Part 1 out of 5
Suzanne L. Shell, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
ANCIENT AND MODERN BATTLE
BY COLONEL ARDANT DU PICQ
TRANSLATED FROM THE EIGHTH EDITION IN THE FRENCH BY
COLONEL JOHN N. GREELY
FIELD ARTILLERY, U.S. ARMY
AND MAJOR ROBERT C. COTTON
GENERAL STAFF (INFANTRY), U.S. ARMY
Joint Author of "Military Field Notebook"
[Transcriber's note: Footnotes have been moved to the end of the book.]
[Illustration: COLONEL ARDANT DU PICQ]
Letter from Marshal Foch to Major General A. W. Greely
Dated Malsherbe, October 23, 1920]
TRANSLATION OF A LETTER FROM MARSHAL FOCH TO MAJOR GENERAL A. W.
GREELY, DATED MALSHERBE, OCTOBER 23, 1920
MY DEAR GENERAL:
Colonel Ardant du Picq was the exponent of _moral force_, the
most powerful element in the strength of armies. He has shown it to
be the preponderating influence in the outcome of battles.
Your son has accomplished a very valuable work in translating his
writings. One finds his conclusions amply verified in the
experience of the American Army during the last war, notably in the
campaign of 1918.
Accept, my dear General, my best regards.
BY FRANK H. SIMONDS
Author of "History of the World War," "'They Shall Not Pass'--Verdun,"
In presenting to the American reading public a translation of a volume
written by an obscure French colonel, belonging to a defeated army, who
fell on the eve of a battle which not alone gave France over to the
enemy but disclosed a leadership so inapt as to awaken the suspicion
of treason, one is faced by the inevitable interrogation--"Why?"
Yet the answer is simple. The value of the book of Ardant du Picq lies
precisely in the fact that it contains not alone the unmistakable
forecast of the defeat, itself, but a luminous statement of those
fundamental principles, the neglect of which led to Gravelotte and
Napoleon has said that in war the moral element is to all others as
three is to one. Moreover, as du Picq impressively demonstrates, while
all other circumstances change with time, the human element remains
the same, capable of just so much endurance, sacrifice, effort, and no
more. Thus, from Caesar to Foch, the essential factor in war endures
And it is not the value of du Picq's book, as an explanation of the
disasters of 1870, but of the triumphs of 1914-18, which gives it
present and permanent interest. It is not as the forecast of why
Bazaine, a type of all French commanders of the Franco-Prussian War,
will fail, but why Foch, Joffre, Petain will succeed, that the volume
invites reading to-day.
Beyond all else, the arresting circumstances in the fragmentary pages,
perfect in themselves but incomplete in the conception of their
author, is the intellectual and the moral kinship they reveal between
the soldier who fell just before the crowning humiliation of
Gravelotte and the victor of Fere Champenoise, the Yser and the
colossal conflict of 1918 to which historians have already applied the
name of the Battle of France, rightly to suggest its magnitude.
Read the hastily compiled lectures of Foch, the teacher of the Ecole
de Guerre, recall the fugitive but impressive words of Foch, the
soldier, uttered on the spur of the moment, filled with homely phrase,
and piquant figure and underlying all, one encounters the same
integral conception of war and of the relation of the moral to the
physical, which fills the all too scanty pages of du Picq.
"For me as a soldier," writes du Picq, "the smallest detail caught on
the spot and in the heat of action is more instructive than all the
Thiers and the Jominis in the world." Compare this with Foch
explaining to his friend Andre de Mariecourt, his own emotions at the
critical hour at Fere Champenoise, when he had to invent something new
to beguile soldiers who had retreated for weeks and been beaten for
days. His tactical problem remained unchanged, but he must give his
soldiers, tired with being beaten to the "old tune" a new air, which
would appeal to them as new, something to which they had not been
beaten, and the same philosophy appears.
Du Picq's contemporaries neglected his warning, they saw only the
outward circumstances of the Napoleonic and Frederican successes. In
vain du Picq warned them that the victories of Frederick were not the
logical outgrowth of the minutiae of the Potsdam parades. But du Picq
dead, the Third Empire fallen, France prostrated but not annihilated
by the defeats of 1870, a new generation emerged, of which Foch was
but the last and most shining example. And this generation went back,
powerfully aided by the words of du Picq, to that older tradition, to
the immutable principles of war.
With surprising exactness du Picq, speaking in the abstract, foretold
an engagement in which the mistakes of the enemy would be
counterbalanced by their energy in the face of French passivity, lack
of any control conception. Forty years later in the Ecole de Guerre,
Foch explained the reasons why the strategy of Moltke, mistaken in all
respects, failed to meet the ruin it deserved, only because at
Gravelotte Bazaine could not make up his mind, solely because of the
absence in French High Command of precisely that "Creed of Combat" the
lack of which du Picq deplored.
Of the value of du Picq's work to the professional soldier, I
naturally cannot speak, but even for the civilian, the student of
military events, of war and of the larger as well as the smaller
circumstances of battle, its usefulness can hardly be exaggerated.
Reading it one understands something, at least of the soul as well as
the science of combat, the great defeats and the great victories of
history seem more intelligible in simple terms of human beings. Beyond
this lies the contemporaneous value due to the fact that nowhere can
one better understand Foch than through the reading of du Picq.
By translating this volume of du Picq and thus making it available for
an American audience whose interest has been inevitably stirred by
recent events, the translators have done a public as well as a
professional service. Both officers enjoyed exceptional opportunities
and experiences on the Western front. Col. Greely from Cantigny to the
close of the battle of the Meuse-Argonne was not only frequently
associated with the French army, but as Chief of Staff of our own
First Division, gained a direct knowledge of the facts of battle,
equal to that of du Picq, himself.
On the professional side the service is obvious, since before the last
war the weakness of the American like the British Army, a weakness
inevitable, given our isolation, lay in the absence of adequate study
of the higher branches of military science and thus the absence of
such a body of highly skilled professional soldiers, as constituted
the French or German General Staff. The present volume is a clear
evidence that American officers themselves have voluntarily undertaken
to make good this lack.
On the non-professional side and for the general reader, the service
is hardly less considerable, since it supplies the least technically
informed with a simply comprehensible explanation of things which
almost every one has struggled to grasp and visualize during the last
six years extending from the battle of Marne in 1914 to that of the
Vistula in 1920.
Of the truth of this latter assertion, a single example will perhaps
suffice. Every forthcoming military study of the campaign of 1914
emphasizes with renewed energy the fact that underlying all the German
conceptions of the opening operations was the purpose to repeat the
achievement of Hannibal at Cannae, by bringing the French to battle
under conditions which should, on a colossal scale, reproduce those of
Hannibal's greatest victory. But nowhere better than in du Picq's
volume, are set forth the essential circumstances of the combat which,
after two thousand years gave to Field Marshal von Schlieffen the root
ideas for the strategy expressed in the first six weeks of 1914. And,
as a final observation, nowhere better than in du Picq's account, can
one find the explanation of why the younger Moltke failed in executing
those plans which gave Hannibal one of the most shining triumphs in
Thus, although he died in 1870, du Picq lives, through his book, as
one of the most useful guides to a proper understanding of a war
fought nearly half a century later.
FRANK H. SIMONDS.
Snowville, New Hampshire,
October 15, 1920.
Colonel Ardant du Picq's "Battle Studies" is a French military
classic. It is known to every French army officer; it is referred to
as an established authority in such works as Marshal Foch's "The
Principles of War." It has been eagerly read in the original by such
American army officers as have chanced upon it; probably only the
scarcity of thinking men with military training has precluded the
earlier appearance of an American edition.
The translators feel that the war with Germany which brought with it
some military training for all the best brains of the country has
prepared the field for an American edition of this book. They are sure
that every American reader who has had actual battle experience in any
capacity will at some point say to himself, "That is absolutely
true...." or, "That reminds me of the day...."
Appendices II, III, IV, and V, appearing in the edition from which
this translation is made, deal with issues and military questions
entirely French and not of general application. They are therefore not
considered as being of sufficient interest to be reproduced herein.
Appendix VI of the original appears herein as Appendix II.
The translation is unpretentious. The translators are content to
exhibit such a work to the American military public without changing
its poignancy and originality. They hope that readers will enjoy it as
much as they have themselves.
J. N. G.
R. C. C.
We present to the public the complete works of Colonel Ardant du Picq,
arranged according to the plan of the author, enlarged by unpublished
fragments and documents.
These unpublished documents are partially known by those who have read
"Studies on Combat" (Hachette & Dumaine, 1880). A second edition was
called for after a considerable time. It has left ineffaceable traces
in the minds of thinking men with experience. By its beauty and the
vigor of its teachings, it has created in a faithful school of
disciples a tradition of correct ideas.
For those familiar with the work, there is no need for emphasizing the
importance and usefulness of this rejuvenated publication. In it they
will find new sources of interest, which will confirm their admiration
for the author.
They will also rejoice in the popularity of their teacher, already
highly regarded in the eyes of his profession on account of his
presentation of conclusions, the truth of which grows with years. His
work merits widespread attention. It would be an error to leave it in
the exclusive possession of special writers and military technicians.
In language which is equal in power and pathetic beauty, it should
carry its light much further and address itself to all readers who
enjoy solid thought. Their ideas broadened, they will, without fail,
join those already initiated.
No one can glance over these pages with indifference. No one can fail
to be moved by the strong and substantial intellect they reveal. No
one can fail to feel their profound depths. To facilitate treatment of
a subject which presents certain difficulties, we shall confine
ourselves to a succinct explanation of its essential elements, the
general conception that unites them, and the purpose of the author.
