John William Fortescue.

Military history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge online

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unprecedented measures for home defence. Instead
of thinking out some plan for training the entire
manhood of the nation to arms, expanding the


Militia and compelling every man to serve in it,
Addington and his colleagues devised a system
which was one long tissue of absurdities. They
began by instituting a ballot for fifty thousand
Militia, but permitted the ballotted men to provide
substitutes instead of serving in person. The price
of substitutes soon rose to £30, ten times the amount
of the bounty offered to recruits for the Regular
Army ; and as a natural consequence all the men
who should have enlisted in the Army were drawn
into the Militia, while the men who should have
served in the Militia did not serve at all. Having
failed to raise fifty thousand Militia, Ministers
asked for twenty-five thousand more on the same
terms, which raised the price of substitutes still
higher. They then asked for corps of Volunteers
upon very favourable conditions, and then ordained
that fifty thousand more men should be raised by
ballot, once again with substitution permitted, and
should be formed into second battalions to the Regular
Army. They next passed an Act compelling all
able-bodied men to undergo compulsory training,
unless a certain proportion came forward as Volun-
teers upon less favourable terms than those offered
to the first Volunteers. Thus there were three
different kinds of ballotted men and two different
kinds of Volunteers. The result was that recruiting
for the Regular Army was killed, at great expense,


while the whole of the levies were failures ; and
the only reason was that the Government had not
the courage to insist upon the country's undoubted
right to the service of every able-bodied citizen for
her defence.

Addington was swept out of office ; and Pitt
came in again. He brought in a bill to form a new
army of Reserve, which was an utter failure ; and he
then feU back on the old expedient of offering a,
bounty to Militiamen to enlist in the Regulars.
In this way, which was faithfully followed until
the close of the war in 1814, he raised some semblance
of an Army ; but he did not know how to use it,
and he died in January, 1806, thinking the cause
of Europe hopeless. A Ministry which included
most of the ablest men in England was formed
upon his death ; and they introduced an Act for
national training to arms, excellent in principle
but not properly worked out in detail, and abolished
the Volunteers. This was a step in the right direc-
tion, but was taken too late. The Mmistry of All
the Talents, as it was caUed, resigned early in 1807 ;
and then at last the War Office passed into the
hands of a capable man, Lord Castlereagh. He
began by taking forty thousand men from the
Militia into the Regular Army, and raising as many
— ^by extremely drastic methods — to refill the empty
ranks of the Militia. He then devised a scheme


which unfortunately was not enforced, for making
national training a reality ; and finally he established
a new Militia called the Local MiUtia of two hundred
thousand men for home defence, keeping the old
Militia to furnish recruits for the Regular Army.

Thus for the first time in our history there was
a Regular Army of from forty to fifty thousand men,
fit to go anywhere and do anything, together with
the means of refilling their ranks as fast as they were
depleted by active service.

The number was small but, properly employed,
it could be of great use. In 1807 Napoleon had
shamelessly and treacherously invaded Spain and
Portugal. In 1808 the people of both countries
rose against the invaders, and England's one army
was sent to support them. I told you in my first
lecture that a campaign was like a picnic ; but our
European campaigns of any importance had hither-
to been confined to the cockpits, where food was
abundant and wars so frequent that contractors
could always be found to look to the food-supply.
The Peninsula is a very different country, com-
prehending a few fertile districts only together with
a vast deal of barren mountain — a country, accord-
ing to a well-known saying, where small armies were
beaten and large armies were starved. The French
armies in Spain were large armies, amounting to
three hundred thousand men, and the Spanish


troops, badly led and badly organised, could make
no stand against them. How could the British hope
with forty thousand men or less to combat three
hundred thousand ? In this way. The population
of the Peninsula was so bitterly hostile to the in-
vaders that the French could not be said to have
any hold of the country, except of such part of it
as was actually occupied b}^ their soldiers. It was
therefore to the interest of the French, in order to
feed their troops as well as to hold down the
Spaniards, that their armies should be scattered
as much as possible. The very wise and sagacious
soldier. Sir Arthur Wellesley, who was charged with
the command of our army, reasoned as follows.
We have a port of entry and a base of operations at
Lisbon, to which we can send by sea everything
that we want. Being also masters at sea we can
prevent the French from making any use of it ; and
they must bring into Spain by land everything that
they want. The roads are very bad, so that this in
itself wiU be a heavy task ; and there are so many
dangerous defiles to be passed that the Spaniards
may always lie in wait to capture French convoys.
There is one great advantage for us.

