Part 2 out of 5
We have seen that the Roman theory dictated a depth of ranks to
furnish successive lines of combatants. The genius of the general
modified these established formations. If the men were inured to war,
well-trained, reliable, tenacious, quick to relieve their file
leaders, full of confidence in their general and their own comrades,
the general diminished the depth of the files, did away with the lines
even, in order to increase the number of immediate combatants by
increasing the front. His men having a moral, and sometimes also a
physical endurance superior to that of the adversary, the general knew
that the last ranks of the latter would not, under pressure, hold
sufficiently to relieve the first lines nor to forbid the relief of
his own. Hannibal had a part of his infantry, the Africans, armed and
drilled in the Roman way; his Spanish infantrymen had the long wind of
the Spaniards of to-day; his Gallic soldiers, tried out by hardship,
were in the same way fit for long efforts. Hannibal, strong with the
confidence with which he inspired his people, drew up a line less deep
by half than the Roman army and at Cannae hemmed in an army which had
twice his number and exterminated it. Caesar at Pharsalus, for similar
reasons, did not hesitate to decrease his depth. He faced double his
strength in the army of Pompey, a Roman army like his own, and crushed
We have mentioned Cannae and Pharsalus, we shall study in them the
mechanism and the morale of ancient combat, two things which cannot be
separated. We cannot find better examples of battle more clearly and
more impartially exhibited. This is due in one case to the clear
presentation of Polybius, who obtained his information from the
fugitives from Cannae, possibly even from some of the conquerors; in
the other it is due to the impassive clearness of Caesar in describing
the art of war.
ANALYSIS OF THE BATTLE OF CANNAE
Recital of Polybius:
"Varro placed the cavalry on the right wing, and rested it on the
river; the infantry was deployed near it and on the same line, the
maniples drawn close to each other, with smaller intervals than usual,
and the maniples presenting more depth than front.
"The cavalry of the allies, on the left wing, completed the line, in
front of which were posted the light troops. There were in that army,
including the allies, eighty thousand foot and a little more than six
"Meanwhile Hannibal had his slingers and light troops cross the
Aufidus and posted them in front of his army. The rest crossed the
river at two places. He placed the Iberian and Gallic cavalry on the
left wing, next the river and facing the Roman cavalry. He placed on
the same line, one half of the African infantry heavily armed, the
Iberian and Gallic infantry, the other half of the African infantry,
and finally the Numidian cavalry which formed the right wing.
"After he had thus arrayed all his troops upon a single line, he
marched to meet the enemy with the Iberian and Gallic infantry moving
independently of the main body. As it was joined in a straight line
with the rest, on separating, it was formed like the convex face of a
crescent. This formation reduced its depth in the center. The
intention of the general was to commence the battle with the Iberians
and Gauls, and have them supported by the Africans.
"The latter infantry was armed like the Roman infantry, having been
equipped by Hannibal with arms that had been taken from the Romans in
preceding battle. Both Iberians and Gauls had shields; but their
swords were quite different. The sword of the former was as fit for
thrusting as for cutting while that of the Gauls only cut with the
edge, and at a limited distance. These troops were drawn up as
follows: the Iberians were in two bodies of troops on the wings, near
the Africans; the Gauls in the center. The Gauls were nude; the
Iberians in linen shirts of purple color, which to the Romans was an
extraordinary and frightening spectacle. The Carthaginian army
consisted of ten thousand horse and little more than forty thousand
"Aemilius commanded the right of the Romans, Varro the left; the two
consuls of the past year, Servilius and Attilius, were in the center.
On the Carthaginian side, Hasdrubal had the left under his orders,
Hanno the right, and Hannibal, who had his brother Mago with him,
reserved for himself the command of the center. The two armies did not
suffer from the glare of the sun when it rose, the one being faced to
the South, as I remarked, and the other to the North.
"Action commenced with the light troops, which were in front of both
armies. The first engagement gave advantage to neither the one nor the
other. Just as soon as the Iberian and Gallic cavalry on the left
approached, the conflict became hot. The Romans fought with fury and
rather more like barbarians than Romans. This falling back and then
returning to the charge was not according to their tactics. Scarcely
did they become engaged when they leaped from their horses and each
seized his adversary. In the meanwhile the Carthaginians gained the
upper hand. The greater number of the Romans remained on the ground
after having fought with the greatest valor. The others were pursued
along the river and cut to pieces without being able to obtain
"The heavily armed infantry immediately took the place of the light
troops and became engaged. The Iberians and Gauls held firm at first
and sustained the shock with vigor; but they soon gave way to the
weight of the legions, and, opening the crescent, turned their backs
and retreated. The Romans followed them with impetuosity, and broke
the Gallic line much more easily because the wings crowded toward the
center where the thick of the fighting was. The whole line did not
fight at the same time. The action commenced in the center because the
Gauls, being drawn up in the form of a crescent, left the wings far
behind them, and presented the convex face of the crescent to the
Romans. The latter then followed the Gauls and Iberians closely, and
crowded towards the center, to the place where the enemy gave way,
pushing ahead so forcibly that on both flanks they engaged the heavily
armed Africans. The Africans on the right, in swinging about from
right to left, found themselves all along the enemy's flank, as well
as those on the left which made the swing from left to right. The very
circumstances of the action showed them what they had to do. This was
what Hannibal had foreseen; that the Romans pursuing the Gauls must be
enveloped by the Africans. The Romans then, no longer able to keep
their formation  were forced to defend themselves man to man and in
small groups against those who attacked them on front and flank.
"Aemilius had escaped the carnage on the right wing at the
commencement of the battle. Wishing, according to the orders he had
given, to be everywhere, and seeing that it was the legionary infantry
that would decide the fate of the battle, he pushed his horse through
the fray, warded off or killed every one who opposed him, and sought
at the same time to reanimate the ardor of the Roman soldiers.
Hannibal, who during the entire battle remained in the conflict, did
the same in his army.
"The Numidian cavalry on the right wing, without doing or suffering
much, was useful on that occasion by its manner of fighting; for,
pouncing upon the enemy on all sides, they gave him enough to do so
that he might not have time to think of helping his own people.
Indeed, when the left wing, where Hasdrubal commanded, had routed
almost all the cavalry of the Roman right wing, and a junction had
been effected with the Numidians, the auxiliary cavalry did not wait
to be attacked but gave way.
"Hasdrubal is said to have done something which proved his prudence
and his ability, and which contributed to the success of the battle.
As the Numidians were in great number, and as these troops were never
more useful than when one was in flight before them, he gave them the
fugitives to pursue, and led the Iberian and Gallic cavalry in a
charge to aid the African infantry. He pounced on the Romans from the
rear, and having bodies of cavalry charge into the melee at several
places, he gave new strength to the Africans and made the arms drop
from the hands of the adversaries. It was then that L. Aemilius, a
citizen who during his whole life, as in this last conflict, had nobly
fulfilled his duties to his country, finally succumbed, covered with
"The Romans continued fighting, giving battle to those who were
surrounding them. They resisted to the last. But as their numbers
diminished more and more, they were finally forced into a smaller
circle, and all put to the sword. Attilius and Servilius, two persons
of great probity, who had distinguished themselves in the combat as
true Romans, were also killed on that occasion.
"While this carnage was taking place in the center, the Numidians
pursued the fugitives of the left wing. Most of them were cut down,
others were thrown under their horses; some of them escaped to
Venusia. Among these was Varro, the Roman general, that abominable man
whose administration cost his country so dearly. Thus ended the battle
of Cannae, a battle where prodigies of valor were seen on both sides.
"Of the six thousand horse of which the Roman cavalry was composed,
only seventy Romans reached Venusia with Varro, and, of the auxiliary
cavalry, only three hundred men found shelter in various towns. Ten
thousand foot were taken prisoners, but they were not in the battle. 
Of troops in battle only about three thousand saved themselves in the
nearby town; the balance, numbering about twenty thousand, died on the
field of honor." 
Hannibal lost in that action in the neighborhood of four thousand
Gauls, fifteen hundred Iberians and Africans and two hundred horses.
Let us analyze:
The light infantry troops were scattered in front of the armies and
skirmished without result. The real combat commenced with the attack
on the legitimate cavalry of the Roman left wing by the cavalry of
There, says Polybius, the fight grew thickest, the Romans fought with
fury and much more like barbarians than like Romans; because this
falling back, then returning to the charge was not according to their
tactics; scarcely did they become engaged when they leaped from their
horses and each seized his adversary, etc., etc.
This means that the Roman cavalry did not habitually fight hand to
hand like the infantry. It threw itself in a gallop on the enemy
cavalry. When within javelin range, if the enemy's cavalry had not
turned in the opposite direction on seeing the Roman cavalry coming,
the latter prudently slackened its gait, threw some javelins, and,
making an about by platoons, took to the rear for the purpose of
repeating the charge. The hostile cavalry did the same, and such an
operation might be renewed several times, until one of the two,
persuaded that his enemy was going to attack him with a dash, turned
in flight and was pursued to the limit.
That day, the fight becoming hot, they became really engaged; the two
cavalry bodies closed and man fought man. The fight was forced,
however; as there was no giving way on one side or the other, it was
necessary actually to attack. There was no space for skirmishing.
Closed in by the Aufidus and the legions, the Roman cavalry could not
operate (Livy). The Iberian and Gallic cavalry, likewise shut in and
double the Roman cavalry, was forced into two lines; it could still
less maneuver. This limited front served the Romans, inferior in
number, who could thus be attacked only in front, that is by an equal
number. It rendered, as we have said, contact inevitable. These two
cavalry bodies placed chest to chest had to fight close, had to
grapple man to man, and for riders mounted on simple saddle cloths and
without stirrup, embarrassed with a shield, a lance, a saber or a
sword, to grapple man to man is to grapple together, fall together and
fight on foot. That is what happened, as the account of Titus Livius
explains it in completing that of Polybius. The same thing happened
every time that two ancient cavalry organizations really had to fight,
as the battle of the Tecinus showed. This mode of action was all to
the advantage of the Romans, who were well-armed and well-trained
therein. Note the battle of Tecinus. The Roman light infantry was cut
to pieces, but the elite of the Roman cavalry, although surprised and
surrounded, fought a-foot and on horse back, inflicted more casualties
on the cavalry of Hannibal than they suffered, and brought back from
the field their wounded general. The Romans besides were well led by
Consul Aemilius, a man of head and heart, who, instead of fleeing when
his cavalry was defeated, went himself to die in the ranks of the
Meanwhile we see thirty to thirty-four hundred Roman cavalrymen nearly
exterminated by six to seven thousand Gauls and Iberians who did not
lose even two hundred men. Hannibal's entire cavalry lost but two
hundred men on that day.