But we must not forget the dramatic mutilation of the work
unfortunately never completed because of the glorious death of Ardant
When Colonel Ardant du Picq was killed near Metz in 1870 by a Prussian
shell, he left works that divide themselves into two well-defined
(1) Completed works:
Pamphlet (printed in 1868 but not intended for sale), which forms
the first part of the present edition: Ancient Battle.
A series of memoirs and studies written in 1865. These are partly
reproduced in Appendices I and II herein.
(2) Notes jotted down on paper, sometimes developed into complete
chapters not requiring additions or revision, but sometimes
abridged and drawn up in haste. They reveal a brain completely
filled with its subject, perpetually working, noting a trait in a
rapid phrase, in a vibrating paragraph, in observations and
recollections that a future revision was to compile, unite and
The collection of these notes forms the second part: Modern Battle.
These notes were inspired by certain studies or memoirs which are
presented in Appendices I-V, and a Study on Combat, with which the
Colonel was occupied, and of which we gave a sketch at the end of
the pamphlet of 1868. He himself started research among the
officers of his acquaintance, superiors, equals or subordinates,
who had served in war. This occupied a great part of his life.
In order to collect from these officers, without change or
misrepresentation, statements of their experiences while leading their
men in battle or in their divers contacts with the enemy, he sent to
each one a questionnaire, in the form of a circular. The reproduction
herein is from the copy which was intended for General Lafont de
Villiers, commanding the 21st Division at Limoges. It is impossible to
over-emphasize the great value of this document which gives the key to
the constant meditations of Ardant du Picq, the key to the reforms
which his methodical and logical mind foresaw. It expounds a principle
founded upon exact facts faithfully stated. His entire work, in
embryo, can be seen between the lines of the questionnaire. This was
his first attempt at reaction against the universal routine
From among the replies which he received and which his family
carefully preserved, we have extracted the most conclusive. They will
be found in Appendix II--Historical Documents. Brought to light, at
the urgent request of the author, they complete the book,
corroborating statements by examples. They illuminate his doctrines by
authentic historical depositions.
In arranging this edition we are guided solely by the absolute respect
which we have for the genius of Ardant du Picq. We have endeavored to
reproduce his papers in their entirety, without removing or adding
anything. Certain disconnected portions have an inspired and fiery
touch which would be lessened by the superfluous finish of an attempt
at editing. Some repetitions are to be found; they show that the
appendices were the basis for the second part of the volume, Modern
Battle. It may be stated that the work, suddenly halted in 1870,
contains criticisms, on the staff for instance, which aim at radical
FRONTISPIECE--PORTRAIT OF COLONEL ARDANT DU PICQ
A MILITARY THINKER
RECORD OF MILITARY SERVICE OF COLONEL ARDANT DU PICQ
EXTRACT FROM THE HISTORY OF THE 10TH INFANTRY REGIMENT
PART ONE: ANCIENT BATTLE
I MAN IN PRIMITIVE AND ANCIENT COMBAT
II KNOWLEDGE OF MAN MADE ROMAN TACTICS; THE SUCCESSES OF HANNIBAL;
THOSE OF CAESAR
III ANALYSIS OF THE BATTLE OF CANNAE
IV ANALYSIS OF THE BATTLE OF PHARSALUS AND SOME CHARACTERISTIC
V MORALE IN ANCIENT BATTLE
VI HOW REAL COMBATANTS ARE OBTAINED AND HOW THE FIGHTING OF TO-DAY
REQUIRES THEM TO BE MORE DEPENDABLE THAN IN ANCIENT BATTLE
VII PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY AND WHAT IS NECESSARY TO COMPLETE IT
PART TWO: MODERN BATTLE
I GENERAL DISCUSSION
1. Ancient and Modern Battle
2. Moral Elements in Battle
3. Material and Moral Effect
4. The Theory of Strong Battalions
5. Combat Methods
1. Masses--Deep Columns
4. Marches--Camps--Night Attacks
1. Cavalry and Modern Appliances
2. Cavalry Against Cavalry
3. Cavalry Against Infantry
4. Armor and Armament
V COMMAND, GENERAL STAFF AND ADMINISTRATION
VI SOCIAL AND MILITARY INSTITUTIONS; NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS
I MEMORANDUM ON INFANTRY FIRE
2. Succinct History of the Development of Small Arms, from
the Arquebus to Our Rifle
3. Progressive Introduction of Fire-Arms Into the Armament
of the Infantryman
4. The Classes of Fire Employed with Each Weapon
5. Methods of Fire Used in the Presence of the Enemy;
Methods Recommended or Ordered but Impractical
6. Fire at Will--Its Efficacy
7. Fire by Rank Is a Fire to Occupy the Men in Ranks
8. The Deadly Fire Is the Fire of Skirmishers
9. The Absolute Impossibility of Fire at Command
II HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS
1. Cavalry (An Extract from Xenophon)
2. Marius Against the Cimbrians (Extract from Plutarch's
"Life of Marius")
3. The Battle of The Alma (Extract from the Correspondence
of Colonel Ardant du Picq)
4. The Battle of the Alma (Extract from the Correspondence
of Colonel Ardant du Picq)
5. The Battle of Inkermann (Extract from the Correspondence
of Colonel Ardant du Picq)
6. The Battle of Magenta (Extract from the Correspondence of
Colonel Ardant du Picq)
7. The Battle of Solferino (Extract from the Correspondence
of Colonel Ardant du Picq)
8. Mentana (Extract from the Correspondence of Colonel Ardant
A MILITARY THINKER
Near Longeville-les-Metz on the morning of August 15, 1870, a stray
projectile from a Prussian gun mortally wounded the Colonel of the
10th Regiment of the Line. The obscure gunner never knew that he had
done away with one of the most intelligent officers of our army, one
of the most forceful writers, one of the most clear-sighted
philosophers whom sovereign genius had ever created.
Ardant du Picq, according to the Annual Register, commanded but a
regiment. He was fitted for the first rank of the most exalted. He
fell at the hour when France was thrown into frightful chaos, when all
that he had foreseen, predicted and dreaded, was being terribly
fulfilled. New ideas, of which he was the unknown trustee and
unacknowledged prophet, triumphed then at our expense. The disaster
that carried with it his sincere and revivifying spirit, left in the
tomb of our decimated divisions an evidence of the necessity for
reform. When our warlike institutions were perishing from the lack of
thought, he represented in all its greatness the true type of military
thinker. The virile thought of a military thinker alone brings forth
successes and maintains victorious nations. Fatal indolence brought
about the invasion, the loss of two provinces, the bog of moral
miseries and social evils which beset vanquished States.
The heart and brain of Ardant du Picq guarded faithfully a worthy but
discredited cult. Too frequently in the course of our history virtues
are forsaken during long periods, when it seems that the entire race
is hopelessly abased. The mass perceives too late in rare individuals
certain wasted talents--treasures of sagacity, spiritual vigor, heroic
and almost supernatural comprehension. Such men are prodigious
exceptions in times of material decadence and mental laxness. They
inherit all the qualities that have long since ceased to be current.
They serve as examples and rallying points for other generations, more
clear-sighted and less degenerate. On reading over the extraordinary
work of Ardant du Picq, that brilliant star in the eclipse of our
military faculties, I think of the fatal shot that carried him off
before full use had been found for him, and I am struck by melancholy.
Our fall appears more poignant. His premature end seems a punishment
for his contemporaries, a bitter but just reproach.
Fortunately, more honored and believed in by his successors, his once
unappreciated teaching contributes largely to the uplift and to the
education of our officers. They will be inspired by his original views
and the permanent virtue contained therein. They will learn therefrom
the art of leading and training our young soldiers and can hope to
retrieve the cruel losses of their predecessors.
Ardant du Picq amazes one by his tenacity and will power which,
without the least support from the outside, animate him under the
trying conditions of his period of isolated effort.
In an army in which most of the seniors disdained the future and
neglected their responsibilities, rested satisfied on the laurels of
former campaigns and relied on superannuated theories and the
exercises of a poor parade, scorned foreign organizations and believed
in an acquired and constant superiority that dispenses with all work,
and did not suspect even the radical transformations which the
development of rifles and rapid-fire artillery entail; Ardant du Picq
worked for the common good. In his modest retreat, far from the
pinnacles of glory, he tended a solitary shrine of unceasing activity
and noble effort. He burned with the passions which ought to have
moved the staff and higher commanders. He watched while his
Toward the existing system of instruction and preparation which the
first blow shattered, his incorruptible honesty prevented him from
being indulgent. While terrified leaders passed from arrogance or
thoughtlessness to dejection and confusion, the blow was being struck.
Served by his marvelous historical gifts, he studied the laws of
ancient combat in the poorly interpreted but innumerable documents of
the past. Then, guided by the immortal light which never failed, the
feverish curiosity of this soldier's mind turned towards the research
of the laws of modern combat, the subject of his preference. In this
study he developed to perfection his psychological attainments. By the
use of these attainments he simplified the theory of the conduct of
war. By dissecting the motor nerves of the human heart, he released
basic data on the essential principles of combat. He discovered the
secret of combat, the way to victory.
Never for a second did Ardant du Picq forget that combat is the
object, the cause of being, the supreme manifestation of armies. Every
measure which departs therefrom, which relegates it to the middle
ground is deceitful, chimerical, fatal. All the resources accumulated
in time of peace, all the tactical evolutions, all the strategical
calculations are but conveniences, drills, reference marks to lead up
to it. His obsession was so overpowering that his presentation of it
will last as long as history. This obsession is the role of man in
combat. Man is the incomparable instrument whose elements, character,
energies, sentiments, fears, desires, and instincts are stronger than
all abstract rules, than all bookish theories. War is still more of an
art than a science. The inspirations which reveal and mark the great
strategists, the leaders of men, form the unforeseen element, the
divine part. Generals of genius draw from the human heart ability to
execute a surprising variety of movements which vary the routine; the
mediocre ones, who have no eyes to read readily therein, are doomed to
the worst errors.