Now as long as we have forty thousand men at
Lisbon, the French must always keep rather more
in a compact body to watch us, which means that
they must collect fifty or sixty thousand men


together instead of leaving them dispersed to hold the
country down ; which means in its turn that so long
as I remain in their front, there must be Spaniards
unsubdued and ready to do mischief to their out-
lying posts and scattered detachments in their rear.
Very weU. But what if the French assemble a very
large force, and try to overwhelm me once for all ?
They cannot take a very large force by any one
route, because they live on the country and the
country will not support them ; but if they bring
sixty thousand against my forty thousand, I can
stop them. Twenty-five miles north of Lisbon is
ground that can be made so strong that even Portu-
guese Militia could hold it, under good leadership,
especially with my army to back them. Moreover
the Portuguese have an ancient law that provides
for the desertion of all villages, the driving off of all
cattle, and the removal of all grain — in fact the
laying waste of their country — before an invader.
If then the French advance against me in Portugal,
I shall retire before them to my fortified lines,
leaving the country a waste behind me. If they
attack me, all the better. I shall beat them. If
they sit down in front of me, I have no objection.
I shall have all the resources of the world behind
me at Lisbon, while they will onlj^ have a devastated
wilderness behind them. They may wait for a time,
but they wiU have to send their troops further and


further afield to scrape together food, and the pea-
sants will cut the throats of all stragglers. Sickness
will increase among their soldiers for want of proper
nourishment ; their numbers will faU lower and
lower and lower ; and at last sheer starvation
will compel them to retreat.

And now, mark how I shall get the better of
them. I shall provide my army with the means of
carrying victuals with it. The task will be extra-
ordinarily difficult, for the country is rough and the
roads so infamous that we cannot use wheeled
vehicles ; but I shall organise a vast train of twelve
to fifteen thousand mules to carry everything that
we want on their backs. The French, a body of
starving men, will have to hurry their retreat, for
they have to pass through a devastated country.
We, with our bellies full, shall be able to follow them
up and cut off thousands of weakly dispirited men.
In time they will reach the fortresses which they
hold on the Spanish frontier, and there we must
stop, while they go back still further to some fertile
district where they will find provisions. But their
army will be absolutely ruined for the time, weakened
by its losses and demoralised by its sufferings. As
I advance I shall establish magazines along the route
so that I may keep my army fed, and threaten their
fortresses. They wiU be obliged to re victual these
fortresses from time to time, and to do so in presence


of my army they will have to collect once more fifty
or sixty thousand men, and leave the country be-
hind them to the mercy of the Spanish guerilla
bands. If I can stop them by fighting a general
action in a strong position with good hope of success,
I shall do so. If I cannot, I shall faU back once
more, burning or emptying my magazines, to play
the same game again. But the oftener I lead them
over the same country, the more it wiU be exhausted.
Their system of living on the country is very waste-
ful. The brutahty of their starving soldiers to the
peasantry is driving more and more land out of
cultivation ; and the time will come when they will
be unable to assemble their troops except at harvest,
but will be obliged to keep them dispersed all through
the winter in order to keep them alive. It will
take them three or four weeks to coUect, with
enormous difficulty, food and transport enough for
even a fortnight's campaign, and I shall use those
three or four weeks to make a swift and sudden
attack upon their fortresses ; for having the means
of feeding my troops, I can do so. They wiU be
obliged to look on helplessly until I have taken the
strong places; and, when at last they advance,
they wiU be unable to retake them, until they have
driven me back ; and I shall only retire until they
have exhausted their provisions, and shall then
advance again.


