Part 3 out of 5
shock of one massed body on another. Indeed the physical impulse is
nothing. The moral impulse which estimates the attacker is everything.
The moral impulse lies in the perception by the enemy of the
resolution that animates you. They say that the battle of Amstetten
was the only one in which a line actually waited for the shock of
another line charging with the bayonets. Even then the Russians gave
way before the moral and not before the physical impulse. They were
already disconcerted, wavering, worried, hesitant, vacillating, when
the blow fell. They waited long enough to receive bayonet thrusts,
even blows with the rifle (in the back, as at Inkermann). 
This done, they fled. He who calm and strong of heart awaits his
enemy, has all the advantage of fire. But the moral impulse of the
assailant demoralizes the assailed. He is frightened; he sets his
sight no longer; he does not even aim his piece. His lines are broken
without defense, unless indeed his cavalry, waiting halted, horsemen a
meter apart and in two ranks, does not break first and destroy all
With good troops on both sides, if an attack is not prepared, there is
every reason to believe that it will fail. The attacking troops suffer
more, materially, than the defenders. The latter are in better order,
fresh, while the assailants are in disorder and already have suffered
a loss of morale under a certain amount of punishment. The moral
superiority given by the offensive movement may be more than
compensated by the good order and integrity of the defenders, when the
assailants have suffered losses. The slightest reaction by the defense
may demoralize the attack. This is the secret of the success of the
British infantry in Spain, and not their fire by rank, which was as
ineffective with them as with us.
The more confidence one has in his methods of attack or defense, the
more disconcerted he is to see them at some time incapable of stopping
the enemy. The effect of the present improved fire arm is still
limited, with the present organization and use of riflemen, to point
blank ranges. It follows that bayonet charges (where bayonet thrusts
never occur), otherwise attacks under fire, will have an increasing
value, and that victory will be his who secures most order and
determined dash. With these two qualities, too much neglected with us,
with willingness, with intelligence enough to keep a firm hold on
troops in immediate support, we may hope to take and to hold what we
take. Do not then neglect destructive effort before using moral
effect. Use skirmishers up to the last moment. Otherwise no attack can
succeed. It is true it is haphazard fire, nevertheless it is effective
because of its volume.
This moral effect must be a terrible thing. A body advances to meet
another. The defender has only to remain calm, ready to aim, each man
pitted against a man before him. The attacking body comes within
deadly range. Whether or not it halts to fire, it will be a target for
the other body which awaits it, calm, ready, sure of its effect. The
whole first rank of the assailant falls, smashed. The remainder,
little encouraged by their reception, disperse automatically or before
the least indication of an advance on them. Is this what happens? Not
at all! The moral effect of the assault worries the defenders. They
fire in the air if at all. They disperse immediately before the
assailants who are even encouraged by this fire now that it is over.
It quickens them in order to avoid a second salvo.
It is said by those who fought them in Spain and at Waterloo that the
British are capable of the necessary coolness. I doubt it
nevertheless. After firing, they made swift attacks. If they had not,
they might have fled. Anyhow the English are stolid folks, with little
imagination, who try to be logical in all things. The French with
their nervous irritability, their lively imagination, are incapable of
such a defense.
Anybody who thinks that he could stand under a second fire is a man
without any idea of battle. (Prince de Ligne).
Modern history furnishes us with no examples of stonewall troops who
can neither be shaken nor driven back, who stand patiently the
heaviest fire, yet who retire precipitately when the general orders
the retreat. (Bismarck).
Cavalry maneuvers, like those of infantry, are threats. The most
threatening win. The formation in ranks is a threat, and more than a
threat. A force engaged is out of the hand of its commander. I know, I
see what it does, what it is capable of. It acts; I can estimate the
effect of its action. But a force in formation is in hand; I know it
is there, I see it, feel it. It may be used in any direction. I feel
instinctively that it alone can surely reach me, take me on the right,
on the left, throw itself into a gap, turn me. It troubles me,
threatens me. Where is the threatened blow going to fall?
The formation in ranks is a serious threat, which may at any moment be
put into effect. It awes one in a terrible fashion. In the heat of
battle, formed troops do more to secure victory than do those actively
engaged. This is true, whether such a body actually exists or whether
it exists only in the imagination of the enemy. In an indecisive
battle, he wins who can show, and merely show, battalions and
squadrons in hand. They inspire the fear of the unknown.
From the taking of the entrenchments at Fribourg up to the engagement
at the bridge of Arcola, up to Solferino, there occur a multitude of
deeds of valor, of positions taken by frontal attack, which deceive
every one, generals as well as civilians, and which always cause the
same mistakes to be made. It is time to teach these folks that the
entrenchments at Fribourg were not won by frontal attack, nor was the
bridge of Arcola (see the correspondence of Napoleon I), nor was
Lieutenant Hercule took fifty cavalry through Alpon, ten kilometers on
the flank of the Austrians at Arcola, and the position that held us up
for three days, was evacuated. The evacuation was the result of
strategic, if not of tactical, moral effect. General or soldier, man
is the same.
Demonstrations should be made at greater or less distance, according
to the morale of the enemy. That is to say, battle methods vary with
the enemy, and an appropriate method should be employed in each
We have treated and shall treat only of the infantryman. In ancient as
in modern battle, he is the one who suffers most. In ancient battle,
if he is defeated, he remains because of his slowness at the mercy of
the victor. In modern battle the mounted man moves swiftly through
danger, the infantryman has to walk. He even has to halt in danger,
often and for long periods of time. He who knows the morale of the
infantryman, which is put to the hardest proof, knows the morale of
all the combatants.
4. The Theory of Strong Battalions
To-day, numbers are considered the essential. Napoleon had this
tendency (note his strength reports). The Romans did not pay so much
attention to it. What they paid most attention to was to seeing that
everybody fought. We assume that all the personnel present with an
army, with a division, with a regiment on the day of battle, fights.
Right there is the error.
The theory of strong battalions is a shameful theory. It does not
reckon on courage but on the amount of human flesh. It is a reflection
on the soul. Great and small orators, all who speak of military
matters to-day, talk only of masses. War is waged by enormous masses,
etc. In the masses, man as an individual disappears, the number only
is seen. Quality is forgotten, and yet to-day as always, quality alone
produces real effect. The Prussians conquered at Sadowa with made
soldiers, united, accustomed to discipline. Such soldiers can be made
in three or four years now, for the material training of the soldier
is not indeed so difficult.
Caesar had legions that he found unseasoned, not yet dependable, which
had been formed for nine years.
Austria was beaten because her troops were of poor quality, because
they were conscripts.
Our projected organization will give us four hundred thousand good
soldiers. But all our reserves will be without cohesion, if they are
thrown into this or that organization on the eve of battle. At a
distance, numbers of troops without cohesion may be impressive, but
close up they are reduced to fifty or twenty-five per cent. who really
fight. Wagram was not too well executed. It illustrated desperate
efforts that had for once a moral effect on an impressionable enemy.
But for once only. Would they succeed again?
The Cimbrians gave an example  and man has not changed. Who to-day is
braver than they were? And they did not have to face artillery, nor
Originally Napoleon found as an instrument, an army with good battle
methods, and in his best battles, combat followed these methods. He
himself prescribed, at least so they say, for he misrepresented at
Saint Helena, the methods used at Wagram, at Eylau, at Waterloo, and
engaged enormous masses of infantry which did not give material
effect. But it involved a frightful loss of men and a disorder that,
after they had once been unleashed, did not permit of the rallying and
reemployment that day of the troops engaged. This was a barbaric
method, according to the Romans, amateurish, if we may say such a
thing of such a man; a method which could not be used against
experienced and well trained troops such as d'Erlon's corps at
Waterloo. It proved disastrous.
Napoleon looked only at the result to be attained. When his
impatience, or perhaps the lack of experience and knowledge in his
officers and soldiers, forbade his continued use of real attack
tactics, he completely sacrificed the material effect of infantry and
even that of cavalry to the moral effect of masses. The personnel of
his armies was too changing. In ancient battle victory cost much less
than with modern armies, and the same soldiers remained longer in
ranks. At the end of his campaigns, when he had soldiers sixty years
old, Alexander had lost only seven hundred men by the sword.
Napoleon's system is more practicable with the Russians, who naturally
group together, mass up, but it is not the most effective. Note the
mass formation at Inkermann. 
What did Napoleon I do? He reduced the role of man in battle, and
depended instead on formed masses. We have not such magnificent
Infantry and cavalry masses showed, toward the end of the Empire, a
tactical degeneracy resulting from the wearing down of their elements
and the consequent lowering of standards of morale and training. But
since the allies had recognized and adopted our methods, Napoleon
really had a reason for trying something so old that it was new to
secure that surprise which will give victory once. It can give victory
only once however, tried again surprise will be lacking. This was sort
of a desperate method which Napoleon's supremacy allowed him to adopt
when he saw his prestige waning.
When misfortune and lack of cannon fodder oppressed him, Napoleon
became again the practical man not blinded by his supremacy. His
entire good sense, his genius, overcame the madness to conquer at all
price, and we have his campaign of 1814.
General Ambert says: "Without military traditions, almost without a
command, these confused masses (the American armies of the Civil War)
struck as men struck at Agincourt and Crecy." At Agincourt and Crecy,
we struck very little, but were struck a lot. These battles were great
slaughters of Frenchmen, by English and other Frenchmen, who did not
greatly suffer themselves. In what, except in disorder, did the
American battles resemble these butcheries with the knife? The
Americans were engaged as skirmishers at a distance of leagues. In
seeking a resemblance the general has been carried away by the mania
Victory is always for the strong battalions. This is true. If sixty
determined men can rout a battalion, these sixty must be found.
Perhaps only as many will be found as the enemy has battalions (Note
Gideon's proportion of three hundred to thirty thousand of one to one
hundred.) Perhaps it would be far and away better, under these
circumstances, to fight at night.
5. Combat Methods
Ancient battle was fought in a confined space. The commander could see
his whole force. Seeing clearly, his account should have been clear,
although we note that many of these ancient accounts are obscure and
incomplete, and that we have to supplement them. In modern battle
nobody knows what goes on or what has gone on, except from results.
Narrations cannot enter into details of execution.
It is interesting to compare tales of feats of arms, narrated by the
victor (so-called) or the vanquished. It is hard to tell which account
is truthful, if either. Mere assurance may carry weight. Military
politics may dictate a perversion of the facts for disciplinary, moral
or political reasons. (Note Sommo-Sierra.)
It is difficult even to determine losses, the leaders are such
consummate liars. Why is this?
It is bewildering to read a French account and then a foreign account
of the same event, the facts stated are so entirely different. What is
the truth? Only results can reveal it, such results as the losses on
both sides. They are really instructive if they can be gotten at.
I believe that under Turenne there was not existent to the same degree
a national pride which tended to hide unpleasant truths. The troops in
contending armies were often of the same nation.
