John William Fortescue.

Military history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge online

. (page 5 of 13)
Online LibraryJohn William FortescueMilitary history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge → online text (page 5 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

another form of genius which Marlborough pos-
sessed in a supreme degree, the faculty of taking
infinite pains. When his army started for the
Danube not a man knew whither he was bound ;
yet at every stage food was ready for all, and at
certain points shoes to replace those worn out on
the march, and money to provide the troops with
pay. For, as Marlborough well knew, soldiers
who have not what they need will help themselves,
and plunder means indiscipline, and indiscipline
turns an army into a rabble. Any officer can flog
and shoot and punish, and say that he enforces
discipline ; but a good officer prefers to enforce it
by removing all temptation to indiscipline. Next,
Marlborough possessed in a transcendent degree
the divine gift of patience — patience which
conquers all things. His temper was almost


miraculously placid and calm. Time aft^r time
the Dutch deputies thwarted his shrewdest strokes
and most briUiant combmations ; and time after
time he endured their maddening mischief without
a murmur, without even a semblance of displeasure,
waiting for better times, and preferring to bear
almost any mortification rather than endanger
the common cause. There are few things greater
in Marlborough than this. " I would not have
that man's temper for the world,'' he is reported
to have remarked when watching a groom who was
fighting his horse in the saddle. So strongly
marked was this characteristic that when once,
in order to deceive his enemy, he grew from day
to day more cantankerous and pretended at last
to lose all self-control, his army declared sorrow-
fully that Corporal John had lost his wits. And
this epithet — Corporal John — brings me to the last
great gift of Marlborough, his extraordinary personal
charm. It nowhere appears that he laid himself
out particularly to attract his feUow-creatures ;
but not one of them could resist him. His men
adored him. It was not only that he enjoyed their
confidence as a successful leader ; but that he
commanded their affection. And others shared
this feeling as strongly as the soldiers. In 1705
he narrowly escaped capture by a maraudmg party
of French. On his arrival at the Hague after the


incident the whole population, high and low, turned
out to welcome him, the poor crowding round him
with tears of joy and kissing even his horse and his
boots. Of course there is a dark side to his char-
acter, and much has been made of his avarice and
his treachery. But I have noticed that men who
begin with nothing and rise to great estate, as did
Marlborough, are apt to be careful of sixpences to
the very end ; and I do not know that it is to their
discredit. It is certain too that he declined even
to look at an enormous bribe offered by Louis XIV
to obtain an advantageous peace. Moreover, you
will find that at all times and in all countries while
the issue of a struggle between two dynasties is
still doubtful, men tend to keep upon friendly
terms with both. I do not say that this trait is
a beautiful or an honourable one ; but that it is
the rule and not the exception is beyond doubt ;
and we must take poor human nature as we find it.
Fortunate are we when we find this weakness
redeemed by such great quaUties as were possessed
by Marlborough.

The Peace of Utrecht which brought the war
to an end was, as you remember, the work of the
Tories, who had succeeded in ousting the Whigs
and disgracing Marlborough. Before the Treaty
had been signed, they had reduced the British
establishment to twenty-two thousand men ; and,


when the Whigs returned to power upon the acces-
sion of George I in 1714, they continued the evil
work which the Tories had begun. By 1719 the
estabHshment had been reduced to twelve thousand
men, making with the same number in Ireland a
nominal total of twenty-four thousand. Yet the
Treaty had added to the Empire Gibraltar, Minorca,
Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, all of which required
garrisons ; there was no police in the British Isles ;
the organisation of the Militia was so antiquated
that the force was absolutely useless ; and there
was always danger, as the country experienced in
1715, of a Jacobite rising in Scotland. Moreover,
the original system of defence in the West Indies
was rapidly becoming obsolete ; and it was pretty
evident that the burden must shortly be trans-
ferred to the Imperial forces. No consideration
could move the British Parliament to accept the
Army as a necessary institution. Walpole in 1722
at last insisted that the British Establishment
should be raised permanently to eighteen thousand
men ; but even so it would have been impossible
to collect ten thousand for any emergency without
leaving the royal palaces and strong places un-
guarded. Yet Parliament, not content with
keeping an inadequate army, insisted also that it
should be inefficient. In Ireland, from want of
billeting accommodation, barracks had been built