From these fortresses I shall penetrate into Spain
to threaten other fortresses, rousing the whole
country more than ever against the French ; until
at last I compel them to loose their hold upon the
south of Spain, and concentrate a really gigantic
force against me. I shall then retreat as before to
Portugal. They will be unable to keep their
gigantic force for long together from want of food ;
and I shall begin the whole game all over again ;
while their men waste away by tens of thousands
from fatigue and hardship and incessant petty
attacks of the Spanish guerillas. It is only a ques-
tion of time before Napoleon is distracted by serious
operations outside Spain ; when once he begins to
reduce his army in the Peninsula, we shall gradually
drive it into France ; and then we shall see how
long Frenchmen will allow it to live on their own
country as it has lived on Spain. I for my part
shaU follow it up, paying punctually for everything
that I take, and allowing no plunder ; and we shall
see which army gets on the better.

There in a nutshell is the history of the Pen-
insular War. Does it not sound simple after the
event ? But think of the sagacity and insight of
the man who perceived all these possibilities before
the event ; and of the courage and force of character
which enabled him to carry his policy into effect.
Patience, the great attribute of Marlborough, was


the quality which shone above all others in Wel-
lington. And remember that he had to subdue not
only himself to patience, but his army, and the
British nation, and the Spanish nation and the
Portuguese nation. Following his difficulties
through his correspondence one marvels how ever
he overcame them. The British Government, let
people sa}' what they will, supported him well in
the face of great obstacles and in the teeth of bitter
resistance from an unscrupulous Opposition ; but
they gained greatly from WelHngton's moral support.
Spain and Portugal had practically no government,
and such authority as existed was to a great extent
distributed among fools and knaves. In truth
Wellington really administered the government of
Portugal for four years, besides commanding the
British and Portuguese armies in the field. Never
allow yourselves to be abridged of your pride in
Wellington by petty detractors, British or foreign.
German and French writers, for some strange reason,
unite to decry him as a commander. Do not hsten
to them. Not one of them knows anything of any
of his campaigns except that of Waterloo. He was
a very great commander in every way, and beyond
all doubt (at least such is my opinion) the very
greatest of his time upon the actual field of battle.
He was not a genial character. He had none of
Marlborough's irresistible charm, which made even


the privates call him Corporal John. He was never
loved by man nor woman, nor by any but children
not his own. By seK-imposed discipline — as I
beheve — rather than by nature he was cold, hard,
unsympathetic, and inclined to account the indi-
vidual man as nothing in comparison with the
sanctity of a principle. Hence he broke the heart
of more than one good officer who had served him
well. But he was incapable of anything common or
mean ; he was as hard to himself as to the humblest
of his subordinates ; and his conception of duty to
Sovereign and Country was so high, and at the same
time so spontaneous and natural, that his must
always remain the standard by which our public men
will be measured. No ! if any one ever presumes to
hint to you that Wellington was not a great man,
you may ask him if a small man could constrain
three nations for four years to patience, and raise
the standard of public duty for ever in his own
country. This is the centenary of his greatest
campaign and most brilliant military achievement ;
but long after they are forgotten men will repeat his
saying " The King's Government must be carried on."
After the twenty-three years of fighting con-
cluded at Waterloo people imagined that wars would
cease. There was much social and commercial
distress in England ; and as usual the British mind
fastened itseK upon the reduction of the Army as


the remedy for all evils. There arose also a political

sect which preached the inimitably absurd doctrine

that Free Trade would bring about universal peace.

The military and naval establishments were cut down

to a dangerously low figure ; and all the organisation,

which Wellington had created for the feeding of an

army, was allowed to decay. At last in 1854 came

the war in the Crimea ; and there was a repetition of all

that had happened in 1 792. A small number of very

fine regiments was with difficulty scraped together,

and sent to the East with no very definite idea as

to what they should do, and therefore necessarily

without preparation of any kind. Eventually the

troops were landed in the Crimea and marched upon

Sevastopol. They fought a few magnificent actions,

and perished of cold, want and exposure within ten

miles of the sea, of which we had absolute command.

