Part 4 out of 5
from surveillance. In our battles his action is increasingly
individual and rapid. The cavalryman should not be left too free; that
would be dangerous. Frequently in action troops should be reformed and
the roll called. It would be an error not to do so. There might be ten
to twenty roll calls in a day. The officers, the soldiers, would then
have a chance to demand an accounting from each man, and might demand
it the next day.
Once in action, and that action lasts, the infantryman of today
escapes from the control of his officers. This is due to the disorder
inherent in battle, to deployment, to the absence of roll calls, which
cannot be held in action. Control, then, can only be in the hands of
his comrades. Of modern arms infantry is the one in which there is the
greatest need for cohesion.
Cavalry always fights very poorly and very little. This has been true
from antiquity, when the cavalryman was of a superior caste to the
infantryman, and ought to have been braver.
Anybody advancing, cavalry or infantry, ought to scout and reconnoiter
as soon as possible the terrain on which it acts. Conde forgot this at
Neerwinden. The 55th forgot it at Solferino.  Everybody forgets it.
And from the failure to use skirmishers and scouts, come mistakes and
The cavalry has a rifle for exceptional use. Look out that this
exception does not become the rule. Such a tendency has been seen. At
the battle of Sicka, the first clash was marred by the lack of dash on
the part of a regiment of Chasseurs d'Afrique, which after being sent
off at the gallop, halted to shoot. At the second clash General
Bugeaud charged at their head to show them how to charge.
A young Colonel of light cavalry, asked carbines for his cavalry.
"Why? So that if I want to reconnoiter a village I can sound it from a
distance of seven or eight hundred meters without losing anybody."
What can you say to a man advancing such ideas? Certainly the carbine
makes everybody lose common sense.
The work of light cavalry makes it inevitable that they be captured
sometimes. It is impossible to get news of the enemy without
approaching him. If one man escapes in a patrol, that is enough. If no
one comes back, even that fact is instructive. The cavalry is a
priceless object that no leader wants to break. However it is only by
breaking it that results can be obtained.
Some authors think of using cavalry as skirmishers, mounted or
dismounted. I suppose they advance holding the horse by the bridle?
This appears to be to be an absurdity. If the cavalryman fires he will
not charge. The African incident cited proves that. It would be better
to give the cavalryman two pistols than a carbine.
The Americans in their vast country where there is unlimited room,
used cavalry wisely in sending it off on distant forays to cut
communications, make levies, etc. What their cavalry did as an arm in
battle is unknown. The cavalry raids in the American war were part of
a war directed against wealth, against public works, against
resources. It was war of destruction of riches, not of men. The
raiding cavalry had few losses, and inflicted few losses. The cavalry
is always the aristocratic arm which loses very lightly, even if it
risks all. At least it has the air of risking all, which is something
at any rate. It has to have daring and daring is not so common. But
the merest infantry engagements in equal numbers costs more than the
most brilliant cavalry raid.
3. Cavalry Against Infantry
Cavalry knows how to fight cavalry. But how it fights infantry not one
cavalry officer in a thousand knows. Perhaps not one of them knows. Go
to it then gaily, with general uncertainty!
A military man, a participant in our great wars, recommends as
infallible against infantry in line the charge from the flank, horse
following horse. He would have cavalry coming up on the enemy's left,
pass along his front and change direction so as to use its arms to the
right. This cavalryman is right. Such charges should give excellent
results, the only deadly results. The cavalryman can only strike to
his right, and in this way each one strikes. Against ancient infantry
such charges would have been as valuable as against modern infantry.
This officer saw with his own eyes excellent examples of this attack
in the wars of the Empire. I do not doubt either the facts he cites or
the deductions he makes. But for such charges there must be officers
who inspire absolute confidence in their men and dependable and
experienced soldiers. There is necessary, in short, an excellent
cavalry, seasoned by long wars, and officers and men of very firm
resolution. So it is not astonishing that examples of this mode of
action are rare. They always will be. They always require a head for
the charge, an isolated head, and when he is actually about to strike,
he will fall back into the formation. It seems to him that lost in the
mass he risks less than when alone. Everybody is willing to charge,
but only if all charge together. It is a case of belling the cat.
The attack in column on infantry has a greater moral action than the
charge in line. If the first and second squadrons are repulsed, but
the infantry sees a third charging through the dust, it will say "When
is this going to stop?" And it will be shaken.
An extract from Folard: "Only a capable officer is needed to get the
best results from a cavalry which has confidence in its movement,
which is known to be good and vigorous, and also is equipped with
excellent weapons. Such cavalry will break the strongest battalions,
if its leader has sense enough to know its power and courage enough to
use this power."
Breaking is not enough, and is a feat that costs more than it is worth
if the whole battalion is not killed or taken prisoner, or at least if
the cavalry is not immediately followed by other troops, charged with
At Waterloo our cavalry was exhausted fruitlessly, because it acted
without artillery or infantry support.
At Krasno, August 14, 1812, Murat, at the head of his cavalry could
not break an isolated body of ten thousand Russian infantry which
continually held him off by its fire, and retired tranquilly across
The 72nd was upset by cavalry at Solferino.
From ancient days the lone infantryman has always had the advantage
over the lone cavalryman. There is no shadow of a doubt about this in
ancient narrations. The cavalryman only fought the cavalryman. He
threatened, harassed, troubled the infantryman in the rear, but he did
not fight him. He slaughtered him when put to flight by other
infantry, or at least he scattered him and the light infantry
Cavalry is a terrible weapon in the hands of one who knows how to use
it. Who can say that Epaminondas could have defeated the Spartans
twice without his Thessalonian cavalry.
Eventually rifle and artillery fire deafen the soldier; fatigue
overpowers him; he becomes inert; he hears commands no longer. If
cavalry unexpectedly appears, he is lost. Cavalry conquers merely by
its appearance. (Bismarck or Decker).
Modern cavalry, like ancient cavalry, has a real effect only on troops
already broken, on infantry engaged with infantry, on cavalry
disorganized by artillery fire or by a frontal demonstration. But
against such troops its action is decisive. In such cases its action
is certain and gives enormous results. You might fight all day and
lose ten thousand men, the enemy might lose as many, but if your
cavalry pursues him, it will take thirty thousand prisoners. Its role
is less knightly than its reputation and appearance, less so than the
role of infantry. It always loses much less than infantry. Its
greatest effect is the effect of surprise, and it is thereby that it
gets such astonishing results.
What formation should infantry, armed with modern weapons, take to
guard against flank attacks by cavalry? If one fires four times as
fast, if the fire is better sustained, one needs only a quarter as
many men to guard a point against cavalry. Protection might be secured
by using small groups, placed the range of a rifle shot apart and
flanking each other, left on the flank of the advance. But they must
be dependable troops, who will not be worried by what goes on behind
4. Armor and Armament
An armored cavalry is clearly required for moral reasons.
Note this with reference to the influence of cuirassiers (armored
cavalrymen) on morale. At the battle of Renty, in 1554, Tavannes, a
marshal, had with him his company armored in steel. It was the first
time that such armor had been seen. Supported by some hundreds of
fugitives who had rallied, he threw himself at the head of his
company, on a column of two thousand German cavalry who had just
thrown both infantry and cavalry into disorder. He chose his time so
well that he broke and carried away these two thousand Germans, who
fell back and broke the twelve hundred light horsemen who were
supporting them. There followed a general flight, and the battle was
General Renard says "The decadence of cavalry caused the disappearance
of their square formations in battle, which were characteristic in the
seventeenth century." It was not the decadence of the cavalry but the
abandonment of the cuirass and the perfecting of the infantry weapon
to give more rapid fire. When cuirassiers break through they serve as
examples, and emulation extends to others, who another time try to
break through as they did.
Why cuirassiers? Because they alone, in all history, have charged and
do charge to the end.