Ardant du Picq, haunted by the need of a doctrine which would correct
existing evils and disorders, was continually returning to the
fountain-head. Anxious to instruct promising officers, to temper them
by irrefutable lessons, to mature them more rapidly, to inspire them
with his zeal for historical incidents, he resolved to carry on and
add to his personal studies while aiding them. Daring to take a
courageous offensive against the general inertia of the period, he
translated the problem of his whole life into a series of basic
questions. He presented in their most diverse aspects, the basic
questions which perplex all military men, those of which knowledge in
a varying degree of perfection distinguish and classify military men.
The nervous grasp of an incomparable style models each of them, carves
them with a certain harshness, communicates to them a fascinating yet
unknown authority which crystallizes them in the mind, at the same
time giving to them a positive form that remains true for all armies,
for all past, present and future centuries. Herewith is the text of
the concise and pressing questions which have not ceased to be as
important to-day (1902) as they were in 1870:
"In the last century, after the improvements of the rifle and field
artillery by Frederick, and the Prussian successes in war--to-day,
after the improvement of the new rifle and cannon to which in part the
recent victories are due--we find all thinking men in the army asking
themselves the question: 'How shall we fight to-morrow?' We have no
creed on the subject of combat. And the most opposing methods confuse
the intelligence of military men.
"Why? A common error at the starting point. One might say that no one
is willing to acknowledge that it is necessary to understand yesterday
in order to know to-morrow, for the things of yesterday are nowhere
plainly written. The lessons of yesterday exist solely in the memory
of those who know how to remember because they have known how to see,
and those individuals have never spoken. I make an appeal to one of
"The smallest detail, taken from an actual incident in war, is more
instructive for me, a soldier, than all the Thiers and Jominis in the
world. They speak, no doubt, for the heads of states and armies but
they never show me what I wish to know--a battalion, a company, a
squad, in action.
"Concerning a regiment, a battalion, a company, a squad, it is
interesting to know: The disposition taken to meet the enemy or the
order for the march toward them. What becomes of this disposition or
this march order under the isolated or combined influences of
accidents of the terrain and the approach of danger?
"Is this order changed or is it continued in force when approaching
"What becomes of it upon arriving within the range of the guns, within
the range of bullets?
"At what distance is a voluntary or an ordered disposition taken
before starting operations for commencing fire, for charging, or both?
"How did the fight start? How about the firing? How did the men adapt
themselves? (This may be learned from the results: So many bullets
fired, so many men shot down--when such data are available.) How was
the charge made? At what distance did the enemy flee before it? At
what distance did the charge fall back before the fire or the good
order and good dispositions of the enemy, or before such and such a
movement of the enemy? What did it cost? What can be said about all
these with reference to the enemy?
"The behavior, i.e., the order, the disorder, the shouts, the
silence, the confusion, the calmness of the officers and men whether
with us or with the enemy, before, during, and after the combat?
"How has the soldier been controlled and directed during the action?
At what instant has he had a tendency to quit the line in order to
remain behind or to rush ahead?
"At what moment, if the control were escaping from the leader's hands,
has it no longer been possible to exercise it?
"At what instant has this control escaped from the battalion
commander? When from the captain, the section leader, the squad
leader? At what time, in short, if such a thing did take place, was
there but a disordered impulse, whether to the front or to the rear
carrying along pell-mell with it both the leaders and men?
"Where and when did the halt take place?
"Where and when were the leaders able to resume control of the men?
"At what moments before, during, or after the day, was the battalion
roll-call, the company roll-call made? The results of these
"How many dead, how many wounded on the one side and on the other; the
kind of wounds of the officers, non-commissioned officers, corporals,
privates, etc., etc.?
"All these details, in a word, enlighten either the material or the
moral side of the action, or enable it to be visualized. Possibly, a
closer examination might show that they are matters infinitely more
instructive to us as soldiers than all the discussions imaginable on
the plans and general conduct of the campaigns of the greatest captain
in the great movements of the battle field. From colonel to private we
are soldiers, not generals, and it is therefore our trade that we
desire to know.
"Certainly one cannot obtain all the details of the same incident. But
from a series of true accounts there should emanate an ensemble of
characteristic details which in themselves are very apt to show in a
striking, irrefutable way what was necessarily and forcibly taking
place at such and such a moment of an action in war. Take the estimate
of the soldier obtained in this manner to serve as a base for what
might possibly be a rational method of fighting. It will put us on
guard against _a priori_ and pedantic school methods.
"Whoever has seen, turns to a method based on his knowledge, his
personal experience as a soldier. But experience is long and life is
short. The experiences of each cannot therefore be completed except by
those of others.
"And that is why, General, I venture to address myself to you for your
"Proofs have weight.
"As for the rest, whether it please you to aid or not, General, kindly
accept the assurance of most respectful devotion from your obedient
* * * * *
The reading of this unique document is sufficient to explain the glory
that Ardant du Picq deserved. In no other career has a professional
ever reflected more clearly the means of pushing his profession to
perfection; in no profession has a deeper penetration of the resources
It pleases me particularly to associate the two words 'penseur' and
'militaire,' which, at the present time, the ignorance of preconceived
opinion too frequently separates. Because such opinion is on the verge
of believing them to be incompatible and contradictory.
Yet no calling other than the true military profession is so fitted to
excite brain activity. It is preeminently the calling of action, at
the same time diverse in its combinations and changing according to
the time and locality wherein it is put to practice. No other
profession is more complex nor more difficult, since it has for its
aim and reason the instruction of men to overcome by training and
endurance the fatigue and perils against which the voice of
self-preservation is raised in fear; in other words, to draw from
nature what is most opposed and most antipathic to this nature.
There is, however, much of routine in the customs of military life,
and, abuse of it may bring about gross satires which in turn bring it
into derision. To be sure, the career has two phases because it must
fulfill simultaneously two exigencies. From this persons of moderate
capacity draw back and are horrified. They solve the question by the
sacrifice of the one or the other. If one considers only the lower and
somewhat vulgar aspect of military life it is found to be composed of
monotonous obligations clothed in a mechanical procedure of
indispensable repetition. If one learns to grasp it in its ensemble
and large perspective, it will be found that the days of extreme trial
demand prodigies of vigor, spirit, intelligence, and decision!
Regarded from this angle and supported in this light, the commonplace
things of wearisome garrison life have as counterweights certain
sublime compensations. These compensations preclude the false and
contemptible results which come from intellectual idleness and the
habit of absolute submission. If it yields to their narcotic charms,
the best brain grows rusty and atrophies in the long run. Incapable of
virile labor, it rebels at a renewal of its processes in sane
initiative. An army in which vigilance is not perpetual is sick until
the enemy demonstrates it to be dead.
Far, then, from attaching routine as an indispensable companion to
military discipline it must be shown continually that in it lies
destruction and loss. Military discipline does not degenerate except
when it has not known the cult of its vitality and the secret of its
grandeur. The teachers of war have all placed this truth as a preface
to their triumphs and we find the most illustrious teachers to be the
most severe. Listen to this critique of Frederick the Great on the
maneuvers which he conducted in Silesia:
"The great mistake in inspections is that you officers amuse
yourselves with God knows what buffooneries and never dream in the
least of serious service. This is a source of stupidity which would
become most dangerous in case of a serious conflict. Take shoe-makers
and tailors and make generals of them and they will not commit worse
follies! These blunders are made on a small as well as on a large
scale. Consequently, in the greatest number of regiments, the private
is not well trained; in Zaramba's regiment he is the worst; in
Thadden's he amounts to nothing; and to no more in Keller's, Erlach's,
and Haager's. Why? Because the officers are lazy and try to get out of
a difficulty by giving themselves the least trouble possible."
* * * * *
In default of exceptional generals who remold in some campaigns, with
a superb stroke, the damaged or untempered military metal, it is of
importance to supply it with the ideals of Ardant du Picq. Those who
are formed by his image, by his book, will never fall into error. His
book has not been written to please aesthetic preciseness, but with a
sincerity which knows no limit. It therefore contains irrefutable
facts and theories.
The solidity of these fragmentary pages defies time; the work
interrupted by the German shell is none the less erected for eternity.
The work has muscles, nerves and a soul. It has the transparent
concentration of reality. A thought may be expressed by a single word.
The terseness of the calcined phrase explains the interior fire of it
all, the magnificent conviction of the author. The distinctness of
outline, the most astounding brevity of touch, is such that the vision
of the future bursts forth from the resurrection of the past. The work
contains, indeed, substance and marrow of a prophetic experience.
Amidst the praise rendered to the scintillating beauties of this book,
there is perhaps, none more impressive than that of Barbey
d'Aurevilly, an illustrious literary man of a long and generous
patrician lineage. His comment, kindled with lyric enthusiasm, is
illuminating. It far surpasses the usual narrow conception of
technical subjects. Confessing his professional ignorance in matters
of war, his sincere eulogy of the eloquent amateur is therefore only
the more irresistible.