If national vanity and pride were not so touchy about recent
occurrences, still passionately debated, numerous lessons might be
drawn from our last wars. Who can speak impartially of Waterloo, or
Waterloo so much discussed and with such heat, without being ashamed?
Had Waterloo been won, it would not have profited us. Napoleon
attempted the impossible, which is beyond even genius. After a
terrible fight against English firmness and tenacity, a fight in which
we were not able to subdue them, the Prussians appear. We would have
done no better had they not appeared, but they did, very conveniently
to sustain our pride. They were confronted. Then the rout began. It
did not begin in the troops facing the Prussians but in those facing
the English, who were exhausted perhaps, but not more so than their
enemies. This was the moral effect of an attack on their right, when
they had rather expected reinforcements to appear. The right conformed
to the retrograde movement. And what a movement it was!
Why do not authorities acknowledge facts and try to formulate combat
methods that conform to reality? It would reduce a little the disorder
that bothers men not warned of it. They jump perhaps from the frying
pan into the fire. I have known two colonels, one of them a very brave
man, who said, "Let soldiers alone before the enemy. They know what to
do better than you do." This is a fine statement of French confidence!
That they know better than you what should be done. Especially in a
panic, I suppose!
A long time ago the Prince de Ligne justified battle formations, above
all the famous oblique formation. Napoleon decided the question. All
discussion of formations is pedantry. But there are moral reasons for
the power of the depth formation.
The difference between practice and theory is incredible. A general,
who has given directions a thousand times on the battle field, when
asked for directions, gives this order, "Go there, Colonel." The
colonel, a man of good sense, says, "Will you explain, sir? What point
do you want me to guide on? How far should I extend? Is there anybody
on my right? On my left?" The general says, "Advance on the enemy,
sir. It seems to me that that ought to be enough. What does this
hesitation mean?" But my dear general, what are your orders? An
officer should know where his command is, and the command itself
should know. Space is large. If you do not know where to send your
troops, and how to direct them, to make them understand where they are
to go, to give them guides if necessary, what sort of general are you?
What is our method for occupying a fortified work, or a line? We have
none! Why not adopt that of Marshal Saxe? Ask several generals how
they would do it. They will not know.
There is always mad impatience for results, without considering the
means. A general's ability lies in judging the best moment for attack
and in knowing how to prepare for it. We took Melegnano without
artillery, without maneuver, but at what a price! At Waterloo the
Hougoumont farm held us up all day, cost us dear and disorganized us
into a mad mob, until Napoleon finally sent eight mortars to smash and
burn the chateau. This is what should have been done at the
commencement of the general attack.
A rational and ordered method of combat, or if not ordered, known to
all, is enough to make good troops, if there is discipline be it
understood. The Portuguese infantry in the Spanish War, to whom the
English had taught their method of combat, almost rivalled the English
infantry. To-day who has formulated method? Who has a traditional
method? Ask the generals. No two will agree.
We have a method, a manner rather, that accords with the national
tendency, that of skirmishers in large numbers. But this formation is
nowhere formulated. Before a campaign it is decried. Properly so, for
it degenerates rapidly into a flock of lost sheep. Consequently troops
come to the battle field entirely unused to reality. All the leaders,
all the officers, are confused and unoriented. This goes so far that
often generals are found who have lost their divisions or brigades;
staff officers who have lost their generals and their divisions both;
and, although this is more easily understood, many company officers
who have lost their commands. This is a serious matter, which might
cost us dear in a prolonged war in which the enemy gains experience.
Let us hope that experience will lead us, not to change the principle,
but to modify and form in a practical way our characteristic battle
method of escaping by advancing. The brochure of the Prince of Prussia
shows that, without having fought us, the Prussians understand our
There are men such as Marshal Bugeaud who are born warriors in
character, mental attitude, intelligence and temperament. They
recommend and show by example, such as Colonel Bugeaud's battles in
1815 at the Hospital bridge, tactics entirely appropriate to their
national and personal characters. Note Wellington and the Duke of York
among the English. But the execution of tactics such as Bugeaud's
requires officers who resemble their commanders, at least in courage
and decisions. All officers are not of such temper. There is need then
of prescribed tactics conforming to the national character, which may
serve to guide an ordinary officer without requiring him to have the
exceptional ability of a Bugeaud. Such prescribed tactics would serve
an officer as the perfectly clear and well defined tactics of the
Roman legion served the legion commander. The officer could not
neglect them without failing in his duty. Of course they will not make
him an exceptional leader. But, except in case of utter incapacity
they will keep him from entirely failing in his task, from making
absurd mistakes. Nor will they prevent officers of Bugeaud's temper
from using their ability. They will on the contrary help them by
putting under their command men prepared for the details of battle,
which will not then come to them as a surprise.
This method need not be as completely dogmatic as the Roman. Our
battle is too varying an affair. But some clearly defined rules,
established by experience, would prevent the gross errors of
inefficients. (Such as causing skirmishers to fall back when the
formed rank fires, and consequently allowing them to carry with them
in their retreat, the rank itself.) They would be useful aids to men
of coolness and decision.
The laying down of such tactics would answer the many who hold that
everything is improvised on the battle field and who find no better
improvisation than to leave the soldier to himself. (See above.)
We should try to exercise some control over our soldiers, who advance
by flight (note the Vendeans) or escape by advancing, as you like. But
if something unexpected surprises them, they flee as precipitately.
Invention is less needed than verification, demonstration and
organization of proper methods. To verify; observe better. To
demonstrate; try out and describe better. To organize, distribute
better, bearing in mind that cohesion means discipline. I do not know
who put things that way; but it is truer than ever in this day of
With us very few reason or understand reason, very few are cool. Their
effect is negligible in the disorder of the mass; it is lost in
numbers. It follows that we above all need a method of combat, sanely
thought out in advance. It must be based on the fact that we are not
passively obedient instruments, but very nervous and restless people,
who wish to finish things quickly and to know in advance where we are
going. It must be based on the fact that we are very proud people, but
people who would all skulk if we were not seen, and who consequently
must always be seen, and act in the presence of our comrades and of
the officers who supervise us. From this comes the necessity for
organizing the infantry company solidly. It is the infantryman on whom
the battle has the most violent effect, for he is always most exposed;
it is he therefore who must be the most solidly supported. Unity must
be secured by a mutual acquaintanceship of long standing between all
If you only use combat methods that require leaders without fear, of
high intelligence, full of good sense, of esprit, you will always make
mistakes. Bugeaud's method was the best for him. But it is evident, in
his fight at the Hospital bridge that his battalion commanders were
useless. If he had not been there, all would have been lost. He alone,
omnipresent, was capable of resolute blows that the others could not
execute. His system can be summed up in two phrases; always attack
even when on the defensive; fire and take cover only when not
attacked. His method was rational, considering his mentality and the
existing conditions, but in carrying it into execution he judged his
officers and soldiers by himself and was deceived. No dogmatic
principles can be drawn from his method, nor from any other. Man is
always man. He does not always possess ability and resolution. The
commander must make his choice of methods, depending on his troops and
The essential of tactics is: the science of making men fight with
their maximum energy. This alone can give an organization with which
to fight fear. This has always been true.
We must start here and figure mathematically. Mathematics is the
dominant science in war, just as battle is its only purpose. Pride
generally causes refusal to acknowledge the truth that fear of being
vanquished is basic in war. In the mass, pride, vanity, is responsible
for this dissimulation. With the tiny number of absolutely fearless
men, what is responsible is their ignorance of a thing they do not
feel. There is however, no real basis but this, and all real tactics
are based on it. Discipline is a part of tactics, is absolutely at the
base of tactics, as the Romans showed. They excelled the Gauls in
intelligence, but not in bravery.
To start with: take battalions of four companies, four platoons each,
in line or in column. The order of battle may be: two platoons
deployed as skirmishers, two companies in reserve, under command of
the battalion commander. In obtaining a decision destructive action
will come from skirmishers. This action should be directed by
battalion commanders, but such direction is not customary. No effect
will be secured from skirmishers at six hundred paces. They will
never, never, never, be nicely aligned in front of their battalions,
calm and collected, after an advance. They will not, even at
maneuvers. The battalion commander ought to be advanced enough to
direct his skirmishers. The whole battalion, one-half engaged,
one-half ready for any effort, ought to remain under his command,
under his personal direction as far as possible. In the advance the
officers, the soldiers, are content if they are merely directed; but,
when the battle becomes hot, they must see their commander, know him
to be near. It does not matter even if he is without initiative,
incapable of giving an order. His presence creates a belief that
direction exists, that orders exist, and that is enough.
When the skirmishers meet with resistance, they fall back to the
ranks. It is the role of reserves to support and reinforce the line,
and above all, by a swift charge to cut the enemy's line. This then
falls back and the skirmishers go forward again, if the advance is
resumed. The second line should be in the formation, battalions in
line or in column, that hides it best. Cover the infantry troops
before their entry into action; cover them as much as possible and
by any means; take advantage of the terrain; make them lie down. This
is the English method in defense of heights, instanced in Spain and at
Waterloo. Only one bugle to each battalion should sound calls. What
else is there to be provided for?
Many haughty generals would scream protests like eagles if it were
suggested that they take such precautions for second line battalions
or first line troops not committed to action. Yet this is merely a
sane measure to insure good order without the slightest implication of
With breech-loading weapons, the skirmishers on the defensive fire
almost always from a prone position. They are made to rise with
difficulty, either for retreat or for advance. This renders the
defense more tenacious....
1. Masses--Deep Columns.
Study of the effect of columns brings us to the consideration of mass
operations in general. Read this singular argument in favor of attacks
by battalions in close columns: "A column cannot stop instantly
without a command. Suppose your first rank stops at the instant of
shock: the twelve ranks of the battalion, coming up successively,
would come in contact with it, pushing it forward.... Experiments made
have shown that beyond the sixteenth the impulsion of the ranks in
rear has no effect on the front, it is completely taken up by the
fifteen ranks already massed behind the first.... To make the
experiment, march at charging pace and command halt to the front rank
without warning the rest. The ranks will precipitate themselves upon
each other unless they be very attentive, or unless, anticipating the
command, they check themselves unconsciously while marching."