To charge to the end the cuirassiers need only half the courage of the
dragoons, as their armor raises their morale one half. But since the
cuirassiers have as much natural courage as the dragoons, for they are
all the same men, it is proper to count the more on their action.
Shall we have only one kind of cavalry? Which? If all our cavalry
could wear the cuirass and at the same time do the fatiguing work of
light cavalry, if all our horses could in addition carry the cuirass
through such work, I say that there should be only cuirassiers. But I
do not understand why the morale given by the cuirass should be
lightly done away with, merely to have one cavalry without the
A cavalryman armored completely and his horse partially, can charge
only at a trot.
On the appearance of fire arms, cavalry, according to General Ambert,
an author of the past, covered itself with masses of armor resembling
anvils rather than with cuirasses. It was at that time the essential
arm. Later as infantry progressed the tactics changed, it needed more
mobility. Permanent armies began to be organized by the State. The
State thought less of the skin of the individual than of economy and
mobility and almost did away with cuirassiers. The cuirass has always
given, and today more than ever it will give, confidence to the
cavalryman. Courage, dash, and speed have a value beyond that of mere
mass. I leave aside mathematical discussions which seem to me to have
nothing in common with battle conditions. I would pick to wear the
cuirass the best men in the army, big chested, red-blooded, strong
limbed, the foot chasseurs. I would organize a regiment of light
cuirassiers for each of our divisions. Men and horses, such a cavalry
would be much more robust and active than our present cuirassiers. If
our armored cavalry is worth more than any other arm by its dash in
battle, this cavalry would be worth twice as much. But how would these
men of small stature get into the saddle? To this serious objection I
answer, "They will arrange it." And this objection, which I do not
admit, is the only one that can be made against the organization of a
light armored cavalry, an organization that is made imperative by the
improvement in weapons. The remainder of those chasseur battalions
which furnish cuirassiers, should return to the infantry, which has
long demanded them, and hussars and dragoons, dismounted in the
necessary number will also be welcomed by the infantry.
As for the thrust, the thrust is deadlier than the cut. You do not
have to worry about lifting your arm; you thrust. But it is necessary
that the cavalryman be convinced that to parry a vertical cut is
folly. This can be done by his officers, by those who have had
experience, if there are any such in peace times. This is not easy.
But in this respect, as in all others, the advantage lies with the
brave. A cavalry charge is a matter of morale above all. It is
identical in its methods, its effects, with the infantry charge. All
the conditions to be fulfilled in the charge (walk, trot, gallop,
charge, etc.) have a reason bearing on morale. These reasons have
already been touched on.
Roman discipline and character demand tenacity. The hardening of the
men to fatigue, and a good organization, giving mutual support,
produced that tenacity, against which the bravest could not stand. The
exhausting method of powerful strokes used by the Gauls could not last
long against the skillful, terrible and less fatiguing method of
fighting by the thrust.
The Sikh cavalrymen of M. Nolan armed with dragoon sabers sharpened by
themselves, liked the cut. They knew nothing about methods of
swordsmanship; they did not practice. They said "A good saber and a
willingness to use it are enough." True, True!
There is always discussion as to the lance or the saber. The lance
requires skillful vigorous cavalrymen, good horsemen, very well
drilled, very adroit, for the use of the lance is more difficult than
that of the straight sword, especially if the sword is not too heavy.
Is not this an answer to the question? No matter what is done, no
matter what methods are adopted, it must always be remembered that our
recruits in war time are sent into squadrons as into battalions, with
a hasty and incomplete training. If you give them lances, most of them
will just have sticks in their hands, while a straight sword at the
end of a strong arm is at the same time simple and terrible. A short
trident spear, with three short points just long enough to kill but
not only enough to go through the body, would remain in the body of
the man and carry him along. It would recoil on the cavalryman who
delivered the blow, he would be upset by the blow himself. But the
dragoon must be supported by the saddle, and as he had kept hold of
the shaft he would be able to disengage the fork which had pierced the
body some six inches. No cavalry of equal morale could stand against a
cavalry armed with such forked spears.
As between forks and lances, the fork would replace the lance. That
is, of course, for beginners in mounted fencing. But the fork! It
would be ridiculous, not military!
With the lance one always figures without the horse, whose slightest
movement diverts the lance so much. The lance is a weapon frightful
even to the mounted man who uses it properly. If he sticks an enemy at
the gallop, he is dismounted, torn off by the arm attached to the
lance which remains in the body of his enemy.
Cavalry officers and others who seek examples in "Victories and
Conquests," in official reports, in "Bazancourt" are too naive. It is
hard to get at the truth. In war, in all things, we take the last
example which we have witnessed. And now we want lances, which we do
not know how to use, which frighten the cavalryman himself and pluck
him from the saddle if he sticks anybody. We want no more cuirasses;
we want this and that. We forget that the last example gives only a
restricted number of instances relating to the matter in question.
It appears, according to Xenophon, that it was not easy to throw the
dart from horseback. He constantly recommends obtaining as many men as
possible who know how to throw the dart. He recommends leaning well
back to avoid falling from the horse in the charge. In reading
Xenophon it is evident that there was much falling from the horse.
It appears that in battle there is as great difficulty in handling the
saber as in handling the bayonet. Another difficulty for the
cavalryman lies in the handling of the musket. This is seen in the
handling of the regulation weapon of the Spahis. There is only one
important thing for the cavalryman, to be well seated. Men should be
on horseback for hours at a time, every day, from their arrival in the
organization. If the selection of those who know something about
horses was not neglected in the draft, and if such men were, made
cavalrymen, the practical training of the greater number would be much
more rapidly concluded. I do not speak of the routine of the stable.
Between mounted drills, foot drills might be gone through with in a
snappy, free fashion, without rigidity, with daily increasing speed.
Such drills would instruct cavalrymen more rapidly than the restricted
A dragoon horse carries in campaign with one day's food three hundred
and eight pounds, without food or forage two hundred and seventy seven
pounds. How can such horses carry this and have speed?
Seek the end always, not the means! Make a quarter of your cavalrymen
into muleteers, a quarter of your horses into pack animals. You will
thus secure, for the remaining three quarters unquestioned vigor. But
how will you make up these pack trains? You will have plenty of
wounded horses after a week of campaign.
If artillery did not have a greater range than the rifle, we could not
risk separating it far from its support, as it would have to wait
until the enemy was but four or five hundred paces away to fire on
him. But the more its range is increased, the further away it can be
placed from its support.
The greater the range of artillery, the greater freedom of action from
the different arms, which no longer have to be side by side to give
The greater the range of artillery, the easier it is to concentrate
its fire. Two batteries fifteen hundred meters apart can concentrate
on a point twelve hundred meters in front of and between them. Before
the range was so long they had to be close together, and the terrain
did not always lend itself to this.
Furthermore, do not support a piece by placing infantry just behind or
alongside of it, as is done three-quarters of the time at maneuvers.
On the contrary hide the infantry to the right or left and far behind,
cover it without worrying too much about distance and let the
artillery call for help if they think that the piece is in danger of
being lost. Why should infantry be placed too close, and consequently
have its advance demoralized? This will throw away the greatest
advantage that we Frenchmen have in defense, that of defending
ourselves by advancing, with morale unimpaired, because we have not
suffered heavy losses at a halt. There is always time to run to the
defense of artillery. To increase the moral effect advance your
supports in formation. Skirmishers can also be swiftly scattered among
the batteries. These skirmishers, in the midst of the guns will not
have to fear cavalry. Even if they are assailed by infantry it will
not be such a terrible thing. The engagement will merely be one
between skirmishers, and they will be able to take cover behind the
pieces, firing against the enemy who is coming up in the open.
Guibert, I believe, held that artillery should not worry whether it
was supported or not; that it should fire up to the last minute, and
finally abandon the pieces, which supporting troops might or might not
recapture. These supporting troops should not be too close. It is
easier to defend pieces, to take them back even, by advancing on an
enemy dispersed among them, than to defend them by standing fast after
having participated in the losses suffered by the artillery under
fire. (Note the English in Spain. The system of having artillery
followed by infantry platoons is absurd.)