for the troops ; but nothing could persuade ParUa-
ment to extend the same system to England. No !
the regiments must be broken up and scattered
among ale-houses, '' in order that the people might
feel the burden that lay upon them." Moreover,
hon. members conceived that ale-houses grew as
abundantly at Gibraltar, Nova Scotia and New-
foundland as in England ; and could hardly be
brought to house the garrisons of these places
adequately. Scores of men died in all these spots
from exposure — and why ? Because the nation
had laid itself in bondage to a canting phrase. This
ill-treatment of the soldiers, joined to perpetual
reviling of the military profession, of course made
the Army unpopular. Men were unwilling to enlist
and very ready to desert, which led in turn to high
bounties to tempt recruits ; and this again led to
fraudulent enlistment and hideous waste of money.
Of all the cant that ever was canted in this canting
world none is so cantful as the assertion that neglect
of miHtary precaution is economy. Yet the British
people after two centuries' experience of its false-
hood still hugs the notion passionately to its

The peace was broken in 1739 by a sudden
outburst of national cupidity for the wealth of
Spain ; but from this point, where the struggle
for Empire becomes acute, I shall in this lecture


confine myself to our wars in Europe only, leaving
those in the Colonies and in India for two future
lectures. Before the quarrel with Spain was fairly
ended, we found ourselves entangled in the War
of the Austrian Succession, with an obligation to
furnish sixteen thousand men to uphold the cause
of Maria Theresa. British and French, by a curious
fiction, were engaged at the outset only as auxili-
aries upon either side ; and they actually fought
the battle of Dettingen before war had been formally
declared between them. From the spring of 1744,
however, they met as principals and, since the
French had been triumphantly driven from Ger-
many at the end of 1743, on the familiar ground of
the Austrian Netherlands. The British contingent
was increased from sixteen thousand men in 1743 to
twenty-five thousand in 1745, the balance of the
force being composed of Dutch and Austrians ;
but this strength in the field, trifling though it was,
was only attained by reducing the garrisons of Great
Britain to fifteen thousand men, mostly raw recruits.
The Duke of Cumberland on the 11th of May, 1745,
fought and lost a murderous battle at Fontenoy ;
and in July there came the astounding news that
Prince Charles Edward had landed in Scotland and
was gathering the Highland clans about him. In
the whole of North Britain there were only three
thousand untrained men who wore the red coat ;


and bold action combined with good fortune on
the part of Prince Charles soon filled these with
the spirit of panic. Within little more than two
months he was at Edinburgh and, but for the garri-
sons of the Castle of Stirling and one or two lesser
strongholds, master of the country. Urgent mes-
sengers were sent to Cumberland in Flanders for
reinforcements ; and not EngUsh troops only, but
Dutch and Hessians, were hurried across the German
Ocean to save the throne of the Guelphs. There
was every reason to dread lest the remnant of the
army in Flanders, reduced to utter weakness by the
loss of these detachments, should be overwhelmed
by the French ; but fortunately the enemy took
no advantage of their opportunity. Meanwhile
Charles by skiKul manoeuvring evaded the troops
opposed to him and reached Derby ; and there now
seemed to be nothing to prevent him from entering
London. Fearing, however, the closing in of the
British forces in his rear, and hearing that French
troops had landed at Montrose to join him, he
retired once more to Scotland ; nor was it until
he had won two or three further small actions, that
he was finally and hopelessly defeated at CuUoden.
By that time, though he had landed originally with
but seven companions and had never commanded
more than seven or eight thousand mostly undisci-
plined men, he had kept the bulk of the British Army


employed for over nine months, and had beaten
several detachments of it handsomely. The episode
is generally treated as a romantic adventure ; but
it is reaUy one of the most discreditable to be found
in our history ; and it was due entirely to the fanatics,
both Whig and Tory, who were always clamouring
against a standing army.