But in a real charge, all your ranks are attentive, restless, anxious
about what is taking place at the front and, if the latter halts, if
the first line stops, there will be a movement to the rear and not to
the front. Take a good battalion, possessed of extraordinary calmness
and coolness, thrown full speed on the enemy, at one hundred and
twenty steps to the minute. To-day it would have to advance under a
fire of five shots a minute! At this last desperate moment if the
front rank stops, it will not be pushed, according to the theory of
successive impulses, it will be upset. The second line will arrive
only to fall over the first and so on. There should be a drill ground
test to see up to what rank this falling of the pasteboard figures
Physical impulse is merely a word. If the front rank stops it will let
itself fall and be trampled under foot rather than cede to the
pressure that pushes it forward. Any one experienced in infantry
engagements of to-day knows that is just what happens. This shows the
error of the theory of physical impulse--a theory that continues to
dictate as under the Empire (so strong is routine and prejudice)
attacks in close column. Such attacks are marked by absolute disorder
and lack of leadership. Take a battalion fresh from barracks, in light
marching order; intent only on the maneuver to be executed. It marches
in close column in good order; its subdivisions are full four paces
apart. The non-commissioned officers control the men. But it is true
that if the terrain is slightly accidented, if the guide does not
march with mathematical precision, the battalion in close column
becomes in the twinkling of an eye a flock of sheep. What would happen
to a battalion in such a formation, at one hundred paces from the
enemy? Nobody will ever see such an instance in these days of the
If the battalion has marched resolutely, if it is in good order, it is
ten to one that the enemy has already withdrawn without waiting any
longer. But suppose the enemy does not flinch? Then the man of our
days, naked against iron and lead, no longer controls himself. The
instinct of preservation controls him absolutely. There are two ways
of avoiding or diminishing the danger; they are to flee or to throw
one-self upon it. Let us rush upon it. Now, however small the
intervals of space and time that separate us from the enemy, instinct
shows itself. We rush forward, but ... generally, we rush with
prudence, with a tendency to let the most urgent ones, the most
intrepid ones, pass on. It is strange, but true, that the nearer we
approach the enemy, the less we are closed up. Adieu to the theory of
pressure. If the front rank is stopped, those behind fall down rather
than push it. Even if this front rank is pushed, it will itself fall
down rather than advance. There is nothing to wonder at, it is sheer
fact. Any pushing is to the rear. (Battle of Diernstein.)
To-day more than ever flight begins in the rear, which is affected
quite as much as the front.
Mass attacks are incomprehensible. Not one out of ten was ever carried
to completion and none of them could be maintained against
counter-attacks. They can be explained only by the lack of confidence
of the generals in their troops. Napoleon expressly condemns in his
memoirs such attacks. He, therefore, never ordered them. But when good
troops were used up, and his generals believed they could not obtain
from young troops determined attacks in tactical formation, they came
back to the mass formation, which belongs to the infancy of the art,
as a desperate resort.
If you use this method of pressing, of pushing, your force will
disappear as before a magician's wand.
But the enemy does not stand; the moral pressure of danger that
precedes you is too strong for him. Otherwise, those who stood and
aimed even with empty rifles, would never see a charge come up to
them. The first line of the assailant would be sensible of death and
no one would wish to be in the first rank. Therefore, the enemy never
merely stands; because if he does, it is you that flee. This always
does away with the shock. The enemy entertains no smaller anxiety than
yours. When he sees you near, for him also the question is whether to
flee or to advance. Two moral impulses are in conflict.
This is the instinctive reasoning of the officer and soldier, "If
these men wait for me to close with them, it means death. I will kill,
but I will undoubtedly be killed. At the muzzle of the gun-barrel the
bullet can not fail to find its mark. But if I can frighten them, they
will run away. I can shoot them and bayonet in the back. Let us make a
try at it." The trial is made, and one of the two forces, at some
stage of the advance, perhaps only at two paces, makes an about and
gets the bayonet in the back.
Imagination always sees loaded arms and this fancy is catching.
The shock is a mere term. The de Saxe, the Bugeaud theory: "Close with
the bayonet and with fire action at close quarters. That is what kills
people and the victor is the one who kills most," is not founded on
fact. No enemy awaits you if you are determined, and never, never,
never, are two equal determinations opposed to each other. It is well
known to everybody, to all nations, that the French have never met any
one who resisted a bayonet charge.
The English in Spain, marching resolutely in face of the charges of
the French in column, have always defeated them.... The English were
not dismayed at the mass. If Napoleon had recalled the defeat of the
giants of the Armada by the English vessels, he might not have ordered
the use of the d'Erlon column.
Blucher in his instructions to his troops, recalled that the French
have never held out before the resolute march of the Prussians in
Suvaroff used no better tactics. Yet his battalions in Italy drove us
at the point of their bayonets.
Each nation in Europe says: "No one stands his ground before a bayonet
charge made by us." All are right. The French, no more than others,
resist a resolute attack. All are persuaded that their attacks are
irresistable; that an advance will frighten the enemy into flight.
Whether the bayonet be fixed or in the scabbard makes no
There is an old saying that young troops become uneasy if any one
comes upon them in a tumult and in disorder; the old troops, on
the contrary, see victory therein. At the commencement of a war,
all troops are young. Our impetuosity pushes us to the front like
fools ... the enemy flees. If the war lasts, everybody becomes inured.
The enemy no longer troubles himself when in front of troops charging
in a disordered way, because he knows and feels that they are moved as
much by fear as by determination. Good order alone impresses the enemy
in an attack, for it indicates real determination. That is why it is
necessary to secure good order and retain it to the very last. It is
unwise to take the running step prematurely, because you become a
flock of sheep and leave so many men behind that you will not reach
your objective. The close column is absurd; it turns you in advance
into a flock of sheep, where officers and men are jumbled together
without mutual support. It is then necessary to march as far as
possible in such order as best permits the action of the
non-commissioned officers, the action of unity, every one marching in
front of eye-witnesses, in the open. On the other hand, in closed
columns man marches unobserved and on the slightest pretext he lies
down or remains behind. Therefore, it is best always to keep the
skirmishers in advance or on the flanks, and never to recall them when
in proximity to the enemy. To do so establishes a counter current that
carries away your men. Let your skirmishers alone. They are your lost
children; they will know best how to take care of themselves.
To sum up: there is no shock of infantry on infantry. There is no
physical impulse, no force of mass. There is but a moral impulse. No
one denies that this moral impulse is stronger as one feels better
supported, that it has greater effect on the enemy as it menaces him
with more men. From this it follows that the column is more valuable
for the attack than the deployed order.
It might be concluded from this long statement that a moral pressure,
which always causes flight when a bold attack is made, would not
permit any infantry to hold out against a cavalry charge; never,
indeed, against a determined charge. But infantry must resist when it
is not possible to flee, and until there is complete demoralization,
absolute terror, the infantry appreciates this. Every infantryman
knows it is folly to flee before cavalry when the rifle is infallible
at point-blank, at least from the rider's point of view. It is true
that every really bold charge ought to succeed. But whether man is on
foot or on horseback, he is always man. While on foot he has but
himself to force; on horseback he must force man and beast to march
against the enemy. And mounted, to flee is so easy. (Remark by
We have seen than in an infantry mass those in rear are powerless to
push those in front unless the danger is greater in rear. The cavalry
has long understood this. It attacks in a column at double distance
rather than at half-distance, in order to avoid the frightful
confusion of the mass. And yet, the allurement of mathematical
reasoning is such that cavalry officers, especially the Germans, have
seriously proposed attacking infantry by deep masses, so that the
units in rear might give impulse to those in front. They cite the
proverb, "One nail drives the other." What can you say to people who
talk such nonsense? Nothing, except, "Attack us always in this way."
Real bayonet attacks occurred in the Crimean war. (Inkermann). 
They were carried out by a small force against a larger one. The power
of mass had no influence in such cases. It was the mass which fell
back, turned tail even before the shock. The troops who made the bold
charge did nothing but strike and fire at backs. These instances show
men unexpectedly finding themselves face to face with the enemy, at a
distance at which a man can close fearlessly without falling out on
the way breathless. They are chance encounters. Man is not yet
demoralized by fire; he must strike or fall back.... Combat at close
quarters does not exist. At close quarters occurs the ancient carnage
when one force strikes the other in the back.
Columns have absolutely but a moral effect. They are threatening
The mass impulse of cavalry has long been discredited. You have given
up forming it in deep ranks although cavalry possesses a speed that
would bring on more of a push upon the front at a halt than the last
ranks of the infantry would bring upon the first. Yet you believe in
the mass action of infantry!
As long as the ancient masses marched forward, they did not lose a man
and no one lay down to avoid the combat. Dash lasted up to the time of
stopping; the run was short in every case. In modern masses, in French
masses especially, the march can be continued, but the mass loses
while marching under fire. Moral pressure, continually exerted during
a long advance, stops one-half of the combatants on the way. To-day,
above all in France, man protests against such use of his life. The
Frenchman wants to fight, to return blow for blow. If he is not
allowed to, this is what happens. It happened to Napoleon's masses.
Let us take Wagram, where his mass was not repulsed. Out of twenty-two
thousand men, three thousand to fifteen hundred reached the position.
Certainly the position was not carried by them, but by the material
and moral effect of a battery of one hundred pieces, cavalry, etc.,
etc. Were the nineteen thousand missing men disabled? No. Seven out of
twenty-two, a third, an enormous proportion may have been hit. What
became of the twelve thousand unaccounted for? They had lain down on
the road, had played dummy in order not to go on to the end. In the
confused mass of a column of deployed battalions, surveillance,
difficult enough in a column at normal distances, is impossible.
Nothing is easier than dropping out through inertia; nothing more
This thing happens to every body of troops marching forward, under
fire, in whatever formation it may be. The number of men falling out
in this way, giving up at the least opportunity, is greater as
formation is less fixed and the surveillance of officers and comrades
more difficult. In a battalion in closed column, this kind of
temporary desertion is enormous; one-half of the men drop out on the
way. The first platoon is mingled with the fourth. They are really a
flock of sheep. No one has control, all being mixed. Even if, in
virtue of the first impulse, the position is carried, the disorder is
so great that if it is counter-attacked by four men, it is lost.
The condition of morale of such masses is fully described in the
battle of Caesar against the Nervii, Marius against the Cimbri. 
What better arguments against deep columns could there be than the
denials of Napoleon at St. Helena?
This is singular. The cavalry has definite tactics. Essentially it
knows how it fights. The infantry does not.
Our infantry no longer has any battle tactics; the initiative of the
soldier rules. The soldiers of the First Empire trusted to the moral
and passive action of masses. To-day, the soldiers object to the
passive action of masses. They fight as skirmishers, or they march to
the front as a flock of sheep of which three-fourths seek cover
enroute, if the fire is heavy. The first method, although better than
the second, is bad unless iron discipline and studied and practical
methods of fighting insure maintaining strong reserves. These should
be in the hands of the leaders and officers for support purposes, to
guard against panics, and to finish by the moral effect of a march on
the enemy, of flank menaces, etc., the destructive action of the
To-day when the ballistic arm is so deadly, so effective, a unit which
closes up in order to fight is a unit in which morale is weakened.
Maneuver is possible only with good organization; otherwise it is no
more effective than the passive mass or a rabble in an attack.
In ancient combat, the soldier was controlled by the leader in
engagements; now that fighting is open, the soldier cannot be
controlled. Often he cannot even be directed. Consequently it is
necessary to begin an action at the latest possible moment, and to
have the immediate commanders understand what is wanted, what their
objectives are, etc.
In the modern engagement, the infantryman gets from under our control
by scattering, and we say: a soldier's war. Wrong, wrong. To solve
this problem, instead of scattering to the winds, let us increase the
number of rallying points by solidifying the companies. From them come
battalions; from battalions come regiments.