Artillery in battle has its men grouped around the pieces, stationary
assembly points, broadly distributed, each one having its commander
and its cannoneers, who are always the same. Thus there is in effect a
roll call each time artillery is put into battery. Artillery carries
its men with it; they cannot be lost nor can they hide. If the officer
is brave, his men rarely desert him. Certainly, in all armies, it is
in the artillery that the soldier can best perform his duty.
As General Leboeuf tells us, four batteries of artillery can be
maneuvered, not more. That is all right. Here is the thing in a
nut-shell. Four battalions is a big enough command for a colonel. A
general has eight battalions. He gets orders, "General, do so and so."
He orders, "Colonel, do so and so." So that without any maneuvers
being laid down for more than four battalions, as many battalions as
you like can be maneuvered and drilled.
COMMAND, GENERAL STAFF, AND ADMINISTRATION
There are plenty of carefree generals, who are never worried nor
harassed. They do not bother about anything. They say, "I advance.
Follow me." The result is an incredible disorder in the advance of
columns. If ten raiders should fall on the column with a shout, this
disorder would become a rout, a disaster. But these gentlemen never
bother with such an eventuality. They are the great men of the day,
until the moment that some disaster overwhelms them.
Cavalry is no more difficult to work with than infantry. According to
some military authors, a cavalry general ought to have the wisdom of
the phoenix. The perfect one should have. So should the perfect
infantry general. Man on horseback and man afoot is always the same
man. Only, the infantry general rarely has to account for the losses
in his command, which may have been due to faulty or improper
handling. The cavalry general does have to do this. (We shall lay
aside the reasons why.) The infantry general has six chances for real
battle to one for the cavalry general. These are the two reasons why,
from the beginning of a war, more initiative is found in infantry than
in cavalry generals. General Bugeaud might have made a better cavalry
general than an infantry general. Why? Because he had immediate
decision and firm resolution. There is more need for resolution in the
infantryman than in the cavalryman. Why? There are many reasons, which
are matters of opinion.
In short, the infantryman is always more tired than the cavalryman.
His morale is therefore harder to keep up. I believe therefore that a
good infantry general is rarer than one of cavalry. Also, the
resolution of an infantry general does not have to last for a moment
only; it has to endure for a long, long time.
Good artillery generals are common. They are less concerned with
morale than with other things, such as material results. They have
less need to bother about the morale of their troops, as combat
discipline is always better with them than with the other arms. This
is shown elsewhere.
Brigadier generals ought to be in their prescribed places. Very well,
but the most of them are not and never have been. They were required
to be in place at the battle of Moscow, but, as they were so ordered
there, it is evident that they were not habitually in place. They are
men; and their rank, it seems to them, ought to diminish rather than
increase the risks they have to run. And, then, in actual engagement,
where is their prescribed place?
When one occupies a high command there are many things which he
does not see. The general-in-chief, even a division commander, can
only escape this failing by great activity, moved by strict
conscientiousness and aided by clairvoyance. This failing extends to
those about him, to his heads of services. These men live well, sleep
well; the same must be true of all! They have picked, well-conditioned
horses; the roads are excellent! They are never sick; the doctors must
be exaggerating sickness! They have attendants and doctors; everybody
must be well looked after! Something happens which shows abominable
negligence, common enough in war. With a good heart and a full belly
they say, "But this is infamous, unheard of! It could not have
happened! It is impossible! etc."
To-day there is a tendency, whose cause should be sought, on the part
of superiors to infringe on the authority of inferiors. This is
general. It goes very high and is furthered by the mania for command,
inherent in the French character. It results in lessening the
authority of subordinate officers in the minds of their soldiers. This
is a grave matter, as only the firm authority and prestige of
subordinate officers can maintain discipline. The tendency is to
oppress subordinates; to want to impose on them, in all things, the
views of the superior; not to admit of honest mistakes, and to reprove
them as faults; to make everybody, even down to the private, feel that
there is only one infallible authority. A colonel, for instance, sets
himself up as the sole authority with judgment and intelligence. He
thus takes all initiative from subordinate officers, and reduces them
to a state of inertia, coming from their lack of confidence in
themselves and from fear of being severely reproved. How many
generals, before a regiment, think only of showing how much they know!
They lessen the authority of the colonel. That is nothing to them.
They have asserted their superiority, true or false; that is the
essential. With cheeks puffed out, they leave, proud of having
This firm hand which directs so many things is absent for a moment.
All subordinate officers up to this moment have been held with too
strong a hand, which has kept them in a position not natural to them.
Immediately they are like a horse, always kept on a tight rein, whose
rein is loosened or missing. They cannot in an instant recover that
confidence in themselves, that has been painstakingly taken away from
them without their wishing it. Thus, in such a moment conditions
become unsatisfactory, the soldier very quickly feels that the hand
that holds him vacillates.
"Ask much, in order to obtain a little," is a false saying, a source
of errors, an attack on discipline. One ought to obtain what one asks.
It is only necessary to be moderately reasonable and practical.
In following out this matter, one is astonished at the lack of
foresight found in three out of four officers. Why? Is there anything
so difficult about looking forward a little? Are three-quarters of the
officers so stupid? No! It is because their egoism, generally frankly
acknowledged, allow them to think only of who is looking at them. They
think of their troops by chance perhaps, or because they have to.
Their troops are never their preoccupation, consequently they do not
think about them at all. A major in command of an organization in
Mexico, on his first march in a hot country, started without full
canteens, perhaps without canteens at all, without any provision for
water, as he might march in France. No officer in his battalion called
his attention to the omission, nor was more foresighted than he. In
this first march, by an entire lack of foresight in everything, he
lost, in dead, half of his command. Was he reduced? No! He was made a
Officers of the general staff learn to order, not to command. "Sir, I
order," a popular phrase, applies to them.
The misfortune is not that there is a general staff, but that it has
achieved command. For it always has commanded, in the name of its
commanders it is true, and never obeyed, which is its duty. It
commands in fact. So be it! But just the same it is not supposed to.
Is it the good quality of staffs or that of combatants that makes the
strength of armies? If you want good fighting men, do everything to
excite their ambition, to spare them, so that people of intelligence
and with a future will not despise the line but will elect to serve in
it. It is the line that gives you your high command, the line only,
and very rarely the staff. The staff, however, dies infrequently,
which is something. Do they say that military science can only be
learned in the general staff schools? If you really want to learn to
do your work, go to the line.
To-day, nobody knows anything unless he knows how to argue and
chatter. A peasant knows nothing, he is a being unskilled even in
cultivating the soil. But the agriculturist of the office is a farmer
emeritus, etc. Is it then believed that there is ability only in the
general staff? There is the assurance of the scholar there, of the
pedagogue who has never practiced what he preaches. There is book
learning, false learning when it treats of military matters. But
knowledge of the real trade of a soldier, knowledge of what is
possible, knowledge of blows given and received, all these are
Slowness of promotion in the general staff as compared to its rapidity
in the line might make many men of intelligence, of head and heart,
pass the general staff by and enter the line to make their own way. To
be in the line would not then be a brevet of imbecility. But to-day
when general staff officers rank the best of the line, the latter are
discouraged and rather than submit to this situation, all who feel
themselves fitted for advancement want to be on the general staff. So
much the better? So much the worse. Selection is only warranted by
How administrative deceits, in politics or elsewhere, falsify the
conclusions drawn from a fact!