After the defeat of the insurgents the war was
continued in the Low Countries, where the Allies
sustained two more defeats, until in 1748, owing to
the exhaustion of all parties, it was closed by the
Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, leaving the French and
English at the end very much as they had been at
the beginning. In a way it might seem that the
British had been dragged into the contest mainly
on account of the Kingdom of Hanover, but, as
we shall see in a future lecture, the war resolved
itself into a continuation of the struggle with France
for the possession of the new world. That struggle
in fact never ceased over the seas, both east and
west, and early in 1756 it came to an issue in open
war. As usual England was unready. German
troops were actually imported for the defence of the
realm ; Minorca was taken by the French ; every-
thing went wrong in America ; and the state of affairs
seemed to be desperate. At last a competent
Minister, William Pitt the elder, was raised to power
and from that moment things began to improve.


The foreign troops were sent back to Germany ;
their place was taken by Militia ; and an immense
levy of recruits was begun for the increase of the
regular Army. In the year 1756 France, Austria,
Russia and Sweden leagued themselves together
to crush Frederick the Great ; and Pitt, perceiving
that America might be conquered in Germany,
decided to send a contingent of British troops,
together with Hanoverians and Hessians, to Frede-
rick's assistance. Moreover, as we had no competent
general of our own, he asked Frederick to provide
one ; and thus for the first time British troops were
placed under the command of a foreign general for
service on the Continent. Few people know anything
of the campaigns of Ferdinand of Brunswick, though
they are distinguished by two of the finest per-
formances of the British soldier : of the infantry
at Minden, and of the cavalry at Warburg. And
the reason of this is that, as I have said, the expe-
dition, so far as England was concerned, was a
diversion to help her to the conquest of the Empire.
That conquest proceeded apace during the years
1759 to 1762, and by the end of the latter year we
had expelled the French from Canada, India and
the West Indies, besides depriving the Spaniards
of Havana and Manila. The process demanded
a great number of troops, for seventy-five per
cent, of the men in the West Indies died or were


incapacitated for further service, and it is here that
we strike the weak point of Pitt's military adminis-

The great Minister saw the importance of re-
organising the Militia, though as a matter of fact
he never enforced his own scheme 'of passing all
able-bodied men through the ranks — or in other
words of instituting national service. But he
never matured nor even considered (so far as we
can discover) any sound scheme for maintaining
the voluntary army that was serving abroad. His
only plan was to name a certain sum for bounty,
and scatter broadcast commissions to any individuals
who would undertake to raise independent companies
or regiments. In this way the nominal strength of
the Army was brought up to one hundred and fifty
battalions of infantry and thirty-two of cavalry,
the numbered regiments of infantry being as many
as one hundred and twenty-four. Comparatively
few of these new regiments survived, because they
had been formed simply and solely to be broken
up immediately and drafted into other battaUons.
But what did this mean ? It meant in the first
place that hundreds of officers went about the
country trying to make money out of the recruiting
business by obtaining recruits for less than the pre-
scribed bounty, and pocketing the difference. It
meant secondly that crimps arose by the score who


contracted to supply recruits to these officers, of
course at a considerable projfit to themselves, and
that thus there were so to speak two middlemen
to be paid out of the bounty as well as the recruit.
The inevitable result was that the country paid
vast sums to obtain worn-out old men, half-witted
lads and weedy boys, who were absolutely useless
in the field, and served only to fill graves and hos-
pitals. Moreover, it was saddled with the obhgation
of giving half-pay to field-officers, captains and even
subalterns, who had gained their rank by the simple
process of a bargain with the crimps. Meanwhile
the recruits, being enlisted not for some old corps
with a regimental history and a regimental pride
of its own, but for some ephemeral battalion which
was dispersed as soon as formed, felt no sentiment
of honour in their calling and deserted right and
left. One consequence of this exceedingly wasteful
system was that the resources of England both in
money and men were exhausted before peace was
made, and that the war could not have been carried
on for another twelve months even if it had been
necessary. But yet more fatal than this was the
misfortune that the system, owing to its supposed
success, received consecration from the great name
of Pitt. In the bitter struggle with France which
began in 1793 and ended at Waterloo I have
said that France squandered men to save money,


and that England squandered money to save men.
The elder Pitt squandered both money and men.

