John William Fortescue.

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on the voyage, and his successor, a feeble creature,
was treated with the greatest contempt by the naval
officers. However, the force reached Carthagena,
and the troops were landed ; but the General,
mistrusting himself and his men, was so slow and
dilatory in his movements that he delayed the
decisive attack until late in April, and was then
repulsed. Sickness, lead and steel had already
reduced his force from nine thousand to little over
six thousand effectives, and on the night of the
defeat the yellow fever fell upon the unhappy army
in earnest. In three days — think of this appalling
visitation — in three days the effective men had sunk
from sixty-six hundred to thirty-two hundred ; and
in ten days more only a thousand were fit to be landed
against an enemy. Reduced to a mere shadow, the


expedition returned to Jamaica, but the yeUow fever
went with it ; and, within twelve months of the
arrival of the original armament in the tropics, its
numbers had shrunk from nine thousand to fewer
than three hundred fit for duty. At the beginning
of 1742 these were joined by a reinforcement of
three thousand men. Within a month a thousand
of these were sick or dead. A thousand more died
before October, and at last the force practically
disappeared. Of the four thousand Americans only
three hundred Uved to return home ; of the nine
thousand British a bare one in ten survived. This
on the whole is the most terrible story that I know
in British military history ; but perhaps I am led
to think so by Smollett's vivid picture of its horrors
in Roderick Random. I remember that I read that
book for the first time when I was an undergraduate
at Trinity, little thinking that I should live to pro-
claim the fact to a Trinity audience. Every one of
you ought to read it if you have not already done so,
to learn at first hand what was meant by naval and
military service in the eighteenth century.

Here was another warning to strengthen the first.
But meanwhile the West Indies grew and grew in
wealth, and were more andmore coveted by all nations.
Hence the great William Pitt himseK was eager to
appropriate as many islands as possible, setting thus
a very evil example to his son. At the end of 1758

Ill] HAVANA 123

six battalions were sent out to capture Guadeloupe,
which they duly did, being handled with great skill
by General Barrington, before the hurricane season
began. Three of the six battalions were left there as
a garrison, and, before the year was out, about half
of them had died. In 1762 Pitt's successor, acting
upon his designs, sent eight thousand men to capture
the remaining French islands ; and, this being ac-
complished, not without heavy loss from sickness,
the remnant of the force joined a detachment of
troops under Lord Albemarle in the siege of Havana.
Twelve thousand men were employed in this siege,
which lasted two months, and was one of the most
deadly in which British soldiers were ever engaged.
Before its close one brigade of four battalions was
reduced to twenty men fit for duty. Over five
thousand men were buried in Cuba alone in four
months, while hundreds more perished both there
and in North America, whither they had been trans-
ported in the hope of saving their lives.

Several French islands passed into our possession
at the Peace of Paris, all of course demanding garri-
sons which required to be totally renewed every two
years ; but Guadeloupe, Martinique and St Lucia
were left to the French ; and it was in order to gain
a safe harbour in St Lucia, commanding the French
naval base at Martinique close by, that a descent
was made upon it in 1778 by five thousand British


troops from America. The operations were con-
ducted in a masterly fashion both by sea and land ;
and the capture of the island atoned in some measure
for that of sundry British islands by the French.
But the virulence of yellow fever was everywhere
terrible ; and the usual mortality was heightened in
1780 by a hurricane of peculiar violence. In Bar-
bados four thousand human beings, nine thousand
cattle and horses, and smaller stock without number
were destroyed in a few hours. Still, by laying the
forest flat and thus destroying the harbour for
mosquitoes, the hurricane abated the sickness in
St Lucia.

