John William Fortescue.

Military history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge online

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possession of the entire country in the name of
Louis XIV. This they accomphshed in 1680, five
years before the death of King Charles II ; and we
ought always to salute the gallant French nation in
honour of the brave men who essayed and accom-
plished this great feat of exploration. From that
moment the French conceived the notion of getting
behind us along the entire length of the continent,
and confining us to the coast, with the power always
of coming down upon our settlements from the rear
at any convenient opportunity, and driving us into
the sea. It is a very general system with the French,
which they have attempted in our own time in West
Africa. They always explore and the}^ always make
maps, being a practical people, and the result is that
they always get the better of us in disputes over
boundaries. Their strong points in America in the
seventeenth century were their unity and enterprise.
Their weak points were their numbers (for they did
not exceed twelve thousand) and the fact that they
raised no great quantity of food.

The English settlers on the other hand were
agriculturahsts, and each community was distinct,
jealous and self-centred. In New York there was


a large trade with the Indians ; and the pious
Quakers of Pennsylvania and Rhode Island used to
finance pirates who at one time nearly swept our
East Indian trade off the seas. But for the most
part they quietly tilled the soil, or in the north went
fishing ; nor could an}^ power induce even a few of
them to unite their forces against the French . They
would invade each other, for they were a most
cantankerous people, but would never make a
combined effort against the common enemy. New
York and New England, being nearest to the French,
made endeavours from time to time to drive them
out, but always failed owing to provincial jealousies,
want of discipline, want of organisation, want of
efficient leaders. There are two waterways, broken
in places by rapids, which, as you know, lead from
New York to the St Lawrence ; the one by the
Mohawk and Lake Ontario, the other by the Hudson
and Lakes George and Champlain ; and these water-
ways were the scene of aU the fighting for the mastery
of Canada. In 1690 and 1691 New York and New
England made a desperate but inefficient attempt to
take Quebec. They failed miserably, though New
England alone could pit ninety thousand settlers
against the French twelve thousand. The French,
united and well commanded, took the offensive,
broke down the power of the Five Indian Nations
— the principal defensive barrier of the English


settlements — and the Colonies were reduced to
shrieking to England for help.

Queen Anne sent an expedition to the St
Lawrence in 1711, which failed owing to the in-
competence of the commander ; but none the less
at the Peace of Utrecht France ceded to us Nova
Scotia. Thereupon the French proceeded to fortify
all the commanding points on the lakes (remember
that the waterwaj^s were the only ways by which
an army could be supplied), and established a naval
station on Cape Breton to harass British shipping
in future wars. This was the celebrated fortress
of Louisburg ; and the building of it was a very
costly mistake. Why ? Because it was situated in
a barren territory which could raise nothing and
support nothing, wherefore Louisburg could only
be provisioned from without and from the sea.
Without superiority at sea therefore Louisburg must
starve ; with superiority at sea it was a superfluity.
The rival settlers and their Indians continued to
raid each other perpetually along their frontiers
until the War of the Austrian Succession brought
about overt hostilities ; and then in 1745 the forces
of New England, commanded by a lawyer and with
the help of a British squadron, besieged and took
Louisburg. This was a brilliant feat for amateurs,
though of course the most difficult part of the work
was done by British sailors ; but upon the peace of


1748 the British Government very wisely restored
Louisburg, preferring to keep Madras in the East
Indies in its place. On the other hand the British
established a military settlement of old soldiers at