The conclusion of peace in 1763 found England
in possession of Gibraltar and Minorca in Europe ;
Bermuda, the Bahamas, several West Indian Islands
and practically the entire continent of North America
east of the Rocky Mountains from the mouth of the
St Lawrence in the north to the Lower Mississippi
in the south. I omit the name of India, for that
is a subject to be treated separately. The military
establishment of England and Ireland for the defence
of this vast Empire was fixed at about forty-five
thousand men, two-thirds of them roughly speaking
at home, and one -third abroad. This was neither
more nor less than madness ; yet nevertheless many
were found, so great a man as Burke among them,
to condemn the " huge increase " as they called it
of the Army. But this was not the worst. Prices
generally had risen and the pay of the soldier was
too small for his subsistence ; wherefore recruits
could hardly be obtained by any shift, and the ranks
of regiments were miserably empty. Reeling under
the burden of the debts bequeathed by the late war,
England proposed to the Colonies that they should
share that burden with her. The North American
provinces admitted the justice of the claim but
made no effort to meet it ; whereupon the British
Government, after exhausting all expedients for


obtaining a contribution from them, fell back upon
the only possible solution of the problem — impartial
taxation of all the Colonies by Act of the Imperial
Parliament, with a special provision that every
penny of the money so raised should be spent in
the Colonies themselves. A faction in the Colonies
raised a loud outcry over this ; and the question,
owing to mismanagement in England and to the
provocative violence of the American agitators,
finally issued in war between Mother-country and

The task of bringing America to submission by
force of arms was a military operation beyond the
strength of any nation in the world at that time,
and very far beyond that of England as she was in
1775. No effort was made to augment the Army
until hostilities had actually broken out, and con-
sequently there were no troops at hand. Recruiting,
moreover, was so difficult, owing to the insufficiency
of the pay, that the country resorted to the hiring
of German mercenaries and to the transfer of Hano-
verian battalions to Gibraltar and Minorca, so as
to release four British battalions from thence.
Faction violently obstructed all military measures
until a great disaster to our arms in 1777 made it
practically certain that France would declare war ;
but then, in spite of all the ravings of the King's
enemies at home, patriotic feeling prevailed, and

W M. H. 6


fifteen thousand men in new regiments were raised
by private subscription alone. Troubles multiplied
now on all sides ; troubles in India, in Ireland, in
Great Britain, everywhere. France declared war
in 1778, Spain in 1779; Holland became an open
enemy in 1780 ; and the Northern Powers formed
an Armed Neutrahty to curb our pretensions at sea.
What with regular troops and embodied militia we had
more than one hundred and eighty thousand British
soldiers afoot, besides some twenty thousand Ger-
mans ; but this was not enough. Our preparations,
thanks to Parliament's eternal jealousy of the Army,
were made too late. Our military policy was
wrong, for we dispersed our forces so as to endeavour
to hold every point ; and thus we were everywhere
overmatched. The war ended with the loss of
America and very nearly of India also ; of Minorca
in Europe, of Senegal and Goree in West Africa,
and of St Lucia and Tobago in the West Indies.

It might be supposed that England, after such
a disastrous lesson, would have set her military house
in order. Nothing was further from the thoughts of
the Ministry which governed her after the conclusion
of peace. They — Lord North and Mr Fox — were
in such a hurry to get rid of the Army that they dis-
charged every man that they could, and allowed the
garrison of England to sink below seven thousand
men. By this time India demanded a garrison of