In the Crimea one hundred per cent. of the French operated upon
succumbed, while only twenty-seven per cent. of the English operated
upon died. That was attributed to the difference in temperament! The
great cause of this discrepancy was the difference in care. Our
newspapers followed the self-satisfied and rosy statements given out
by our own supply department. They pictured our sick in the Crimea
lying in beds and cared for by sisters of charity. The fact is that
our soldiers never had sheets, nor mattresses, nor the necessary
changes of clothes in the hospitals; that half, three-quarters, lay on
mouldy straw, on the ground, under canvass. The fact is, that such
were the conditions under which typhus claimed twenty-five to thirty
thousand of our sick after the siege; that thousands of pieces of
hospital equipment were offered by the English to our Quartermaster
General, and that he refused them! Everybody ought to have known that
he would! To accept such equipment was to acknowledge that he did not
have it. And he ought to have had it. Indeed he did according to the
newspapers and the Quartermaster reports. There were twenty-five beds
per hospital so that it could be said, "We have beds!" Each hospital
had at this time five hundred or more sick.
These people are annoyed if they are called hypocrites. While our
soldiers were in hospitals, without anything, so to speak, the English
had big, well-ventilated tents, cots, sheets, even night stands with
urinals. And our men had not even a cup to drink from! Sick men were
cared for in the English hospitals. They might have been in ours,
before they died, which they almost always did.
It is true that we had the typhus and the English had not. That was
because our men in tents had the same care as in our hospitals, and
the English the same care as in their hospitals.
Read the war reports of supply departments and then go unexpectedly to
verify them in the hospitals and storehouses. Have them verified by
calling up and questioning the heads of departments, but question them
conscientiously, without dictating the answers. In the Crimea, in May
of the first year, we were no better off than the English who
complained so much, Who has dared to say, however, that from the time
they entered the hospital to the time that they left it, dead,
evacuated, or cured, through fifteen or twenty days of cholera or
typhus, our men lay on the same plank, in the same shoes, drawers,
shirts and clothing that they brought in with them? They were in a
state of living putrefaction that would by itself have killed well
men! The newspapers chanted the praises of the admirable French
administration. The second winter the English had no sick, a smaller
percentage than in London. But to the eternal shame of the French
command and administration we lost in peace time, twenty-five to
thirty thousand of typhus and more than one thousand frozen to death.
Nevertheless, it appeared that we had the most perfect administration
in the world, and that our generals, no less than our administration,
were full of devoted solicitude to provide all the needs of the
soldier. That is an infamous lie, and is known as such, let us hope.
The Americans have given us a good example. The good citizens have
gone themselves to see how their soldiers were treated and have
provided for them themselves. When, in France, will good citizens lose
faith in this best of administrations which is theirs? When will they,
confident in themselves, do spontaneously, freely, what their
administration cannot and never will be able to do?
The first thing disorganized in an army is the administration. The
simplest foresight, the least signs even of order disappear in a
retreat. (Note Russia-Vilna).
In the Crimea, and everywhere more or less, the doctor's visit was
without benefit to the patient. It was made to keep up his spirits,
but could not be followed by care, due to lack of personnel and
material. After two or three hours of work, the doctor was exhausted.
In a sane country the field and permanent hospitals ought to be able
to handle one-fifth of the strength at least. The hospital personnel
of to-day should be doubled. It is quickly cut down, and it ought to
have time, not only to visit the sick, but to care for them, feed
them, dose and dress them, etc.
SOCIAL AND MILITARY INSTITUTIONS.
Man's admiration for the great spectacles of nature is the admiration
for force. In the mountains it is mass, a force, that impresses him,
strikes him, makes him admire. In the calm sea it is the mysterious
and terrible force that he divines, that he feels in that enormous
liquid mass; in the angry sea, force again. In the wind, in the storm,
in the vast depth of the sky, it is still force that he admires.
All these things astounded man when he was young. He has become old,
and he knows them. Astonishment has turned to admiration, but always
it is the feeling of a formidable force which compels his admiration.
This explains his admiration for the warrior.
The warrior is the ideal of the primitive man, of the savage, of the
barbarian. The more people rise in moral civilization, the lower this
ideal falls. But with the masses everywhere the warrior still is and
for a long time will be the height of their ideals. This is because
man loves to admire the force and bravery that are his own attributes.
When that force and bravery find other means to assert themselves, or
at least when the crowd is shown that war does not furnish the best
examples of them, that there are truer and more exalted examples, this
ideal will give way to a higher one.
Nations have an equal sovereignty based on their existence as states.
They recognize no superior jurisdiction and call on force to decide
their differences. Force decides. Whether or not might was right, the
weaker bows to necessity until a more successful effort can be made.
(Prud'homme). It is easy to understand Gregory VII's ideas on the
In peace, armies are playthings in the hands of princes. If the
princes do not know anything about them, which is usually the case,
they disorganize them. If they understand them, like the Prince of
Prussia, they make their armies strong for war.
The King of Prussia and the Prussian nobility, threatened by
democracy, have had to change the passion for equality in their people
into a passion for domination over foreign nations. This is easily
done, when domination is crowned with success, for man, who is merely
the friend of equality is the lover of domination. So that he is
easily made to take the shadow for the substance. They have succeeded.
They are forced to continue with their system. Otherwise their status
as useful members of society would be questioned and they would perish
as leaders in war. Peace spells death to a nobility. Consequently
nobles do not desire it, and stir up rivalries among peoples,
rivalries which alone can justify their existence as leaders in war,
and consequently as leaders in peace. This is why the military spirit
is dead in France. The past does not live again. In the spiritual as
in the physical world, what is dead is dead. Death comes only with the
exhaustion of the elements, the conditions which are necessary for
life. For these reasons revolutionary wars continued into the war with
Prussia. For these reasons if we had been victorious we would have
found against us the countries dominated by nobilities, Austria,
Russia, England. But with us vanquished, democracy takes up her work
in all European countries, protected in the security which victory
always gives to victors. This work is slower but surer than the rapid
work of war, which, exalting rivalries, halts for a moment the work of
democracy within the nations themselves. Democracy then takes up her
work with less chance of being deterred by rivalry against us. Thus we
are closer to the triumph of democracy than if we had been victors.
French democracy rightfully desires to live, and she does not desire
to do so at the expense of a sacrifice of national pride. Then, since
she will still be surrounded for a long time by societies dominated by
the military element, by the nobility, she must have a dependable
army. And, as the military spirit is on the wane in France, it must be
replaced by having noncommissioned officers and officers well paid.
Good pay establishes position in a democracy, and to-day none turn to
the army, because it is too poorly paid. Let us have well paid
mercenaries. By giving good pay, good material can be secured, thanks
to the old warrior strain in the race. This is the price that must be
paid for security.
The soldier of our day is a merchant. So much of my flesh, of my
blood, is worth so much. So much of my time, of my affections, etc. It
is a noble trade, however, perhaps because man's blood is noble
merchandise, the finest that can be dealt in.
M. Guizot says "Get rich!" That may seem cynical to prudes, but it is
truly said. Those who deny the sentiment, and talk to-day so loftily,
what do they advise? If not by words, then by example they counsel the
same thing; and example is more contagious. Is not private wealth,
wealth in general, the avowed ambition sought by all, democrats and
others? Let us be rich, that is to say, let us be slaves of the needs
that wealth creates.
The Invalides in France, the institutions for pensioners, are superb
exhibits of pomp and ostentation. I wish that their founding had been
based on ideas of justice and Christianity and not purely on
military-political considerations. But the results are disastrous to
morality. This collection of weaklings is a school of depravity, where
the invalided soldier loses in vice his right to respect.
Some officers want to transform regiments into permanent schools for
officers of all ranks, with a two-hour course each day in law,
military art, etc. There is little taste for military life in France;
such a procedure would lessen it. The leisure of army life attracts
three out of four officers, laziness, if you like. But such is the
fact. If you make an officer a school-boy all his life he will send
his profession to the devil, if he can. And those who are able to do
so, will in general be those who have received the best education. An
army is an extraordinary thing, but since it is necessary, there
should be no astonishment that extraordinary means must be taken to
keep it up; such as offering in peace time little work and a great
deal of leisure. An officer is a sort of aristocrat, and in France we
have no finer ideal of aristocratic life than one of leisure. This is
not a proof of the highest ideals, nor of firmness of character. But
what is to be done about it?