"Never," writes Barbey d'Aurevilly, "has a man of action--of brutal
action in the eyes of universal prejudice--more magnificently
glorified the spirituality of war. Mechanics--abominable
mechanics--takes possession of the world, crushing it under its stupid
and irresistible wheels. By the action of newly discovered and
improved appliances the science of war assumes vast proportions as a
means of destruction. Yet here, amid the din of this upset modern
world we find a brain sufficiently master of its own thoughts as not
to permit itself to be dominated by these horrible discoveries which,
we are told, would make impossible Fredericks of Prussia and Napoleons
and lower them to the level of the private soldier! Colonel Ardant du
Picq tells us somewhere that he has never had entire faith in the huge
battalions which these two great men, themselves alone worth more than
the largest battalions, believed in. Well, to-day, this vigorous brain
believes no more in the mechanical or mathematical force which is
going to abolish these great battalions. A calculator without the
least emotion, who considers the mind of man the essential in
war--because it is this mind that makes war--he surely sees better
than anybody else a profound change in the exterior conditions of war
which he must consider. But the spiritual conditions which are
produced in war have not changed. Such, is the eternal mind of man
raised to its highest power by discipline. Such, is the Roman cement
of this discipline that makes of men indestructible walls. Such, is
the cohesion, the solidarity between men and their leaders. Such, is
the moral influence of the impulse which gives the certainty of
"'To conquer is to advance,' de Maistre said one day, puzzled at this
phenomenon of victory. The author of "Etudes sur le Combat" says more
simply: 'To conquer is to be sure to overcome.' In fine, it is the
mind that wins battles, that will always win them, that always has won
them throughout the world's history. The spirituality, the moral
quality of war, has not changed since those times. Mechanics, modern
arms, all the artillery invented by man and his science, will not make
an end to this thing, so lightly considered at the moment and called
the human soul. Books like that of Ardant du Picq prevent it from
being disdained. If no other effect should be produced by this sublime
book, this one thing would justify it. But there will be others--do
not doubt it--I wish merely to point out the sublimity of this
didactic book which, for me, has wings like celestial poetry and which
has carried me above and far away from the materialistic abjectness of
my time. The technique of tactics and the science of war are beyond my
province. I am not, like the author, erudite on maneuvers and the
battle field. But despite my ignorance of things exclusively military,
I have felt the truth of the imperious demonstrations with which it is
replete, as one feels the presence of the sun behind a cloud. His book
has over the reader that moral ascendancy which is everything in war
and which determines success, according to the author. This
ascendancy, like truth itself, is the sort which cannot be questioned.
Coming from the superior mind of a leader who inspires faith it
imposes obedience by its very strength. Colonel Ardant du Picq was a
military writer only, with a style of his own. He has the Latin
brevity and concentration. He retains his thought, assembles it and
always puts it out in a compact phrase like a cartridge. His style has
the rapidity and precision of the long-range arms which have dethroned
the bayonet. He would have been a writer anywhere. He was a writer by
nature. He was of that sacred phalanx of those who have a style all to
Barbey d'Aurevilly rebels against tedious technicalities. Carried away
by the author's historical and philosophical faculties, he soars
without difficulty to the plane of Ardant du Picq. In like manner, du
Picq ranges easily from the most mediocre military operations to the
analysis of the great functions of policy of government and the
evolution of nations.
Who could have unraveled with greater finesse the causes of the
insatiable desires of conquest by the new power which was so desirous
of occupying the leading role on the world's stage? If our diplomats,
our ministers and our generals had seized the warning of 1866, the
date of the defeat of Austria, it is possible that we might have been
spared our own defeats.
"Has an aristocracy any excuse for existing if it is not military? No.
The Prussian aristocracy is essentially military. In its ranks it does
accept officers of plebeian extraction, but only under condition that
they permit themselves to be absorbed therein.
"Is not an aristocracy essentially proud? If it were not proud it
would lack confidence. The Prussian aristocracy is, therefore,
haughty; it desires domination by force and its desire to rule, to
dominate more and more, is the essence of its existence. It rules by
war; it wishes war; it must have war at the proper time. Its leaders
have the good judgment to choose the right moment. This love of war is
in the very fiber, the very makeup of its life as an aristocracy.
"Every nation that has an aristocracy, a military nobility, is
organized in a military way. The Prussian officer is an accomplished
gentleman and nobleman; by instruction or examination he is most
capable; by education, most worthy. He is an officer and commands from
two motives, the French officer from one alone.
"Prussia, in spite of all the veils concealing reality, is a military
organization conducted by a military corporation. A nation,
democratically constituted, is not organized from a military point of
view. It is, therefore, as against the other, in a state of
unpreparedness for war.
"A military nation and a warlike nation are not necessarily the same.
The French are warlike from organization and instinct. They are every
day becoming less and less military.
"In being the neighbor of a military nation, there is no security for
a democratic nation; the two are born enemies; the one continually
menaces the good influences, if not the very existence of the other.
As long as Prussia is not democratic she is a menace to us.
"The future seems to belong to democracy, but, before this future is
attained by Europe, who will say that victory and domination will not
belong for a time to military organization? It will presently perish
for the lack of sustenance of life, when having no more foreign
enemies to vanquish, to watch, to fight for control, it will have no
reason for existence."
In tracing a portrait so much resembling bellicose and conquering
Prussia, the sharp eye of Ardant du Picq had recognized clearly the
danger which immediately threatened us and which his deluded and
trifling fellow citizens did not even suspect. The morning after
Sadowa, not a single statesman or publicist had yet divined what the
Colonel of the 10th Regiment of the Line had, at first sight,
understood. Written before the catastrophes of Froeschwiller, Metz and
Sedan, the fragment seems, in a retrospective way, an implacable
accusation against those who deceived themselves about the
Hohenzollern country by false liberalism or a softening of the brain.
Unswerved by popular ideas, by the artificial, by the trifles
of treaties, by the chimera of theories, by the charlatanism
of bulletins, by the nonsense of romantic fiction, by the
sentimentalities of vain chivalry, Ardant du Picq, triumphant in
history, is even more the incomparable master in the field of his
laborious days and nights, the field of war itself. Never has a
clearer vision fathomed the bloody mysteries of the formidable test of
war. Here man appears as his naked self. He is a poor thing when he
succumbs to unworthy deeds and panics. He is great under the impulse
of voluntary sacrifice which transforms him under fire and for honor
or the salvation of others makes him face death.
The sound and complete discussions of Ardant du Picq take up, in a
poignant way, the setting of every military drama. They envelop in a
circle of invariable phenomena the apparent irregularity of combat,
determining the critical point in the outcome of the battle. Whatever
be the conditions, time or people, he gives a code of rules which will
not perish. With the enthusiasm of Pascal, who should have been a
soldier, Ardant du Picq has the preeminent gift of expressing the
infinite in magic words. He unceasingly opens an abyss under the feet
of the reader. The whole metaphysics of war is contained therein and
is grasped at a single glance.
He shows, weighed in the scales of an amazing exactitude, the normal
efficiency of an army; a multitude of beings shaken by the most
contradictory passions, first desiring to save their own skins and yet
resigned to any risk for the sake of a principle. He shows the
quantity and quality of possible efforts, the aggregate of losses, the
effects of training and impulse, the intrinsic value of the troops
engaged. This value is the sum of all that the leader can extract from
any and every combination of physical preparation, confidence, fear of
punishment, emulation, enthusiasm, inclination, the promise of
success, administration of camps, fire discipline, the influence of
ability and superiority, etc. He shows the tragic depths, so somber
below, so luminous above, which appear in the heart of the combatant
torn between fear and duty. In the private soldier the sense of duty
may spring from blind obedience; in the non-commissioned officer,
responsible for his detachment, from devotion to his trade; in the
commanding officer, from supreme responsibility! It is in battle that
a military organization justifies its existence. Money spent by the
billions, men trained by the millions, are gambled on one irrevocable
moment. Organization decides the terrible contest which means the
triumph or the downfall of the nation! The harsh rays of glory beam
above the field of carnage, destroying the vanquished without
scorching the victor.
Such are the basic elements of strategy and tactics!
There is danger in theoretical speculation of battle, in prejudice, in
false reasoning, in pride, in braggadocio. There is one safe resource,
the return to nature.
The strategy that moves in elevated spheres is in danger of being lost
in the clouds. It becomes ridiculous as soon as it ceases to conform
to actual working tactics. In his classical work on the decisive
battle of August 18, 1870, Captain Fritz Hoenig has reached a sound
conclusion. After his biting criticism of the many gross errors of
Steinmetz and Zastrow, after his description of the triple panic of
the German troops opposite the French left in the valley and the
ravine of the Mance, he ends by a reflection which serves as a
striking ending to the book. He says, "The grandest illustration of
Moltke's strategy was the battle of Gravelotte-Saint Privat; but the
battle of Gravelotte has taught us one thing, and that is, the best
strategy cannot produce good results if tactics is at fault."
The right kind of tactics is not improvised. It asserts itself in the
presence of the enemy but it is learned before meeting the enemy.
"There are men," says Ardant du Picq, "such as Marshal Bugeaud, who
are born military in character, mind, intelligence and temperament.
Not all leaders are of this stamp. There is, then, need for standard
or regulation tactics appropriate to the national character which
should be the guide for the ordinary commander and which do not exact
of him the exceptional qualities of a Bugeaud."
"Tactics is an art based on the knowledge of how to make men fight
with their maximum energy against fear, a maximum which organization
alone can give."
"And here confidence appears. It is not the enthusiastic and
thoughtless confidence of tumultuous or improvised armies that gives
way on the approach of danger to a contrary sentiment which sees
treason everywhere; but the intimate, firm, conscious confidence which
alone makes true soldiers and does not disappear at the moment of
"We now have an army. It is not difficult for us to see that people
animated by passions, even people who know how to die without
flinching, strong in the face of death, but without discipline and
solid organization, are conquered by others who are individually less
valiant but firmly organized, all together and one for all."
"Solidarity and confidence cannot be improvised. They can be born only
of mutual acquaintanceship which establishes pride and makes unity.
And, from unity comes in turn the feeling of force, that force which
gives to the attack the courage and confidence of victory. Courage,
that is to say, the domination of the will over instinct even in the
greatest danger, leads finally to victory or defeat."