Action in open order was not possible nor evident under Turenne. The
majority of the soldiers that composed the army, were not held near at
hand, in formation. They fought badly. There was a general seeking for
cover. Note the conduct of the Americans in their late war.
The organization of the legion of Marshal Saxe shows the strength of
the tendency toward shock action as opposed to fire action.
The drills, parades and firing at Potsdam were not the tactics of Old
Fritz. Frederick's secret was promptitude and rapidity of movement.
But they were popularly believed to be his means. People were fond of
them, and are yet. The Prussians for all their leaning toward parade,
mathematics, etc., ended by adopting the best methods. The Prussians
of Jena were taken in themselves by Frederick's methods. But since
then they have been the first to strike out in a practical way, while
we, in France, are still laboring at the Potsdam drills.
The greater number of generals who fought in the last wars, under real
battle conditions, ask for skirmishers in large units, well supported.
Our men have such a strong tendency to place themselves in such units
even against the will of their leaders, that they do not fight
A number of respectable authors and military men advocate the use of
skirmishers in large bodies, as being dictated by certain necessities
of war. Ask them to elucidate this mode of action, and you will see
that this talk of skirmishers in large bodies is nothing else but an
euphemism for absolute disorder. An attempt has been made to fit the
theory to the fact. Yet the use of skirmishers in large bodies is
absurd with Frenchmen under fire, when the terrain and the sharpness
of the action cause the initiative and direction to escape from the
commanders, and leave it to the men, to small groups of soldiers.
Arms are for use. The best disposition for material effect in attack
or defense is that which permits the easiest and most deadly use of
arms. This disposition is the scattered thin line. The whole of the
science of combat lies then in the happy, proper combination, of the
open order, scattered to secure destructive effect, and a good
disposition of troops in formation as supports and reserves, so as to
finish by moral effect the action of the advanced troops. The proper
combination varies with the enemy, his morale and the terrain. On the
other hand, the thin line can have good order only with a severe
discipline, a unity which our men attain from pride. Pride exists only
among people who know each other well, who have esprit de corps, and
company spirit. There is a necessity for an organization that renders
unity possible by creating the real individuality of the company.
Self-esteem is unquestionably one of the most powerful motives which
moves our men. They do not wish to pass for cowards in the eyes of
their comrades. If they march forward they want to distinguish
themselves. After every attack, formation (not the formation of the
drill ground but that adopted by those rallying to the chief, those
marching with him,) no longer exists. This is because of the inherent
disorder of every forward march under fire. The bewildered men, even
the officers, have no longer the eyes of their comrades or of their
commander upon them, sustaining them. Self-esteem no longer impels
them, they do not hold out; the least counter-offensive puts them to
The experience of the evening ought always to serve the day following;
but as the next day is never identical with the evening before, the
counsel of experience can not be applied to the latter. When confused
battalions shot at each other some two hundred paces for some time
with arms inferior to those of our days, flight commenced at the
wings. Therefore, said experience, let us reenforce the wings, and the
battalion was placed between two picked companies. But it was found
that the combat methods had been transformed. The elite companies were
then reassembled into picked corps and the battalion, weaker than
ever, no longer had reenforced wings. Perhaps combat in open order
predominates, and the companies of light infantrymen being, above all,
skirmishers, the battalion again is no longer supported. In our day
the use of deployed battalions as skirmishers is no longer possible;
and one of the essential reasons for picked companies is the
strengthening of the battalion.
The question has been asked; Who saved the French army on the Beresina
and at Hanau? The Guard, it is true. But, outside of the picked corps,
what was the French army then? Droves, not troops. Abnormal times,
abnormal deeds. The Beresina, Hanau, prove nothing to-day.
With the rapid-firing arms of infantry to-day, the advantage belongs
to the defense which is completed by offensive movements carried out
at opportune times.
Fire to-day is four or five times more rapid even if quite as
haphazard as in the days of muzzle loaders. Everybody says that this
renders impossible the charges of cavalry against infantry which has
not been completely thrown into disorder, demoralized. What then must
happen to charges of infantry, which marches while the cavalry
Attacks in deep masses are no longer seen. They are not wise, and
never were wise. To advance to the attack with a line of battalions in
column, with large intervals and covered by a thick line of
skirmishers, when the artillery has prepared the terrain, is very
well. People with common sense have never done otherwise. But the
thick line of skirmishers is essential. I believe that is the crux of
But enough of this. It is simple prudence for the artillery to prepare
the infantry action by a moment's conversation with the artillery of
the enemy infantry. If that infantry is not commanded by an imbecile,
as it sometimes is, it will avoid that particular conversation the
arguments of which would break it up, although they may not be
directed precisely in its direction. All other things being equal,
both infantries suffer the same losses in the artillery duel. The
proportion does not vary, however complete the artillery preparation.
One infantry must always close with another under rapid fire from
troops in position, and such a fire is, to-day more than ever, to the
advantage of the defense. Ten men come towards me; they are at four
hundred meters; with the ancient arm, I have time to kill but two
before they reach me; with rapid fire, I have time to kill four or
five. Morale does not increase with losses. The eight remaining might
reach me in the first case; the five or six remaining will certainly
not in the second.
If distance be taken, the leader can be seen, the file-closers see,
the platoon that follows watches the preceding. Dropping out always
exists, but it is less extensive with an open order, the men running
more risks of being recognized. Stragglers will be fewer as the
companies know each other better, and as the officers and men are more
It is difficult, if not impossible, to get the French infantry to make
use of its fire before charging. If it fires, it will not charge,
because it will continue to fire. (Bugeaud's method of firing during
the advance is good.) What is needed, then, is skirmishers, who
deliver the only effective fire, and troops in formation who push the
skirmishers on, in themselves advancing to the attack.
The soldier wants to be occupied, to return shot for shot. Place him
in a position to act immediately, individually. Then, whatever he
does, you have not wholly lost your authority over him.
Again and again and again, at drill, the officers and non-commissioned
officer ought to tell the private: "This is taught you to serve you
under such circumstances." Generals, field officers, ought to tell
officers the same thing. This alone can make an instructed army like
the Roman army. But to-day, who of us can explain page for page, the
use of anything ordered by our tactical regulations except the school
of the skirmisher? "Forward," "retreat," and "by the flank," are the
only practical movements under fire. But the others should be
explained. Explain the position of "carry arms" with the left hand.
Explain the ordinary step. Explain firing at command in the school of
the battalion. It is well enough for the school of the platoon,
because a company can make use thereof, but a battalion never can.
Everything leads to the belief that battle with present arms will be,
in the same space of time, more deadly than with ancient ones. The
trajectory of the projectile reaching further, the rapidity of firing
being four times as great, more men will be put out of commission in
less time. While the arm becomes more deadly, man does not change, his
morale remains capable of certain efforts and the demands upon it
become stronger. Morale is overtaxed; it reaches more rapidly the
maximum of tension which throws the soldier to the front or rear. The
role of commanders is to maintain morale, to direct those movements
which men instinctively execute when heavily engaged and under the
pressure of danger.
Napoleon I said that in battle, the role of skirmishers is the most
fatiguing and most deadly. This means that under the Empire, as at
present, the strongly engaged infantry troops rapidly dissolved into
skirmishers. The action was decided by the moral agency of the troops
not engaged, held in hand, capable of movement in any direction and
acting as a great menace of new danger to the adversary, already
shaken by the destructive action of the skirmishers. The same is true
to-day. But the greater force of fire arms requires, more than ever,
that they be utilized. The role of the skirmisher becomes preeminently
the destructive role; it is forced on every organization seriously
engaged by the greater moral pressure of to-day which causes men to
Commanders-in-chief imagine formed battalions firing on the enemy and
do not include the use of skirmishers in drill. This is an error, for
they are necessary in drill and everywhere, etc. The formed rank is
more difficult to utilize than ever. General Leboeuf used a very
practical movement of going into battle, by platoons, which advance to
the battle line in echelon, and can fire, even if they are taken in
the very act of the movement. There is always the same dangerous
tendency toward mass action even for a battalion in maneuver. This is
an error. The principles of maneuver for small units should not be
confused with those for great units. Emperor Napoleon did not
prescribe skirmishers in flat country. But every officer should be
reduced who does not utilize them to some degree.
The role of the skirmisher becomes more and more predominant. He
should be so much the more watched and directed as he is used against
more deadly arms, and, consequently, is more disposed to escape from
all control, from all direction. Yet under such battle conditions
formations are proposed which send skirmishers six hundred paces in
advance of battalions and which give the battalion commander the
mission of watching and directing (with six companies of one hundred
and twenty men) troops spread over a space of three hundred paces by
five hundred, at a minimum. To advance skirmishers six hundred paces
from their battalion and to expect they will remain there is the work
of people who have never observed.
Inasmuch as combat by skirmishers tends to predominate and since it
becomes more difficult with the increase of danger, there has been a
constant effort to bring into the firing line the man who must direct
it. Leaders have been seen to spread an entire battalion in front of
an infantry brigade or division so that the skirmishers, placed under
a single command, might obey a general direction better. This method,
scarcely practicable on the drill-ground, and indicating an absolute
lack of practical sense, marks the tendency. The authors of new drills
go too far in the opposite direction. They give the immediate command
of the skirmishers in each battalion to the battalion commander who
must at the same time lead his skirmishers and his battalion. This
expedient is more practical than the other. It abandons all thought of
an impossible general control and places the special direction in the
right hands. But the leadership is too distant, the battalion
commander has to attend to the participation of his battalion in the
line, or in the ensemble of other battalions of the brigade or
division, and the particular performance of his skirmishers. The more
difficult, confused, the engagement becomes, the more simple and clear
ought to be the roles of each one. Skirmishers are in need of a firmer
hand than ever to direct and maintain them, so that they may do their
part. The battalion commander must be entirely occupied with the role
of skirmishers, or with the role of the line. There should be smaller
battalions, one-half the number in reserve, one-half as skirmisher
battalions. In the latter the men should be employed one-half as
skirmishers and one-half held in reserve. The line of skirmishers will
then gain steadiness.
Let the battalion commander of the troops of the second line entirely
occupy himself with his battalion.
The full battalion of six companies is to-day too unwieldy for one
man. Have battalions of four companies of one hundred men each, which
is certainly quite sufficient considering the power of destruction
which these four companies place in the hands of one man. He will have
difficulty in maintaining and directing these four companies under the
operation of increasingly powerful modern appliances. He will have
difficulty in watching them, in modern combat, with the greater
interval between the men in line that the use of the present arms
necessitates. With a unified battalion of six hundred men, I would do
better against a battalion of one thousand Prussians, than with a
battalion of eight hundred men, two hundred of whom are immediately
taken out of my control.
Skirmishers have a destructive effect; formed troops a moral effect.
Drill ground maneuvers should prepare for actual battle. In such
maneuvers, why, at the decisive moment of an attack, should you
lighten the moral anxiety of the foe by ceasing his destruction, by
calling back your skirmishers? If the enemy keeps his own skirmishers
and marches resolutely behind them, you are lost, for his moral action
upon you is augmented by his destructive action against which you have
kindly disarmed yourself.