How can that be explained?
Because most of them died without dreaming of selling their lives and
because they took to flight during the fight of the first line and
were struck with impunity from behind. The words of Polybius: "Most of
them remained on the spot after having defended themselves with the
utmost valor," were consecrated words before Polybius. The conquered
always console themselves with their bravery and conquerors never
contradict. Unfortunately, the figures are there. The facts of the
battle are found in the account, which sounds no note of desperation.
The Gallic and Roman cavalry had each already made a brave effort by
attacking each other from the front. This effort was followed by the
terrible anxiety of close combat. The Roman cavalrymen, who from
behind the combatants on foot were able to see the second Gallic line
on horse back, gave ground. Fear very quickly made the disengaged
ranks take to their horses, wheel about like a flock of sheep in a
stampede, and abandon their comrades and themselves to the mercy of
Yet, these horsemen were brave men, the elite of the army, noble
knights, guards of the consuls, volunteers of noble families.
The Roman cavalry defeated, Hasdrubal passed his Gallic and Iberian
troopers behind Hannibal's army, to attack the allied cavalry till
then engaged by the Numidians.  The cavalry of the allies did not
await the enemy. It turned its back immediately; pursued to the utmost
by the Numidians who were numerous (three thousand), and excellent in
pursuit, it was reduced to some three hundred men, without a struggle.
After the skirmishing of the light infantry troops, the foot-soldiers
of the line met. Polybius has explained to us how the Roman infantry
let itself be enclosed by the two wings of the Carthaginian army and
taken in rear by Hasdrubal's cavalry. It is also probable that the
Gauls and Iberians, repulsed in the first part of the action and
forced to turn their backs, returned, aided by a portion of the light
infantry, to the charge upon the apex of the wedge formed by the
Romans and completed their encirclement.
But we know, as will be seen further on in examples taken from Caesar,
that the ancient cavalryman was powerless against formed infantry,
even against the isolated infantryman possessing coolness. The Iberian
and Gallic cavalry ought to have found behind the Roman army the
reliable triarians penned in, armed, with pikes.  It might have held
them in check, forced them to give battle, but done them little or no
harm as long as the ranks were preserved.
We know that of Hannibal's infantry only twelve thousand at the most
were equipped with Roman weapons. We know that his Gallic and Iberian
infantry, protected by plain shields, had to fall back, turn, and
probably lost in this part of the action very nearly the four thousand
men, which the battle cost them.
Let us deduct the ten thousand men that had gone to the attack of
Hannibal's camp and the five thousand which the latter must have left
there. There remain:
A mass of seventy thousand men surrounded and slaughtered by
twenty-eight thousand foot soldiers, or, counting Hasdrubal's cavalry,
by thirty-six thousand men, by half their number.
It may be asked how seventy thousand men could have let themselves be
slaughtered, without defense, by thirty-six thousand men less
well-armed, when each combatant had but one man before him. For in
close combat, and especially in so large an envelopment, the number of
combatants immediately engaged was the same on each side. Then there
were neither guns nor rifles able to pierce the mass by a converging
fire and destroy it by the superiority of this fire over diverging
fire. Arrows were exhausted in the first period of the action. It
seems that, by their mass, the Romans must have presented an
insurmountable resistance, and that while permitting the enemy to wear
himself out against it, that mass had only to defend itself in order
to repel assailants.
But it was wiped out.
In pursuit of the Gauls and Iberians, who certainly were not able,
even with like morale, to stand against the superior arms of the
legionaries, the center drove all vigorously before it. The wings, in
order to support it and not to lose the intervals, followed its
movement by a forward oblique march and formed the sides of the
salient. The entire Roman army, in wedge order, marched to victory.
Suddenly the wings were attacked by the African battalions; the Gauls,
the Iberians,  who had been in retreat, returned to the fight. The
horsemen of Hasdrubal, in the rear, attacked the reserves. 
Everywhere there was combat, unexpected, unforeseen. At the moment
when they believed themselves conquerors, everywhere, in front, to the
right, to the left, in the rear, the Roman soldiers heard the furious
clamor of combat. 
The physical pressure was unimportant. The ranks that they were
fighting had not half their own depth. The moral pressure was
enormous. Uneasiness, then terror, took hold of them; the first ranks,
fatigued or wounded, wanted to retreat; but the last ranks,
frightened, withdrew, gave way and whirled into the interior of the
wedge. Demoralized and not feeling themselves supported, the ranks
engaged followed them, and the routed mass let itself be slaughtered.
The weapons fell from their hands, says Polybius.
The analysis of Cannae is ended. Before passing to the recital of
Pharsalus, we cannot resist the temptation, though the matter be a
little foreign to the subject, to say a few words about the battles of
These battles have a particular character of stubbornness explained by
the necessity for overcoming the Roman tenacity. It may be said that
to Hannibal victory was not sufficient. He must destroy. Consequently
he always tried to cut off all retreat for the enemy. He knew that
with Rome, destruction was the only way of finishing the struggle.
He did not believe in the courage of despair in the masses; he
believed in terror and he knew the value of surprise in inspiring it.
But it was not the losses of the Romans that was the most surprising
thing in these engagements. It was the losses of Hannibal. Who, before
Hannibal or after him, has lost as many as the Romans and yet been
conqueror? To keep troops in action, until victory comes, with such
losses, requires a most powerful hand.
He inspired his people with absolute confidence. Almost always his
center, where he put his Gauls, his food for powder, was broken. But
that did not seem to disquiet or trouble either him or his men.
It is true that his center was pierced by the Romans who were escaping
the pressure of the two Carthaginian wings, that they were in disorder
because they had fought and pushed back the Gauls, whom Hannibal knew
how to make fight with singular tenacity. They probably felt as though
they had escaped from a press, and, happy to be out of it, they
thought only of getting further away from the battle and by no means
of returning to the flanks or the rear of the enemy. In addition,
although nothing is said about it, Hannibal had doubtless taken
precautions against their ever returning to the conflict.
All that is probably true. The confidence of the Gallic troops, so
broken through, is none the less surprising.
Hannibal, in order to inspire his people with such confidence, had to
explain to them before the combat his plan of action, in such a way
that treachery could not injure him. He must have warned his troops
that the center would be pierced, but that he was not worried about
it, because it was a foreseen and prepared affair. His troops, indeed,
did not seem to be worried about it.
Let us leave aside his conception of campaigns, his greatest glory in
the eyes of all. Hannibal was the greatest general of antiquity by
reason of his admirable comprehension of the morale of combat, of the
morale of the soldier whether his own or the enemy's. He shows his
greatness in this respect in all the different incidents of war, of
campaign, of action. His men were not better than the Roman soldiers.
They were not as well armed, one-half less in number. Yet he was
always the conqueror. He understood the value of morale. He had the
absolute confidence of his people. In addition he had the art, in
commanding an army, of always securing the advantage of morale.
In Italy he had, it is true, cavalry superior to that of the Romans.
But the Romans had a much superior infantry. Had conditions been
reversed, he would have changed his methods. The instruments of battle
are valuable only if one knows how to use them, and Pompey, we shall
see, was beaten at Pharsalus precisely because he had a cavalry
superior to that of Caesar.
If Hannibal was vanquished at Zuma, it was because genius cannot
accomplish the impossible. Zuma proved again the perfect knowledge of
men that Hannibal possessed and his influence over the troops. His
third line, the only one where he really had reliable soldiers, was
the only one that fought. Beset on all sides, it slew two thousand
Romans before it was conquered.
We shall see later what a high state of morale, what desperate
fighting, this meant.
ANALYSIS OF THE BATTLE OF PHARSALUS, AND SOME CHARACTERISTIC EXAMPLES
Here is Caesar's account of the battle of Pharsalus.
"As Caesar approached Pompey's camp, he noted that Pompey's army was
placed in the following order:
"On the left wing were the 2nd and 3rd Legions which Caesar had sent
to Pompey at the commencement of the operation, pursuant to a decree
of the Senate, and which Pompey had kept. Scipio occupied the center
with the legions from Syria. The legion from Cilicia was placed on the
right wing together with the Spanish cohorts of Afranius. Pompey
regarded the troops already mentioned as the most reliable of his
army. Between them, that is, between the center and the wings, he had
distributed the remainder, consisting of one hundred and ten complete
cohorts in line. These were made up of forty-five thousand men, two
thousand of whom were veterans, previously rewarded for their
services, who had come to join him. He had scattered them throughout
the whole line of battle. Seven cohorts had been left to guard his
camp and the neighboring forts. His right wing rested on a stream with
inaccessible banks; and, for that reason, he had placed all his seven
thousand cavalry,  his archers and his slingers (forty-two hundred
men) on the left wing.
"Caesar, keeping his battle order,  had placed the 10th Legion on the
right wing, and on the left, the 9th, which was much weakened by the
combats of Dyrrachium. To the latter he added the 8th in order to form
something like a full legion from the two, and ordered them to support
one another. He had eighty very completely organized cohorts in line,
approximately twenty-two thousand men. Two cohorts had been left to
guard the camp. Caesar had entrusted the command of the left wing to
Anthony, that of the right to P. Sylla, and of the center to C.
Domitius. He placed himself in front of Pompey. But when he saw the
disposition of the opposing army, he feared that his right wing was
going to be enveloped by Pompey's numerous cavalry. He therefore
withdrew immediately from his third line a cohort from each legion
(six cohorts), in order to form a fourth line, placed it to receive
Pompey's cavalry and showed it what it had to do. Then he explained
fully to these cohorts that the success of the day depended on their
valor. At the same time he ordered the entire army, and in particular
the third line, not to move without his command, reserving to himself
authority to give the signal by means of the standard when he thought
"Caesar then went through his lines to exhort his men to do well, and
seeing them full of ardor, had the signal given.
"Between the two armies there was only enough space to give each the
necessary distance for the charge. But Pompey had given his men orders
to await the charge without stirring, and to let Caesar's army break
its ranks upon them. He did this, they say, on the advice of C.
Triarius, as a method of meeting the force of the first dash of
Caesar's men. He hoped that their battle order would be broken up and
his own soldiers, well disposed in ranks, would have to fight with
sword in hand only men in disorder. He thought that this formation
would best protect his troops from the force of the fall of heavy
javelins. At the same time he hoped that Caesar's soldiers charging at
the run would be out of breath and overcome with fatigue at the moment
of contact. Pompey's immobility was an error because there is in every
one an animation, a natural ardor that is instilled by the onset to
the combat. Generals ought not to check but to encourage this ardor.