From the fact that military spirit is lacking in our nation (and
officers are with greater difficulty than ever recruited in France) it
does not follow that we shall not have to engage in war. Perhaps the
contrary is true.
It is not patriotic to say that the military spirit is dead in France?
The truth is always patriotic. The military spirit died with the
French nobility, perished because it had to perish, because it was
exhausted, at the end of its life. That only dies which has no longer
the sap of life, and can no longer live. If a thing is merely sick it
can return to health. But who can say that of the French nobility? An
aristocracy, a nobility that dies, dies always by its own fault;
because it no longer performs its duties; because it fails in its
task; because its functions are of no more value to the state; because
there is no longer any reason for its existence in a society, whose
final tendency is to suppress its functions.
After 1789 had threatened our patriotism, the natural desire for
self-protection revived the military spirit in the nation and in the
army. The Empire developed this movement, changed the defensive
military spirit to the offensive, and used it with increasing effect
up to 1814 or 1815. The military spirit of the July Restoration was a
reminiscence, a relic of the Empire, a form of opposition to
government by liberalism instead of democracy. It was really the
spirit of opposition and not the military spirit, which is essentially
There is no military spirit in a democratic society, where there is no
aristocracy, no military nobility. A democratic society is
antagonistic to the military spirit.
The military spirit was unknown to the Romans. They made no
distinction between military and civil duties. I think that the
military air dates from the time that the profession of arms became a
private profession, from the time of the bravos, the Italian
condottieri, who were more terrifying to civilians than to the enemy.
When the Romans said "cedant arma togae," they did not refer to civil
officials and soldiers; the civil officials were then soldiers in
their turn; professional soldiers did not exist. They meant "might
gives way to right."
Machiavelli quotes a proverb, "War makes thieves and peace has them
hanged" The Spaniards in Mexico, which has been in rebellion for forty
years, are more or less thieves. They want to continue to ply the
trade. Civil authority exists no longer with them, and they would look
on obedience to such an authority as shameful. It is easy to
understand the difficulty of organizing a peaceful government in such
a country. Half the population would have to hang the other half. The
other half does not want to be hanged.
We are a democratic society; we become less and less military. The
Prussian, Russian, Austrian aristocracies which alone make the
military spirit of those states, feel in our democratic society an
example which threatens their existence, as nobility, as aristocracy.
They are our enemies and will be until they are wiped, out, until the
Russian, Austrian and Prussian states become democratic societies,
like ours. It is a matter of time.
The Prussian aristocracy is young. It has not been degenerated by
wealth, luxury and servility of the court. The Prussian court is not a
court in the luxurious sense of the word. There is the danger.
Meanwhile Machiavellian doctrines not being forbidden to
aristocracies, these people appeal to German Jingoism, to German
patriotism, to all the passions which move one people who are jealous
of another. All this is meant to hide under a patriotic exterior their
concern for their own existence as an aristocracy, as a nobility.
The real menace of the day is czarism, stronger than the czars
themselves, which calls for a crusade to drive back Russia and the
uncultured Slav race.
It is time that we understood the lack of power in mob armies; that we
recall to mind the first armies of the revolution that were saved from
instant destruction only by the lack of vigor and decision in European
cabinets and armies. Look at the examples of revolutionaries of all
times, who have all to gain and cannot hope for mercy. Since
Spartacus, have they not always been defeated? An army is not really
strong unless it is developed from a social institution. Spartacus and
his men were certainly terrible individual fighters. They were
gladiators used to struggle and death. They were prisoners, barbarian
slaves enraged by their loss of liberty, or escaped serfs, all men who
could not hope for mercy. What more terrible fighters could be
imagined? But discipline, leadership, all was improvised and could not
have the firm discipline coming down from the centuries and drawn from
the social institutions of the Romans. They were conquered. Time, a
long time, is needed to give to leaders the habit of command and
confidence in their authority--to the soldiers confidence in their
leaders and in their fellows. It is not enough to order discipline.
The officers must have the will to enforce it, and its vigorous
enforcement must instill subordination in the soldiers. It must make
them fear it more than they fear the enemy's blows.
How did Montluc fight, in an aristocratic society? Montluc shows us,
tells us. He advanced in the van of the assault, but in bad places he
pushed in front of him a soldier whose skin was not worth as much as
was his. He had not the slightest doubt or shame about doing this. The
soldier did not protest, the propriety of the act was so well
established. But you, officers, try that in a democratic army, such as
we have commenced to have, such as we shall later have!
In danger the officer is no better than the soldier. The soldier is
willing enough to advance, but behind his officer. Also, his comrades'
skin is no more precious than is his, they must advance too. This very
real concern about equality in danger, which seeks equality only,
brings on hesitation and not resolution. Some fools may break their
heads in closing in, but the remainder will fire from a distance. Not
that this will cause fewer losses, far from it.
Italy will never have a really firm army. The Italians are too
civilized, too fine, too democratic in a certain sense of the word.
The Spaniards are the same. This may cause laughter, but it is true.
The French are indeed worthy sons of their fathers, the Gauls. War,
the most solemn act in the life of a nation, the gravest of acts, is a
light thing to them. The good Frenchman lets himself be carried away,
inflamed by the most ridiculous feats of arms into the wildest
enthusiasm. Moreover he interprets the word "honor" in a fashion all
his own. An expedition is commenced without sufficient reason, and
good Frenchmen, who do not know why the thing is done, disapprove. But
presently blood is spilled. Good sense and justice dictate that this
spilled blood should taint those responsible for an unjust enterprise.
But jingoism says "French blood has been spilled: Honor is at stake!"
And millions of gold, which is the unit of labor, millions of men, are
sacrificed to a ridiculous high-sounding phrase.
Whence comes this tendency toward war which characterizes above all
the good citizen, the populace, who are not called upon personally to
participate? The military man is not so easily swayed. Some hope for
promotion or pension, but even they are sobered by their sense of
duty. It comes from the romance that clothes war and battle, and that
has with us ten times more than elsewhere, the power of exciting
enthusiasm in the people. It would be a service to humanity and to
one's people to dispell this illusion, and to show what battles are.
They are buffooneries, and none the less buffooneries because they are
made terrible by the spilling of blood. The actors, heroes in the eyes
of the crowd, are only poor folk torn between fear, discipline and
pride. They play some hours at a game of advance and retreat, without
ever meeting, closing with, even seeing closely, the other poor folks,
the enemy, who are as fearful as they but who are caught in the same
web of circumstance.
What should be considered is how to organize an army in a country in
which there is at the same time national and provincial feeling. Such
a country is France, where there is no longer any necessity for
uniting national and provincial feeling by mixing up the soldiers. In
France, will the powerful motif of pride, which comes from the
organization of units from particular provinces, be useful? From the
fusion of varying elements comes the character of our troops, which is
something to be considered. The make-up of the heavy cavalry should be
noted. It has perhaps too many Germans and men from the northern
French sociability creates cohesion in French troops more quickly than
could be secured in troops in other nations. Organization and
discipline have the same purpose. With a proud people like the French,
a rational organization aided by French sociability can often secure
desired results without it being necessary to use the coercion of
Marshal de Gouvion-Saint Cyr said, "Experienced soldiers know and
others ought to know that French soldiers once committed to the
pursuit of the enemy will not return to their organization that day
until forced back into it by the enemy. During this time they must be
considered as lost to the rest of the army."
At the beginning of the Empire, officers, trained in the wars of the
Revolution by incessant fighting, possessed great firmness. No one
would wish to purchase such firmness again at the same price. But in
our modern wars the victor often loses more than the vanquished, apart
from the temporary loss in prisoners. The losses exceed the resources
in good men, and discourage the exhausted, who appear to be very
numerous, and those who are skilled in removing themselves from
danger. Thus we fall into disorder. The Duke of Fezensac, testifying
of other times, shows us the same thing that happens to-day. Also
to-day we depend only on mass action, and at that game, despite the
cleverest strategic handling, we must lose all, and do.