Why do you call back your skirmishers? Is it because your skirmishers
hinder the operation of your columns, block bayonet charges? One must
never have been in action to advance such a reason. At the last
moment, at the supreme moment when one or two hundred meters separate
you from the adversary, there is no longer a line. There is a fearless
advance, and your skirmishers are your forlorn hope. Let them charge
on their own account. Let them be passed or pushed forward by the
mass. Do not recall them. Do not order them to execute any maneuver
for they are not capable of any, except perhaps, that of falling back
and establishing a counter-current which might drag you along. In
these moments, everything hangs by a thread. Is it because your
skirmishers would prevent you from delivering fire? Do you, then,
believe in firing, especially in firing under the pressure of
approaching danger, before the enemy? If he is wise, certainly he
marches preceded by skirmishers, who kill men in your ranks and who
have the confidence of a first success, of having seen your
skirmishers disappear before them. These skirmishers will certainly
lie down before your unmasked front. In that formation they easily
cause you losses, and you are subjected to their destructive effect
and to the moral effect of the advance of troops in formation against
you. Your ranks become confused; you do not hold the position. There
is but one way of holding it, that is to advance, and for that, it is
necessary at all costs to avoid firing before moving ahead. Fire
opened, no one advances further.
Do you believe in opening and ceasing fire at the will of the
commander as on the drill ground? The commencement of fire by a
battalion, with the present arms especially, is the beginning of
disorder, the moment where the battalion begins to escape from its
leader. While drilling even, the battalion commanders, after a little
lively drill, after a march, can no longer control the fire.
Do you object that no one ever gets within two hundred meters of the
enemy? That a unit attacking from the front never succeeds? So be it!
Let us attack from the flank. But a flank is always more or less
covered. Men are stationed there, ready for the blow. It will be
necessary to pick off these men.
To-day, more than ever, no rapid, calm firing is possible except
The rapidity of firing has reduced six ranks to two ranks. With
reliable troops who have no need of the moral support of a second rank
behind them, one rank suffices to-day. At any rate, it is possible to
await attack in two ranks.
In prescribing fire at command, in seeking to minimize the role of
skirmishers instead of making it predominate, you take sides with the
Germans. We are not fitted for that sort of game. If they adopt fire
at command, it is just one more reason for our finding another method.
We have invented, discovered the skirmisher; he is forced upon us by
our men, our arms, etc. He must be organized.
In fire by rank, in battle, men gather into small groups and become
confused. The more space they have, the less will be the disorder.
Formed in two ranks, each rank should be still thinner. All the shots
of the second line are lost. The men should not touch; they should be
far apart. The second rank in firing from position at a supreme
moment, ought not to be directly behind the first. The men ought to be
echeloned behind the first. There will always be firing from position
on any front. It is necessary to make this firing as effective and as
easy as possible. I do not wish to challenge the experiences of the
target range but I wish to put them to practical use.
It is evident that the present arms are more deadly than the ancient
ones; the morale of the troops will therefore be more severely shaken.
The influence of the leader should be greater over the combatants,
those immediately engaged. If it seems rational, let colonels engage
in action, with the battalions of their regiment in two lines. One
battalion acts as skirmishers; the other battalion waits, formed ready
to aid the first. If you do not wish so to utilize the colonels, put
all the battalions of the regiment in the first line, and eventually
use them as skirmishers. The thing is inevitable; it will be done in
spite of you. Do it yourself at the very first opportunity.
The necessity of replenishing the ammunition supply so quickly used up
by the infantry, requires engaging the infantry by units only, which
can be relieved by other units after the exhaustion of the ammunition
supply. As skirmishers are exhausted quickly, engage entire battalions
as skirmishers, assisted by entire battalions as supports or reserves.
This is a necessary measure to insure good order. Do not throw into
the fight immediately the four companies of the battalion. Up to the
crucial moment, the battalion commander ought to guard against
throwing every one into the fight.
There is a mania, seen in our maneuver camps, for completely covering
a battle front, a defended position, by skirmishers, without the least
interval between the skirmishers of different battalions. What will be
the result? Initially a waste of men and ammunition. Then, difficulty
in replacing them.
Why cover the front everywhere? If you do, then what advantage is
there in being able to see from a great distance? Leave large
intervals between your deployed companies. We are no longer only one
hundred meters from the enemy at the time of firing. Since we are able
to see at a great distance we do not risk having the enemy dash into
these intervals unexpectedly. Your skirmisher companies at large
intervals begin the fight, the killing. While your advance companies
move ahead, the battalion commander follows with his formed companies,
defilading them as much as possible. He lets them march. If the
skirmishers fight at the halt, he supervises them. If the commanding
officer wishes to reenforce his line, if he wants to face an enemy who
attempts to advance into an interval, if he has any motive for doing
it, in a word, he rushes new skirmishers into the interval. Certainly,
these companies have more of the forward impulse, more dash, if dash
is needed, than the skirmishers already in action. If they pass the
first skirmishers, no harm is done. There you have echelons already
formed. The skirmishers engaged, seeing aid in front of them, can be
launched ahead more easily.
Besides, the companies thrown into this interval are a surprise for
the enemy. That is something to be considered, as is the fact that so
long as there is fighting at a halt, intervals in the skirmish lines
are fit places for enemy bullets. Furthermore, these companies remain
in the hands of their leaders. With the present method of reenforcing
skirmishers--I am speaking of the practical method of the battlefield,
not of theory--a company, starting from behind the skirmishers
engaged, without a place in which to deploy, does not find anything
better to do than to mingle with the skirmishers. Here it doubles the
number of men, but in doing so brings disorder, prevents the control
of the commanders and breaks up the regularly constituted groups.
While the closing up of intervals to make places for new arrivals is
good on the drill ground, or good before or after the combat, it never
works during battle.
No prescribed interval will be kept exactly. It will open, it will
close, following the fluctuations of the combat. But the onset, during
which it can be kept, is not the moment of brisk combat; it is the
moment of the engagement, of contact, consequently, of feeling out. It
is essential that there remain space in which to advance. Suppose you
are on a plain, for in a maneuver one starts from the flat terrain. In
extending the new company it will reenforce the wings of the others,
the men naturally supporting the flanks of their comrades. The
individual intervals will lessen in order to make room for the new
company. The company will always have a well determined central group,
a rallying point for the others. If the interval has disappeared there
is always time to employ the emergency method of doubling the ranks in
front; but one must not forget, whatever the course taken, to preserve
We cannot resist closing intervals between battalions; as if we were
still in the times of the pikemen when, indeed, it was possible to
pass through an interval! To-day, the fighting is done ten times
farther away, and the intervals between battalions are not weak
joints. They are covered by the fire of the skirmishers, as well
covered by fire as the rest of the front, and invisible to the enemy.
Skirmishers and masses are the formations for action of poorly
instructed French troops. With instruction and unity there would be
skirmishers supported and formation in battalion columns at most.
Troops in close order can have only a moral effect, for the attack, or
for a demonstration. If you want to produce a real effect, use
musketry. For this it is necessary to form a single line. Formations
have purely moral effect. Whoever counts on their material, effective
action against reliable, cool troops, is mistaken and is defeated.
Skirmishers alone do damage. Picked shots would do more if properly
In attacking a position, start the charge at the latest possible
moment, when the leader thinks he can reach the objective not all out
of breath. Until then, it has been possible to march in rank, that is
under the officers, the rank not being the mathematical line, but the
grouping in the hands of the leader, under his eye. With the run comes
confusion. Many stop, the fewer as the run is shorter. They lie down
on the way and will rejoin only if the attack succeeds, if they join
at all. If by running too long the men are obliged to stop in order to
breathe and rest, the dash is broken, shattered. At the advance, very
few will start. There are ten chances to one of seeing the attack
fail, of turning it into a joke, with cries of "Forward with fixed
bayonet," but none advancing, except some brave men who will be killed
uselessly. The attack vanishes finally before the least demonstration
of the foe. An unfortunate shout, a mere nothing, can destroy it.
Absolute rules are foolish, the conduct of every charge being an
affair requiring tact. But so regulate by general rules the conduct of
an infantry charge that those who commence it too far away can
properly be accused of panic. And there is a way. Regulate it as the
cavalry charge is regulated, and have a rearguard in each battalion of
non-commissioned officers, of most reliable officers, in order to
gather together, to follow close upon the charge, at a walk, and to
collect all those who have lain down so as not to march or because
they were out of breath. This rearguard might consist of a small
platoon of picked shots, such as we need in each battalion. The charge
ought to be made at a given distance, else it vanishes, evaporates.
The leader who commences it too soon either has no head, or does not
want to gain his objective.
The infantry of the line, as opposed to elite commands, should not be
kept in support. The least firm, the most impressionable, are thus
sent into the road stained with the blood of the strongest. We place
them, after a moral anxiety of waiting, face to face with the terrible
destruction and mutilation of modern weapons. If antiquity had need of
solid troops as supports, we have a greater need of them. Death in
ancient combat was not as horrible as in the modern battle where the
flesh is mangled, slashed by artillery fire. In ancient combat, except
in defeat, the wounded were few in number. This is the reply to those
who wish to begin an action by chasseurs, zouaves, etc.
He, general or mere captain, who employs every one in the storming of
a position can be sure of seeing it retaken by an organized
counter-attack of four men and a corporal.
In order that we may have real supervision and responsibility in units
from companies to brigades, the supporting troops ought to be of the
same company, the same battalion, the same brigade, as the case may
be. Each brigade ought to have its two lines, each battalion its
The system of holding out a reserve as long as possible for
independent action when the enemy has used his own, ought to be
applied downwards. Each battalion should have its own, each regiment
its own, firmly maintained.
There is more need than ever to-day, for protecting the supporting
forces, the reserves. The power of destruction increases, the morale
remains the same. The tests of morale, being more violent than
previously, ought to be shorter, because the power of morale has not
increased. The masses, reserves, the second, the first lines, should
be protected and sheltered even more than the skirmishers.
Squares sometimes are broken by cavalry which pursues the skirmishers
into the square. Instead of lying down, they rush blindly to their
refuge which they render untenable and destroy. No square can hold out
against determined troops.... But!
The infantry square is not a thing of mechanics, of mathematical
reasoning; it is a thing of morale. A platoon in four ranks, two
facing the front, two the rear, its flanks guarded by the extreme
files that face to the flank, and conducted, supported by the
non-commissioned officers placed in a fifth rank, in the interior of
the rectangle, powerful in its compactness and its fire, cannot be
dislodged by cavalry. However, this platoon will prefer to form a part
of a large square, it will consider itself stronger, because of
numbers, and indeed it will be, since the feeling of force pervades
this whole force. This feeling is power in war.