And now we come to the war of the French
Revolution, when Pitt thought to compel France
to submission by taking all her colonies and de-
priving her of aU colonial produce, whether as a
luxury or as a source of revenue. France had but
three islands to windward, Martinique, Guadeloupe
and St Lucia and to leeward the western end of
St Domingo, called Haiti ; but all were flourishing
settlements ; and Haiti was considered the richest
possession in the world, its produce being valued
at four millions annually. All three had been
shaken, and Haiti half -ruined, by the doctrines of
the National Assembly, which had not only abolished
slavery, but preached the doctrine of equahty among
all men to such effect that the negroes had risen and


either massacred or driven out two-thirds of the
whites. In the hope of restoring order and regaining
their wealth the remainder of the whites invited the
General at Jamaica to occupy their territory, an offer
at which that officer grasped eagerly, knowing by
reputation the wealth of the place. Shortly after-
wards at the end of 1793, but two months too late,
Pitt sent seven thousand troops under General Grey
and a fleet under Sir John Jervis, better known as
Lord St Vincent, to capture the French Windward
islands. The two commanders were excellent men in
their professions, and on affectionate terms with
each other. Their operations prospered. The three
islands were taken after two months hard work ;
and then with the coming of the unhealthy season
the men began to die. Emissaries, one of them a
West Indian mulatto of great energy and ability,
arrived from France with arms and reinforcements,
proclaimed the equality of all men, and stirred up
the negroes to root the English out. The negroes
responded ; and not in the French islands only,
but in aU that had ever been French, they rose in
insurrection against the whites. Meanwhile Pitt
had sent the British regiments no reinforcements,
no stores, no clothing ; and they had now a most
formidable task before them. It was no longer a
case of meeting white men of like weakness and dis-
abilities with themselves, but of contending with


black men to whom the climate was favourable and
who knew every inch of the country.

By the end of the year 1794 five out of seven
thousand of Grey's men had died, and Guadeloupe
had been recaptured by the French. By the summer
of 1795 St Lucia had also been recaptured ; and
the British even in their own islands of St Vincent
and Grenada had been dispossessed of all but
the two forts and capitals. Scattered regiments of
boys sent out by Pitt sufficed only to fiU the grave-
yards, for they could not stand the active work
of the campaign ; and at last Pitt was obliged to
despatch a fresh army of seventeen thousand men
to recover the lost ground. The expedition, owing
to the usual blundering, started too late, and the
troops were of the worst quality, young, untrained
and of poor physique. However, thanks to their
commander, Sir Ralph Abercromby, they managed
to recapture the lost islands, which by that time had
been reduced to desolation by the insurgent negroes ;
and then of course they died hke flies. Meanwhile
ever since 1793 Haiti had swallowed up more and
more troops, the black insurgents opposing the
British most gallantly but proving far less deadly
than the yellow fever. Year after year reinforce-
ments arrived to complete the work of conquest,
and year after year the army was reduced to a shadow
before it could accomplish its task. But Pitt, still


insatiable, sent Abercromby out a second time in
1797 to capture Trinidad and Porto Rico, which
latter island by great good fortune was too strong
for him. It was not until 1798 that the bickering
over these miserable islands ceased, and even then
by no fault of Pitt's. It was a military officer who
decided on his own responsibility to evacuate Haiti,
against the wishes of the Government, but none too
soon. By that time Pitt's military policy, so called,
had cost us 100,000 men, but had not contributed
in the slightest degree to check the aggression of
Revolutionary France.

After this awful lesson the Government began to
train black soldiers to take the place of white in
future West Indian expeditions ; while the white
garrisons were largely composed of foreigners and
battaHons of convicts. But while struggling to
create an army at home by the mistaken methods
which I have already described to you, Addington
opened the second part of the war by capturing
St Lucia, Tobago and Dutch Guiana, thus multi-
plying unhealthy stations which ate steadily into
our own strength without diminishing that of the
enemy. Ultimately a series of expeditions, exceed-
ingly well managed, swept the whole of the West
Indies, excepting the Spanish, into our net, and put
an end to aU warfare in that quarter for the remainder
of the war. By the peace of 1814 Martinique and