The French now began seriously to pursue their
policy of estabhshing themselves in rear of the British
colonies, by forcibly occupying two British settle-
ments on the Ohio, and building a chain of forts to
maintain the communications between these, Lake
Erie and Montreal, The Governor of Virginia sent
a young officer of Militia, named George Washington,
to tell them to go, but was answered that the French
had no intention of moving. The Colonies with the
greatest difficulty were brought to vote a small sum
of money for a force to drive the French out ; and
Washington advanced again to Ohio, only to be
surrounded by superior numbers and forced to sur-
render. This might, one would have thought, have
roused the Colonies ; but with the exception of
New England, which was burning to capture Canada,
one and all showed the completest apathy. The
Americans had, and stiU have, aU the modern
English indifference to national duty and military
preparations. To the enduring shame of the Colonies,
therefore, application was made to England for
help ; and two regiments were sent out under
General Braddock, a capable but narrow-minded


officer, who had no idea of miUtary operations
except as carried out in a European cock-pit. His
difficulties were great, for his march lay for one
hundred miles through dense forests, which pro-
vided neither forage for animals nor food for men ;
and, when animals have to carry their own food,
they have little strength to carry more. The only
chance was to move lightly and rapidly ; whereas
on the contrary Braddock encumbered himself with
waggons which necessitated an advanced party
of three hundred axe-men to clear away trees and
obstacles. Nor did he make any effort to train his
troops to bush-fighting ; and hence when caught at
a disadvantage by the enemy on the march, they
were seized with panic and cut to pieces. An
advance of the local forces of New England towards
the St Lawrence was also a failure, owing to the usual
indiscipline of the Colonial levies, and the entire
campaign ended in disaster.

A few more troops were sent from England in
the following year, 1756, together with a new general ;
but he could accomplish little, having inadequate
forces and being unable to persuade the Colonists to
provide more. The conduct of campaigns by New
England lawyers was in fact most wasteful and
inefficient. In 1757, as we have seen, Pitt came to
the head of affairs ; but he had not time to make
provision for a more effective management of the


war in America ; and all the successes of the year
were on the side of the French. At last in 1758 a
new commander-in-chief, General Jeffery Amherst,
was appointed ; the regular soldiers were increased
to the number of twenty-six thousand ; and Pitt
undertook to clothe, equip, feed and arm twenty-five
thousand Colonial troops, leaving to the Colonies only
the expense of paying them. Louisburg was be-
sieged and taken by Amherst, and the French were
driven from the Ohio ; but an advance of sixteen
thousand men towards the St Lawrence was checked
by a disgraceful reverse, owing to the incapacity of
the British commander. Amherst took personal
command on this side in the following year, leaving
Wolfe to attack Quebec ; and in 1760 the resistance
of the French entirely collapsed. It needed only
careful organisation and endless pains in the trouble-
some work of bringing forward food for the troops
to render success certain ; and yet the Americans
could not do it. Beyond all question there were
brains in America fuUy equal to the business of
divining exactly what would be wanted ; indeed
Benjamin Franklin had to do with the organisation
of Braddock's expedition ; but there were no disci-
plined men who could be trusted to do exactly what
they were told. The British soldiers were no doubt,
to the Colonial mind, helpless and unhandy beyond
expression ; but they knew how to obey. If told


to do a thing to-day at ten o'clock, they did not wait
till to-morrow at three — which is the Colonial way —
and it is only by punctuality that a campaign can
be even begun. Selfishness, jealousy and indiscipline
were the causes why the Americans, notwithstanding
their huge superiority in number of population, were
unable to conquer the French in Canada without a
British army to help them. Had the position of the
two nations been reversed, the French would have
driven us from Canada in twelve months.

The result of our exertions in behalf of the Colonies
is well known. Having delivered them from a
dangerous neighbour, we asked them to share with
us the burden of Imperial defence. They admitted
the justice of the claim, but declined to satisfy it.
When we endeavoured to solve the problem by
means of the Imperial Parliament, they resented it
with furious violence. EngUsh politicians, too many
of them from factious spite, but a few from higher
motives, supported and encouraged them. The
question of Imperial defence was lost sight of.
There was mismanagement on our side, gross pro-
vocation on the side of the Colonists ; and the
quarrel finally issued in war. The Americans took
the offensive and made a dash upon Canada, whence
they were with some difficulty repulsed. We re-
captured New York ; and then, by extraordinary
blundering at home. General Burgoyne was ordered