People who calculate only according to the fire delivered, according
to the destructive power of infantry, would have it fight deployed
against cavalry. They do not consider that although supported and
maintained, although such a formation seem to prevent flight, the very
impetus of the charge, if led resolutely, will break the deployment
before the shock arrives. It is clear that if the charge is badly
conducted, whether the infantry be solid or not, it will never reach
its objective. Why? Moral reasons and no others make the soldier in a
square feel himself stronger than when in line. He feels himself
watched from behind and has nowhere to flee.
It is easy to misuse breech-loading weapons, such as the rifle. The
fashion to-day is to use small intrenchments, covering battalions. As
old as powder. Such shelter is an excellent device on the condition,
however, that behind it, a useful fire can be delivered.
Look at these two ranks crouched under the cover of a small trench.
Follow the direction of the shots. Even note the trajectory shown by
the burst of flame. You will be convinced that, under such conditions,
even simple horizontal firing is a fiction. In a second, there will be
wild firing on account of the noise, the crowding, the interference of
the two ranks. Next everybody tries to get under the best possible
cover. Good-by firing.
It is essential to save ammunition, to get all possible efficiency
from the arm. Yet the official adoption of fire by rank insures
relapsing into useless firing at random. Good shots are wasted, placed
where it is impossible for them to fire well.
Since we have a weapon that fires six times more rapidly than the
ancient weapon, why not profit by it to cover a given space with six
times fewer riflemen than formerly? Riflemen placed at greater
intervals, will be less bewildered, will see more clearly, will be
better watched (which may seem strange to you), and will consequently
deliver a better fire than formerly. Besides, they will expend six
times less ammunition. That is the vital point. You must always have
ammunition available, that is to say, troops which have not been
engaged. Reserves must be held out. This is hard to manage perhaps. It
is not so hard to manage, however, as fire by command.
What is the use of fire by rank? By command? It is impracticable
against the enemy, except in extraordinary cases. Any attempt at
supervision of it is a joke! File firing? The first rank can shoot
horizontally, the only thing required; the second rank can fire only
into the air. It is useless to fire with our bulky knapsacks
interfering so that our men raise the elbow higher than the shoulder.
Learn what the field pack can be from the English, Prussians,
Austrians, etc.... Could the pack not be thicker and less wide? Have
the first rank open; let the second be checkerwise; and let firing
against cavalry be the only firing to be executed in line.
One line will be better than two, because it will not be hindered by
the one behind it. One kind of fire is practicable and efficient, that
of one rank. This is the fire of skirmishers in close formation.
The king's order of June 1st, 1776, reads (p. 28): "Experience in war
having proved that three ranks fire standing, and the intention of his
majesty being to prescribe only what can be executed in front of the
enemy, he orders that in firing, the first man is never to put his
knee on the ground, and that the three ranks fire standing at the same
time." This same order includes instructions on target practice, etc.
Marshal de Gouvion-Saint Cyr says that conservatively one-fourth of
the men who are wounded in an affair are put out of commission by the
third rank. This estimate is not high enough if it concerns a unit
composed of recruits like those who fought at Lutzen and Bautzen. The
marshal mentions the astonishment of Napoleon when he saw the great
number of men wounded in the hand and forearm. This astonishment of
Napoleon's is singular. What ignorance in his marshals not to have
explained such wounds! Chief Surgeon Larrey, by observation of the
wounds, alone exonerated our soldiers of the accusation of
self-inflicted wounds. The observation would have been made sooner,
had the wounds heretofore been numerous. That they had not been can be
explained only by the fact that while the young soldiers of 1813 kept
instinctively close in ranks, up to that time the men must have spaced
themselves instinctively, in order to be able to shoot. Or perhaps in
1813, these young men might have been allowed to fire a longer time in
order to distract them and keep them in ranks, and not often allowed
to act as skirmishers for fear of losing them. Whilst formerly, the
fire by rank must have been much rarer and fire action must have given
way almost entirely to the use of skirmishers.
Fire by command presupposes an impossible coolness. Had any troops
ever possessed it they would have mowed down battalions as one mows
down corn stalks. Yet it has been known for a long time, since
Frederick, since before Frederick, since the first rifle. Let troops
get the range calmly, let them take aim together so that no one
disturbs or hinders the other. Have each one see clearly, then, at a
signal, let them all fire at once. Who is going to stand against such
people? But did they aim in those days? Not so accurately, possibly,
but they knew how to shoot waist-high, to shoot at the feet. They knew
how to do it. I do not say they did it. If they had done so, there
would not have been any need of reminding them of it so often. Note
Cromwell's favorite saying, "Aim at their shoe-laces;" that of the
officers of the empire, "Aim at the height of the waist." Study of
battles, of the expenditure of bullets, show us no such immediate
terrible results. If such a means of destruction was so easy to
obtain, why did not our illustrious forbears use it and recommend it
to us? (Words of de Gouvion-Saint-Cyr.)
Security alone creates calmness under fire.
In minor operations of war, how many captains are capable of
tranquilly commanding their fire and maneuvering with calmness?
Here is a singular thing. You hear fire by rank against cavalry
seriously recommended in military lectures. Yet not a colonel, not a
battalion commander, not a captain, requires this fire to be executed
in maneuvers. It is always the soldier who forces the firing. He is
ordered to shoot almost before he aims for fear he will shoot without
command. Yet he ought to feel that when he is aiming, his finger on
the trigger, his shot does not belong to him, but rather to the
officer who ought to be able to let him aim for five minutes, if
advisable, examining, correcting the positions, etc. He ought, when
aiming, always be ready to fire upon the object designated, without
ever knowing when it will please his commander to order him to fire.
Fire at command is not practicable in the face of the enemy. If it
were, the perfection of its execution would depend on the coolness of
the commander and the obedience of the soldier. The soldier is the
more easily trained.
The Austrians had fire by command in Italy against cavalry. Did they
use it? They fired before the command, an irregular fire, a fire by
file, with defective results.
Fire by command is impossible. But why is firing by rank at will
impossible, illusory, under the fire of the enemy? Because of the
reasons already given and, for this reason: that closed ranks are
incompatible with fire-arms, on account of the wounding caused by the
latter in ranks. In closed ranks, the two lines touching elbows, a man
who falls throws ten men into complete confusion. There is no room for
those who drop and, however few fall, the resulting disorder
immediately makes of the two ranks a series of small milling groups.
If the troops are young, they become a disordered flock before any
demonstration. (Caldiero, Duhesme.) If the troops have some
steadiness, they of themselves will make space: they will try to make
way for the bullets: they will scatter as skirmishers with small
intervals. (Note the Grenadier Guards at Magenta.)
With very open ranks, men a pace apart, whoever falls has room, he is
noticed by a lesser number, he drags down no one in his fall. The
moral impression on his comrades is less. Their courage is less
impaired. Besides, with rapid fire everywhere, spaced ranks with no
man in front of another, at least permit horizontal fire. Closed ranks
permit it hardly in the first rank, whose ears are troubled by the
shots from the men behind. When a man has to fire four or five shots a
minute, one line is certainly more solid than two, because, while the
firing is less by half, it is more than twice as likely to be
horizontal fire as in the two-rank formation. Well-sustained fire,
even with blank cartridges, would be sufficient to prevent a
successful charge. With slow fire, two ranks alone were able to keep
up a sufficiently continuous fusillade. With rapid fire, a single line
delivers more shots than two with ancient weapons. Such fire,
therefore, suffices as a fusillade.
Close ranks, while suitable for marching, do not lend themselves to
firing at the halt. Marching, a man likes a comrade at his side.
Firing, as if he felt the flesh attracting the lead, he prefers being
relatively isolated, with space around him. Breech-loading rifles
breed queer ideas. Generals are found who say that rapid firing will
bring back fire at command, as if there ever were such a thing. They
say it will bring back salvo firing, thus permitting clear vision. As
if such a thing were possible! These men have not an atom of common
It is singular to see a man like Guibert, with practical ideas on most
things, give a long dissertation to demonstrate that the officers of
his time were wrong in aiming at the middle of the body, that is, in
firing low. He claims this is ridiculous to one who understands the
trajectory of the rifle. These officers were right. They revived the
recommendations of Cromwell, because they knew that in combat the
soldier naturally fires too high because he does not aim, and because
the shape of the rifle, when it is brought to the shoulder, tends to
keep the muzzle higher than the breech. Whether that is the reason or
something else, the fact is indisputable. It is said that in Prussian
drills all the bullets hit the ground at fifty paces. With the arms of
that time and the manner of fighting, results would have been
magnificent in battle if the bullets had struck fifty paces before the
enemy instead of passing over his head.
Yet at Mollwitz, where the Austrians had five thousand men disabled,
the Prussians had over four thousand.
Firing with a horizontal sector, if the muzzle be heavy, is more
deadly than firing with a vertical sector.
4. Marches. Camps. Night Attacks.
From the fact that infantry ought always to fight in thin formation,
scattered, it does not follow that it ought to be kept in that order.
Only in column is it possible to maintain the battle order. It is
necessary to keep one's men in hand as long as possible, because once
engaged, they no longer belong to you.
The disposition in closed mass is not a suitable marching formation,
even in a battalion for a short distance. On account of heat, the
closed column is intolerable, like an unventilated room. Formation
with half-distances is better. (Why? Air, view, etc.)
Such a formation prevents ready entry of the column into battle in
case of necessity or surprise. The half-divisions not in the first line
are brought up, the arms at the order, and they can furnish either
skirmishers or a reserve for the first line which has been deployed as
At Leuctra, Epaminondas diminished, by one-half, the depth of his men;
he formed square phalanxes of fifty men to a side. He could have very
well dispensed with it, for the Lacedaemonian right was at once thrown
into disorder by its own cavalry which was placed in front of that
wing. The superior cavalry of Epaminondas overran not only the cavalry
but the infantry that was behind it. The infantry of Epaminondas,
coming in the wake of his cavalry finished the work. Turning to the
right, the left of Epaminondas then took in the flank the
Lacedaemonian line. Menaced also in front by the approaching echelons
of Epaminondas, this line became demoralized and took to flight.
Perhaps this fifty by fifty formation was adopted in order to give,
without maneuver, a front of fifty capable of acting in any direction.
At Leuctra, it simply acted to the right and took the enemy in the
flank and in reverse.
Thick woods are generally passed through in close column. There is
never any opening up, with subsequent closing on the far side. The
resulting formation is as confused as a flock of sheep.
In a march through mountains, difficult country, a bugler should be on
the left, at the orders of an intelligent officer who indicates when
the halt seems necessary for discipline in the line. The right
responds and if the place has been judged correctly an orderly
formation is maintained. Keep in ranks. If one man steps out, others
follow. Do not permit men to leave ranks without requiring them to
In the rear-guard it is always necessary to have pack mules in an
emergency; without this precaution, considerable time may be lost. In
certain difficult places time is thus lost every day.
In camp, organize your fatigue parties in advance; send them out in
formation and escorted.
Definite and detailed orders ought to be given to the convoy, and the
chief baggage-master ought to supervise it, which is rarely the case.