Guadeloupe were restored to France, but were
recaptured by us in 1815 during the Hundred Days,
and then finally given back to be captured no more.
The sequel is melancholy enough. For about a
quarter of a century after Waterloo our miserable
pittance of an army was hidden away in great
measure in the Islands ; and then suddenly the
British nation in one of those fits of conscientiousness
to which it is occasionally subject, decided practi-
cally to destroy these possessions by abolishing
slavery and repealing the duties which protected
their produce. The abolition of slavery was no
doubt a good thing, but as it extended at first to the
English islands only, its immediate effect was to
give a tremendous impulse to the slave trade, with
all its horrors, in the French, Dutch and Spanish
islands. To all intent it penalised our own islands
to the advantage of the Spanish islands, and favoured
our few negroes to the prejudice of ten times their
number of others. This evil after some years passed
away, as the abolition of slavery was accepted by
other countries ; but the West Indies have never
recovered from the shock of the double blow. More-
over, apart from these two legislative enactments,
Pitt's policy of ruining France by taking her colonies
has resulted in the ruin of the colonies for the benefit
of France. For, being deprived of all colonial pro-
duce, French men of science sought out the means


of growing some of that produce in France itself ;
and hence arose the manufacture of sugar from the
root of the beet, and an immense industry not in
France only but all over Europe, which drives the
best West Indian sugar out of the market. So little
can even great men foresee the consequences of their

Thus the West Indies have fallen for ever from
their high estate ; and it is only by an actual visit
to them that we can divine what they once were.
Ruined forts, ruined barracks, ruined store-houses,
old guns slowly mouldering away, pyramids of round
shot so welded together by rust that they cannot be
moved — these are the more visible tokens of past
greatness. But a searching enquirer will turn his
steps to the desolate graveyards, and tearing his
way through rank herbage and tropical scrub wiU
approach the crumbling head-stones, and there he
may read — or at least I could read thirty years ago —
what a visitation of yellow fever meant in the old
days. Field-officers, captains, lieutenants, ensigns,
sergeants, corporals, drummers, rank and j&le of
battalion after battalion lie there in row upon row,
as if on parade, while the land-crabs hurry from
grave to grave, and deadly snakes lie coiled upon
the heaps of crumbling stones which once were monu-
ments. I know no more melancholy sight than
this. How many British soldiers and sailors lie in

F. M. H. 9


these and other unknown graves in the Caribbean
Islands ? I know not ; but the lowest figure that
I should suggest would be three hundred thousand,
and the highest perhaps half a million. And the
pity of it is that the value of the islands disappeared
just when the means of economising life began to
be perfected. The formation of negro regiments,
though bitterly opposed by the planters, who
dreaded the slightest emergence of the black race
from the status of servitude, was a great and
courageous act of statesmanship — courageous be-
cause formerly the West Indian interest could muster
a solid phalanx of eighty votes in the House of
Commons, and was thus able to overset a Govern-
ment. Now too in these later days yellow fever
has yielded up its secrets to science, and can be
disarmed of its terrors. But it is too late. No one
cares for the West Indies nowadays. No one re-
members that at one time Cuba was deemed more
valuable than Madras. The whole of the Antilles
are now entrusted to the protection of one white
battalion; one black battalion, and two companies
of artillery ; and the great bulk of these men are kept
there not for the sake of the once wealthy sugar
islands, but to ensure the safety of the naval station
of Bermuda. One could contemplate such a change
with equanimity but for the recollection of perhaps
half a million lives sacrificed to no purpose.


I turn now to the seat of the most difficult of all
of our colonial wars, South Africa ; the most diffi-
cult because it is of vast extent, inhabited by warhke
natives for the most part, and without waterways.
Our first attack upon it in 1795, when we were
opposed by Dutch troops and Boers only, is remark-
able as an example of a campaign conducted by
three thousand white soldiers without any transport
whatever, and without even gun-teams. The dis-
tance from the base, Simonstown, to the objective,
Capetown, was only twelve miles, nearly all through
deep sand ; but the enemy were as strong as the
invaders ; and, when everything has to be dragged
by white men's arms or carried upon white men's
backs, the difficulties of movement are so great —
especially if the march be opposed at every step —
as to be almost insuperable. However, a large pro-
portion of the force was turned into beasts of burden,
and their numbers were supplemented by blue-
jackets and marines ; the general having wisely
decided that both Services should share ahke in the
drudgery of transport and in the more congenial
work of fighting. Thus Capetown, by a tremendous
effort, was taken for the first time. When we at-
tacked it again in 1806 we disembarked at a different
point ; and the enemy's general was obliging
enough to come out to meet us at once, and to be
beaten. Thus our force, about six thousand strong,



was enabled to victual itself from the fleet at the
end of the first day's advance, and to march into
Capetown at the end of the second.

