John William Fortescue.

Military history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge online

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npHERE is little in these lectures, or at any rate in
three out of four of them, which I have not
written at greater length in other volumes. I there-
fore publish them unwillingly, and in deference only
to the wishes of some of my audience, whose good
opinion I greatly value, and whose kindly sympathy
I shall never forget. If this Uttle volume should set
but one student thinking seriously as to the meaning
of military history, its object will be fully ac-

The spelling of Indian names has been, as usual,
a stumbling-block. No doubt I shall be asked why
I have used the form Narbada for the more familiar
Nerbuddha, and yet written Hyder Ali instead of
Haidar Ali. I can only say that when the form
Kalkdta (or whatever may be the Hunterian spelling)
is substituted for Calcutta, I shall be prepared to
plead guilty to inconsistency.

J. W. F.

March 1914.

c\c\n. /< "^ f\



Preface ....... v

I. Military History : its scope and definition 1

II. British Military History .... 46

III. British colonial campaigns .... 99

IV. British campaigns in india .... 150
Index . . .* 201



When in the spring of the year 1913 my old
College did me the honour to appoint me its first
lecturer in Military History, I was obliged for the
first time to ask myself seriously, What is military
history ? I confess that I have found it very diffi-
cult to furnish a satisfactory answer. Some would
reply with a light heart that military history is the
history of wars and warring. But what, in its turn,
is war ? It has been defined as an instrument of
policy for the imposition of the wiU of one community
upon another by force of arms. The definition is
not a bad one. But force of arms is a very vague
term, and must not be taken necessarily to imply an
armed force in the ordinary acceptation of the words.
You wiU remember that after the French fleet had
been swept by us from the seas in 1805, Napoleon,
unable to attack England by any other means,
decreed the exclusion of British manufactures from
the Continent, and endeavoured to ruin her by shut-
ting her out of her markets. This he was able to do

F. M. H. 1


because his previous conquests had placed the control
of many of the principal ports on the Continent in his
hands. But though he strove thus to inflict his will
upon England by might of arms, the armed men neces-
sary for enforcing it were nothing more formidable
than a smaU body of Custom-house officers. No doubt
these functionaries, or some of them, carried weapons
and in case of need were prepared to use them ;
but they cannot be considered as a military body.
None the less as an act of war the Continental System
was a bitter and deadly stroke, which nearly proved

Is the history of the Continental System, there-
fore, military history ? So far as concerns the in-
vasion of Spain, Portugal and Russia to coerce those
countries into the acceptance of it, undoubtedly it is.
But as regards England, the power at which it was
reaUy aimed, what are we to say of it ? How did we
endeavour to combat it ? How does any country
invariably combat the commercial restrictions of any
other ? First by imposing retaliatory restrictions
of her own, or engaging in a war of blockades or
tarijffs, which may be called regular commercial
warfare ; secondly, by the practice of smuggling,
which may be called irregular commercial warfare.
Is the history of a war of tariffs, then, military
history ? If we answer in the affirmative there is
no escape from the logical conclusion that the never-


ceasing contest between smugglers and revenue-
officers in all countries is military history. More-
over, since revenue -officers are only departmental
police, it follows that the external struggle between
the breakers and the upholders of the law at large —
between criminals and the police — is also military
history. But this is to say that the history of social
communities generally is military history ; and I can-
not think this to have been in the mind of the generous
founder of the lecturership which I have the honour
to hold.

But can we then lay down the general proposition
that the breach — the forcible breach — of commercial
regulations is not military history ? I do not think
we can, if we bear in mind how Spain, in virtue of
a Papal bull, excluded all other nations from com-
merce with the new world, and how successive
Englishmen for many generations insisted upon
flouting her. Nor can we say that in many cases the
conflict between supporters and breakers of the law
is not military history. It is merely a question of
degree. A fight between three drunken men and
the police is a scuffle. A fight between three hundred
men and the police is a riot. A fight between three
hundred thousand and the police is civil war ; and we
cannot exclude civil war from military history, for
it would mean the sacrifice, among the EngHsh-
speaking race alone, of the campaigns of Cromwell,



George Washington and Robert Lee. Altogether I
think that we must abandon the attempt to define
military history as the history of wars and warring.
I feel tempted to ask in despair not " What is military
history ? " but rather " What is not military history?"
since all history is but the record of the strife of men
for the subsistence of their bodies or the prevalence
of their opinions. But we must be patient for yet a
little while, and try once more.