over six thousand men, and the Colonies still left
to us, together with Gibraltar, twelve thousand
more. Besides these, the estimates allowed for
thirty -two thousand men in Great Britain and
Ireland ; but not above half of them were forth-
coming because recruits would not enhst ; and the
reason why they did not enlist was because their
pay was insufficient to keep them from starving.
William Pitt the younger took over the adminis-
tration in 1784, and did admirable service in setting
the national finance upon a sound footing, but would
do nothing for the Army. A dangerous war in
India compelled him to allow some new regiments
to be raised at the expense of the East India Com-
pany •, but though thrice in seven years the country
was on the verge of an European war, he did nothing
for the British soldier until 1792 when he grudgingly
doled out to him a small pittance. He suffered the
mihtia to decay in number and efficiency ; and he
almost destroyed the discipline of the regular troops
by failing to provide them with a military head.
In 1789 the French Revolution broke out, and the
course of events in France was in itself enough to
demand some increase of our military resources ;
but even so late as at the close of 1792 he actually
reduced the British establishment. Within a very
few months he found himself dragged into a war
which to all intents did not end until 1815.



Pitt's idea was to compel France to submission
by taking all her Colonies and ruining all her com-
merce ; but it was necessary to send troops at short
notice to Holland in order to hearten the Dutch to
resistance ; and, as there were no others to send,
he despatched the Guards. The remainder of the
Army, most excellent men but very few in number,
he hurried off to the West Indies. This done, he
set to work to make the Army, which should have
been ready made, according to his father's methods
by large bounties and giving commissions to any
who would raise companies and regiments. End-
less corps of weakly men were thus created, and
endless bad officers admitted to the service. The
old soldiers in the West Indies did their work admir-
ably, but perished almost to a man, as I shaU explain
to you in another lecture. In the Low Countries
also, where the British were not fairly used by the
AUies under whose command they were working,
the old soldiers were soon used up ; and we were
left without any Army. Even at home, where
there was some peril of invasion, Pitt did not pass
the nation through the ranks of the Mihtia, as
he should have done, but either enlisted soldiers
voluntarily for home service only, or permitted the
citizens to enrol themselves in innumerable little
useless bodies of Volunteers. The operations in
the Low Countries ^ded disastrously. In the West


Indies practically the whole of the captured islands
were recaptured by the French ; and at the close
of three years of war Pitt had expended many
millions of money, and had nothing to show for it

By great exertions and appalling sacrifice of
life the lost ground in the West Indies was re-
covered by a rabble of young soldiers, who died like
flies as soon as the campaign was over ; and once
again we were left without an army. The climax
came in 1797 when the Navy mutinied, owing to
the small pay and ill-treatment meted out to it ;
and it was thought safer, when matters were set
right, to raise the pay of the Army also. Now at
last there appeared a man who began to set things
in order. The Duke of York, second son of King
George III, took the post of Commander-in-Chief
at the Horse Guards ; reorganised, or rather created,
a competent staff at head-quarters, set his face
steadily against Pitt's vile methods of raising
recruits, and restored the discipline of the Army.
In 1799 the declining fortunes of France and the
successes of a new coalition against her stimulated
Pitt to find some new method of recruiting the Army.
He resolved to turn to the Militia as a training
ground for the regular troops ; and the Duke of
York insisted that the soldiers so raised should be
formed into second battalions for existing regiments


instead of being framed into new corps. Thirty-six
thousand of them were hurried off to Holland with-
out clothing, supplies or transport, and after three
or four barren victories and one serious reverse,
were thankful to return again under a capitulation.
They had been required to do impossibilities and
had failed. In the following year the same men,
much improved in discipline, were kept idle when
they ought to have been fighting as allies with the
Austrians in Italy ; and thus Napoleon was enabled
to win the victory of Marengo, which made his fortune
as First Consul, and allowed him to trouble Europe
for another fifteen years. However in 1801 England
at last restored her reputation a little by a brilliant
campaign in Egypt and the capture of the French
army in that country. To all intents this was our
one solid success in nine years of fighting. Never
was there more gross mismanagement of a war by
any Minister.

After a short truce, war broke out again in 1803,
Pitt was not then in power, but was the patron
and more or less the adviser of Addington's weak
administration. That was the period when Napo-
leon made great and serious preparations for an
invasion of England ; and it was necessary to take

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryJohn William FortescueMilitary history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge → online text (page 5 of 13)