In asking for a doctrine in combat and in seeking to base it on the
moral element, Ardant du Picq was ahead of his generation. He has had
a very great influence. But, the doctrine is not yet established.
How to approach the adversary? How to pass from the defensive to the
offensive? How to regulate the shock? How to give orders that can be
executed? How to transmit them surely? How to execute them by
economizing precious lives? Such are the distressing problems that
beset generals and others in authority. The result is that presidents,
kings and emperors hesitate, tremble, interrogate, pile reports upon
reports, maneuvers upon maneuvers, retard the improvement of their
military material, their organization, their equipment.
The only leaders who are equal to the difficulties of future war, come
to conclusions expressed in almost the same terms. Recently General de
Negrier, after having insisted that physical exhaustion determined by
the nervous tension of the soldier, increased in surprising
proportions according to the invisibility of the adversary, expressed
himself as follows:
"The tide of battle is in the hands of each fighter, and never, at any
time, has the individual bravery of the soldier had more importance.
"Whatever the science of the superior commander, the genius of his
strategic combinations, the precision of his concentrations, whatever
numerical superiority he may have, victory will escape him if the
soldier does not conduct himself without being watched, and if he is
not personally animated by the resolution to conquer or to perish. He
needs much greater energy that formerly.
"He no longer has the intoxication of ancient attacks in mass to
sustain him. Formerly, the terrible anxiety of waiting made him wish
for the violent blow, dangerous, but soon passed. Now, all his normal
and physical powers are tried for long hours and, in such a test, he
will have but the resoluteness of his own heart to sustain him.
"Armies of to-day gain decisions by action in open order, where each
soldier must act individually with will and initiative to attack the
enemy and destroy him.
"The Frenchman has always been an excellent rifleman, intelligent,
adroit and bold. He is naturally brave. The metal is good; the problem
is to temper it. It must be recognized that to-day this task is not
easy. The desire for physical comfort, the international theories
which come therefrom, preferring economic slavery and work for the
profit of the stranger to the struggle, do not incite the Frenchman to
give his life in order to save that of his brother.
"The new arms are almost valueless in the hands of weakhearted
soldiers, no matter what their number may be. On the contrary, the
demoralizing power of rapid and smokeless firing, which certain armies
still persist in not acknowledging, manifests itself with so much the
more force as each soldier possesses greater valor and cool energy.
"It is then essential to work for the development of the moral forces
of the nation. They alone will sustain the soldier in the distressing
test of battle where death comes unseen.
"That is the most important of the lessons of the South African war.
Small nations will find therein the proof that, in preparing their
youth for their duties as soldiers and creating in the hearts of all
the wish for sacrifice, they are certain to live free; but only at
This profession of faith contradicts the imbecile sophisms foolishly
put into circulation by high authority and a thoughtless press, on the
efficiency of the mass, which is nothing but numbers, on the fantastic
value of new arms, which are declared sufficient for gaining a victory
by simple mechanical perfection, on the suppression of individual
courage. It is almost as though courage had become a superfluous and
embarrassing factor. Nothing is more likely to poison the army. Ardant
du Picq is the best specific against the heresies and the follies of
ignorance or of pedantry. Here are some phrases of unerring truth.
They ought to be impressed upon all memories, inscribed upon the walls
of our military schools. They ought to be learned as lessons by our
officers and they ought to rule them as regulations and pass into
"Man is capable of but a given quantity of fear. To-day one must
swallow in five minutes the dose that one took in an hour in Turenne's
"To-day there is greater need than ever for rigid formation."
"Who can say that he never felt fear in battle? And with modern
appliances, with their terrible effect on the nervous system,
discipline is all the more necessary because one fights only in open
"Combat exacts a moral cohesion, a solidarity more compact that ever
"Since the invention of fire arms, the musket, rifle, cannon, the
distances of mutual aid and support are increased between the various
arms. The more men think themselves isolated, the more need they have
of high morale."
"We are brought by dispersion to the need of a cohesion greater than
"It is a truth, so clear as to be almost naive, that if one does not
wish bonds broken, he should make them elastic and thereby strengthen
"It is not wise to lead eighty thousand men upon the battle field, of
whom but fifty thousand will fight. It would be better to have fifty
thousand all of whom would fight. These fifty thousand would have
their hearts in the work more than the others, who should have
confidence in their comrades but cannot when one-third of them shirk
"The role of the skirmisher becomes more and more predominant. It is
more necessary to watch over and direct him as he is used against
deadlier weapons and as he is consequently more prone to try to escape
from them at all costs in any direction."
"The thing is then to find a method that partially regulates the
action of our soldiers who advance by fleeing or escape by advancing,
as you like, and if something unexpected surprises them, escape as
quickly by falling back."
"Esprit de corps improves with experience in wars. War becomes shorter
and shorter, and more and more violent; therefore, create in advance
an esprit de corps."
These truths are eternal. This whole volume is but their masterful
development. They prove that together with audacious sincerity in the
coordination of facts and an infallible judgment, Ardant du Picq
possessed prescience in the highest degree. His prophetic eye
distinguished sixty years ago the constituent principles of a good
army. These are the principles which lead to victory. They are
radically opposed to those which enchant our parliamentarians or
military politicians, which are based on a fatal favoritism and which
Ardant du Picq is not alone a superior doctrinaire. He will be
consulted with profit in practical warlike organization. No one has
better depicted the character of modern armies. No one knew better the
value of what Clausewitz called, "The product of armed force and the
country's force ... the heart and soul of a nation."
No more let us forget that he launched, before the famous prediction
of von der Goltz, this optimistic view well calculated to rekindle the
zeal of generals who struggle under the weight of enormous tasks
incident to obligatory service.
"Extremes meet in many things. In the ancient times of conflict with
pike and sword, armies were seen to conquer other solid armies even
though one against two. Who knows if the perfection of long-range arms
might not bring back these heroic victories? Who knows whether a
smaller number by some combination of good sense or genius, or morale,
and of appliances will not overcome a greater number equally well
After the abandonment of the law of 1872, and the repeal of the law of
1889, and before the introduction of numerous and disquieting reforms
in recruitment and consequently, in the education of our regiments,
would it not be opportune to study Ardant du Picq and look for the
secret of force in his ideas rather than in the deceptive illusions of
military automatism and materialism?
The martial mission of France is no more ended than war itself. The
severities of war may be deplored, but the precarious justice of
arbitration tribunals, still weak and divested of sanction, has not
done away with its intervention in earthly quarrels. I do not suppose
that my country is willing to submit to the mean estate, scourged with
superb contempt by Donoso Cortes, who says:--
"When a nation shows a civilized horror of war, it receives directly
the punishment of its mistake. God changes its sex, despoils it of its
common mark of virility, changes it into a feminine nation and sends
conquerors to ravish it of its honor."
France submits sometimes to the yoke of subtle dialecticians who
preach total disarmament, who spread insanely disastrous doctrine of
capitulation, glorify disgrace and humiliation, and stupidly drive us
on to suicide. The manly counsels of Ardant du Picq are admirable
lessons for a nation awakening. Since she must, sooner or later, take
up her idle sword again, may France learn from him to fight well, for
herself and for humanity!
PARIS, October 10, 1902.
* * * * *
Ardant du Picq has said little about himself in his writings. He veils
with care his personality. His life and career, little known, are the
more worthy of the reader's interest, because the man is as original
as the writer. To satisfy a natural curiosity, I asked the Colonel's
family for the details of his life, enshrined in their memory. His
brother has kindly furnished them in a letter to me. It contains many
unpublished details and shows traits of character which confirm our
estimate of the man, Ardant du Picq. It completes very happily the
impression made by his book.
"PARIS, October 12, 1903.
"Herewith are some random biographical notes on the author of 'Etudes
sur le Combat' which you requested of me.
"My brother entered Saint-Cyr quite late, at twenty-one years, which
was I believe the age limit at that time. This was not his initial
preference. He had a marked preference for a naval career, in which
adventure seemed to offer an opportunity for his activity, and which
he would have entered if the circumstances had so permitted. His
childhood was turbulent and somewhat intractable; but, attaining
adolescence, he retained from his former violence a very pronounced
taste for physical exercise, especially for gymnastics, little
practiced then, to which he was naturally inclined by his agility and
"He was successful in his classes, very much so in studies which were
to his taste, principally French composition. In this he rose above
the usual level of schoolboy exercises when the subject interested
him. Certain other branches that were uninteresting or distasteful to
him, as for instance Latin Grammar, he neglected. I do not remember
ever having seen him attend a distribution of prizes, although he was
highly interested, perhaps because he was too interested. On these
occasions, he would disappear generally after breakfast and not be
seen until evening. His bent was toward mechanical notions and
handiwork. He was not uninterested in mathematics but his interest in
this was ordinary. He was nearly refused entrance to Saint-Cyr. He
became confused before the examiners and the results of the first part
of the tests were almost negligible. He consoled himself with his
favorite maxim as a young man: 'Onward philosophy.' Considering the
first test as over and done with, he faced the second test with
perfect indifference. This attitude gave him another opportunity and
he came out with honors. As he had done well with the written test on
'Hannibal's Campaigns,' he was given a passing grade.
"At school he was liked by all his comrades for his good humor and
frank and sympathetic character. Later, in the regiment, he gained
naturally and without effort the affection of his equals and the
respect of his subordinates. The latter were grateful to him for the
real, cordial and inspiring interest he showed in their welfare, for
he was familiar with the details of the service and with the soldier's
equipment. He would not compromise on such matters and prevaricators
who had to do with him did not emerge creditably.