It was therefore necessary to improvise a new army

by the old expedients of bounties, hiring foreign

mercenaries, and so forth. Hundreds of boys

were sent out to die after the old fashion ; and the

Militia were employed, with their own consent, to

take over part of the Mediterranean garrisons,

and to release the regular troops there for active

service. By dint of extravagant expenditure an

efficient army was formed within the space of two

years, just in time to witness the conclusion of peace.

That was our last European war. It woke us

F. M. H. 7

98 • MU^ITARY HISTORY [lect.

up a little ; and we were still further roused by the
triumph of the Germans over the French in 1870.
We took our army more or less in hand, improved
the organisation by substituting regiments of two
battalions for regiments of one battalion, and intro-
duced a system of enlisting men not for twenty-one
years with the colours, but for seven with the colours
and five in the Reserve. The system worked badly
at first, when we had to provide troops for small
colonial expeditions ; but the faults were gradually
amended ; and the organisation stood the test
fairly well in 1899 and 1900 in South Africa. We
can now send 150,000 men abroad perfectly equipped,
which is more than we could ever do before ; but
other nations count their armies by millions, and in
reality we are as far behindhand as ever we were.
We have no means of replacing those 150,000 within
six months, which would be necessary in case of a
great war ; much less have we means of expanding
their numbers to twice 150,000 and keeping their
ranks filled ; and we have no efficient force of any
strength, not even the old Militia, for home defence,
while our 150,000 are abroad. Do not think that I
am "talking politics." I am only stating plain facts.
I cannot discuss, nor even propound, the questions
which these facts suggest ; but I cannot avoid the
assertion of the facts themselves, for they are
essential to our understanding of our subject —
they are indeed the pith of British military history.




I PROPOSE in my present lecture to deal with our
colonial campaigns at large. You will recognise at
once that a colonial campaign differs from other cam-
paigns in one essential point. One does not attempt
to form colonies in any but an empty or com-
paratively empty country, first because in any other
there is no room for colonists, and secondly because
a numerous native population may be subdued but
cannot be displaced. It is therefore imperative that
the indigenous inhabitants of a country, whither
settlers propose to emigrate, shall be few ; and it is
practically as imperative that, unless their numbers
are so scanty as to be negligible, they shall be of
inferior civilisation, so that they may not be able to
fight the settlers on equal terms. Now what do
inferiority of civilisation and paucity of numbers
mean, militarily speaking, to the civilised invader ?
They mean^ first of all, no roads or at the very best
rough tracks, and no bridges over rivers ; they mean
further rude cultivation and very small stores, if any,
of cereal food. This signifies in its turn that the
great problem of the campaign wiU be how to feed your
force in the field, or as we now call it the problem of
transport (for the campaign will be more than ever a



picnic) and of supply. In the matter of actual com-
bat the uncivilised enemy will have the advantage
certainly of perfect adaptation to the climate,
intimate knowledge of the country, and generally
of stronger physical endurance, greater rapidity of
movement, and decided superiority in eyesight and
hearing. His disadvantages will be inferior organisa-
tion, inferior armament, and inexperience of the need
for providing a great multitude with food at a
distance from its provision-grounds. Speaking
generally the sound principle of savage warfare is
this — to equip yourself with a good service for
transport and supply, march up to your enemy, sit
down and fortify yourself in a strong position.
Your enemy must then do one of three things :
attack you, in which case he is sure to be defeated ;
move on ; or starve. He is not likely to attempt
attack after a lesson or two, and therefore as a rule
he will move on. You then move after him and sit
down again, destroying or appropriating his pro-
vision-grounds and capturing his cattle, as you find
opportunity. By this method you must infallibly
bring him to submission. It was thus that George
Monk subdued the Highlands.