French officers lack firmness but have pride. In the face of danger
they lack composure, they are disconcerted, breathless, hesitant,
forgetful, unable to think of a way out. They call, "Forward,
forward." This is one of the reasons why handling a formation in line
is difficult, especially since the African campaigns where much is
left to the soldier.
The formation in rank is then an ideal, unobtainable in modern war,
but toward which we should strive. But we are getting further away
from it. And then, when habit loses its hold, natural instinct resumes
its empire. The remedy lies in an organization which will establish
cohesion by the mutual acquaintanceship of all. This will make
possible mutual surveillance, which has such power over French pride.
It might be said that there are two kinds of war, that in open
country, and in the plain, and that of posts garrisoning positions in
broken country. In a great war, with no one occupying positions, we
should be lost immediately. Marshal Saxe knew us well when he said
that the French were best for a war of position. He recognized the
lack of stability in the ranks.
On getting within rifle range the rank formation tends to disappear.
You hear officers who have been under fire say "When you get near the
enemy, the men deploy as skirmishers despite you. The Russians group
under fire. Their holding together is the huddling of sheep moved by
fear of discipline and of danger." There are then two modes of conduct
under fire, the French and the Russian.
The Gauls, seeing the firmness of the Roman formation, chained
themselves together, making the first rank unbreakable and tying
living to dead. This forbade the virtue they had not divined in the
Roman formation, the replacement of wounded and exhausted by fresh
men. From this replacement came the firmness which seemed so striking
to the Gauls. The rank continually renewed itself.
Why does the Frenchman of to-day, in singular contrast to the Gaul,
scatter under fire? His natural intelligence, his instinct under the
pressure of danger causes him to deploy.
His method must be adopted. In view of the impossibility to-day of the
Roman Draconian discipline which put the fear of death behind the
soldier, we must adopt the soldier's method and try to put some order
into it. How? By French discipline and an organization that permits of
Broken, covered country is adapted to our methods. The zouaves at
Magenta could not have done so well on another kind of ground. 
Above all, with modern weapons, the terrain to be advanced over must
be limited in depth.
How much better modern tactics fit the impatient French character! But
also how necessary it is to guard against this impatience and to keep
supports and reserves under control.
It should be noted that German or Gallic cavalry was always better
than Roman cavalry, which could not hold against it, even though
certainly better armed. Why was this? Because decision, impetuosity,
even blind courage, have more chance with cavalry than with infantry.
The defeated cavalry is the least brave cavalry. (A note for our
cavalry here!) It was easier for the Gauls to have good cavalry than
it is for us, as fire did not bother them in the charge.
The Frenchman has more qualities of the cavalryman than of the
infantryman. Yet French infantry appears to be of greater value. Why?
Because the use of cavalry on the battlefield requires rare decision
and the seizing of the crucial opportunity. If the cavalryman has not
been able to show his worth, it is the fault of his leaders. French
infantry has always been defeated by English infantry. In cavalry
combat the English cavalry has always fled before the French in those
terrible cavalry battles that are always flights. Is this because in
war man lasts longer in the cavalry and because our cavalrymen were
older and more seasoned soldiers than our infantry? This does not
apply to us only. If it is true for our cavalrymen, it is also true
for the English cavalrymen. The reason is that on the field of battle
the role of the infantryman against a firm adversary requires more
coolness and nerve than does the role of the cavalryman. It requires
the use of tactics based on an understanding of the national
characteristics of ourselves and of our enemies. Against the English
the confidence in the charge that is implanted in our brains, was
completely betrayed. The role of cavalry against cavalry is simpler.
The French confidence in the charge makes good fighting cavalry, and
the Frenchman is better fitted than any other for this role. Our
cavalry charge better than any other. That is the whole thing, on the
battle field it is understood. As they move faster than infantry,
their dash, which has its limits, is better preserved when they get up
to the enemy.
The English have always fled before our cavalry. This proves that,
strong enough to hold before the moral impulse of our infantry, they
were not strong enough to hold before the stronger impulse of cavalry.
We ought to be much better cavalrymen than infantrymen, because the
essential in a cavalryman is a fearless impetuosity. That is for the
soldier. The cavalry leader ought to use this trait without
hesitation, at the same time taking measures to support it and to
guard against its failings. The attack is always, even on the
defensive, an evidence of resolution, and gives a moral ascendancy.
Its effect is more immediate with cavalry, because the movements of
cavalry are more rapid and the moral effect has less time to be
modified by reflection. To insure that the French cavalry be the best
in Europe, and a really good cavalry, it needs but one thing, to
conform to the national temperament, to dare, to dare, and to advance.
One of the singular features of French discipline is that on the road,
especially in campaign the methods of punishment for derelictions
become illusory, impractical. In 1859 there were twenty-five thousand
skulkers in the Army in Italy. The soldier sees this immediately and
lack of discipline ensues. If our customs do not permit of Draconian
discipline, let us replace that moral coercion by another. Let us
insure cohesion by the mutual acquaintanceship of men and officers;
let us call French sociability to our aid.
With the Romans discipline was severest and most rigidly enforced in
the presence of the enemy. It was enforced by the soldiers themselves.
To-day, why should not the men in our companies watch discipline and
punish themselves. They alone know each other, and the maintenance of
discipline is so much to their interest as to encourage them to stop
skulking. The twenty-five thousand men who skulked in Italy, all wear
the Italian medal. They were discharged with certificates of good
conduct. This certificate, in campaign should be awarded by the squad
only. In place of that, discipline must be obtained somehow, and it is
placed as an additional burden on the officer. He above all has to
uphold it. He is treated without regard for his dignity. He is made to
do the work of the non-commissioned officer. He is used as fancy
This cohesion which we hope for in units from squad to company, need
not be feared in other armies. It cannot develop to the same point and
by the same methods with them as with us. Their make-up is not ours,
their character is different. This individuality of squads and
companies comes from the make-up of our army and from French
Is it true that the rations of men and horses are actually
insufficient in campaign? This is strange economy! To neglect to
increase the soldier's pay five centimes! It would better his fare and
prevent making of an officer a trader in vegetables in order to
properly feed his men. Yet millions are squandered each year for
uniforms, geegaws, shakos, etc!
If a big army is needed, it ought to cost as little as possible.
Simplicity in all things! Down with all sorts of plumes! Less
amateurs! If superfluous trimmings are not cut down it will be
unfortunate! What is the matter with the sailor's uniform?
Insignificant and annoying details abound while vital details of
proper footgear and instruction, are neglected. The question of
clothing for campaign is solved by adopting smocks and greatcoats and
by doing away with headquarters companies! This is the height of
folly. I suppose it is because our present uniforms need specialists
to keep them in condition, and smocks and greatcoats do not!
MEMORANDUM ON INFANTRY FIRE
[Written in 1869 (Editor's note)]
It may be said that the history of the development of infantry fire is
none too plain, even though fire action to-day, in Europe, is almost
the sole means of destruction used by that arm.
Napoleon said, "The only method of fire to be used in war is fire at
will." Yet after such a plain statement by one who knew, there is a
tendency to-day to make fire at command the basis of infantry battle
Is this correct? Experience only can determine. Experience is gained;
but nothing, especially in the trade of war, is sooner forgotten than
experience. So many fine things can be done, beautiful maneuvers
executed, ingenious combat methods invented in the confines of an
office or on the maneuver ground. Nevertheless let us try to hold to
Let us consider, in the study of any kind of fire, a succinct history
of small arms; let us see what kind of fire is used with each weapon,
attempting at the same time to separate that which has actually
happened from the written account.
2. Succinct History of the Development of Small Arms, from the
Arquebus to Our Rifle
The arquebus in use before the invention of powder gave the general
design to fire arms. The arquebus marks then the transition from the
mechanically thrown missile to the bullet.