"It can be said that after reaching manhood he never lied. The
absolute frankness from which he never departed under any
circumstances gave him prestige superior to his rank. A mere
Lieutenant, he voted 'No' to the Coup d'Etat of December 2, and was
admonished by his colonel who was sorry to see him compromise thus his
future. He replied with his usual rectitude: 'Colonel, since my
opinion was asked for, I must suppose that it was wanted.'
"On the eve of the Crimean war, his regiment, (67th) not seeming
destined to take the field, he asked for and obtained a transfer to
the light infantry (9th Battalion). It was with this battalion that he
served in the campaign. When it commenced, he made his first
appearance in the fatal Dobrutscha expedition. This was undertaken in
a most unhealthy region, on the chance of finding there Cossacks who
would have furnished matter for a communique. No Cossacks were found,
but the cholera was. It cut down in a few hours, so as to speak, a
large portion of the total strength. My brother, left with the rear
guard to bury the dead, burn their effects and bring up the sick, was
in his turn infected. The attack was very violent and he recovered
only because he would not give in to the illness. Evacuated to the
Varna hospital, he was driven out the first night by the burning of
the town and was obliged to take refuge in the surrounding fields
where the healthfulness of the air gave him unexpected relief.
Returned to France as a convalescent, he remained there until the
month of December (1854). He then rejoined his regiment and withstood
to the end the rigors of the winter and the slowness of the siege.
"Salle's division to which the Trochu brigade belonged, and in which
my brother served, was charged with the attack on the central bastion.
This operation was considered a simple diversion without a chance of
success. My brother, commanding the storming column of his battalion,
had the good fortune to come out safe and sound from the deadly fire
to which he was exposed and which deprived the battalion of several
good officers. He entered the bastion with a dozen men. All were
naturally made prisoners after a resistance which would have cost my
brother his life if the bugler at his side had not warded off a saber
blow at his head. Upon his return from captivity, in the first months
of 1856, he was immediately made major in the 100th Regiment of the
Line, at the instance of General Trochu who regarded him highly. He
was called the following year to the command of the 16th Battalion of
Foot Chasseurs. He served with this battalion during the Syrian
campaign where there was but little serious action.
"Back again in France, his promotion to the grade of
lieutenant-colonel, notwithstanding his excellent ratings and his
place on the promotion list, was long retarded by the ill-will of
Marshal Randon, the Minister of War. Marshal Randon complained of his
independent character and bore him malice from an incident relative to
the furnishing of shoes intended for his battalion. My brother,
questioned by Marshal Niel about the quality of the lot of shoes, had
frankly declared it bad.
"Promoted finally to lieutenant-colonel in the 55th in Algeria, he
took the field there in two campaigns, I believe. Appointed colonel of
the 10th of the Line in February, 1869, he was stationed at Lorient
and at Limoges during the eighteen months before the war with Germany.
He busied himself during this period with the preparation of his work,
soliciting from all sides first-hand information. It was slow in
coming in, due certainly to indifference rather than ill-will. He made
several trips to Paris for the purpose of opening the eyes of those in
authority to the defective state of the army and the perils of the
situation. Vain attempts! 'They take all that philosophically,' he
used to say.
"Please accept, Sir, with renewed acknowledgements of gratitude, the
expression of my most distinguished sentiments.
"C. ARDANT DU PICQ.
"P. S. As to the question of atavism in which you showed some interest
in our first conversation, I may say that our paternal line does not
in my knowledge include any military man. The oldest ancestor I know
of, according to an album of engravings by Albert Durer, recovered in
a garret, was a gold and silversmith at Limoges towards the end of the
sixteenth century. His descendants have always been traders down to my
grandfather who, from what I have heard said, did not in the least
attend to his trade. The case is different with my mother's family
which came from Lorraine. Our great-grandfather was a soldier, our
grandfather also, and two, at least, of my mother's brothers gave
their lives on the battlefields of the First Empire. At present, the
family has two representatives in the army, the one a son of my
brother's, the other a first cousin, once removed, both bearing our
"C. A. DU P."
RECORD OF MILITARY SERVICE OF COLONEL ARDANT DU PICQ
Ardant du Picq (Charles-Jean-Jacques-Joseph), was born October 19,
1821 at Perigueux (Dordogne). Entered the service as a student of the
Special Military School, November 15, 1842.
Sub-Lieutenant in the 67th Regiment of the Line, October 1, 1844.
Lieutenant, May 15, 1848.
Captain, August 15, 1852.
Transferred to the 9th Battalion of Foot Chasseurs, December 25, 1853.
Major of the 100th Regiment of the Line, February 15, 1856.
Transferred to the 16th Battalion of Chasseurs, March 17, 1856.
Transferred to the 37th Regiment of the Line, January 23, 1863.
Lieutenant Colonel of the 55th Regiment of the Line, January 16, 1864.
Colonel of the 10th Regiment of Infantry of the Line, February 27,
Died from wounds at the military hospital in Metz, August 18, 1870.
CAMPAIGNS AND WOUNDS
Orient, March 29, 1854 to May 27, 1856. Was taken prisoner of war at
the storming of the central bastion (Sebastopol) September 8, 1855;
returned from enemy's prisons December 13, 1855.
Served in the Syrian campaign from August 6, 1860 to June 18, 1861; in
Africa from February 24, 1864 to April 14, 1866; in Franco-German war,
from July 15, 1870 to August 18, 1870.
Wounded--a comminute fracture of the right thigh, a torn gash in the
left thigh, contusion of the abdomen--by the bursting of a projectile,
August 15, 1870, Longeville-les-Metz (Moselle).
Chevalier of the Imperial Order of the Legion of Honor, Dec. 29, 1860.
Officer of the Imperial Order of the Legion of Honor, September 10,
Received the medal of H. M. the Queen of England.
Received the medal for bravery in Sardinia.
Authorized to wear the decoration of the fourth class of the Ottoman
EXTRACT FROM THE HISTORY OF THE 10TH INFANTRY REGIMENT
CAMPAIGN OF 1870
On the 22nd of July, the three active battalions of the 10th Regiment
of Infantry of the Line left Limoges and Angouleme by rail arriving on
the 23rd at the camp at Chalons, where the 6th Corps of the Rhine Army
was concentrating and organizing, under the command of Marshal
Canrobert. The regiment, within this army corps, belonged to the 1st
Brigade (Pechot) of the 1st Division (Tixier).
The organization on a war footing of the 10th Regiment of Infantry of
the Line, begun at Limoges, was completed at the Chalons camp.
The battalions were brought up to seven hundred and twenty men, and
the regiment counted twenty-two hundred and ten present, not including
the band, the sappers and the headquarters section, which raised the
effectives to twenty-three hundred men.
The troops of the 6th Corps were soon organized and Marshal Canrobert
reviewed them on the 31st of July.
On August 5th, the division received orders to move to Nancy. It was
placed on nine trains, of which the first left at 6 A. M. Arriving in
the evening at its destination, the 1st brigade camped on the Leopold
Racetrack, and the 10th Regiment established itself on the Place de la
The defeats of Forbach and Reichshofen soon caused these first plans
to be modified. The 6th Corps was ordered to return to the Chalons
camp. The last troops of the 2d Brigade, held up at Toul and Commercy,
were returned on the same trains.
The 1st Brigade entrained at Nancy, on the night of August 8th,
arriving at the Chalons camp on the afternoon of August 8th.
The 6th Corps, however, was to remain but a few days in camp. On the
10th it received orders to go to Metz. On the morning of the 11th the
regiment was again placed on three successive trains. The first train
carrying the staff and the 1st Battalion, arrived at Metz without
incident. The second train, transporting the 2d Battalion and four
companies of the 3d was stopped at about 11 P.M. near the Frouard
The telegraph line was cut by a Prussian party near Dieulouard, for a
length of two kilometers, and it was feared the road was damaged.
In order not to delay his arrival at Metz, nor the progress of the
trains following, Major Morin at the head of the column, directed his
commands to detrain and continue to Metz.
He caused the company at the head of the train to alight (6th Company,
2d Battalion, commanded by Captain Valpajola) and sent it
reconnoitering on the road, about three hundred meters in advance of
the train. All precautions were taken to assure the security of the
train, which regulated its progress on that of the scouts.
After a run of about eight kilometers in this way, at Marbache
station, all danger having disappeared and communication with Metz
having been established, the train resumed its regulation speed. In
consequence of the slowing up of the second column, the third followed
at a short distance until it also arrived. On the afternoon of the
12th, the regiment was entirely united.
The division of which it was a part was sent beyond Montigny and it
camped there as follows:
The 9th Chasseurs and 4th Regiment of the Line, ahead of the
Thionville railroad, the right on the Moselle, the left on the
Pont-a-Mousson highway; the 10th Regiment of the Line, the right
supported at the branch of the Thionville and Nancy lines, the left in
the direction of Saint-Privat, in front of the Montigny repair shops
of the Eastern Railroad lines.
The regiment was thus placed in the rear of a redoubt under
construction. The company of engineers was placed at the left of the
10th near the earth-works on which it was to work.
Along the ridge of the plateau, toward the Seille, was the 2d Brigade,
which rested its left on the river and its right perpendicular to the
Saint-Privat road, in rear of the field-work of this name. The
divisional batteries were behind it.
The division kept this position August 13th and during the morning of
the 14th. In the afternoon, an alarm made the division take arms,
during the engagement that took place on the side of Vallieres and
Saint-Julien (battle of Borny). The regiment immediately occupied
positions on the left of the village of Montigny.
At nightfall, the division retired to the rear of the railroad cut,
and received orders to hold itself in readiness to leave during the
The regiment remained thus under arms, the 3d Battalion (Major
Deschesnes), passing the night on grand guard in front of the Montigny
Before daybreak, the division marched over the bank of the Thionville
railroad, crossed the Moselle, and, marching towards Gravelotte,
descended into the plain south of Longeville-les-Metz, where the
principal halt was made and coffee prepared.