Let us begin, then, by laying it down provisionally
that military history is the history of the strife of
communities. This is not enough ; for communities
have been known before now to fight with anathemas,
and such a conflict belongs rather to the domain of
religious than of military history. Shall we say then
that it is the history of the strife of communities for
self-preservation or expansion 1 This is open to the
obvious criticism that communities have fought and
will fight again for many other objects than the two
above-mentioned — for a woman, for a creed, for a
principle moral or political, or even for nothing at aU
but from sheer force of habit. So it will be wiser
for us to avoid any specification of the objects of
strife, or we may find ourselves in trouble. It may
be true in a sense to say that a tantrum of Madame
de Pompadour cost the French their empire in North
America and in India ; but it is not the whole truth,
nor nearly the whole truth. Even the best and


greatest of historians are but gropers in a thick
darkness, and epigrams are the most deceitful of

Let us now, as we needs must, strengthen our
definition a Httle, and say that military history is the
history of the strife of communities expressed through
the conflict of organised bands of armed men. I am
obliged to say hands of armed men so as to exclude
such a case as a duel between two or more chosen
champions of quarrelling communities ; and I add
the word organised so as to indicate that, below a
certain stage of civilisation, there can be no military
history. This is a second definition, but still imper-
fect ; and I am afraid that I cannot yet improve it.
It leaves a vast field for the survey of a lecturer,
far vaster than I have the knowledge to cover ; and,
if Trinity should endure for another ten centuries,
my successors will never want material for inter-
esting and instructive lectures. And let no man
persuade you that the subject is trivial or un-
important — that the study of war is the study of
a relic of barbarism to be eschewed by the serious,
the devout and the humane. I am not denying that
war is a terrible — from some points of view even
a hideous — thing. Since its object is to compel fa
number of people to do what they do not wish, by
making their lives a burden to them, it must some-
times be a hideous thing. But, after all, the system


of forcing people to observe a certain line of con-
duct under penalties is that upon which all human
society is founded. We are all subject to it at this
moment, and have been from the beginning of our
lives. You remember the mother in Punch —
" Go and see what baby is doing, and tell her she
mustn't." " Thou shalt not " is the basis of four-
fifths of the ancient code of law which is most
famiUar to us, and of all other codes since. But
in every community there are a certain number of
individuals who answer " Thou shalt not " with
a resolute '' I will " ; and these we ostracise, or
imprison, or hang. We call such people lunatics
or criminals, accordingly as we consider them
responsible or not responsible for their actions,
and we treat them as we think that they deserve ;
but, if by chance their opinions should later pre-
vail even for a time, we proclaim them apostles or
martyrs. There is, in fact, always the danger
that, when we think ourselves to be merely punish-
ing a criminal, we may really be torturing a great
reformer. Hence a certain proportion of folks
among us shrink from this system of coercion,
and would have no government at all. Others
again, looking upon the existence of private pro-
perty as the main reason for the existence of the
policeman, would have communities share all things
in common. I mention these facts to show vou


that the employment of force receives from some
thinkers equal condemnation, whether to impose
the will of a community upon its own citizens, or
upon those of some other community.

But no one on that account has ventured to
stigmatize the study of penal codes, and of the
organisation for putting them into force, as ignoble
or unprofitable. The sheriff, for instance, and his
functions are approached with respect, by some
historians even with awe. " Ah," say the de-
spisers of military history, '' but the sheriff is an
instrument for compelling obedience to the law,
not the leader of a host whose business it is to
slaughter and destroy." The law ! and what is
the law but the formulated will which some section
of the community, possibly a majority, but always
in former days and frequently, even at present, a
minority, seeks to impose upon the whole ? And
if breakers of the law resist the sheriff or police-
man, will he not if necessary slaughter them, and
destroy any shelter in which they may have taken
refuge ? Of course he will, and " the law " will
uphold him for so doing. " But," reply the ob-
jectors, " you forget that civil law is not always
a mere ordinance of man ; it may have the sanction
of divine authority." I speak here with all rever-
ence, but how many are the armies and the leaders
that have claimed that theirs was the cause of God,


and have fared forth to war in His name ? I am not
speaking now of modern armies, though they too
LQvariably invoke the help of the God of Battles,
and call him to witness that their cause is just.
Look at the Crusades on one side, look on the
other at the mighty and overwhelming conquests
of Islam. Look at the extinction of Christianity in
North Africa ; look at the eight centuries of conflict
which banished the Mohammedan faith from Spain.
Look at the religious wars of Christians in Europe ;
and not least at our own Puritans. Look finally
at the bitter struggles of Hindu and Mohammedan
in India. There was not one of these parties that
did not claim, that did not for the most part heartily
believe, that it was fighting to uphold the law of