The tube was kept to direct the projectile, and the bow and string
were replaced by a powder chamber and ignition apparatus.
This made a weapon, very simple, light and easy to charge; but the
small caliber ball thrown from a very short barrel, gave penetration
only at short distances.
The barrel was lengthened, the caliber increased, and a more
efficient, but a less convenient arm resulted. It was indeed
impossible to hold the weapon in aiming position and withstand the
recoil at the moment of firing.
To lessen recoil there was attached to the bottom of the barrel a hook
to catch on a fixed object at the moment of discharge. This was called
a hook arquebus.
But the hook could only be used under certain circumstances. To give
the arm a point of support on the body, the stock was lengthened and
inclined to permit sighting. This was the petrinal or poitrinal. The
soldier had in addition a forked support for the barrel.
In the musket, which followed, the stock was again modified and held
against the shoulder. Further the firing mechanism was improved.
The arm had been fired by a lighted match; but with the musket, the
arm becoming lighter and more portable, there came the serpentine
lock, the match-lock, then the wheel-lock, finally the Spanish lock
and the flint-lock.
The adoption of the flint-lock and the bayonet produced the rifle,
which Napoleon regarded as the most powerful weapon that man
But the rifle in its primitive state had defects. Loading was slow; it
was inaccurate, and under some circumstances it could not be fired.
How were these defects remedied?
As to the loading weakness, Gustavus Adolphus, understanding the
influence on morale of rapid loading and the greater destruction
caused by the more rapid fire, invented the cartridge for muskets.
Frederick, or some one of his time, the name marks the period, replaced
wooden by cylindrical iron ramrods. To prime more quickly a conical
funnel allowed the powder to pass from the barrel into the firing-pan.
These two last improvements saved time in two ways, in priming and in
loading. But it was the adoption of the breech-loader that brought the
greatest increase in rapidity of fire.
These successive improvements of the weapon, all tending to increase
the rapidity of fire, mark the most remarkable military periods of
improved vent (adopted by the soldiers if not prescribed by
competent orders)--wars of the Republic and of the Empire
Accuracy was sacrificed to rapidity of fire. This will be explained
later. Only in our day has the general use of rifling and of elongated
projectiles brought accuracy to the highest point. In our times, also,
the use of fulminate has assured fire under all conditions.
We have noted briefly the successive improvements in fire arms, from
the arquebus to the rifle.
Have the methods of employment made the same progress?
3. Progressive Introduction of Fire-Arms Into the Armament of the
The revolution brought about by powder, not in the art of war but in
that of combat, came gradually. It developed along with the
improvement of fire arms. Those arms gradually became those of the
Thus, under Francis I, the proportion of infantrymen carrying fire
arms to those armed with pikes was one to three or four.
At the time of the wars of religion arquebusiers and pikemen were
about equal in number.
Under Louis XIII, in 1643, there were two fire-arms to one pike; in
the war of 1688, four to one; finally pikes disappeared.
At first men with fire-arms were independent of other combatants, and
functioned like light troops in earlier days.
Later the pikes and the muskets were united in constituent elements of
The most usual formation was pikes in the center, muskets on the
Sometimes the pikemen were in the center of their respective
companies, which were abreast.
Or, half the musketeers might be in front of the pikemen, half behind.
Or again, all the musketeers might be behind the kneeling pikemen. In
these last two cases fire covered the whole front.
Finally pike and musket might alternate.
These combinations are found in treatises on tactics. But we do not
know, by actual examples, how they worked in battle, nor even whether
all were actually employed.
4. The Classes of Fire Employed With Each Weapon
When originally some of the infantry were armed with the long and
heavy arquebus in its primitive state, the feebleness of their fire
caused Montaigne to say, certainly on military authority, "The arms
have so little effect, except on the ears, that their use will be
discontinued." Research is necessary to find any mention of their use
in the battles of that period. 
However we find a valuable piece of information in Brantome, writing
of the battle of Pavia.
"The Marquis de Pescani won the battle of Pavia with Spanish
arquebusiers, in an irregular defiance of all regulation and tradition
by employing a new formation. Fifteen hundred arquebusiers, the
ablest, the most experienced, the cleverest, above all the most agile
and devoted, were selected by the Marquis de Pescani, instructed by
him on new lines, and practiced for a long time. They scattered by
squads over the battlefield, turning, leaping from one place to
another with great speed, and thus escaped the cavalry charge. By this
new method of fighting, unusual, astonishing, cruel and unworthy,
these arquebusiers greatly hampered the operations of the French
cavalry, who were completely lost. For they, joined together and in
mass, were brought to earth by these few brave and able arquebusiers.
This irregular and new method of fighting is more easily imagined than
described. Any one who can try it out will find it is good and useful;
but it is necessary that the arquebusiers be good troops, very much on
the jump (as the saying is) and above all reliable."
It should be borne in mind, in noting the preceding, that there is
always a great difference between what actually occurred, and the
description thereof (made often by men who were not there, and God
knows on what authority). Nevertheless, there appears in these lines
of Brantome a first example of the most destructive use of the rifle,
in the hands of skirmishers.
During the religious wars, which consisted of skirmishes and taking
and retaking garrisoned posts, the fire of arquebusiers was executed
without order and individually, as above.
The soldier carried the powder charges in little metal boxes hung from
a bandoleer. A finer, priming, powder was contained in a powder horn;
the balls were carried in a pouch. At the onset the soldier had to
load his piece. It was thus that he had to fight with the match
arquebus. This was still far from fire at command.
However this presently appeared. Gustavus Adolphus was the first who
tried to introduce method and coordination into infantry fire. Others,
eager for innovations, followed in his path. There appeared
successively, fire by rank, in two ranks, by subdivision, section,
platoon, company, battalion, file fire, parapet fire, a formal fire at
will, and so many others that we can be sure that all combinations
were tried at this time.
Fire by ranks was undoubtedly the first of these; it will give us a
line on the others.
Infantry was formed six deep. To execute fire by rank all ranks except
the last knelt. The last rank fired and reloaded. The rank in front of
it then rose and did the same thing, as did all other ranks
successively. The whole operation was then recommenced.
Thus the first group firing was executed successively by ranks.
Montecuculli said, "The musketeers are ranged six deep, so that the
last rank has reloaded by the time the first has fired, and takes up
the fire again, so that the enemy has to face continuous fire."
However, under Conde and Turenne, we see the French army use only fire
It is true that at this time fire was regarded only as an accessory.
The infantry of the line which, since the exploit of the Flemish, the
Swiss and the Spaniards, had seen their influence grow daily, was
required for the charge and the advance and consequently was armed
In the most celebrated battles of these times, Rocroi, Nordlingen,
Lens, Rethel and the Dunes, we see the infantry work in this way. The
two armies, in straight lines, commenced by bombarding each other,
charged with their cavalry wings, and advanced with their infantry in
the center. The bravest or best disciplined infantry drove back the
other, and often, if one of its wings was victorious, finished by
routing it. No marked influence of fire is found at this time. The
tradition of Pescani was lost.
Nevertheless fire-arms improved; they became more effective and tended
to replace the pike. The use of the pike obliged the soldier to remain
in ranks, to fight only in certain cases, and exposed him to injury
without being able to return blow for blow. And, this is exceedingly
instructive, the soldier had by this time an instinctive dislike of
this arm, which often condemned him to a passive role. This dislike
necessitated giving high pay and privilege to obtain pikemen. And in
spite of all at the first chance the soldier threw away his pike for a
The pikes themselves gradually disappeared before firearms; the ranks
thinned to permit the use of the latter. Four rank formation was used,
and fire tried in that order, by rank, by two ranks, upright,
In spite of these attempts, we see the French army in combat, notably
at Fontenoy, still using fire at will, the soldier leaving ranks to
fire and returning to load.