Scarcely had stacks been made, and the men set to making fires, about
7 A.M. when shells exploded in the midst of the troops. The shots came
from the Bradin farm, situated on the heights of Montigny, which the
division had just left the same morning, and which a German cavalry
reconnaissance patrol supported by two pieces had suddenly occupied.
The Colonel had arms taken at once and disposed the regiment north of
the road which, being elevated, provided sufficient cover for
defilading the men.
He himself, stood in the road to put heart into his troops by his
attitude, they having been a little startled by this surprise and the
baptism of fire which they received under such disadvantageous
Suddenly, a shell burst over the road, a few feet from the Colonel,
and mutilated his legs in a frightful manner.
The same shell caused other ravages in the ranks of the 10th. The
commander of the 3d Battalion, Major Deschesnes, was mortally wounded,
Captain Reboulet was killed, Lieutenant Pone (3d Battalion, 1st
Company), and eight men of the regiment were wounded. The Colonel was
immediately taken to the other side of the highway into the midst of
his soldiers and a surgeon called, those of the regiment being already
engaged in caring for the other victims of the terrible shot.
In the meantime, Colonel Ardant du Picq asked for Lieut.-Colonel
Doleac, delivered to him his saddlebags containing important papers
concerning the regiment and gave him his field glasses. Then, without
uttering the least sound of pain, notwithstanding the frightful injury
from which he must have suffered horribly, he said with calmness: "My
regret is to be struck in this way, without having been able to lead
my regiment on the enemy."
They wanted him to take a little brandy, he refused and accepted some
water which a soldier offered him.
A surgeon arrived finally. The Colonel, showing him his right leg open
in two places, made with his hand the sign of amputating at the thigh,
saying: "Doctor, it is necessary to amputate my leg here."
At this moment, a soldier wounded in the shoulder, and placed near the
Colonel, groaned aloud. Forgetting his own condition, the Colonel said
immediately to the surgeon: "See first, doctor, what is the matter
with this brave man; I can wait."
Because of the lack of instruments it was not possible to perform the
amputation on the ground, as the Colonel desired, so this much
deplored commander was transported to the Metz hospital.
Four days later (19th of August), Colonel Ardant du Picq died like a
hero of old, without uttering the least complaint. Far from his
regiment, far from his family, he uttered several times the words
which summed up his affections: "My wife, my children, my regiment,
Battle is the final objective of armies and man is the fundamental
instrument in battle. Nothing can wisely be prescribed in an army--its
personnel, organization, discipline and tactics, things which are
connected like the fingers of a hand--without exact knowledge of the
fundamental instrument, man, and his state of mind, his morale, at the
instant of combat.
It often happens that those who discuss war, taking the weapon for the
starting point, assume unhesitatingly that the man called to serve it
will always use it as contemplated and ordered by the regulations. But
such a being, throwing off his variable nature to become an impassive
pawn, an abstract unit in the combinations of battle, is a creature
born of the musings of the library, and not a real man. Man is flesh
and blood; he is body and soul. And, strong as the soul often is, it
can not dominate the body to the point where there will not be a
revolt of the flesh and mental perturbation in the face of
The human heart, to quote Marshal de Saxe, is then the starting point
in all matters pertaining to war.
Let us study the heart, not in modern battle, complicated and not
readily grasped, but in ancient battle. For, although nowhere
explained in detail, ancient battle was simple and clear.
Centuries have not changed human nature. Passions, instincts, among
them the most powerful one of self-preservation, may be manifested in
various ways according to the time, the place, the character and
temperament of the race. Thus in our times we can admire, under the
same conditions of danger, emotion and anguish, the calmness of the
English, the dash of the French, and that inertia of the Russians
which is called tenacity. But at bottom there is always found the same
man. It is this man that we see disposed of by the experts, by the
masters, when they organize and discipline, when they order detailed
combat methods and take general dispositions for action. The best
masters are those who know man best, the man of today and the man of
history. This knowledge naturally comes from a study of formations and
achievements in ancient war.
The development of this work leads us to make such an analysis, and
from a study of combat we may learn to know man.
Let us go even back of ancient battle, to primeval struggle. In
progressing from the savage to our times we shall get a better grasp
And shall we then know as much as the masters? No more than one is a
painter by having seen the methods of painting. But we shall better
understand these able men and the great examples they have left behind
We shall learn from them to distrust mathematics and material dynamics
as applied to battle principles. We shall learn to beware of the
illusions drawn from the range and the maneuver field.
There, experience is with the calm, settled, unfatigued, attentive,
obedient soldier, with an intelligent and tractable man-instrument in
short, and not with the nervous, easily swayed, moved, troubled,
distrait, excited, restless being, not even under self-control, who is
the fighting man from general to private. There are strong men,
exceptions, but they are rare.
These illusions, nevertheless, stubborn and persistent, always repair
the very next day the most damaging injuries inflicted on them by
experience. Their least dangerous effect is to lead to prescribing the
impractical, as if ordering the impractical were not really an attack
on discipline, and did not result in disconcerting officers and men by
the unexpected and by surprise at the contrast between battle and the
theories of peacetime training.
Battle, of course, always furnishes surprises. But it furnishes less
in proportion as good sense and the recognition of truth have had
their effect on the training of the fighting man, and are disseminated
in the ranks. Let us then study man in battle, for it is he who really
MAN IN PRIMITIVE AND ANCIENT COMBAT
Man does not enter battle to fight, but for victory. He does
everything that he can to avoid the first and obtain the second.
War between savage tribes, between Arabs, even today,  is a war of
ambush by small groups of men of which each one, at the moment of
surprise, chooses, not his adversary, but his victim, and is an
assassin. Because the arms are similar on both sides, the only way of
giving the advantage to one side is by surprise. A man surprised,
needs an instant to collect his thoughts and defend himself; during
this instant he is killed if he does not run away.
The surprised adversary does not defend himself, he tries to flee.
Face to face or body to body combat with primitive arms, ax or dagger,
so terrible among enemies without defensive arms, is very rare. It can
take place only between enemies mutually surprised and without a
chance of safety for any one except in victory. And still ... in case
of mutual surprise, there is another chance of safety; that of falling
back, of flight on the part of one or the other; and that chance is
often seized. Here is an example, and if it does not concern savages
at all, but soldiers of our days, the fact is none the less
significant. It was observed by a man of warlike temperament who has
related what he saw with his own eyes, although he was a forced
spectator, held to the spot by a wound.
During the Crimean War, on a day of heavy fighting, two detachments of
soldiers, A and B, coming around one of the mounds of earth that
covered the country and meeting unexpectedly face to face, at ten
paces, stopped thunderstruck. Then, forgetting their rifles, they
threw stones and withdrew. Neither of the two groups had a decided
leader to lead it to the front, and neither of the two dared to shoot
first for fear that the other would at the same time bring his own arm
to his shoulder. They were too near to hope to escape, or so they
thought at least, although in reality, reciprocal firing, at such
short ranges, is almost always too high. The man who would fire sees
himself already killed by the return fire. He throws stones, and not
with great force, to avoid using his rifle, to distract the enemy, to
occupy the time, until flight offers him some chance of escaping at
This agreeable state of affairs did not last long, a minute perhaps.
The appearance of a troop B on one flank determined the flight of A,
and then the opposing group fired.
Surely, the affair is ridiculous and laughable.
Let us see, however. In a thick forest, a lion and a tiger meet face
to face at a turn in the trail. They stop at once, rearing and ready
to spring. They measure each other with their eyes, there is a
rumbling in their throats. The claws move convulsively, the hair
stands up. With tails lashing the ground, and necks stretched, ears
flattened, lips turned up, they show their formidable fangs in that
terrible threatening grimace of fear characteristic of felines.
Unseen, I shudder.
The situation is disagreeable for both: movement ahead means the death
of a beast. Of which? Of both perhaps.
Slowly, quite slowly, one leg, bent for the leap, bending still, moves
a few inches to the rear. Gently, quite gently, a fore paw follows the
movement. After a stop, slowly, quite slowly, the other legs do the
same, and both beasts, insensibly, little by little, and always
facing, withdraw, up to the moment where their mutual withdrawal has
created between them an interval greater than can be traversed in a
bound. Lion and tiger turn their backs slowly and, without ceasing to
observe, walk freely. They resume without haste their natural gaits,
with that sovereign dignity characteristic of great seigneurs. I have
ceased to shudder, but I do not laugh.
There is no more to laugh at in man in battle, because he has in his
hands a weapon more terrible than the fangs and claws of lion or
tiger, the rifle, which instantly, without possible defense, sends one
from life into death. It is evident that no one close to his enemy is
in a hurry to arm himself, to put into action a force which may kill
him. He is not anxious to light the fuse that is to blow up the enemy,
and himself at the same time.
Who has not observed like instances between dogs, between dog and cat,
cat and cat?
In the Polish War of 1831, two Russian and two Polish regiments of
cavalry charged each other. They went with the same dash to meet one
another. When close enough to recognize faces, these cavalrymen
slackened their gait and both turned their backs. The Russians and
Poles, at this terrible moment, recognized each other as brothers, and
rather than spill fraternal blood, they extricated themselves from a
combat as if it were a crime. That is the version of an eyewitness and
narrator, a Polish officer.
What do you think of cavalry troops so moved by brotherly love?
But let us resume:
When people become more numerous, and when the surprise of an entire
population occupying a vast space is no longer possible, when a sort
of public conscience has been cultivated within society, one is warned
beforehand. War is formally declared. Surprise is no longer the whole
of war, but it remains one of the means in war, the best means, even
to-day. Man can no longer kill his enemy without defense. He has
forewarned him. He must expect to find him standing and in numbers. He
must fight; but he wishes to conquer with as little risk as possible.