It was for this reason that, in olden times, troops charged with loud
shouts, all trumpets sounding, in order to frighten the enemy and
"In the meanwhile, our soldiers, at the given signal advanced with
javelins in hand; but having noticed that Pompey's soldiers were not
running towards them, and taught by experience and trained by previous
battles, they slowed down and stopped in the midst of their run, in
order not to arrive out of breath and worn out. Some moments after,
having taken up their run again, they launched their javelins, and
immediately afterwards, according to Caesar's order drew their swords.
The Pompeians conducted themselves perfectly. They received the darts
courageously; they did not stir before the dash of the legions; they
preserved their lines, and, having dispatched their javelins, drew
"At the same time Pompey's entire cavalry dashed from the left wing,
as had been ordered, and the mass of his archers ran from all parts of
the line. Our cavalry did not await the charge, but fell back a
little. Pompey's cavalry became more pressing, and commenced to reform
its squadrons and turn our exposed flank. As soon as Caesar saw this
intention, he gave the signal to the fourth line of six cohorts. This
line started directly and, standards low, they charged the Pompeian
cavalry with such vigor and resolution that not a single man stood his
ground. All wheeled about and not only withdrew in full flight, but
gained the highest mountains as fast as they could. They left the
archers and slingers without their defense and protection. These were
all killed. At the same time the cohorts moved to the rear of Pompey's
left wing, which was still fighting and resisting, and attacked it in
"Meanwhile, Caesar had advanced his third line, which up to this
moment had been kept quietly at its post. These fresh troops relieved
those that were fatigued. Pompey's men, taken in rear, could no longer
hold out and all took to flight.
"Caesar was not in error when he put these cohorts in a fourth line,
particularly charged with meeting the cavalry, and urged them to do
well, since their effort would bring victory. They repulsed the
cavalry. They cut to pieces the slingers and archers. They turned
Pompey's left wing, and this decided the day.
"When Pompey saw his cavalry repulsed and that portion of the army
upon which he had counted the most seized with terror, he had little
confidence in the rest. He quit the battle and galloped to his camp,
where, addressing his centurions who were guarding the praetorian
gate, he told them in a loud voice heard by the soldiers: 'Guard well
the camp and defend it vigorously in case of attack; as for myself, I
am going to make the tour of the other gates and assure their
"That said, he retired to the praetorium, despairing of success and
"After having forced the enemy to flee to his entrenchments Caesar,
persuaded that he ought not to give the slightest respite to a
terrorized enemy, incited his soldiers to profit by their advantage
and attack the camp. Although overcome by the heat, for the struggle
was prolonged into the middle of the day, they did not object to
greater fatigue and obeyed. The camp was at first well defended by the
cohorts on watch and especially by the Thracians and barbarians. The
men who had fled from the battle, full of fright and overcome with
fatigue, had nearly all thrown their arms and colors away and thought
rather more of saving themselves than of defending the camp. Even
those who defended the entrenchments were unable long to resist the
shower of arrows. Covered with wounds, they abandoned the place, and
led by their centurions and tribunes, they took refuge as quickly as
they could in the high mountains near the camp.
"Caesar lost in this battle but two hundred soldiers, but nearly
thirty of the bravest centurions were killed therein. Of Pompey's army
fifteen thousand perished, and more than twenty-four thousand took
refuge in the mountains. As Caesar had invested the mountains with
entrenchments, they surrendered the following day."
Such is Caesar's account. His action is so clearly shown that there is
scarcely any need of comment.
Initially Caesar's formation was in three lines. This was the usual
battle order in the Roman armies, without being absolute, however,
since Marius fought with two only. But, as we have said, according to
the occasion, the genius of the chief decided the battle formation.
There is no reason to suppose that Pompey's army was in a different
order of battle.
To face that army, twice as large as his, Caesar, if he had had to
preserve the disposition of cohorts in ten ranks, would have been able
to form but one complete line, the first, and a second, half as
numerous, as a reserve. But he knew the bravery of his troops, and he
knew the apparent force of deep ranks to be a delusion. He did not
hesitate to diminish his depth in order to keep the formation and
morale of three-fifths of his troops intact, until the moment of their
engagement. In order to be even more sure of the third line of his
reserve, and in order to make sure that it would not be carried away
by its enthusiasm for action, he paid it most particular attention.
Perhaps, the text is doubtful, he kept it at double the usual distance
in rear of the fighting lines.
Then, to guard against a turning movement by Pompey's seven thousand
cavalry and forty-two hundred slingers and archers, a movement in
which Pompey placed the hopes of victory, Caesar posted six cohorts
that represented scarcely two thousand men. He had perfect confidence
that these two thousand men would make Pompey's cavalry wheel about,
and that his one thousand horsemen would then press the action so
energetically that Pompey's cavalry would not even think of rallying.
It happened so; and the forty-two hundred archers and slingers were
slaughtered like sheep by these cohorts, aided, without doubt, by
four-hundred foot  young and agile, whom Caesar mixed with his
thousand horsemen and who remained at this task, leaving the horsemen,
whom they had relieved, to pursue the terror-stricken fugitives.
Thus were seven thousand horsemen swept away and forty-two hundred
infantrymen slaughtered without a struggle, all demoralized simply by
a vigorous demonstration.
The order to await the charge, given by Pompey to his infantry, was
judged too severely by Caesar. Caesar certainly was right as a general
rule; the enthusiasm of the troops must not be dampened, and the
initiative of the attack indeed gives to the assailant a certain moral
influence. But with trusted soldiers, duly trained, one can try a
stratagem, and the men of Pompey had proven their dependability by
awaiting on the spot, without stirring, a vigorous enemy in good
order, when they counted on meeting him in disorder and out of breath.
Though it may not have led to success, the advice of Triarius was not
bad. Even the conduct of Caesar's men proves this. This battle shows
the confidence of the soldier in the material rank in ancient combat,
as assuring support and mutual assistance.
Notwithstanding the fact the Caesar's soldiers had the initiative in
the attack, the first encounter decided nothing. It was a combat on
the spot, a struggle of several hours. Forty-five thousand good troops
lost scarcely two hundred men in this struggle for, with like arms,
courage and ability, Pompey's infantry ought not to have lost in
hand-to-hand fighting more than that of Caesar's. These same
forty-five thousand men gave way, and, merely between the battle field
and their camp, twelve thousand were slaughtered.
Pompey's men had twice the depth of Caesar's ranks, whose attack did
not make them fall back a step. On the other hand their mass was
unable to repel him, and he was fought on the spot. Pompey had
announced to them, says Caesar, that the enemy's army would be turned
by his cavalry, and suddenly, when they were fighting bravely, step by
step, they heard behind them the shouts of attack by the six cohorts
of Caesar, two thousand men.
Does it seem an easy matter for such a force to ward off this menace?
No. The wing taken in rear in this way loses ground; more and more the
contagion of fear spreads to the rest. Terror is so great that they do
not think of re-forming in their camp, which is defended for a moment
only by the cohorts on guard. Just as at Cannae, their arms drop from
their hands. But for the good conduct of the camp guards which
permitted the fugitives to gain the mountains, the twenty-four
thousand prisoners of the next day might have been corpses that very
Cannae and Pharsalus, are sufficient to illustrate ancient combat. Let
us, however, add some other characteristic examples, which we shall
select briefly and in chronological order. They will complete our
Livy relates that in an action against some of the peoples in the
neighborhood of Rome, I do not recall now which, the Romans did not
dare to pursue for fear of breaking their ranks.
In a fight against the Hernici, he cites the Roman horsemen, who had
not been able to do anything on horseback to break up the enemy,
asking the consul for permission to dismount and fight on foot. This
is true not only of Roman cavalrymen, for later on we shall see the
best riders, the Gauls, the Germans, the Parthanians even, dismounting
in order really to fight.
The Volsci, the Latini, the Hernici, etc., combined to fight the
Romans; and as the action nears its end, Livy relates: "Finally, the
first ranks having fallen, and carnage being all about them, they
threw away their arms and started to scatter. The cavalry then dashed
forward, with orders not to kill the isolated ones, but to harass the
mass with their arrows, annoy it, to delay it, to prevent dispersion
in order to permit the infantry to come up and kill."
In Hamilcar's engagement against the mercenaries in revolt, who up to
then had always beaten the Carthaginians, the mercenaries endeavored
to envelop him. Hamilcar surprised them by a new maneuver and defeated
them. He marched in three lines: elephants, cavalry and light
infantry, then heavily armed phalanxes. At the approach of the
mercenaries who were marching vigorously towards him the two lines
formed by the elephants, the cavalry and light infantry, turned about
and moved quickly to place themselves on the flanks of the third line.
The third line thus exposed met a foe which had thought only of
pursuit, and which the surprise put to flight. It thus abandoned
itself to the action of the elephants, horses and the light infantry
who massacred the fugitives.
Hamilcar killed six thousand men, captured two thousand and lost
practically nobody. It was a question as to whether he had lost a
single man, since there had been no combat.
In the battle of Lake Trasimenus, the Carthaginians lost fifteen
hundred men, nearly all Gauls; the Romans fifteen thousand and fifteen
thousand prisoners. The battle raged for three hours.
At Zama, Hannibal had twenty thousand killed, twenty thousand
prisoners; the Romans two thousand killed. This was a serious struggle
in which Hannibal's third line alone fought. It gave way only under
the attack on its rear and flank by the cavalry.
In the battle of Cynoscephalae, between Philip and Flaminius, Philip
pressed Flaminius with his phalanx thirty-two deep. Twenty maniples
took the phalanx from behind. The battle was lost by Philip. The
Romans had seven hundred killed; the Macedonians eighty thousand, and
five thousand prisoners.
At Pydna, Aemilius Paulus against Perseus, the phalanx marched without
being stopped. But gaps occurred from the resistance that it
encountered. Hundreds penetrated into the gaps in the phalanx and
killed the men embarrassed with their long pikes. They were effective
only when united, abreast, and at shaft's length. There was frightful
disorder and butchery; twenty thousand killed, five thousand captured
out of forty-four thousand engaged! The historian does not deem it
worth while to speak of the Roman losses.
After the battle of Aix against the Teutons, Marius surprised the
Teutons from behind. There was frightful carnage; one hundred thousand
Teutons and three hundred Romans killed. 