to advance south from Canada upon the supposition
that General Howe would advance northward to
meet him from New York ; instead of which Howe
sailed to the Delaware and captured Philadelphia.
Burgoyne meanwhile endeavoured to do as he was
bidden ; but from want of land-transport found that
continued progress through the forest was impossible.
His only chance was, if he could, to capture one of
the enemy's magazines by surprise ; and it was the
miscarriage of an attempt to do this which first
entangled him in serious danger. He plunged deeper
and deeper into a circle of enemies, and was sur-
rounded and compelled to surrender ; but his
campaign was in reality wrecked by the difficulty of
transport and supply in a wild country. In one
space of twenty miles, for instance, he was obliged
to fell trees and build forty bridges over rivers and
creeks, with the result that he took precisely twenty
days to traverse the distance. Invasion on such
terms, when the whole population of a country is
hostile, is almost impossible of success. Yet
strangely enough the whole object of the movement
from north and south along the line of the Hudson
was to secure the line of the river, and cut ofi^ the
colonies to the east from the colonies on the west of
it. For the cereal supplies of the American army
were on the west bank, and the meat supplies on the
east ; and to deprive them of either would force them


to fight or to disband themselves. Thus, you see,
the question of subsistence was at the root of the
whole matter.

The disaster at Saratoga brought the French as
allies to the Americans ; and it was the supremacy
of the French fleet on the coast at a critical moment
which decided the issue of the war. There was
fighting, and hard fighting, in the southern colonies ;
but the Americans would never have beaten us
without the help of the French. Had they been
really in earnest they could have driven us from the
country in twelve months, but they were not in
earnest. They wanted other people to do their
fighting for them, whether they were contending
against France in 1757 or England in 1780 ; and
by great good fortune they found such other people
ready to their hand. A few noble and patriotic men
did indeed their utmost duty to their country ; but
the}^ were very few. The rest were unwilling to
make the sacrifice demanded of them by service in
the field and submission to discipline. Hence their
Government was driven to cruelty and double-
dealing of every kind to force their British prisoners
to enter the American ranks, so as to save
citizens from risking their worthless skins. In fact
when one compares the resistance of the three
million Americans in 1776-1781 with that of the
few hundred thousand Boers in 1899-1902, it is

Ill] WAR OF 1812 113

impossible to regard the American rebellion with
any great respect.

In 1812 we were again embroiled with America
chiefly owing to the intrigues of Napoleon, but in
great measure also through the hostility of two of
the Presidents. As usual, these two officials and
their supporters counted upon Napoleon to fight
their battles for them, and made no preparations
for war, thinking that they would be able to take
Canada with ease from us, who had the great
Emperor and all his forces upon our hands. They
were egregiously undeceived. Their naval officers and
sailors acquitted themselves admirably, though their
ships were too few to make head against us in the
open sea. Their troops were for long beneath con-
tempt, owing to want of training and discipline. We
had so much upon our hands that we could spare
few soldiers to meet them ; but the Americans never
succeeded, in spite of greatly superior numbers,
in taking Canada ; and at last they were glad to
make peace without gaining any of the objects
for which they had fought, being absolutely ex-
hausted and ruined by our naval blockade. But it
is to be noticed that, as usual, transport and supply
were the great difficulties on both sides and that,
setting aside some raids on our part which were not
always successful, the main fighting took place on
the waterway of the great lakes, simply because that

F. M. H. 8


was the only quarter in which either side could feed
even a small army. In fact it was impossible, for
want of decent roads, to bring forward supplies except
by water ; and success or faitoe to either party
depended wholly upon naval supremacy on the lakes.
When we held it we beat the Americans, when the
Americans held it they beat us ; so that practically
this was a naval war albeit fought inland.