No ! in its essence there is no difference between
the force that imposes the will of a man upon his
neighbour, and that which imposes his will upon
his enemy. In the more primitive days of England
the duties of the sheriff and his posse comitatus ex-
tended to foreign enemies on English soil as weU as
to domestic law-breakers. Do we not to this day
speak of those guilty of acts of violence as breakers
of the King's Peace ; men, that is, who seek to bring
about a state of war and must be suppressed by the
methods of war — taken prisoners, wounded or un-
wounded, and in the last resort killed ? What was


the origin of our own standing army ? It was
formed, as you doubtless know, out of a remnant
of the victorious army of the Parliament which had
overthrown the monarchy, a remnant which was
saved from disbandment in order to overawe the
turbulent of London, or in other words to serve as
a body of police. It continued to be the only
efficient instrument for imposing the will of the
Government upon the people until 1829, when the
present police-force was established. And the
police are a standing army, neither more or less.
The only essential difference between police and
soldiers is that the former are employed mainly in
the coercion of subjects of the State which levies
them, while the function of the latter is to coerce
the subjects of foreign states. It would not be
inaccurate to say that police are soldiers against
domestic enemies, and an army police against
foreign enemies.

And now observe that we have found a second
definition of military history. It is the history of
the external police of communities and nations.
But external police, you may object, imphes the
existence of something which, for want of a better
word, we must call external law. Is there such a
thing as external law ? There is a thing called the
law of nations or international law, which is con-
cerned chiefly, though not exclusively, with the


relations between belligerents and neutrals, but
which is simply custom, and should not be called
law, because there is no international police to enforce
it. Any nation may defy it, if she thinks it worth
while, and a great many have defied it in the past
and will defy it in the future, not necessarily with
any damage to themselves. The same may be said
of the International Tribunal of Arbitration at the
Hague. Its decrees and decisions may be excellent,
and nations may bind themselves beforehand to
accept them ; but nations are not remarkable for
the observance of inconvenient agreements, where
there is no penalty for violating them. It is a pain-
ful fact, but in its relations to its neighbours every
community is a law unto itself , the nature of that law
being principally determined by the community's
powers of enforcement. Police first, law afterwards,
is the rule between nation and nation — a formula
which may be rendered more tersely stiU by the
phrase. Might is Right. In a sense, therefore,
though not in the sense generally attached to the
words, military history is the history of the law of
nations, which is the law of force ; or, if you prefer
it, of the law of force which is the law of nations.

A revolting thought, perhaps some of you will
say ! Have aU the efforts of countless generations
of good and holy men to seek peace and ensue it,
resulted in no greater success than this ? Let us


have the courage to face facts and answer boldly,
Yes ; for be very sure that no piety of aspiration
can dignify nor excuse the moral cowardice that
seeks to evade them. You know that late in the
17th century a company of worthy and excellent
men formed the settlement of Pennsylvania in
North America. They were members of the Society
of Friends, who would have nothing to do with
war, and consequently bought their lands from the
Indians instead of taking them by force or fraud.
Frugal, thrifty and industrious, they soon grew
wealthy, and extended their borders further and
further, until they came into collision with other
tribes of Indians, who one day fell upon the out-
Ijdng settlers with fire and sword. In utter dismay
the sufferers appealed to the Government of the
province for protection ; but the Colonial Assembly
would not do violence to their tenets and ignored
the appeal, leaving their unhappy and inoffensive
frontiersmen to be massacred. At length, goaded
to desperation, the settlers came down to Phila-
delphia with their arms in their hands, and
threatened violence unless the Assembly voted
money, for supply of ammunition, and other measures
of defence forthwith. Thereupon the Assembly
yielded, but still they would not openly pass a vote
for the purchase of gunpowder. To save their
conscience they voted money only for the purchase


of corn or other grain, which, as gunpowder is made
up of grains, was sufficient warrant for the acquisi-
tion of the necessary but unspeakable article. To
such contemptible subterfuge are men driven who
refuse to face facts. I understand the feelings of
those who deplore that the government of human
society should rest ultimately upon force, but I
have no patience with those who pretend that it
jdoes not. It can profit no man to be obliged so to
shape the actions of his life that they may square
with a fundamental lie.

Accepting then the fact — for such I believe it to
be — that the law of nations is the law of force, let
us waste no time in lamentations. In the first
place they are useless ; and in the second they seem
to me highly presumptuous ; for what are we, or
what is our knowledge, that we should aspire to
correct the course of this world's governance ?
Let us rather consider what is meant by the word
force, as an element in the conflict of communities.
Force, in the human creature, is of two kinds,
moral and physical ; and in war, as Napoleon him-
self said, the moral is to the physical as four to one.
What is this moral force ? It is an indefinable con-
sciousness of superiority. And whence does it arise ?
I must summon a poet to help me with my answer.

" Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
These three alone lead life to sovereign power.'*


Self -reverence, which can be based only upon high
aspirations and high ideals ; self-knowledge, which
combines the courage to face facts, the patience to
accept them, the constancy to turn them to good
account ; self-control, the offspring of self-denial
and self -discipline. We are too much inchned to
think of war as a matter of combats, demanding
above all things physical courage. It is really a
matter of fasting and thirsting ; of toiling and
waking ; of lacking and enduring ; which demands
above all things moral courage. Yet let us hasten
to add that, without bodily soundness and strength
to resist privation, hardship and fatigue, an army
is naught. And here we strike the peculiarity
which makes war the true touch-stone of nations.
It is the supreme test of their merits and demerits
both moral and physical. By a community's art,
literature, science and philosophy you may take the
measure of its intellectual attainments ; through
its administrative institutions and laws you may
form some judgment of its political intelligence ;
from the bodily structure and condition of its
citizens you may form conclusions as to its physical
fitness ; but of the general soundness of the body
politic, of the capacity of its leaders, of the devotion
of their followers, of the moral force which inspires
all ages and both sexes to endure hardship and
sorrow with cheerfulness, and to meet adversity


with confidence unshaken and with courage un-
daunted — for all this the trial of aU trials is war.

Military history is the history of these trials.
Does it seem to you a small, or ignoble, or unpro-
fitable thing ? But, it may be objected, this is an
unfair way of putting the matter. No doubt it
may be profitable to compare the political institu-
tions of some effete community with those of the
young, virile and vigorous communities which swept
it out of existence. But the details of fire and sword,
of massacre and devastation, of the blood of men
and the tears of women, are they profitable ? And
the elaborate principles of strategy and tactics —
that is to say the bringing of the armed force up to
the field of decision, and the handling of it to the
best advantage when there ; with their ancillary
sciences of fortification and poliorketics, that is to
say, of setting up strong places and knocking them
down again — are they profitable ? What are the
art of war and the science of military organisation
but the art and science of destruction ? Can the
study of these be profitable ?

Let us clear our minds of cant. What is the
economy of this world, so far as we have eyes to see
and intellects to understand it, but destruction and
renewal, destruction and renewal ? And it is really
impossible, except by our petty human standards,
to distinguish the one from the other. I have seen


— and perhaps some of you may have seen the like —
what we call a desert, of a thousand square miles of
pumice-stone. This pumice-stone is a layer which
varies from six to fifteen feet in depth ; and below
it lie the trunks of gigantic trees, all black and
charred, which were scathed and overthrown by the
same terrific volcanic explosion which afterwards
buried them in pumice. The soil must have been
fertile to raise such trees ; and men lament the
destruction which has made so large an area into
a waste. But what they mean by destruction and
waste is simply the change which has rendered it
useless, so far as they can see, for purposes of
producing food and exchangeable commodities im-
mediately to the profit of men — that and nothing
more. Whether it be destruction or renewal in
the scheme of nature we cannot tell. But let us
pass to the works of man, the great destroyer.
What does a field of corn mean but that the plants
which originally grew there have been ruthlessly
destroyed to make way for those that better suit
the purposes of man, and that an unknown quantity
of animal life, dependent upon the plants so de-
stroyed, has perished with them ? What does a
herd of cattle in a field mean but the destruction
of all wild cattle, till these became tame enough to
await their turn of destruction for the service of
man ? And as with plants and the inferior animals,


so does man deal with man. He endeavours to
destroy those that do not suit his purpose, and to
replace them by others. And this he does by many
other methods besides those which we group under
the name of war. Within the memory of living
men there were many excellent but simple gentle-
men who thought that what is called Free Trade
would soon be adopted by every civilised country
in the world, and that then wars would cease. The
prediction has not been verified, nor can I see that
the world would be very much the better if it had
been. For commerce is not, as is generally sup-
posed, a peaceful pursuit. What does successful
commerce mean ? The under-selling of competi-
tors ; which means in turn cheaper production than
is possible to competitors. But cheap production,
other things being equal, depends in these days
chiefly upon two things — cheap labour, which
means low wages, and the best of machinery. Who
can tell how many lives have been sacrificed to low
wages in the winning of any commercial competi-
tion ; or how many men, women and children have
been starved when machinery, either absolutely or
practically new, has driven a mass of bread-winners
out of employment ? And these are the casualties
only on the victorious side. What have they been
on the beaten side, when whole industries have been
ruined ? If we could arrive at a just estimate of the


casualty lists filled by commerce, I doubt greatly
if they would be lower than those filled by war.
Improved machinery, in the case of a great many
manufactures, is as truly an engine of destruction
as a torpedo or a heavy gun. It is meant to <iestroy
other competing machinery and to drive its work-

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Online LibraryJohn William FortescueMilitary history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge → online text (page 1 of 13)