In Sulla's battle of Chaeronea against Archelaus, a general of
Mithridates, Sulla had about thirty thousand men, Archelaus, one
hundred and ten thousand. Archelaus was beaten by being surprised from
the rear. The Romans lost fourteen men, and killed their enemies until
worn out in pursuit.
The battle of Orchomenus, against Archelaus, was a repetition of
Caesar states that his cavalry could not fight the Britons without
greatly exposing itself, because they pretended flight in order to get
the cavalry away from the infantry and then, dashing from their
chariots, they fought on foot with advantage.
A little less than two hundred veterans embarked on a boat which they
ran aground at night so as not to be taken by superior naval forces.
They reached an advantageous position and passed the night. At the
break of day, Otacilius dispatched some four hundred horsemen and some
infantry from the Alesio garrison against them. They defended
themselves bravely; and having killed some, they rejoined Caesar's
troops without having lost a single man.
In Macedonia Caesar's rear-guard was caught by Pompey's cavalry at the
passage of the Genusus River, the banks of which were quite steep.
Caesar opposed Pompey's cavalry five to seven thousand strong, with
his cavalry of six hundred to one thousand men, among which he had
taken care to intermingle four hundred picked infantrymen. They did
their duty so well that, in the combat that followed, they repulsed
the enemy, killed many, and fell back upon their own army without the
loss of a single man.
In the battle of Thapsus in Africa, against Scipio, Caesar killed ten
thousand, lost fifty, and had some wounded.
* * * * *
In the battle under the walls of Munda in Spain, against one of
Pompey's sons, Caesar had eighty cohorts and eight thousand horsemen,
about forty-eight thousand men. Pompey with thirteen legions had sixty
thousand troops of the line, six thousand cavalry, six thousand light
infantry, six thousand auxiliaries; in all, about eighty thousand men.
The struggle, says the narrator, was valiantly kept up, step by step,
sword to sword. 
In that battle of exceptional fury, which hung for a long time in the
balance, Caesar had one thousand dead, five hundred wounded; Pompey
thirty-three thousand dead, and if Munda had not been so near,
scarcely two miles away, his losses would have been doubled. The
defensive works of Munda were constructed from dead bodies and
In studying ancient combats, it can be seen that it was almost always
an attack from the flank or rear, a surprise action, that won battles,
especially against the Romans. It was in this way that their excellent
tactics might be confused. Roman tactics were so excellent that a
Roman general who was only half as good as his adversary was sure to
be victorious. By surprise alone they could be conquered. Note
Xanthippe,--Hannibal--the unexpected fighting methods of the Gauls,
Indeed Xenophon says somewhere, "Be it agreeable or terrible, the less
anything is foreseen, the more does it cause pleasure or dismay. This
is nowhere better illustrated than in war where every surprise strikes
terror even to those who are much the stronger."
But very few fighters armed with cuirass and shield were killed in the
Hannibal in his victories lost almost nobody but Gauls, his
cannon-fodder, who fought with poor shields and without armor.
Nearly always driven in, they fought, nevertheless, with a tenacity
that they never showed under any other command.
Thucydides characterizes the combat of the lightly armed, by saying:
"As a rule, the lightly armed of both sides took to flight." 
In combat with closed ranks there was mutual pressure but little loss,
the men not being at liberty to strike in their own way and with all
Caesar against the Nervii, saw his men, who in the midst of the action
had instinctively closed in mass in order to resist the mass of
barbarians, giving way under pressure. He therefore ordered his ranks
and files to open, so that his legionaries, closed in mass, paralyzed
and forced to give way to a very strong pressure, might be able to
kill and consequently demoralize the enemy. And indeed, as soon as a
man in the front rank of the Nervii fell under the blows of the
legionaries, there was a halt, a falling back. Following an attack
from the rear, and a melee, the defeat of the Nervii ensued. 
MORALE IN ANCIENT BATTLE
We now know the morale and mechanism of ancient fighting; the word
melee employed by the ancients was many times stronger than the idea
to be expressed; it meant a crossing of arms, not a confusion of men.
The results of battles, such as losses, suffice to demonstrate this,
and an instant of reflection makes us see the error of the word melee.
In pursuit it was possible to plunge into the midst of the fugitives,
but in combat every one had too much need for the next man, for his
neighbor, who was guarding his flanks and his back, to let himself be
killed out of sheer wantonness by a sure blow from within the ranks of
the enemy. 
In the confusion of a real melee, Caesar at Pharsalus, and Hannibal at
Cannae, would have been conquered. Their shallow ranks, penetrated by
the enemy, would have had to fight two against one, they would even
have been taken in rear in consequence of the breaking of their ranks.
Also has there not been seen, in troops equally reliable and
desperate, that mutual weariness which brings about, with tacit
accord, falling back for a breathing spell on both sides in order
again to take up the battle?
How can this be possible with a melee?
With the confusion and medley of combatants, there might be a mutual
extermination, but there would not be any victors. How would they
recognize each other? Can you conceive two mixed masses of men or
groups, where every one occupied in front can be struck with impunity
from the side or from behind? That is mutual extermination, where
victory belongs only to survivors; for in the mix-up and confusion, no
one can flee, no one knows where to flee.
After all, are not the losses we have seen on both sides demonstration
that there was no real melee?
The word is, therefore, too strong; the imagination of painters' and
poets' has created the melee.
This is what happened:
At a charging distance troops marched towards the enemy with all the
speed compatible with the necessity for fencing and mutual aid. Quite
often, the moral impulse, that resolution to go to the end, manifested
itself at once in the order and freedom of gait. That impulse alone
put to flight a less resolute adversary.
It was customary among good troops to have a clash, but not the blind
and headlong onset of the mass; the preoccupation  of the rank was
very great, as the behavior of Caesar's troops at Pharsalus shows in
their slow march, timed by the flutes of Lacedaemonian battalions. At
the moment of getting close to the enemy, the dash slackened of its
own accord, because the men of the first rank, of necessity and
instinctively, assured themselves of the position of their supports,
their neighbors in the same line, their comrades in the second, and
collected themselves together in order to be more the masters of their
movements to strike and parry. There was a contact of man with man;
each took the adversary in front of him and attacked him, because by
penetrating into the ranks before having struck him down, he risked
being wounded in the side by losing his flank supports. Each one then
hit his man with his shield, expecting to make him lose his equilibrium,
and at the instant he tried to recover himself landed the blow. The men
in the second line, back of the intervals necessary for fencing in the
first, were ready to protect their sides against any one that advanced
between them and were prepared to relieve tired warriors. It was the
same in the third line, and so on.
Every one being supported on either side, the first encounter was
rarely decisive, and the fencing, the real combat at close quarters,
If men of the first line were wounded quickly, if the other ranks were
not in a hurry to relieve or replace them, or if there was hesitation,
defeat followed. This happened to the Romans in their first encounters
with the Gauls. The Gaul, with his shield, parried the first thrust,
brought his big iron sword swooping down with fury upon the top of the
Roman shield, split it and went after the man. The Romans, already
hesitating before the moral impulse of the Gauls, their ferocious
yells, their nudeness, an indication of a contempt for wounds, fell
then in a greater number than their adversaries and demoralization
followed. Soon they accustomed themselves to this valorous but not
tenacious spirit of their enemies, and when they had protected the top
of their shields with an iron band, they no longer fell, and the roles
The Gauls, in fact, were unable either to hold their ground against
the better arms and the thrusts of the Romans, or against their
individual superior tenacity, increased nearly tenfold by the possible
relay of eight ranks of the maniple. The maniples were self-renewing.
Whereas with the Gauls the duration of the combat was limited to the
strength of a single man, on account of the difficulties of close or
tumultuous ranks, and the impossibility of replacing losses when they
were fighting at close quarters.
If the weapons were nearly alike, preserving ranks and thereby
breaking down, driving back and confusing the ranks of the enemy, was
to conquer. The man in disordered, broken lines, no longer felt
himself supported, but vulnerable everywhere, and he fled. It is true
that it is hardly possible to break hostile lines without doing the
same with one's own. But the one who breaks through first, has been
able to do so only by making the foe fall back before his blows, by
killing or wounding. He has thereby raised his courage and that of his
neighbor. He knows, he sees where he is marching; whilst the adversary
overtaken as a consequence of the retreat or the fall of the troops
that were flanking him, is surprised. He sees himself exposed on the
flank. He falls back on a line with the rank in rear in order to
regain support. But the lines in the rear give way to the retreat of
the first. If the withdrawal has a certain duration, terror comes as a
result of the blows which drive back and mow down the first line. If,
to make room for those pushed back, the last lines turn their backs,
there is small chance that they will face the front again. Space has
tempted them. They will not return to the fight.
Then by that natural instinct of the soldier to worry, to assure
himself of his supports, the contagion of flight spreads from the last
ranks to the first. The first, closely engaged, has been held to the
fight in the meantime, under pain of immediate death. There is no need
to explain what follows; it is butchery. (Caedes).
But to return to combat.
It is evident that the formation of troops in a straight line, drawn
close together, existed scarcely an instant. Moreover each group of
files formed in action was connected with the next group; the groups,
like the individuals, were always concerned about their support. The
fight took place along the line of contact of the first ranks of the
army, a straight line, broken, curved, and bent in different
directions according to the various chances of the action at such or
such a point, but always restricting and separating the combatants of
the two sides. Once engaged on that line, it was necessary to face the
front under pain of immediate death. Naturally and necessarily every
one in these first ranks exerted all his energy to defend his life.
At no point did the line become entangled as long as there was
fighting, for, general or soldier, the effort of each one was to keep
up the continuity of support all along the line, and to break or cut
that of the enemy, because victory then followed.
We see then that between men armed with swords, it was possible to
have, and there was, if the combat was serious, penetration of one
mass into the other, but never confusion, or a jumble of ranks, by the
men forming these masses. 
Sword to sword combat was the most deadly. It presented the most
sudden changes, because it was the one in which the individual valor
and dexterity of the combatant had the greatest and most immediate
influence. Other methods of combat were simpler.
Let us compare pikes and broadswords.
The close formation of men armed with pikes was irresistible so long
as it was maintained. A forest of pikes fifteen to eighteen feet long
kept you at a distance.  On the other hand it was easy to kill off
the cavalry and light infantry about the phalanx, which was an
unwieldy mass marching with a measured step, and which a mobile
body of troops could always avoid. Openings in the phalanx might
be occasioned by marching, by the terrain, by the thousand accidents
of struggle, by the individual assault of brave men, by the wounded
on the ground creeping under the high held pikes and cutting at the
legs of the front rank. Men in the phalanx could scarcely see and even
the first two lines hardly had a free position for striking. The men
were armed with long lances, useless at close quarters, good only for
combat at shaft's length (Polybius). They were struck with impunity by
the groups  which threw themselves into the intervals. And then,
once the enemy was in the body of the phalanx, morale disappeared
and it became a mass without order, a flock of panic-stricken sheep
falling over each other.