Since then we have fought many wars in South
Africa against both natives and Dutch colonists ;
and in all of them the main difficulty has been that
of feeding the troops. There is of course the
country-transport which is familiar to us — the huge
tilted waggons with their eight yoke of oxen, each in
the charge of two skilled natives — of which we heard
so much twelve years ago. Of its kind it is good.
But such large vehicles and teams are very unwieldy ;
they must be left in charge of natives who cannot be
trusted (and small blame to them) not to run away
in moments of danger ; and lastly the ox, though
patient, plucky and persevering to an uncommon
degree, has his defects as a draft animal. He is very
slow and he must not be hurried ; he needs time to
chew the cud after feeding ; and he cannot work
with the fuU power of the sun beating upon his back.
In fact he has his times and seasons which must be
carefully observed, or he will die ; and he is sensitive
not only to sun, but also to cold and wet. The enemy,
being fully aware of his limitations, can foresee their
effect upon the movements of the force opposed to
them, and can lay their plans accordingly. Another
disadvantage to European troops in South Africa
is that European horses do not naturally take to


South African pasture, and that there are poisonous
plants to be found in it which native horses have
learned to avoid, but which European horses will
innocently devour. Hence forage becomes a great
difficulty also ; and on the veldt there is the further
drawback that no wood for fuel exists. As in most
new lands, the roads are mere tracks, and all the
innumerable rivers must be crossed by fords, for
there are few bridges ; while the extent of the territory
that may be covered by military operations in so
vast a continent is appalling.

In one of our earliest Kaffir wars — that of 1835 —
Sir Harry Smith described himself as having only
twelve hundred men, eight hundred horses and four
guns, with which to act in a theatre of war of four
thousand square miles ; and he added, " It takes just
two hours for a commissariat train to arrive, from the
moving off of the first waggon to the arrival of the
last, when the road is good. When the column is
stretched out along the road it looks as if each soldier
had a waggon to himself at least." Yet on one occa-
sion with a smaU force he marched eighty-four miles
in three days ; and he covered nearly two hundred and
twenty miles in a rugged and mountainous country,
much broken by deep rivers, in seven days and a half.
In the more serious war of 1850-53 the hostile tribes
could not put into the field more than three thousand
fighting men ; but by betaking themselves to their


fastnesses of mountain and forest they prolonged
their resistance for nearly three years. The British
soldier was at every disadvantage in bush-fighting,
and the Kaffirs were far too cunning to encounter
him in the open ; yet by dint of hard work and per-
severance this brave and wary enemy was at last
worn down. He might have been subdued much
earher but for the constant and insane reductions
of the Army ever since Waterloo. It is actually a
fact that at this time the military power of England
was strained almost to breaking point by three
thousand naked savages.

The next war — that of 1877 — came at a time
when our Army, owing to the recent introduction of
short service, was in a state of transition, and taught
us a very severe lesson. We were engaged in war
with the Zulus, a very formidable tribe, which had
been organised into a great military power by a
chief who, in his own way, was a genius. One of his
armies came upon a British force of something over
a thousand troops at a disadvantage, and after a
desperate fight destroyed them almost to a man.
But for the determined resistance of a small post of
eighty or ninety men at a ford of the Tugela, the
Zulus would probably have overrun Natal to the
sea, and extinguished the white inhabitants of that
Colony. There was great agitation in England, and
several battalions were hurried out to the Cape with

