization should, after such experience,
have neglected to provide its army with a proper number of engineer
officers and engineer troops, well instructed in the peculiar and
difficult duties of that arm. What excuse can ever be offered for
substituting human life for professional skill in the operations of a
siege, when that skill may so readily be acquired in time of peace, and
is always so necessary an element of a good military organization!

While every one admits that the siege of Sebastopol proved the immense
importance of fieldworks against land attacks, some would conclude from
the operations of that siege that good earthen works of a large
development are better suited for the defence of a large city than
permanent fortifications with masonry revetments, and which will
necessarily have a less extended line of fire and less capacity for men
and military stores. We quote the remarks of Captain McClelland on this
point, and also make a short extract from the recently published Journal
of the siege of Sebastopol by General Niel.

Captain McClelland says: -

"This would seem to be the proper place to notice a popular fallacy,
which, for a time at least, gained extensive credence. It was, that the
siege of Sebastopol proved the superiority of temporary (earthen)
fortifications over those of a permanent nature. It is easy to show that
it proved nothing of the kind; but that it only proved that temporary

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 34 of 35)