In a mob hard-pressed men prick with their knives those who press
them. The contagion of fear changes the direction of the human wave;
it bends back upon itself and breaks to escape danger. If, then, the
enemy fled before the phalanx there was no melee. If he gave way
tactically before it and availing himself of gaps penetrated it by
groups, still there was no melee or mixture of ranks. The wedge
entering into a mass does not become intermingled with it.
With a phalanx armed with long pikes against a similar phalanx there
was still less confusion. They were able to stand for a long time, if
the one did not take the other in flank or in rear by a detached body
of troops. In all ancient combat, even in victory achieved by methods
which affected the morale, such methods are always effective, for man
does not change.
It is unnecessary to repeat that in ancient conflicts, demoralization
and flight began in the rear ranks.
We have tried to analyze the fight of infantry of the line because its
action alone was decisive in ancient combat. The light infantry of
both sides took to flight, as Thucydides states. They returned later
to pursue and massacre the vanquished. 
In cavalry against cavalry, the moral effect of a mass charging in
good order was of the greatest influence. We rarely see two cavalry
organizations, neither of which breaks before such reciprocal action.
Such action was seen on the Tecinus and at Cannae, engagements cited
merely because they are very rare exceptions. And even in these cases
there was no shock at full speed, but a halt face to face and then an
The hurricanes of cavalry of those days were poetic figures. They had
no reality. In an encounter at full speed, men and horses would be
crushed, and neither men nor horses wished such an encounter. The
hands of the cavalrymen reined back, the instinct of men and horses
was to slacken, to stop, if the enemy himself did not stop, and to
make an about if he continued to advance. And if ever they met, the
encounter was so weakened by the hands of the men, the rearing of the
horses, the swinging of heads, that it was a face to face stop. Some
blows were exchanged with the sword or the lance, but the equilibrium
was too unstable, mutual support too uncertain for real sword play.
Man felt himself too isolated. The moral pressure was too strong.
Although not deadly, the combat lasted but a second, precisely because
man felt himself, saw himself, alone and surrounded. The first men,
who believed themselves no longer supported, could no longer endure
uneasiness: they wheeled about and the rest followed. Unless the enemy
had also turned, he then pursued at his pleasure until checked by
other cavalry, which pursued him in turn.
There never was an encounter between cavalry and infantry. The cavalry
harassed with its arrows, with the lance perhaps, while passing
rapidly, but it never attacked.
Close conflict on horseback did not exist. And to be sure, if the
horse by adding so much to the mobility of man gave him the means of
menacing and charging with swiftness, it permitted him to escape with
like rapidity when his menace did not shake the enemy. Man by using
the horse, pursuant to his natural inclination and sane reasoning,
could do as much damage as possible while risking the least possible.
To riders without stirrups or saddle, for whom the throwing of the
javelin was a difficult matter (Xenophon), combat was but a succession
of reciprocal harassings, demonstrations, menaces, skirmishes with
arrows. Each cavalry sought an opportunity to surprise, to intimidate,
to avail itself of disorder, and to pursue either the cavalry or the
infantry. Then "vae victis;" the sword worked.
Man always has had the greatest fear of being trampled upon by horses.
That fear has certainly routed a hundred thousand times more men than
the real encounter. This was always more or less avoided by the horse,
and no one was knocked down. When two ancient cavalry forces wanted
really to fight, were forced to it, they fought on foot (Note the
Tecinus, Cannae, examples of Livy). I find but little real fighting on
horseback in all antiquity like that of Alexander the Great at the
passage of the Granicus. Was even that fighting? His cavalry which
traversed a river with steep banks defended by the enemy, lost
eighty-five men; the Persian cavalry one thousand; and both were
equally well armed!
The fighting of the Middle Ages revived the ancient battles except in
science. Cavalrymen attacked each other perhaps more than the ancient
cavalry did, for the reason that they were invulnerable: it was not
sufficient to throw them down; it was necessary to kill when once they
were on the ground. They knew, however, that their fighting on
horseback was not important so far as results were concerned, for when
they wished really to battle, they fought on foot. (Note the combat of
the Thirty, Bayard, etc.)
The victors, arrayed in iron from head to foot, lost no one, the
peasants did not count. If the vanquished was taken, he was not
massacred, because chivalry had established a fraternity of arms
between noblemen, the mounted warriors of different nations, and
ransom replaced death.
If we have spoken especially of the infantry fight, it is because it
was the most serious. On foot, on horseback, on the bridge of a
vessel, at the moment of danger, the same man is always found. Any one
who knows him well, deduces from his action in the past what his
action will be in the future.
UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS REAL COMBATANTS ARE OBTAINED AND HOW THE
FIGHTING OF OUR DAYS, IN ORDER TO BE WELL DONE, REQUIRES THEM TO BE
MORE DEPENDABLE THAN IN ANCIENT COMBAT
Let us repeat now, what we said at the beginning of this study. Man
does not enter battle to fight, but for victory. He does everything
that he can to avoid the first and obtain the second. The continued
improvement of all appliances of war has no other goal than the
annihilation of the enemy. Absolute bravery, which does not refuse
battle even on unequal terms, trusting only to God or to destiny, is
not natural in man; it is the result of moral culture. It is
infinitely rare, because in the face of danger the animal sense of
self-preservation always gains the upper hand. Man calculates his
chances, with what errors we are about to see.
Now, man has a horror of death. In the bravest, a great sense of duty,
which they alone are capable of understanding and living up to, is
paramount. But the mass always cowers at sight of the phantom, death.
Discipline is for the purpose of dominating that horror by a still
greater horror, that of punishment or disgrace. But there always comes
an instant when natural horror gets an upper hand over discipline, and
the fighter flees. "Stop, stop, hold out a few minutes, an instant
more, and you are victor! You are not even wounded yet,--if you turn
your back you are dead!" He does not hear, he cannot hear any more. He
is full of fear. How many armies have sworn to conquer or perish? How
many have kept their oaths? An oath of sheep to stand up against
wolves. History shows, not armies, but firm souls who have fought unto
death, and the devotion of Thermopylae is therefore justly immortal.
Here we are again brought to the consideration of essential truths,
enunciated by many men, now forgotten or unknown.
To insure success in the rude test of conflict, it is not sufficient
to have a mass composed of valiant men like the Gauls or the Germans.
The mass needs, and we give it, leaders who have the firmness and
decision of command proceeding from habit and an entire faith in their
unquestionable right to command as established by tradition, law and
We add good arms. We add methods of fighting suitable to these arms
and those of the enemy and which do not overtax the physical and moral
forces of man. We add also a rational decentralization that permits
the direction and employment of the efforts of all even to the last
We animate with passion, a violent desire for independence, a
religious fanaticism, national pride, a love of glory, a madness for
possession. An iron discipline, which permits no one to escape action,
secures the greatest unity from top to bottom, between all the
elements, between the commanding officers, between the commanding
officers and men, between the soldiers.
Have we then a solid army? Not yet. Unity, that first and supreme
force of armies, is sought by enacting severe laws of discipline
supported by powerful passions. But to order discipline is not enough.
A vigilance from which no one may escape in combat should assure the
maintenance of discipline. Discipline itself depends on moral pressure
which actuates men to advance from sentiments of fear or pride. But it
depends also on surveillance, the mutual supervision of groups of men
who know each other well.
A wise organization insures that the personnel of combat groups
changes as little as possible, so that comrades in peace time
maneuvers shall be comrades in war. From living together, and obeying
the same chiefs, from commanding the same men, from sharing fatigue
and rest, from cooperation among men who quickly understand each other
in the execution of warlike movements, may be bred brotherhood,
professional knowledge, sentiment, above all unity. The duty of
obedience, the right of imposing discipline and the impossibility of
escaping from it, would naturally follow.
And now confidence appears.
It is not that enthusiastic and thoughtless confidence of tumultous or
unprepared armies which goes up to the danger point and vanishes
rapidly, giving way to a contrary sentiment, which sees treason
everywhere. It is that intimate confidence, firm and conscious, which
does not forget itself in the heat of action and which alone makes
Then we have an army; and it is no longer difficult to explain how men
carried away by passions, even men who know how to die without
flinching, without turning pale, really strong in the presence of
death, but without discipline, without solid organization, are
vanquished by others individually less valiant, but firmly, jointly
and severally combined.
One loves to picture an armed mob upsetting all obstacles and carried
away by a blast of passion.
There is more imagination than truth in that picture. If the struggle
depended on individuals, the courageous, impassioned men, composing
the mob would have more chance of victory. But in any body of troops,
in front of the enemy, every one understands that the task is not the
work of one alone, that to complete it requires team work. With his
comrades in danger brought together under unknown leaders, he feels
the lack of union, and asks himself if he can count on them. A thought
of mistrust leads to hesitation. A moment of it will kill the
Unity and confidence cannot be improvised. They alone can create that
mutual trust, that feeling of force which gives courage and daring.
Courage, that is the temporary domination of will over instinct,
brings about victory.
Unity alone then produces fighters. But, as in everything, there are
degrees of unity. Let us see whether modern is in this respect less
exacting than ancient combat.
In ancient combat there was danger only at close quarters. If the
troops had enough morale (which Asiatic hordes seldom had) to meet the
enemy at broadsword's length, there was an engagement. Whoever was
that close knew that he would be killed if he turned his back;
because, as we have seen, the victors lost but few and the vanquished
were exterminated. This simple reasoning held the men and made them
fight, if it was but for an instant.
Neglecting the exceptional and very rare circumstances, which may
bring two forces together, action to-day is brought on and fought out
from afar. Danger begins at great distances, and it is necessary to
advance for a long time under fire which at each step becomes heavier.
The vanquished loses prisoners, but often, in dead and in wounded, he
does not lose more than the victor.
Ancient combat was fought in groups close together, within a small
space, in open ground, in full view of one another, without the
deafening noise of present day arms. Men in formation marched into an
action that took place on the spot and did not carry them thousands of
feet away from the starting point. The surveillance of the leaders was
easy, individual weakness was immediately checked. General
consternation alone caused flight.