Let us pass next to the West Indies. Where
islands are concerned, of course naval superiority
is essential to every successful campaign, otherwise
you cannot bring either troops or stores to the scene
of action. The Antilles are for the most part of
volcanic formation, mountainous, if a height of three
to four thousand feet may be said to make a moun-
tain, rugged, and in the majority of cases covered
with forest, cultivation generally being confined to
the lower hiUs and valleys. Situated between the
10th and 23rd degrees of North latitude, they lie
well within the Tropic of Cancer ; and the climate
is consequently such that white men cannot breed
and thrive there. Roads in the great majority of
the islands are few, and such as there are frequently
traverse ground so steep that they are paved and
not macadamised, lest the surface should be washed
away by the heavy tropical rains. By far the greater
number of such roads (I except the island of Bar-
bados) are mere tracks, narrow, rough and unfit for


vehicles. Bridges are even fewer than roads,
though the islands with which we are chiefly con-
cerned are furrowed by torrents, which have cut
deep ravines and valleys in their rush from the
mountains down to the sea. Hence what with
forests, streams, hills and valleys as steep as those
of the Highlands, it is not easy to move about most
of the islands. All labour was formerly done by
negro slaves imported from West Africa, whose
descendants — ^now for three generations free — still
form the mass of the population. These negroes
to a certain extent cultivate provision-grounds for
themselves ; but the islands are none of them self-
supporting in the matter of food ; and for fuU two
centuries they have been supplied with flour, maize,
salt fish and salt pork from America. Strategically
they fall into two groups : the Windward, comprising
the chain of islets which runs for some six hundred
miles north and westward from Trinidad to St
Thomas ; and the Leeward, consisting of the far
larger islands of Porto Rico, St Domingo, Jamaica
and Cuba, which run nearly due west from St Thomas.
Everything in the West Indies is windward or
leeward, that is to say is considered in respect of
its situation towards the south-easterly trade- wind,
which in the days of sailing ships was a very im-
portant matter. Say, for instance, that the General
in Jamaica asked for reinforcements from the General



at Barbados, the most leewardly from the most wind-
wardly of our possessions ; the General in Barbados
had to think twice before sending them because,
though they would probably reach Jamaica in a
week, they could not be sure of beating back in
three months. In fact no captain in old days would
have attempted such a thing, for it would have been
quite as speedy and far less exhausting to saU back
to England by a circuitous course and make a fresh
start for Barbados from thence. So too between any
two islands the same question of windward and lee-
ward was equaUy cogent. Martinique, the French
head- quarters in the Windward group, is little over
one hundred miles from Barbados, the English head-
quarters ; but while you may sail from Barbados to
Martinique in twelve hours, you will not beat back
in less than three or four days.

The Spaniards, as you know, were the first in
the West Indies, but they troubled themselves little
about the Windward islets, occupying by preference
the great islands of Porto Rico, St Domingo, Cuba
and Jamaica. We and the French, however, began
at much the same time to occup}^ the islets to wind-
ward, which are all of about the size of the Isle of
Wight, and we did a good deal of petty squabbling
over them. These Uttle places very soon became
enormously rich. Sugar, indigo and spices, produced
by servile labour, brought in enormous profits ;


while incidentally the contract for providing the
Spanish islands with slaves — known as the Assiento —
which we held for a great many years, was highly
lucrative. Even in the reign of Charles II a Jamaican
planter Avith an income of £12,000 a year — worth
say £50,000 in these days — was not considered extra-
ordinarily wealthy ; and for nearly two centuries the
West Indian was the most powerful mercantile
interest in the British islands.

With aboriginal inhabitants, or Caribs, we never
had any very serious trouble, for they were few in
the islands which we occupied ; and in fact though,
when incited by our European enemies, they gave
occasional annoyance, they were never the subject
of any serious military expedition until 1772, when
a hybrid race, bred of yellow Carib and African
negro, both brave and vigorous, became rebellious
in St Vincent. There were only fifteen hundred
of them, men, women, and children ; but it took
three thousand soldiers and marines, backed by two
or three ships of war, five entire months to force
them to submission, so formidable were the diffi-
culties of feeding the troops in the thick forest and
deep ravines of the interior. Few horses and mules
were bred in the Windward islands, so that all the
supplies were carried on the heads of negroes. Had
the Caribs, therefore, been a really formidable fight-
ing race, it would have taken us long to conquer


the West Indies. As things were, we imported the
negroes, who bred fast and soon outnumbered the
aborigines ; and thus we either compelled the Caribs
to move, or agreed to let them have some patch of
territory for their own. Of course the slaves were
not quite an element of safety, and the whole of the
West Indies Uved in constant dread of a servile war.
Hence a little garrison was generally kept by every
nation in every island ; and at least one fort was
erected, as a rule, for defence of the capital and its
harbour against both foreign and domestic enemies,
while smaller works covered less important towns.