He employs the iron shod mace against the staff, arrows against the
mace, the shield against arrows, the shield and cuirass against the
shield alone, the long lance against the short lance, the tempered
sword against the iron sword, the armed chariot against man on foot,
and so on.
Man taxes his ingenuity to be able to kill without running the risk of
being killed. His bravery is born of his strength and it is not
absolute. Before a stronger he flees without shame. The instinct of
self-preservation is so powerful that he does not feel disgraced in
obeying it, although, thanks to the defensive power of arms and armor
he can fight at close quarters. Can you expect him to act in any other
way? Man must test himself before acknowledging a stronger. But once
the stronger is recognized, no one will face him.
Individual strength and valor were supreme in primitive combats, so
much so that when its heroes were killed, the nation was conquered. As
a result of a mutual and tacit understanding, combatants often stopped
fighting to watch with awe and anxiety two champions struggling. Whole
peoples often placed their fate in the hands of the champions who took
up the task and who alone fought. This was perfectly natural. They
counted their champion a superman, and no man can stand against the
But intelligence rebels against the dominance of force. No one can
stand against an Achilles, but no Achilles can withstand ten enemies
who, uniting their efforts, act in concert. This is the reason for
tactics, which prescribe beforehand proper means of organization and
action to give unanimity to effort, and for discipline which insures
united efforts in spite of the innate weakness of combatants.
In the beginning man battled against man, each one for himself, like a
beast that hunts to kill, yet flees from that which would kill him.
But now prescriptions of discipline and tactics insure unity between
leader and soldier, between the men themselves. Besides the
intellectual progress, is there a moral progress? To secure unity in
combat, to make tactical dispositions in order to render it
practically possible, we must be able to count on the devotion of all.
This elevates all combatants to the level of the champions of
primitive combat. Esprit appears, flight is a disgrace, for one is no
longer alone in combat. There is a legion, and he who gives way quits
his commanders and his companions. In all respects the combatant is
So reason shows us the strength of wisely united effort; discipline
makes it possible.
Will the result be terrible fights, conflicts of extermination? No!
Collective man, a disciplined body of troops formed in tactical battle
order, is invincible against an undisciplined body of troops. But
against a similarly disciplined body, he becomes again primitive man.
He flees before a greater force of destruction when he recognizes it
or when he foresees it. Nothing is changed in the heart of man.
Discipline keeps enemies face to face a little longer, but cannot
supplant the instinct of self-preservation and the sense of fear that
goes with it.
There are officers and soldiers who do not know it, but they are
people of rare grit. The mass shudders; because you cannot suppress
the flesh. This trembling must be taken into account in all
organization, discipline, arrangements, movements, maneuvers, mode of
action. All these are affected by the human weakness of the soldier
which causes him to magnify the strength of the enemy.
This faltering is studied in ancient combat. It is seen that of
nations apt in war, the strongest have been those who, not only best
have understood the general conduct of war, but who have taken human
weakness into greatest account and taken the best guarantees against
it. It is notable that the most warlike peoples are not always those
in which military institutions and combat methods are the best or the
And indeed, in warlike nations there is a good dose of vanity. They
only take into account courage in their tactics. One might say that
they do not desire to acknowledge weakness.
The Gaul, a fool in war, used barbarian tactics. After the first
surprise, he was always beaten by the Greeks and Romans.
The Greek, a warrior, but also a politician, had tactics far superior
to those of the Gauls and the Asiatics.
The Roman, a politician above all, with whom war was only a means,
wanted perfect means. He had no illusions. He took into account human
weakness and he discovered the legion.
But this is merely affirming what should be demonstrated.
KNOWLEDGE OF MAN MADE ROMAN TACTICS.
THE SUCCESSES OF HANNIBAL, THOSE OF CAESAR
Greek tactics developed the phalanx; Roman tactics, the legion; the
tactics of the barbarians employed the square phalanx, wedge or
The mechanism of these various formations is explained in all
elementary books. Polybius enters into a mechanical discussion when he
contrasts the phalanx and the legion. (Book 18.)
The Greeks were, in intellectual civilization, superior to the Romans,
consequently their tactics ought to have been far more rational. But
such was not the case. Greek tactics proceeded from mathematical
reasoning; Roman tactics from a profound knowledge of man's heart.
Naturally the Greeks did not neglect morale nor the Romans mechanics, 
but their primary, considerations were diverse.
What formation obtained the maximum effort from the Greek army?
What methods caused the soldiers of a Roman army to fight most
The first question admits of discussion. The Roman solved the second.
The Roman was not essentially brave. He did not produce any warrior of
the type of Alexander. It is acknowledged that the valorous
impetuosity of the barbarians, Gauls, Cimbri, Teutons, made him
tremble. But to the glorious courage of the Greeks, to the natural
bravery of the Gauls he opposed a strict sense of duty, secured by a
terrible discipline in the masses. It was inspired in the officers by
a sentiment of the strongest patriotism.
The discipline of the Greeks was secured by exercises and rewards; the
discipline of the Romans was secured also by the fear of death. They
put to death with the club; they decimated their cowardly or
In order to conquer enemies that terrified his men, a Roman general
heightened their morale, not by enthusiasm but by anger. He made the
life of his soldiers miserable by excessive work and privations. He
stretched the force of discipline to the point where, at a critical
instant, it must break or expend itself on the enemy. Under similar
circumstances, a Greek general caused Tyrtaeus to sing.  It would
have been curious to see two such forces opposed.
But discipline alone does not constitute superior tactics. Man in
battle, I repeat, is a being in whom the instinct of self-preservation
dominates, at certain moments, all other sentiments. Discipline has
for its aim the domination of that instinct by a greater terror. But
it cannot dominate it completely. I do not deny the glorious examples
where discipline and devotion have elevated man above himself. But if
these examples are glorious, it is because they are rare; if they are
admired, it is because they are considered exceptions, and the
exception proves the rule.
The determination of that instant where man loses his reasoning power
and becomes instinctive is the crowning achievement in the science of
combat. In general, here was the strength of the Roman tactics. In
particular cases such successful determination makes Hannibals and
Combat took place between masses in more or less deep formation
commanded and supervised by leaders with a definite mission. The
combat between masses was a series of individual conflicts,
juxtaposed, with the front rank man alone fighting. If he fell, if he
was wounded or worn out, he was replaced by the man of the second rank
who had watched and guarded his flanks. This procedure continued up to
the last rank. Man is always physically and morally fatigued in a
hand-to-hand tournament where he employs all his energy.
These contests generally lasted but a short time. With like morale,
the least fatigued always won.
During this engagement of the first two ranks, the one fighting, the
other watching close at hand, the men of the rear ranks waited
inactive at two paces distance for their turn in the combat, which
would come only when their predecessors were killed, wounded or
exhausted. They were impressed by the violent fluctuations of the
struggle of the first rank. They heard the clashes of the blows and
distinguished, perhaps, those that sank into the flesh. They saw the
wounded, the exhausted crawl through the intervals to go to the rear.
Passive spectators of danger, they were forced to await its terrible
approach. These men were subjected to the poignant emotions of combat
without being supported by the animation of the struggle. They were
thus placed under the moral pressure of the greatest of anxieties.
Often they could not stand it until their turn came; they gave way.
The best tactics, the best dispositions were those that made easiest a
succession of efforts by assuring the relief by ranks of units in
action, actually engaging only the necessary units and keeping the
rest as a support or reserve outside of the immediate sphere of moral
tension. The superiority of the Romans lay in such tactics and in the
terrible discipline which prepared and assured the execution. By their
resistance against fatigue which rude and continual tasks gave them
and by the renewal of combatants in combat, they secured greater
continuity of effort than any others. 
The Gauls did not reason. Seeing only the inflexible line, they bound
themselves together, thus rendering relief impracticable. They
believed, as did the Greeks, in the power of the mass and impulse of
deep files, and did not understand that deep files were powerless to
push the first ranks forward as they recoiled in the face of death. It
is a strange error to believe that the last ranks will go to meet that
which made the first ones fall back. On the contrary, the contagion of
recoil is so strong that the stopping of the head means the falling
back of the rear!
The Greeks, also, certainly had reserves and supports in the second
half of their dense ranks. But the idea of mass dominated. They placed
these supports and reserves too near, forgetting the essential, man.
The Romans believed in the power of mass, but from the moral point of
view only. They did not multiply the files in order to add to the
mass, but to give to the combatants the confidence of being aided and
relieved. The number of ranks was calculated according to the moral
pressure that the last ranks could sustain.
There is a point beyond which man cannot bear the anxiety of combat in
the front lines without being engaged. The Romans did not so increase
the number of ranks as to bring about this condition. The Greeks did
not observe and calculate so well. They sometimes brought the number
of files up to thirty-two and their last files, which in their minds,
were doubtless their reserves, found themselves forcibly dragged into
the material disorder of the first ones.
In the order by maniples in the Roman legion, the best soldiers, those
whose courage had been proved by experience in battle, waited
stoically, kept in the second and third lines. They were far enough
away not to suffer wounds and not to be drawn in by the front line
retiring into their intervals. Yet they were near enough to give
support when necessary or to finish the job by advancing.
When the three separate and successive maniples of the first cohort
were united in order to form the united battle cohort of Marius and of
Caesar, the same brain placed the most reliable men in the last lines,
i.e., the oldest. The youngest, the most impetuous, were in the first
lines. The legion was not increased simply to make numbers or mass.
Each had his turn in action, each man in his maniple, each maniple in
its cohort, and, when the unit became a cohort, each cohort in the
order of battle.