To-day fighting is done over immense spaces, along thinly drawn out
lines broken every instant by the accidents and the obstacles of the
terrain. From the time the action begins, as soon as there are rifle
shots, the men spread out as skirmishers or, lost in the inevitable
disorder of a rapid march,  escape the supervision of their
commanding officers. A considerable number conceal themselves; 
they get away from the engagement and diminish by just so much
the material and moral effect and confidence of the brave ones
who remain. This can bring about defeat.
But let us look at man himself in ancient combat and in modern. In
ancient combat:--I am strong, apt, vigorous, trained, full of
calmness, presence of mind; I have good offensive and defensive
weapons and trustworthy companions of long standing. They do not let
me be overwhelmed without aiding me. I with them, they with me, we are
invincible, even invulnerable. We have fought twenty battles and not
one of us remained on the field. It is necessary to support each other
in time; we see it clearly; we are quick to replace ourselves, to put
a fresh combatant in front of a fatigued adversary. We are the legions
of Marius, fifty thousand who have held out against the furious
avalanches of the Cimbri. We have killed one hundred and forty
thousand, taken prisoner sixty thousand, while losing but two or three
hundred of our inexperienced soldiers.
To-day, as strong, firm, trained, and courageous as I am, I can never
say; I shall return. I have no longer to do with men, whom I do not
fear, I have to do with fate in the form of iron and lead. Death is in
the air, invisible and blind, whispering, whistling. As brave, good,
trustworthy, and devoted as my companions may be, they do not shield
me. Only,--and this is abstract and less immediately intelligible to
all than the material support of ancient combat,--only I imagine that
the more numerous we are who run a dangerous risk, the greater is the
chance for each to escape therefrom. I also know that, if we have that
confidence which none of us should lack in action, we feel, and we
are, stronger. We begin more resolutely, are ready to keep up the
struggle longer, and therefore finish it more quickly.
We finish it! But in order to finish it, it is necessary to advance,
to attack the enemy,  and infantryman or troopers, we are naked
against iron, naked against lead, which cannot miss at close range.
Let us advance in any case, resolutely. Our adversary will not stand
at the point-blank range of our rifle, for the attack is never mutual,
we are sure of that. We have been told so a thousand times. We have
seen it. But what if matters should change now! Suppose the enemy
stands at point-blank range! What of that?
How far this is from Roman confidence!
In another place we have shown that in ancient times to retire from
action was both a difficult and perilous matter for the soldier.
To-day the temptation is much stronger, the facility greater and the
Now, therefore, combat exacts more moral cohesion, greater unity than
previously. A last remark on the difficulty of obtaining it will
complete the demonstration.
Since the invention of fire arms, the musket, the rifle, the cannon,
the distances of mutual aid and support have increased among the
different arms. 
Besides, the facility of communications of all kinds permits the
assembling on a given territory of enormous forces. For these reasons,
as we have stated, battle fields have become immense.
Supervision becomes more and more difficult. Direction being more
distant tends more often to escape from the supreme commanders and the
subordinate leaders. The certain and inevitable disorder, which a body
of troops always presents in action, is with the moral effect of
modern appliances, becoming greater every day. In the midst of the
confusion and the vacillation of firing lines, men and commanding
officers often lose each other.
Troops immediately and hotly engaged, such as companies and squads,
can maintain themselves only if they are well-organized and serve as
supports or rallying points to those out of place. Battles tend to
become now, more than they have ever been, the battles of men.
This ought not to be true! Perhaps. But the fact is that it is true.
Not all troops are immediately or hotly engaged in battle. Commanding
officers always try to keep in hand, as long as possible, some troops
capable of marching, acting at any moment, in any direction. To-day,
like yesterday, like to-morrow, the decisive action is that of formed
troops. Victory belongs to the commander who has known how to keep
them in good order, to hold them, and to direct them.
That is incontrovertible.
But commanders can hold out decisive reserves only if the enemy has
been forced to commit his.
In troops which do the fighting, the men and the officers closest to
them, from corporal to battalion commander, have a more independent
action than ever. As it is alone the vigor of that action, more
independent than ever of the direction of higher commanders, which
leaves in the hands of higher commanders available forces which can be
directed at a decisive moment, that action becomes more preponderant
than ever. Battles, now more than ever, are battles of men, of
captains. They always have been in fact, since in the last analysis
the execution belongs to the man in ranks. But the influence of the
latter on the final result is greater than formerly. From that comes
the maxim of to-day: The battles of men.
Outside of the regulations on tactics and discipline, there is an
evident necessity for combating the hazardous predominance of the
action of the soldier over that of the commander. It is necessary to
delay as long as possible, that instant which modern conditions tend
to hasten--the instant when the soldier gets from under the control of
This completes the demonstration of the truth stated before: Combat
requires to-day, in order to give the best results, a moral cohesion,
a unity more binding than at any other time.  It is as true as it
is clear, that, if one does not wish bonds to break, one must make
them elastic in order to strengthen them.
PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY
WHAT WOULD BE NECESSARY TO COMPLETE IT
Any other deductions on this subject must come from the meditations of
the reader. To be of value in actual application such deductions
should be based upon study of modern combat, and that study cannot be
made from the accounts of historians alone.
The latter show the action of troop units only in a general way.
Action in detail and the individual action of the soldier remain
enveloped in a cloud of dust, in narratives as in reality. Yet these
questions must be studied, for the conditions they reveal should be
the basis of all fighting methods, past, present and future.
Where can data on these questions be found?
We have very few records portraying action as clearly as the report on
the engagement at the Pont de l'Hopital by Colonel Bugeaud. Such
stories in even greater detail, for the smallest detail has its
importance, secured from participants and witnesses who knew how to
see and knew how to remember, are what is necessary in a study of the
battle of to-day.
The number of killed, the kind and the character of wounds, often tell
more than the longest accounts. Sometimes they contradict them. We
want to know how man in general and the Frenchman in particular fought
yesterday. Under the pressure of danger, impelled by the instinct for
self-preservation, did he follow, make light of, or forget the methods
prescribed or recommended? Did he fight in the manner imposed upon
him, or in that indicated to him by his instinct or by his knowledge
When we have the answers to these questions we shall be very near to
knowing how he will conduct himself to-morrow, with and against
appliances far more destructive to-day than those of yesterday. Even
now, knowing that man is capable only of a given quantity of terror,
knowing that the moral effect of destruction is in proportion to the
force applied, we are able to predict that, to-morrow less than ever
will studied methods be practicable. Such methods are born of the
illusions of the field of fire and are opposed to the teachings of our
own experience. To-morrow, more than ever, will the individual valor
of the soldier and of small groups, be predominant. This valor is
secured by discipline.
The study of the past alone can give us a true perception of practical
methods, and enable us to see how the soldier will inevitably fight
So instructed, so informed, we shall not be confused; because we shall
be able to prescribe beforehand such methods of fighting, such
organization, such dispositions as are seen to be inevitable. Such
prescriptions may even serve to regulate the inevitable. At any rate
they will serve to reduce the element of chance by enabling the
commanding officer to retain control as long as possible, and by
releasing the individual only at the moment when instinct dominates
This is the only way to preserve discipline, which has a tendency to
go to pieces by tactical disobedience at the moment of greatest
It should be understood that the prescriptions in question have to do
with dispositions before action; with methods of fighting, and not
Maneuvers are the movements of troops in the theater of action, and
they are the swift and ordered movement on the scene of action of
tactical units of all sizes. They do not constitute action. Action
Confusion in many minds between maneuvers and action brings about
doubt and mistrust of our regulation drills. These are good, very good
as far as they go, inasmuch as they give methods of executing all
movements, of taking all possible formations with rapidity and good
To change them, to discuss them, does not advance the question one
bit. They do not affect the problem of positive action. Its solution
lies in the study of what took place yesterday, from which, alone, it
is possible to deduce what will happen to-morrow.
This study must be made, and its result set forth. Each leader, whose
worth and authority has been tested in war and recognized by armies,
has done something of the sort. Of each of these even might be said,
"He knew the soldier; he knew how to make use of him."
The Romans, too, had this knowledge. They obtained it from continuous
experience and profound reflexion thereon.
Experience is not continuous to-day. It must be carefully gathered.
Study of it should be careful and the results should stimulate
reflexion, especially in men of experience. Extremes meet in many
things. In ancient times at the point of the pike and sword, armies
have conquered similar armies twice their size. Who knows if, in these
days of perfected long-range arms of destruction, a small force might
not secure, by a happy combination of good sense or genius with morale
and appliances, these same heroic victories over a greater force
In spite of the statements of Napoleon I, his assumption that victory
is always on the side of the strongest battalions was costly.
1. Ancient and Modern Battle
I have heard philosophers reproached for studying too exclusively man
in general and neglecting the race, the country, the era, so that
their studies of him offer little of real social or political value.
The opposite criticism can be made of military men of all countries.
They are always eager to expound traditional tactics and organization
suitable to the particular character of their race, always the bravest
of all races. They fail to consider as a factor in the problem, man
confronted by danger. Facts are incredibly different from all
theories. Perhaps in this time of military reorganization it would not
be out of place to make a study of man in battle and of battle itself.
The art of war is subjected to many modifications by industrial and
scientific progress. But one thing does not change, the heart of man.
In the last analysis, success in battle is a matter of morale. In all
matters which pertain to an army, organization, discipline and
tactics, the human heart in the supreme moment of battle is the basic
factor. It is rarely taken into account; and often strange errors are
the result. Witness the carbine, an accurate and long range weapon,
which has never given the service expected of it, because it was used
mechanically without considering the human heart. We must consider it!
With improvement in weapons, the power of destruction increases, the
moral effect of such weapons increases, and courage to face them
becomes rarer. Man does not, cannot change. What should increase with
the power of material is the strength of organization, the unity of
the fighting machine. Yet these are most neglected. A million men at
maneuvers are useless, if a sane and reasoned organization does not
assure their discipline, and thereby their reliability, that is, their
courage in action.
Four brave men who do not know each other will not dare to attack a
lion. Four less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their
reliability and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely.
There is the science of the organization of armies in a nutshell.