An expedition to the West Indies therefore meant
almost certainly something in the nature of a siege
until the fort and town were captured ; and, when
that was accomplished, the conquest, so far as white
men were concerned, was complete. For in a small
island it was inevitable that the capital should be
situated by the best harbour ; and, when this har-
bour was in an invader's hands, he could land as
many troops as he wished with ease, while he was
also master of all supplies of food, which naturally
were stored in the town. The operations, however,
though short were sure to be arduous owing to the
heat of the climate and the ruggedness of the ground ;
and therefore it was important that they should be
undertaken in the cool season, that is to say between
November and May, in which latter month the heat


and the rains begin to increase and the climate
becomes, or at any rate became, unhealthy. The
confinement of operations to this season is the more
imperative, since between May and October there
is always the danger of hurricanes, and the harbours
in which a ship can lie with safety during a hurri-
cane in the West Indies are not many. You must
remember that a hurricane is not a mere storm — it
is a devoui'ing devastation before which no tree and
none but the stoutest houses, carefully equipped for
resistance, can hope to stand.

Our first serious state-directed expedition to the
West Indies was that despatched by CromweU to
St Domingo in 1654. We were not at war with Spain
at the time, and the enterprise was simply a piece
of piracy ; but it was equipped on a great scale,
the fleet numbering sixty-five sail and the troops
six thousand men. It was intended that the West
Indian and American colonies should furnish con-
tingents of soldiers ; and, when St Domingo had been
taken, to use it as a base of attack against all the
Spanish possessions in the South Atlantic. The ex-
pedition, from want of experience, was ill-equipped ;
the men, hastily raised levies, were of poor quality ;
and the armament did not sail until the end of
December, two months too late. The descent upon
St Domingo was a disgraceful and disastrous failure ;
fleet and army quarrelled violently ; and the only


result of the enterprise was the bloodless capture
of Jamaica, after which fleet and army returned
home, leaving a garrison behind them. Yellow fever
broke out immediately and the garrison was almost
annihilated. In October, 1655, reinforcements ar-
rived, and began at once to die at the rate of twenty
men a day. Fresh reinforcements followed in 1656,
and in a few months two -thirds of these were dead.
At last the sickness abated. An attempt of the
Spaniards to recapture the island in 1658 was beaten
off, and Jamaica has remained under the Enghsh
flag ever since.

Here was a warning for all time as to the conduct
of expeditions to the West Indies. Care must be
taken for good understanding between army and
navy ; and the fleet must sail from England at latest
in October. We shall see how far this warning has
been observed. The next important expedition to
the West Indies was sent by King WiUiam in 1695
to root out the French who had established them-
selves at the western end of St Donjingo, now called
Haiti, and who were threatening Jamaica from
thence. This armament did not sail till January,
three months too late, and consequently did not
begin operations till May. In four months over a
thousand out of the thirteen hundred soldiers had
died ; while the quarrels between the naval and mili-
tary commanders banished all hope of solid success.


The next great tropical expedition undertaken
was that of 1740-1 against Carthagena on the
Spanish main, but little outside the beat of our West
Indian squadrons. The enterprise was prompted
by sheer greed of gain ; the troops were young and
raw recruits (for of course we had no old soldiers)
and numbered six thousand ; American levies to the
number of four thousand were sent from Jamaica
to join them ; the whole were shamefully ill-
equipped ; and finally the armament sailed four
months too late. It was exactly the story of St
Domingo over again. The military commander died

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Online LibraryJohn William FortescueMilitary history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge → online text (page 7 of 13)