Ill] ZULU WAR 135

no special regard to their condition or quality. It had
been forgotten that the old long-service-soldier had
become extinct ; and that the old single-battalion-
regiments were also in course of extinction, to give
place to regiments of two battalions, whereof one
was always to be at home and the other abroad.
The Army and the nation had not taken kindly to
the change ; and the immediate result was that the
battalions at home had become merely assemblies
of boys who, as soon as they approached manhood,
were drafted off to feed the battalions abroad. Some
of these groups of boys, raw and half-trained, were
shipped out to South Africa in the expectation that
they would be as strong and as steady as the old
battalions composed of men who counted ten to
twenty years' service. Of course they were not.
They were very sickly, very ill-disciplined, and very
far from well-conducted. However, the war was
ended, and the power of the Zulus was broken with-
out further serious mishap ; and we learned by this
experience the lesson that a force of seasoned soldiers
must at all times be held ready for what is called the
police- work of the Empire.

Our last experience of war in South Africa is
too recent for me to presume to say much about it,
except that in many respects it bore a singular re-
semblance to the American War of Independence . The
operations of the latter war embraced at least eleven


hundred miles of coast-line, as the crow flies, and in
places penetrated inland as far as a hundred and fifty
miles from the sea. Only facilities of water-carriage
enabled armies to be moved at all over this vast
tract ; and it was rare for bodies even of ten thousand
men to remain for long united. The theatre of war
in South Africa was quite as vast. Our two prin-
cipal bases of operations were nearly a thousand miles
apart — as far, say, as Antwerp is from Lisbon, with
the enemy's capital situated at Warsaw. But for
the existence of a few railways the conquest of this
enormous tract might have taken thirty years, for
there are no waterways and the country produces
little wheat. As things were, it was accomplished
more or less in three ; and a force of three to four
hundred thousand men was fed with a regularity
highly creditable to the officers responsible for that
duty. But the expense was terrific ; and although
it was possible by great exertions to bring up food
for the men, there were moments when it was im-
possible to provide sufficient forage for the animals.
Hence the waste of horses in the cavalry and artillery
was enormous, for they could not live on the African
pasture as did the horses of the enemy. In fact a
community with a more or less empty continent at
its back can, with good management, prolong resist-
ance for an almost indefinite time ; for the chances
are that the invader will be more quickly exhausted


than the invaded, while the former is always subject
to troubles and diversions at home which may
weaken him at a critical moment. That is the
secret of the power of Russia and of the United
States. It is impossible to hurt them seriously, for
the further you penetrate into their country the
weaker you are. Little countries, such as our own,
may be pierced to the heart at the first thrust.
Space in fact means time where war is concerned ;
and time is the most powerful of all allies. The
Americans themselves discovered that when they
invaded Canada in 1812.

There is another description of colonial war of
which we have had experience, and which from
the extreme peculiarity of the country and people
deserves special notice. I speak of New Zealand.
Roughly speaking the two main islands of New
Zealand exactly correspond to Italy in our own
hemisphere ; and if you suppose the sea to close
round the northern frontier of the Alps and to cut
the peninsula in two by washing a channel through
it somewhere about Rome, you will find the actual
shape of New Zealand very closely reproduced.
Both countries consist of a backbone of volcanic
mountains, with a broad margin to east and a narrow
margin to west ; and in each there is a wide
fertile plain made up of debris washed down from the
mountains and furrowed by rivers flowing from the


glaciers. This great plain, however, is in the south
island of New Zealand ; and all of our wars were
in the north island, corresponding in the southern
hemisphere to the southern portion of Italy. The
north island, which contains several active volcanoes,
is for the most part mountainous and w^as to a vast
extent covered with dense forest, with a strong
undergrowth of vines — known as supple-jacks — and
of fern, very like our own bracken, which grows
higher than a man's head. The inhabitants were
themselves invaders from the North Pacific, or
possibly from some part of the American continent,
and, according to their own traditions, must have
occupied the country at about the time of our own
Norman Conquest. They were called, as of course
you know, by the name of Maoris, and were split
up into a number of tribes which passed their

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Online LibraryJohn William FortescueMilitary history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge → online text (page 8 of 13)