At any time a new invention may assure victory. Granted. But
practicable weapons are not invented every day, and nations quickly
put themselves on the same footing as regards armament. The
determining factor, leaving aside generals of genius, and luck, is the
quality of troops, that is, the organization that best assures their
esprit, their reliability, their confidence, their unity. Troops, in
this sense, means soldiers. Soldiers, no matter how well drilled, who
are assembled haphazard into companies and battalions will never have,
have never had, that entire unity which is born of mutual
In studying ancient battle, we have seen what a terrible thing battle
is. We have seen that man will not really fight except under
disciplinary pressure. Even before having studied modern battle, we
know that the only real armies are those to which a well thought out
and rational organization gives unity throughout battle. The
destructive power of improved firearms becomes greater. Battle becomes
more open, hindering supervision, passing beyond the vision of the
commander and even of subordinate officers. In the same degree, unity
should be strengthened. The organization which assures unity of the
combatants should be better thought out and more rational. The power
of arms increases, man and his weaknesses remain the same. What good
is an army of two hundred thousand men of whom only one-half really
fight, while the other one hundred thousand disappear in a hundred
ways? Better to have one hundred thousand who can be counted upon.
The purpose of discipline is to make men fight in spite of themselves.
No army is worthy of the name without discipline. There is no army at
all without organization, and all organization is defective which
neglects any means to strengthen the unity of combatants. Methods
cannot be identical. Draconian discipline does not fit our customs.
Discipline must be a state of mind, a social institution based on the
salient virtues and defects of the nation.
Discipline cannot be secured or created in a day. It is an
institution, a tradition. The commander must have confidence in his
right to command. He must be accustomed to command and proud to
command. This is what strengthens discipline in armies commanded by an
aristocracy in certain countries.
The Prussians do not neglect the homogeneity and consequent unity of
organization. They recognize its value. Hessian regiments are
composed, the first year, of one-third Hessians, two-thirds Prussians,
to control the racial tendencies of troops of a recently annexed
country; the second year, of two-thirds Hessians, one-third Prussians;
the third year, all Hessians with their own officers.
The Americans have shown us what happens in modern battle to large
armies without cohesion. With them the lack of discipline and
organization has had the inevitable result. Battle has been between
hidden skirmishers, at long distance, and has lasted for days, until
some faulty movement, perhaps a moral exhaustion, has caused one or
the other of the opposing forces to give way.
In this American War, the melees of Agincourt are said to have
reappeared, which merely means a melee of fugitives. But less than
ever has there been close combat.
To fight from a distance is instinctive in man. From the first day he
has worked to this end, and he continues to do so. It was thought that
with long range weapons close combat might return. On the contrary
troops keep further off before its effects.
The primitive man, the Arab, is instability incarnate. A breath, a
nothing, governs him at each instant in war. The civilized man, in
war, which is opposed to civilization, returns naturally to his first
With the Arab war remains a matter of agility and cunning. Hunting is
his principal pastime and the pursuit of wild beasts teaches the
pursuit of man. General Daumas depicts Arabs as cavaliers. What more
chivalrous warfare than the night surprise and sack of a camp! Empty
It is commonly said that modern war is the most recondite of things,
requiring experts. War, so long as man risks his skin in it, will
always be a matter of instinct.
Ancient battle resembled drill. There is no such resemblance in modern
battle. This greatly disconcerts both officers and soldiers.
Ancient battles were picnics, for the victors, who lost nobody. Not so
Artillery played no part in ancient battle.
The invention of firearms has diminished losses in battle. The
improvement of firearms continues to diminish losses. This looks like
a paradox. But statistics prove it. Nor is it unreasonable.
Does war become deadlier with the improvement of weapons? Not at all.
Man is capable of standing before a certain amount of terror; beyond
that he flees from battle. The battle of Pharsalus lasted some four
hours. Caesar broke his camp, which is done in the morning; then the
formation for battle; then the battle, etc. And he says that his
troops were tired, the battle having lasted up to noon. This indicates
that he considered it long.
For the middle ages, consult Froissart. The knights in the Battle of
the Thirty were armed for battle on foot which they preferred in a
serious affair, that is to say in a restricted space. There was a
halt, a rest in the combat, when the two parties became exhausted. The
Bretons, at this rest, were twenty-five against thirty. The battle had
lasted up to exhaustion without loss by the English! Without Montauban
the battle would have been terminated by complete and mutual
exhaustion and without further losses. For the greater the fatigue,
the less strength remained for piercing the armor. Montauban was at
the same time felon and hero; felon because he did a thing not
permitted by the code of combat; hero, because, if the Bretons had not
ably profited by the disorder, he would have been killed when he
entered the English formation alone. At the end of the contest the
Bretons had four killed, the English eight. Four of the killed were
overcome by their armor.
Explain how, under Turenne, men held much longer under fire than
to-day. It is perfectly simple. Man is capable of standing before only
a certain amount of terror. To-day there must be swallowed in five
minutes what took an hour under Turenne. An example will be given.
With the present arms, whose usage is generally known, the instruction
of the soldier is of little importance. It does not make the soldier.
Take as an example the case of the peasants of the Vendee. Their unity
and not individual instruction made them soldiers, whose value could
not be denied. Such unity was natural in people of the same village of
the same commune, led in battle by their own lords, their own priests,
The greater the perfection of weapons, the more dreadful becomes
modern battle, and discipline becomes more difficult to maintain.
The less mobile the troops, the deadlier are battles. Bayonet attacks
are not so easily made to-day, and morale consequently is less
affected, man fearing man more than death. Astonishing losses seem to
have been suffered without breaking by Turenne's armies. Were the
casualty reports submitted by the captains of those days correct?
Frederick liked to say that three men behind the enemy were worth more
than fifty in front of him, for moral effect. The field of action
to-day is more extensive than in Frederick's time. Battle is delivered
on more accidented terrain, as armies with great mobility do not need
any particular terrain to fight on.
The nature of ancient arms required close order. Modern arms require
open order, and they are at the same time of such terrible power that
against them too often discipline is broken. What is the solution?
Have your combatants opened out? Have them well acquainted with each
other so as to have unity. Have reserves to threaten with, held with
an iron hand.
Modern weapons have a terrible effect and are almost unbearable by the
nervous system. Who can say that he has not been frightened in battle?
Discipline in battle becomes the more necessary as the ranks become
more open, and the material cohesion of the ranks not giving
confidence, it must spring from a knowledge of comrades, and a trust
in officers, who must always be present and seen. What man to-day
advances with the confidence that rigid discipline and pride in
himself gave the Roman soldier, even though the contest is no longer
with man but with fate?
To-day the artillery is effective at great distances. There is much
liberty of movement for the different arms. The apparent liaison
between arms is lessened. This has its influence on morale. There is
another advantage in reliable troops, in that they can be extended
more widely, and will consequently suffer smaller losses and be in
better morale for close conflict.
The further off one is, the more difficult it is to judge of the
terrain. Consequently the greater is the necessity for scouting, for
reconnoitering the terrain by skirmishers. This is something that the
Duke of Gramont forgot at Nordlingen, and which is often forgotten;
but it constitutes another important reason for the use of
The formation in rank is a disciplinary measure against the weakness
of man in the face of danger. This weakness is greater to-day in that
the moral action of weapons is more powerful, and that the material
rank has the inherent lack of cohesion of open order. However, open
order is necessary to economize losses and permit the use of weapons.
Thus to-day there is greater necessity than ever for the rank, that is
for discipline, not for the geometrical rank. It is at the same time
more necessary and doubly difficult to attain.
In ancient battle unity existed, at least with the Greeks and the
Romans. The soldier was known to his officer and comrades; they saw
that he fought.
In modern armies where losses are as great for the victor as for the
vanquished, the soldier must more often be replaced. In ancient battle
the victor had no losses. To-day the soldier is often unknown to his
comrades. He is lost in the smoke, the dispersion, the confusion of
battle. He seems to fight alone. Unity is no longer insured by mutual
surveillance. A man falls, and disappears. Who knows whether it was a
bullet or the fear of advancing further that struck him! The ancient
combatant was never struck by an invisible weapon and could not fall
in this way. The more difficult surveillance, the more necessary
becomes the individuality of companies, sections, squads. Not the
least of their boasts should be their ability to stand a roll call at
The ancients often avoided hand to hand conflict, so terrible were its
consequences. In modern combat, there never is hand to hand conflict
if one stands fast.
From day to day close combat tends to disappear. It is replaced by
fire action; above all by the moral action of maneuvers. Dispersion
brings us back to the necessity for the unity which was an absolute
necessity in ancient battle.
Strategy is a game. The first strategist, long before Napoleon, was
Horace with his three enemies.
The size of the battle field permits, less than ever, holding units
together; the role of the general is much more difficult: many more
chances are left to fate. Thus the greater the necessity for the best
troops who know best their trade, who are most dependable and of
greatest fortitude. To diminish the effect of luck, it is necessary to
hold longer, to wait for help from a distance. Battles resolve
themselves into battles of soldiers. The final decision is more
difficult to obtain. There is a strange similarity in battle at one
league to battle at two paces. The value of the soldier is the
essential element of success. Let us strengthen the soldier by unity.
Battle has more importance than ever. Communication facilities such as
the telegraph, concentration facilities such as the railroad, render
more difficult such strategic surprises as Ulm and Jena. The whole
forces of a country can thus be united. So united, defeat becomes
irreparable, disorganization greater and more rapid.
In modern combat the melee really exists more than in ancient battle.
This appears paradoxical. It is true nevertheless of the melee taken
in the sense of a mixed up affair where it is infinitely difficult to
Man, in the combat of our days, is a man who, hardly knowing how to
swim, is suddenly thrown into the sea.
The good quality of troops will more than ever secure victory.
As to the comparative value of troops with cohesion and of new troops,
look at the Zouaves of the Guard or the Grenadiers at Magenta, and the
55th at Solferino. 
Nothing should be neglected to make the battle order stronger, man
2. Moral Elements in Battle
When, in complete security, after dinner, in full physical and moral
contentment, men consider war and battle they are animated by a noble
ardor that has nothing in common with reality. How many of them,
however, even at that moment, would be ready to risk their lives? But
oblige them to march for days and weeks to arrive at the battle
ground, and on the day of battle oblige them to wait minutes, hours,
to deliver it. If they were honest they would testify how much the
physical fatigue and the mental anguish that precede action have
lowered their morale, how much less eager to fight they are than a
month before, when they arose from the table in a generous mood.
Man's heart is as changeable as fortune. Man shrinks back, apprehends
danger in any effort in which he does not foresee success. There are
some isolated characters of an iron temper, who resist the tendency;
but they are carried away by the great majority (Bismarck).
Examples show that if a withdrawal is forced, the army is discouraged
and takes flight (Frederick). The brave heart does not change.