It is a mistake to furnish mules to officers and replace them in case
of loss or sickness. The officer overloads the mule and the Government
loses more thereby than is generally understood. Convoys are endless
owing to overloaded mules and stragglers. If furnished money to buy a
mule the officer uses it economically because it is his. If mules are
individually furnished to officers instead of money, the officer will
care for his beast for the same reason. But it is better to give money
only, and the officer, if he is not well cared for on the march has no
claim against the Government.
Always, always, take Draconian measures to prevent pillage from
commencing. If it begins, it is difficult ever to stop it. A body of
infantry is never left alone. There is no reason for calling officers
of that arm inapt, when battalions although established in position
are not absolutely on the same line, with absolutely equal intervals.
Ten moves are made to achieve the exact alignment which the
instructions on camp movements prescribe. Yet designating a guiding
battalion might answer well enough and still be according to the
Why are not night attacks more employed to-day, at least on a grand
scale? The great front which armies occupy renders their employment
more difficult, and exacts of the troops an extreme aptitude in this
kind of surprise tactics (found in the Arabs, Turcos, Spahis), or
absolute reliability. There are some men whose knowledge of terrain is
wonderful, with an unerring eye for distance, who can find their way
through places at night which they have visited only in the day time.
Utilizing such material for a system of guides it would be possible to
move with certainty. These are simple means, rarely employed, for
conducting a body of troops into position on the darkest night. There
is, even, a means of assuring at night the fire of a gun upon a given
point with as much precision as in plain day.
1. Cavalry and Modern Appliances
They say that cavalry is obsolete; that it can be of no use in battles
waged with the weapons of today. Is not infantry affected in the same
Examples drawn from the last two wars are not conclusive. In a siege,
in a country which is cut off, one does not dare to commit the
cavalry, and therefore takes from it its boldness, which is almost its
The utility of cavalry has always been doubted. That is because its
cost is high. It is little used, just because it does cost. The
question of economy is vital in peace times. When we set a high value
upon certain men, they are not slow to follow suit, and to guard
themselves against being broken. Look at staff officers who are almost
never broken (reduced), even when their general himself is.
With new weapons the role of cavalry has certainly changed less than
any other, although it is the one which is most worried about.
However, cavalry always has the same doctrine: Charge! To start with,
cavalry action against cavalry is always the same. Also against
infantry. Cavalry knows well enough today, as it has always known,
that it can act only against infantry which has been broken. We must
leave aside epic legends that are always false, whether they relate to
cavalry or infantry. Infantry cannot say as much of its own action
against infantry. In this respect there is a complete anarchy of
ideas. There is no infantry doctrine.
With the power of modern weapons, which forces you to slow down if it
does not stop you, the advance under fire becomes almost impossible.
The advantage is with the defensive. This is so evident that only a
madman could dispute it. What then is to be done? Halt, to shoot at
random and cannonade at long range until ammunition is exhausted?
Perhaps. But what is sure, is that such a state of affairs makes
maneuver necessary. There is more need than ever for maneuver at a
long distance in an attempt to force the enemy to shift, to quit his
position. What maneuver is swifter than that of cavalry? Therein is
The extreme perfection of weapons permits only individual action in
combat, that is action by scattered forces. At the same time it
permits the effective employment of mass action out of range, of
maneuvers on the flank or in the rear of the enemy in force imposing
enough to frighten him.
Can the cavalry maneuver on the battle field? Why not? It can maneuver
rapidly, and above all beyond the range of infantry fire, if not of
artillery fire. Maneuver being a threat, of great moral effect, the
cavalry general who knows how to use it, can contribute largely to
success. He arrests the enemy in movement, doubtful as to what the
cavalry is going to attempt. He makes the enemy take some formation
that keeps him under artillery fire for a while, above all that of
light artillery if the general knows how to use it. He increases the
enemy's demoralization and thus is able to rejoin his command.
Rifled cannon and accurate rifles do not change cavalry tactics at
all. These weapons of precision, as the word precision indicates, are
effective only when all battle conditions, all conditions of aiming,
are ideal. If the necessary condition of suitable range is lacking,
effect is lacking. Accuracy of fire at a distance is impossible
against a troop in movement, and movement is the essence of cavalry
action. Rifled weapons fire on them of course, but they fire on
In short, cavalry is in the same situation as anybody else.
What response is there to this argument? Since weapons have been
improved, does not the infantryman have to march under fire to attack
a position? Is the cavalryman not of the same flesh? Has he less heart
than the infantryman? If one can march under fire, cannot the other
gallop under it?
When the cavalryman cannot gallop under fire, the infantryman cannot
march under it. Battles will consist of exchanges of rifle shots by
concealed men, at long range. The battle will end only when the
ammunition is exhausted.
The cavalryman gallops through danger, the infantryman walks. That is
why, if he learns, as it is probable he will, to keep at the proper
distance, the cavalryman will never see his battle role diminished by
the perfection of long range fire. An infantryman will never succeed
by himself. The cavalryman will threaten, create diversions, worry,
scatter the enemy's fire, often even get to close quarters if he is
properly supported. The infantryman will act as usual. But more than
ever will he need the aid of cavalry in the attack. He who knows how
to use his cavalry with audacity will inevitably be the victor. Even
though the cavalryman offers a larger target, long range weapons will
paralyze him no more than another.
The most probable effect of artillery of today, will be to increase
the scattering in the infantry, and even in the cavalry. The latter
can start in skirmisher formation at a distance and close in while
advancing, near its objective. It will be more difficult to lead; but
this is to the advantage of the Frenchman.
The result of improving the ballistics of the weapon, for the cavalry
as for the infantry (there is no reason why it should be otherwise for
the cavalry), will be that a man will flee at a greater distance from
it, and nothing more.
Since the Empire, the opinion of European armies is that the cavalry
has not given the results expected of it.
It has not given great results, for the reason that we and others
lacked real cavalry generals. He is, it seems, a phenomenon that is
produced only every thousand years, more rarely than a real general of
infantry. To be a good general, whether of infantry or cavalry, is an
infinitely rare thing, like the good in everything. The profession of
a good infantry general is as difficult as, perhaps more difficult
than, that of a good cavalry general. Both require calmness. It comes
more easily to the cavalryman than to the foot soldier who is much
more engaged. Both require a like precision, a judgment of the moral
and physical forces of the soldier; and the morale of the infantryman,
his constitution, is more tried than is the case with the horseman.
The cavalry general, of necessity, sees less clearly; his vision has
its limits. Great cavalry generals are rare. Doubtless Seidlitz could
not, in the face of the development of cannon and rifle, repeat his
wonders. But there is always room for improvement. I believe there is
much room for improvement.
We did not have under the Empire a great cavalry general who knew how
to handle masses. The cavalry was used like a blind hammer that
strikes heavily and not always accurately. It had immense losses. Like
the Gauls, we have a little too much confidence in the "forward,
forward, not so many methods." Methods do not hinder the forward
movement. They prepare the effect and render it surer and at the same
time less costly to the assailant. We have all the Gallic brutality.
(Note Marignano, where the force of artillery and the possibility of a
turning movement around a village was neglected). What rare things
infantry and cavalry generals are!
A leader must combine resolute bravery and impetuosity with prudence
and calmness; a difficult matter!
The broken terrain of European fields no longer permits, we are told,
the operation of long lines, of great masses of cavalry. I do not
regret it. I am struck more with the picturesque effect of these
hurricanes of cavalry in the accounts of the Empire than with the
results obtained. It does not seem to me that these results were in
proportion to the apparent force of the effort and to the real
grandeur of the sacrifices. And indeed, these enormous hammers (a
usual figure), are hard to handle. They have not the sure direction of
a weapon well in hand. If the blow is not true, recovery is
impossible, etc. However, the terrain does not to-day permit the
assembling of cavalry in great masses. This compelling reason for new
methods renders any other reason superfluous.
Nevertheless, the other reasons given in the ministerial observations
of 1868, on the cavalry service, seems to me excellent. The
improvement of appliances, the extension of battle fields, the
confidence to the infantry and the audacity to the artillery that the
immediate support of the cavalry gives, demand that this arm be in
every division in sufficient force for efficient action.
I, therefore, think it desirable for a cavalry regiment to be at the
disposal of a general commanding a division. Whatever the experiences
of instruction centers, they can not change in the least my conviction
of the merit of this measure in the field.
2. Cavalry Against Cavalry
Cavalry action, more than that of infantry, is an affair of morale.
Let us study first the morale of the cavalry engagement in single
combat. Two riders rush at each other. Are they going to direct their
horses front against front? Their horses would collide, both would be
forced to their feet, while running the chance of being crushed in the
clash or in the fall of their mounts. Each one in the combat counts on
his strength, on his skill, on the suppleness of his mount, on his
personal courage; he does not want a blind encounter, and he is right.
They halt face to face, abreast, to fight man to man; or each passes
the other, thrusting with the sabre or lance; or each tries to wound
the knee of the adversary and dismount him in this way. But as each is
trying to strike the other, he thinks of keeping out of the way
himself, he does not want a blind encounter that does away with the
combat. The ancient battles, the cavalry engagements, the rare cavalry
combats of our days, show us nothing else.
Discipline, while keeping the cavalrymen in the ranks, has not been
able to change the instinct of the rider. No more than the isolated
man is the rider in the line willing to meet the shock of a clash with
the enemy. There is a terrible moral effect in a mass moving forward.
If there is no way to escape to the right or to the left, men and
horses will avoid the clash by stopping face to face. But only
preeminently brave troops, equally seasoned in morale, alike well led
and swept along, animated alike, will meet face to face. All these
conditions are never found united on either side, so the thing is
never seen. Forty-nine times out of fifty, one of the cavalry forces
will hesitate, bolt, get into disorder, flee before the fixed purpose
of the other. Three quarters of the time this will happen at a
distance, before they can see each other's eyes. Often they will get
closer. But always, always, the stop, the backward movement, the
swerving of horses, the confusion, bring about fear or hesitation.
They lessen the shock and turn it into instant flight. The resolute
assailant does not have to slacken. He has not been able to overcome
or turn the obstacles of horses not yet in flight, in this uproar of
an impossible about face executed by routed troops, without being in
disorder himself. But this disorder is that of victory, of the
advance, and a good cavalry does not trouble itself about it. It
rallies in advancing, while the vanquished one has fear at its heels.
On the whole, there are few losses. The engagement, if there is one,
is an affair of a second. The proof is that in this action of cavalry
against cavalry, the conquered alone loses men, and he loses generally
few. The battle against infantry is alone the really deadly struggle.
Like numbers of little chasseurs have routed heavy cuirassiers. How
could they have done so if the others had not given way before their
determination? The essential factor was, and always is, determination.
The cavalry's casualties are always much less than those of the
infantry both from fire and from disease. Is it because the cavalry is
the aristocratic arm? This explains why in long wars it improves much
more than the infantry.
As there are few losses between cavalry and cavalry, so there is
Hannibal's Numidians, like the Russian Cossacks, inspired a veritable
terror by the incessant alarms they caused. They tired out without
fighting and killed by surprise.