It is not, however, by any means always possible
to pursue this policy. Your adversaries may be
dwellers in forests, such as the Red Indian ; or in
wooded mountains, such as the Kaffir and the Carib ;


or defended in part by an arid wilderness, as are
the Soiidanis. Moreover they may be a people of
military instincts and organisation, with their own
skilful system of tactics, and a sense of honour which
prefers death to disgrace. Such were that most
gallant race, the Zulus. Or they may be of a magni-
ficent strength and stature with a fanatical contempt
for death, as the Dervishes. Or they may combine
something of the Zulu with their own very elaborate
system of fortification, as the Maoris. Each race
and country presents its own peculiar features and
problems, which need to be considered and solved
upon their merits. But speaking generally the
difference between the civilised and uncivilised
fighter is this, that the one takes care to carry his
food with him, whereas the other does not.

Now what is true of a savage country at the
outset usually remains true for some time, indeed for
a very long time, after civilised settlement has begun.
The supplies of food are small, for a small population
cannot grow much produce, and has no occasion to
lay in a great store ; roads and means of communica-
tion are few and bad ; and there is hardly a bridge
to be found. If all the miles of macadamised road
existent in the whole of the British Empire at this
moment were added together, I doubt if they would
equal, or even nearly equal, those of the British
Isles alone. Bearing these things in mind, and


remembering that two centuries ago there were very
few paved roads in Europe, and not a single macad-
amised road until less than a century ago. let us look
for a time at our colonial Military History.

Our earUest settlements were made in North
America and the West Indies ; the latter sUghtly
earlier than the former but to all intent contem-
poraneously ; and the Dutch and French were there
ver}^ nearly as early as we ourselves, at the beginning
of the seventeenth century. In North America the
settlers naturally established them.selves first on the
coast, using the great rivers as water-ways to
penetrate into the back country. The Dutch in
the first instance chose one of the most important
of those rivers, building the town of New Amsterdam
at the mouth of the Hudson. The French took
perhaps the most important of aU, the St Lawrence,
founding Quebec ne^^r its mouth and Montreal a
little higher up. La ^tiy the Spaniards held the south
and the mouth <i the Mississippi, so far away that
they were of small concern either to the French or
the English. South of the St La^vrence the Enghsh
colonists scattered themselves in the coiu^se of the
seventeenth century along more than a thousand
miles of coast from the Kennebec to the Savannah.
Quebec it.self was captured in 1627 from the French
but, in spite of the protests of far-seeing men, was
given back under a treaty of peace in 1632. New


Amsterdam was taken from the Dutch in 1664, and
retained as Xew York. In their early days most of
these settlements came into hostile collision with the
Indians at one time or another, but were able to hold
their own, for they had brought with them over the
ocean the old English principle that all able-bodied
men were liable to service for domestic defence.
Xew York, however, did even better ; for that Colon}'
specially cultivated the friendship of the Five
Nations — the most formidable of the Indians — for
the sake not only of the fur-trade, but of protection
against other Indians and dangerous neighbours on
the north.

Those dangerous neighbours were of course the
French. Their colonies on the St Lawrence were
strictly military, the settlers being mostly old soldiers
who received their grants of land in reward for past
and in consideration of future service ; while the
government was despotic and centred in a mihtary
officer of experience and abiUty. The younger
French settlers were always attracted by the free
life of the Indians in the forest ; hence every man
was a skiKul woodman, a good marksman and
a trained canoe-man, in fact a better sportsman
and warrior than colonist. Moreover they and the
Jesuits, who both ministered to their spiritual needs
and laboured to convert and rule the Indians, were
enterprising and intrepid explorers. They soon


wandered through the whole chain of lakes, found
the rivers Illinois and Wisconsin running out of
Lake Michigan, and followed them down the whole
course of the Mississippi to New Orleans, taking

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Online LibraryJohn William FortescueMilitary history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge → online text (page 6 of 13)