Real bravery, inspired by devotion to duty, does not know panic and is
always the same. The bravery sprung from hot blood pleases the
Frenchman more. He understands it, it appeals to his vanity; it is a
characteristic of his nature. But it is passing; it fails him at
times, especially when there is nothing for him to gain in doing his
The Turks are full of ardor in the advance. They carry their officers
with them. But they retreat with the same facility, abandoning their
Mediocre troops like to be led by their shepherds. Reliable troops
like to be directed, with their directors alongside of them or behind.
With the former the general must be the leader on horseback; with the
latter, the manager.
Warnery did not like officers to head a charge. He thought it useless
to have them killed before the others. He did not place them in front
and his cavalry was good.
General Leboeuf did not favor the proposed advance into battle with
platoon leaders in front of the center of their platoons. The fear
exists that the fall of the captain will demoralize the rest. What is
the solution? Leboeuf must have known that if the officer is not in
front of his command, it will advance less confidently, that, with us,
all officers are almost always in advance. Practice is stronger than
any theory. Therefore fit theories to it. In column, put the chiefs of
platoon on the flank where they can see clearly.
Frightfulness! Witness the Turks in the Polish wars. What gave power
to the Turks in their wars with Poland was not so much their real
strength as their ferocity. They massacred all who resisted; they
massacred without the excuse of resistance. Terror preceded them,
breaking down the courage of their enemies. The necessity to win or to
submit to extreme peril brought about cowardice and submission, for
fear of being conquered.
Turenne said, "You tremble, body...." The instinct of
self-preservation can then make the strongest tremble. But they are
strong enough to overcome their emotion, the fear of advancing,
without even losing their heads or their coolness. Fear with them
never becomes terror; it is forgotten in the activities of command. He
who does not feel strong enough to keep his heart from ever being
gripped by terror, should never think of becoming an officer.
The soldiers themselves have emotion. The sense of duty, discipline,
pride, the example of their officers and above all their coolness,
sustain them and prevent their fear from becoming terror. Their
emotion never allows them to sight, or to more than approximately
adjust their fire. Often they fire into the air. Cromwell knew this
very well, dependable as his troops were, when he said, "Put your
trust in God and aim at their shoe laces."
What is too true is that bravery often does not at all exclude
cowardice, horrible devices to secure personal safety, infamous
The Romans were not mighty men, but men of discipline and obstinacy.
We have no idea of the Roman military mind, so entirely different from
ours. A Roman general who had as little coolness as we have would have
been lost. We have incentives in decorations and medals that would
have made a Roman soldier run the gauntlet.
How many men before a lion, have the courage to look him in the face,
to think of and put into practice measures of self-defense? In war
when terror has seized you, as experience has shown it often does, you
are as before a lion. You fly trembling and let yourself be eaten up.
Are there so few really brave men among so many soldiers? Alas, yes!
Gideon was lucky to find three hundred in thirty thousand.
Napoleon said, "Two Mamelukes held three Frenchmen; but one hundred
French cavalry did not fear the same number of Mamelukes; three
hundred vanquished the same number; one thousand French beat fifteen
hundred Mamelukes. Such was the influence of tactics, order and
maneuver." In ordinary language, such was the great moral influence of
unity, established by discipline and made possible and effective in
battle by organization and mutual support. With unity and sensible
formation men of an individual value one-third less beat those who
were individually their betters. That is the essential, must be the
essential, point in the organization of an army. On reflection, this
simple statement of Napoleon's seems to contain the whole of battle
morale. Make the enemy believe that support is lacking; isolate; cut
off, flank, turn, in a thousand ways make his men believe themselves
isolated. Isolate in like manner his squadrons, battalions, brigades
and divisions; and victory is yours. If, on account of bad
organization, he does not anticipate mutual support, there is no need
of such maneuver; the attack is enough.
Some men, such as Orientals, Chinese, Tartars, Mongols do not fear
death. They are resigned to it at all times. Why is it that they can
not stand before the armies of the western people? It is lack of
organization. The instinct of self-preservation which at the last
moment dominates them utterly, is not opposed by discipline. We have
often seen fanatic eastern peoples, implicitly believing that death in
battle means a happy and glorious resurrection, superior in numbers,
give way before discipline. If attacked confidently, they are crushed
by their own weight. In close combat the dagger is better than the
bayonet, but instinct is too strong for such people.
What makes the soldier capable of obedience and direction in action,
is the sense of discipline. This includes: respect for and confidence
in his chiefs; confidence in his comrades and fear of their reproaches
and retaliation if he abandons them in danger; his desire to go where
others do without trembling more than they; in a word, the whole of
esprit de corps. Organization only can produce these characteristics.
Four men equal a lion.
Note the army organizations and tactical formations on paper are
always determined from the mechanical point of view, neglecting the
essential coefficient, that of morale. They are almost always wrong.
Esprit de corps is secured in war. But war becomes shorter and shorter
and more and more violent. Consequently, secure esprit de corps in
Mental acquaintanceship is not enough to make a good organization. A
good general esprit is needed. All must work for battle and not merely
live, quietly going through with drills without understanding their
application. Once a man knows how to use his weapon and obey all
commands there is needed only occasional drill to brush up those who
have forgotten. Marches and battle maneuvers are what is needed.
The technical training of the soldier is not the most difficult. It is
necessary for him to know how to use and take care of his weapon; to
know how to move to the right and to the left, forward, to the rear,
at command, to charge and to march with full pack. But this does not
make the soldier. The Vendeans, who knew little of this, were tough
It is absolutely necessary to change the instruction, to reduce it to
the necessary minimum and to cut out all the superfluities with which
peacetime laborers overload it each year. To know the essential well
is better than having some knowledge of a lot of things, many of them
useless. Teach this the first year, that the second, but the essential
from the beginning! Also instruction should be simple to avoid the
mental fatigue of long drills that disgust everybody.
Here is a significant sentence in Colonel Borbstaed's enumeration
of the reasons for Prussian victory over the Austrians in 1866, "It
was ... because each man, being trained, knew how to act promptly and
confidently in all phases of battle." This is a fact.
To be held in a building, at every minute of the day to have every
movement, every attitude under a not too intelligent surveillance is
indeed to be harried. This incessant surveillance weakens the morale
of both the watched and the watcher. What is the reason for this
incessant surveillance which has long since exceeded shipboard
surveillance? Was not that strict enough?
3. Material and Moral Effect
The effect of an army, of one organization on another, is at the same
time material and moral. The material effect of an organization is in
its power to destroy, the moral effect in the fear that it inspires.
In battle, two moral forces, even more than two material forces, are
in conflict. The stronger conquers. The victor has often lost by fire
more than the vanquished. Moral effect does not come entirely from
destructive power, real and effective as it may be. It comes, above
all, from its presumed, threatening power, present in the form of
reserves threatening to renew the battle, of troops that appear on the
flank, even of a determined frontal attack.
Material effect is greater as instruments are better (weapons, mounts,
etc.), as the men know better how to use them, and as the men are more
numerous and stronger, so that in case of success they can carry on
With equal or even inferior power of destruction he will win who has
the resolution to advance, who by his formations and maneuvers can
continually threaten his adversary with a new phase of material
action, who, in a word has the moral ascendancy. Moral effect inspires
fear. Fear must be changed to terror in order to vanquish.
When confidence is placed in superiority of material means, valuable
as they are against an enemy at a distance, it may be betrayed by the
actions of the enemy. If he closes with you in spite of your
superiority in means of destruction, the morale of the enemy mounts
with the loss of your confidence. His morale dominates yours. You
flee. Entrenched troops give way in this manner.
At Pharsalus, Pompey and his army counted on a cavalry corps turning
and taking Caesar in the rear. In addition Pompey's army was twice as
numerous. Caesar parried the blow, and his enemy, who saw the failure
of the means of action he counted on, was demoralized, beaten, lost
fifteen thousand men put to the sword (while Caesar lost only two
hundred) and as many prisoners.
Even by advancing you affect the morale of the enemy. But your object
is to dominate him and make him retreat before your ascendancy, and it
is certain that everything that diminishes the enemy's morale adds to
your resolution in advancing. Adopt then a formation which permits
your destructive agency, your skirmishers, to help you throughout by
their material action and to this degree diminish that of the enemy.
Armor, in diminishing the material effect that can be suffered,
diminishes the dominating moral effect of fear. It is easy to
understand how much armor adds to the moral effect of cavalry action,
at the critical moment. You feel that thanks to his armor the enemy
will succeed in getting to you.
It is to be noted that when a body actually awaits the attack of
another up to bayonet distance (something extraordinarily rare), and
the attacking troop does not falter, the first does not defend itself.
This is the massacre of ancient battle.
Against unimaginative men, who retain some coolness and consequently
the faculty of reasoning in danger, moral effect will be as material
effect. The mere act of attack does not completely succeed against
such troops. (Witness battles in Spain and Waterloo). It is necessary
to destroy them, and we are better at this than they by our aptitude
in the use of skirmishers and above all in the mad dash of our
cavalry. But the cavalry must not be treated, until it comes to so
consider itself, as a precious jewel which must be guarded against
injury. There should be little of it, but it must be good.
"Seek and ye shall find" not the ideal but the best method that
exists. In maneuvers skirmishers, who have some effect, are returned
to ranks to execute fire in two ranks which never killed anybody. Why
not put your skirmishers in advance? Why sound trumpet calls which
they neither hear nor understand? That they do not is fortunate, for
each captain has a different call sounded. Example: at Alma, the
retreat, etc. 
The great superiority of Roman tactics lay in their constant endeavor
to coordinate physical and moral effect. Moral effect passes; finally
one sees that the enemy is not so terrible as he appeared to be.
Physical effect does not. The Greeks tried to dominate. The Romans
preferred to kill, and kill they did. They followed thereby the better
method. Their moral effect was aided by their reliable and deadly
What moral force is worth to a nation at war is shown by examples.
Pichegru played the traitor; this had great influence at home and we
were beaten. Napoleon came back; victory returned with him.
But at that we can do nothing without good troops, not even with a
Napoleon. Witness Turenne's army after his death. It remained
excellent in spite of conflict between and the inefficiency of its two
leaders. Note the defensive retreat across the Rhine; the regiment in
Champagne attacked in front by infantry and taken in the rear by
cavalry. One of the prettiest feats of the art of war.
In modern battle, which is delivered with combatants so far apart, man
has come to have a horror of man. He comes to hand to hand fighting
only to defend his body or if forced to it by some fortuitous
encounter. More than that! It may be said that he seeks to catch the
fugitive only for fear that he will turn and fight.
Guilbert says that shock actions are infinitely rare. Here, infinity
is taken in its exact mathematical sense. Guilbert reduces to nothing,
by deductions from practical examples, the mathematical theory of the