Why is the cavalry handled so badly?--It is true that infantry is not
used better.--Because its role is one of movement, of morale, of
morale and movement so united, that movement alone, often without a
charge or shock action of any sort can drive the enemy into retreat,
and, if followed closely, into rout. That is a result of the quickness
of cavalry. One who knows how to make use of this quickness alone can
obtain such results.
All writers on cavalry will tell you that the charge pushed home of
two cavalry bodies and the shock at top speed do not exist. Always
before the encounter, the weaker runs away, if there is not a face to
face check. What becomes then of the MV squared? If this famous
MV squared is an empty word, why then crush your horses under giants,
forgetting that in the formula besides M there is V squared. In a
charge, there is M, there is V squared, there is this and that. There
is resolution, and I believe, nothing else that counts!
Cohesion and unity give force to the charge. Alignment is impossible
at a fast gait where the most rapid pass the others. Only when the
moral effect has been produced should the gait be increased to take
advantage of it by falling upon an enemy already in disorder, in the
act of fleeing. The cuirassiers charge at a trot. This calm steadiness
frightens the enemy into an about face. Then they charge at his back,
at a gallop.
They say that at Eckmuhl, for every French cuirassier down, fourteen
Austrians were struck in the back. Was it because they had no
back-plate? It is evident that it was because they offered their backs
to the blows.
Jomini speaks of charges at a trot against cavalry at a gallop. He
cites Lasalle who used the trot and who, seeing cavalry approach at a
gallop, would say: "There are lost men." Jomini insists on the effect
of shock. The trot permits that compactness which the gallop breaks
up. That may be true. But the effect is moral above all. A troop at
the gallop sees a massed squadron coming towards it at a trot. It is
surprised at first at such coolness. The material impulse of the
gallop is superior; but there are no intervals, no gaps through which
to penetrate the line in order to avoid the shock, the shock that
overcomes men and horses. These men must be very resolute, as their
close ranks do not permit them to escape by about facing. If they move
at such a steady gait, it is because their resolution is also firm and
they do not feel the need of running away, of diverting themselves by
the unchecked speed of the unrestrained gallop, etc. 
Galloping men do not reason these things out, but they know them
instinctively. They understand that they have before them a moral
impulse superior to theirs. They become uneasy, hesitate. Their hands
instinctively turn their horses aside. There is no longer freedom in
the attack at a gallop. Some go on to the end, but three-fourths have
already tried to avoid the shock. There is complete disorder,
demoralization, flight. Then begins the pursuit at a gallop by the men
who attacked at the trot.
The charge at a trot exacts of leaders and men complete confidence and
steadfastness. It is the experience of battle only that can give this
temper to all. But this charge, depending on a moral effect, will not
always succeed. It is a question of surprise. Xenophon  recommended,
in his work on cavalry operations, the use of surprise, the use of the
gallop when the trot is customary, and vice-versa. "Because," he says,
"agreeable or terrible, the less a thing is foreseen, the more
pleasure or fright does it cause. This is nowhere seen better than in
war, where every surprise strikes terror even to the strongest."
As a general rule, the gallop is and should be necessary in the
charge; it is the winning, intoxicating gait, for men and horses. It
is taken up at such a distance as may be necessary to insure its
success, whatever it may cost in men and horses. The regulations are
correct in prescribing that the charge be started close up. If the
troopers waited until the charge was ordered, they would always
succeed. I say that strong men, moved by pride or fear, by taking up
too soon the charge against a firm enemy, have caused more charges to
fail than to succeed. Keeping men in hand until the command "charge,"
seizing the precise instant for this command, are both difficult. They
exact of the energetic leader domination over his men and a keen eye,
at a moment when three out of four men no longer see anything, so that
good cavalry leaders, squadron leaders in general are very rare. Real
charges are just as rare.
Actual shock no longer exists. The moral impulse of one of the
adversaries nearly always upsets the other, perhaps far off, perhaps a
little nearer. Were this "a little nearer," face to face, one of the
two troops would be already defeated before the first saber cut and
would disentangle itself for flight. With actual shock, all would be
thrown into confusion. A real charge on the one part or the other
would cause mutual extermination. In practice the victor scarcely
loses any one.
Observation demonstrates that cavalry does not close with cavalry; its
deadly combats are those against infantry alone.
Even if a cavalryman waits without flinching, his horse will wish to
escape, to shrink before the collision. If man anticipates, so does
the horse. Why did Frederick like to see his center closed in for the
assault? As the best guarantee against the instincts of man and horse.
The cavalry of Frederick had ordinarily only insignificant losses: a
result of determination.
The men want to be distracted from the advancing danger by movement.
The cavalrymen who go at the enemy, if left to themselves, would start
at a gallop, for fear of not arriving, or of arriving exhausted and
material for carnage. The same is true of the Arabs. Note what
happened in 1864 to the cavalry of General Martineau. The rapid move
relieves anxiety. It is natural to wish to lessen it. But the leaders
are there, whom experience, whom regulations order to go slowly, then
to accelerate progressively, so as to arrive with the maximum of
speed. The procedure should be the walk, then the trot, after that the
gallop, then the charge. But it takes a trained eye to estimate
distance and the character of the terrain, and, if the enemy
approaches, to pick the point where one should meet him. The nearer
one approaches, the greater among the troops is the question of
morale. The necessity of arriving at the greatest speed is not alone a
mechanical question, since indeed one never clashes, it is a moral
necessity. It is necessary to seize the moment at which the uneasiness
of one's men requires the intoxication of the headlong charging
gallop. An instant too late, and a too great anxiety has taken the
upper hand and caused the hands of the riders to act on the horses;
the start is not free; a number hide by remaining behind. An instant
too soon: before arrival the speed has slowed down; the animation, the
intoxication of the run, fleeting things, are exhausted. Anxiety takes
the upper hand again, the hands act instinctively, and even if the
start were unhampered, the arrival is not.
Frederick and Seidlitz were content when they saw the center of the
charging squadron three and four ranks deep. It was as if they
understood that with this compact center, as the first lines could not
escape to the right or left, they were forced to continue straight
In order to rush like battering-rams, even against infantry, men and
horses ought to be watered and fresh (Ponsomby's cavalry at Waterloo).
If there is ever contact between cavalry, the shock is so weakened by
the hands of the men, the rearing of the horses, the swinging of
heads, that both sides come to a halt.
Only the necessity for carrying along the man and the horse at the
supreme moment, for distracting them, necessitates the full gallop
before attacking the enemy, before having put him to flight.
Charges at the gallop of three or four kilometers, suppose horses of
Because morale is not studied and because historical accounts are
taken too literally, each epoch complains that cavalry forces are no
longer seen charging and fighting with the sword, that too much
prudence dictates running away instead of clashing with the enemy.
These plaints have been made ever since the Empire, both by the
allies, and by us. But this has always been true. Man was never
invulnerable. The charging gait has almost always been the trot. Man
does not change. Even the combats of cavalry against cavalry today are
deadlier than they were in the lamented days of chivalry.
The retreat of the infantry is always more difficult than that of the
cavalry; the latter is simple. A cavalry repulsed and coming back in
disorder is a foreseen, an ordinary happening; it is going to rally at
a distance. It often reappears with advantage. One can almost say, in
view of experience, that such is its role. An infantry that is
repelled, especially if the action has been a hot one and the cavalry
rushes in, is often disorganized for the rest of the day.
Even authors who tell you that two squadrons never collide, tell you
continually: "The force of cavalry is in the shock." In the terror of
the shock, Yes. In the shock, No! It lies only in determination. It is
a mental and not a mechanical condition.
Never give officers and men of the cavalry mathematical demonstrations
of the charge. They are good only to shake confidence. Mathematical
reasoning shows a mutual collapse that never takes place. Show them
the truth. Lasalle with his always victorious charge at a trot guarded
against similar reasonings, which might have demonstrated to him
mathematically that a charge of cuirassiers at a trot ought to be
routed by a charge of hussars at a gallop. He simply told them: "Go
resolutely and be sure that you will never find a daredevil determined
enough to come to grips with you." It is necessary to be a daredevil
in order to go to the end. The Frenchman is one above all. Because he
is a good trooper in battle, when his commanders themselves are
daredevils he is the best in Europe. (Note the days of the Empire, the
remarks of Wellington, a good judge). If moreover, his leaders use a
little head work, that never harms anything. The formula of the
cavalry is R (Resolution) and R, and always R, and R is greater than
all the MV squared in the world.
There is this important element in the pursuit of cavalry by cavalry.
The pursued cannot halt without delivering himself up to the pursuer.
The pursuer can always see the pursued. If the latter halts and starts
to face about the pursuer can fall upon him before he is faced, and
take him by surprise. But the pursued does not know how many are
pursuing him. If he alone halts two pursuers may rush on him, for they
see ahead of them and they naturally attack whoever tries to face
about. For with the about face danger again confronts them. The
pursuit is often instigated by the fear that the enemy will turn. The
material fact that once in flight all together cannot turn again
without risking being surprised and overthrown, makes the flight
continuous. Even the bravest flee, until sufficient distance between
them and the enemy, or some other circumstances such as cover or
supporting troops, permits of a rally and a return to the offensive.
In this case the pursuit may turn into flight in its turn.
Cavalry is insistent on attacking on an equal front. Because, if with
a broader front, the enemy gives way before it, his wings may attack
it and make it the pursued instead of the pursuer. The moral effect of
resolution is so great that cavalry, breaking and pursuing a more
numerous cavalry, is never pursued by the enemy wings. However the
idea that one may be taken in rear by forces whom one has left on the
flanks in a position to do so, has such an effect that the resolution
necessary for an attack under these circumstances is rare.
Why is it that Colonel A---- does not want a depth formation for
cavalry, he who believes in pressure of the rear ranks on the first?
It is because at heart he is convinced that only the first rank can
act in a cavalry charge, and that this rank can receive no impression,
no speeding up, from those behind it.
There is debate as to the advantage of one or two ranks for the
cavalry. This again is a matter of morale. Leave liberty of choice,
and under varying conditions of confidence and morale one or the other
will be adopted. There are enough officers for either formation.
It is characteristic of cavalry to advance further than infantry and
consequently it exposes its flanks more. It then needs more reserves
to cover its flanks and rear than does infantry. It needs reserves to
protect and to support the pursuers who are almost always pursued when
they return. With cavalry even more than infantry victory belongs to
the last reserves held intact. The one with the reserves is always the
one who can take the offensive. Tie to that, and no one can stand
With room to maneuver cavalry rallies quickly. In deep columns it
The engagement of cavalry lasts only a moment. It must be reformed
immediately. With a roll call at each reforming, it gets out of hand
less than the infantry, which, once engaged, has little respite. There
should be a roll call for cavalry, and for infantry after an advance,
at each lull. There should be roll calls at drill and in field
maneuvers, not that they are necessary but in order to become
habituated to them. Then the roll call will not be forgotten on the
day of action, when very few think of what ought to be done.
In the confusion and speed of cavalry action, man escapes more easily