It can be stated, in spite of numerous attempts at adoption, that no
fire at command was used in battle up to the days of Frederick.
Already, under William, the Prussian infantry was noted for the
rapidity and continuity of its fire. Frederick further increased the
ability of his battalions to fire by decreasing their depth. This
fire, tripled by speed in loading, became so heavy that it gave
Prussian battalions a superiority over others of three to one.
The Prussians recognized three kinds of fire, at a halt, in advancing,
and in retreat. We know the mechanics of fire at a halt, the first
rank kneeling. Of fire in advancing Guibert says: "What I call
marching fire, and which anybody who thinks about it must find as ill
advised as I do, is a fire I have seen used by some troops. The
soldiers, in two ranks, fire in marching, but they march of course at
a snail's pace. This is what Prussian troops call fire in advancing.
It consists in combined and alternating volleys from platoons,
companies, half battalions or battalions. The parts of the line which
have fired advance at the double, the others at the half step."
In other methods of fire, as we have said, the Prussian battalion was
in three ranks; the first kneeling. The line delivered salvos, only at
However, the theory of executing fire by salvo in three ranks did not
bother Frederick's old soldiers. We will see presently how they
executed it on the field of battle.
Be that as it may, Europe was impressed with these methods and tended
to adopt them. D'Argenson provided for them in the French army and
introduced fire at command. Two regulations prescribing this appeared,
in 1753 and 1755. But in the war which followed, Marshal de Broglie,
who undoubtedly had experience and as much common sense as M.
D'Argenson, prescribed fire at will. All infantry in his army was
practiced in it during the winter of 1761-1762.
Two new regulations succeeded the preceding, in 1764 and 1776. The
last prescribed fire in three ranks at command, all ranks upright. 
Thus we come to the wars of the Revolution, with regulations calling
for fire at command, which was not executed in battle.
Since these wars, our armies have always fought as skirmishers. In
speaking of our campaigns, fire at command is never mentioned. It was
the same under the Empire, in spite of numerous essays from the
Boulogne school and elsewhere. At the Boulogne school, fire at command
by ranks was first tried by order of Napoleon. This fire, to be
particularly employed against cavalry--in theory it is superb--does
not seem to have been employed Napoleon says so himself, and the
regulations of 1832, in which some influence of soldiers of the Empire
should be found, orders fire in two ranks or at will, by bodies of
men, to the exclusion of all others.
According to our military authority, on the authority of our old
officers, fire at command did not suit our infantry; yet it lived in
the regulations. General Fririon (1822) and de Gouvion-Saint-Cyr
(1829) attacked this method. Nothing was done. It remained in the
regulations of 1832, but without being ordered in any particular
circumstances. It appeared there for show purposes, perhaps.
On the creation of the chasseurs d'Orleans, fire by rank was revived.
But neither in our African campaigns nor in our last two wars in the
Crimea and Italy can a single example of fire at command be found. In
practice it was believed to be impracticable. It was known to be
entirely ineffective and fell into disrepute.
But to-day, with the breech-loading rifle, there is a tendency to
believe it practicable and to take it up with new interest. Is this
more reasonable than in the past? Let us see.
5. Methods of Fire Used in the Presence of the Enemy;
Methods Recommended or Ordered But Impractical.
Use and Efficacy of Fire at Command
Undoubtedly at the Potsdam maneuvers the Prussian infantry used only
salvos executed admirably. An unbelievable discipline kept the soldier
in place and in line. Barbaric punishments were incorporated in the
military code. Blows, the whip, executions, punished the slightest
derelictions. Even N.C.O.'s were subjected to blows with the flat of
the sword. Yet all this was not enough on the field of battle; a
complete rank of non-commissioned officer file closers was also needed
to hold the men to their duty.
M. Carion-Nisas said, "These file-closers hook their halberds together
and form a line that cannot be broken." In spite of all this, after
two or three volleys, so says General Renard, whom we believe more
than charitable, there is no power of discipline which can prevent
regular fire from breaking into fire at will.
But let us look further, into Frederick's battles. Let us take the
battle of Mollwitz, in which success was specifically laid to fire at
command, half lost, then won by the Prussian salvos.
"The Austrian infantry had opened fire on the lines of the Prussians,
whose cavalry had been routed. It was necessary to shake them to
insure victory. The Austrians still used wooden ramrods. Their fire
came slowly, while the Prussian fire was thunderous, five or six shots
to the rifle per minute. The Imperial troops, surprised and
disconcerted by this massed fire, tried to hurry. In their hurry many
broke their fragile ramrods. Confusion spread through the ranks, and
the battle was lost."
But, if we study actual conditions of the period, we see that things
did not happen in such an orderly sequence.
Firing started, and it is said that it was long and deadly. The
Prussians iron ramrods gave them the advantage 'over an enemy whose
ramrods were wooden, harder to manipulate and easily broken. However,
when the order to advance was given to the Prussians, whole battalions
stood fast; it was impossible to budge them. The soldiers tried to
escape the fire and got behind each other, so that they were thirty to
Here are men who exhibit under fire an admirable, calm, an immovable
steadiness. Each instant they hear the dead heavy sound of a bullet
striking. They see, they feel, around them, above them, between their
legs, their comrades fall and writhe, for the fire is deadly. They
have the power in their hands to return blow for blow, to send back to
the enemy the death that hisses and strikes about them. They do not
take a false step; their hands do not close instinctively on the
trigger. They wait, imperturbably, the order of their chiefs--and what
chiefs! These are the men who at the command "forward," lack bowels,
who huddle like sheep one behind the other. Are we to believe this?
Let us get to the truth of the matter. Frederick's veterans, in spite
of their discipline and drill, are unable to follow the methods taught
and ordered. They are no more able to execute fire at command than
they are to execute the ordered advance of the Potsdam maneuver field.
They use fire at will. They fire fast from instinct--stronger than
their discipline--which bids them send two shots for one. Their fire
becomes indeed, a thunderous roll, not of salvos, but of rapid fire at
will. Who fires most, hits most, so the soldier figures. So indeed did
Frederick, for he encouraged fire in this same battle of Mollwitz; he
thereafter doubled the number of cartridges given the soldier, giving
him sixty instead of thirty.
Furthermore, if fire at command had been possible, who knows what
Frederick's soldiers would have been capable of? They would have cut
down battalions like standing grain. Allowed to aim quietly, no man
interfering with another, each seeing clearly--then at the signal all
firing together. Could anything hold against them? At the first volley
the enemy would have broken and fled, under the penalty of
annihilation in case they stayed. However, if we look at the final
result at Mollwitz, we see that the number of killed is about the same
on the side that used fire at command as on the side that did not. The
Prussians lost 960 dead, the Austrians 966.
But they say that if fire was not more deadly, it was because
sight-setting was then unknown. What if it was? There was no
adjustment of fire perhaps, but there were firing regulations; aiming
was known. Aiming is old. We do not say it was practiced; but it was
known, and often mentioned. Cromwell often said, "Put your confidence
in God, my children, and fire at their shoe-laces."
Do we set our sights better to-day? It is doubtful. If the able
soldiers of Cromwell, of Frederick, of the Republic and of Napoleon
could not set their sights--can we?
Thus this fire at command, which was only possible rarely and to
commence action, was entirely ineffective.
Hardy spirits, seeing the slight effect of long range firing in
battle, counselled waiting till the enemy was at twenty paces and
driving him back with a volley. You do not have to sight carefully at
twenty paces. What would be the result?
"At the battle of Castiglione," says Marshal Saxe, "the Imperial
troops let the French approach to twenty paces, hoping to destroy them
by a volley. At that distance they fired coolly and with all
precautions, but they were broken before the smoke cleared. At the
battle of Belgrade (1717) I saw two battalions who at thirty paces,
aimed and fired at a mass of Turks. The Turks cut them up, only two or
three escaping. The Turkish loss in dead was only thirty-two."
No matter what the Marshal says, we doubt that these men were cool.
For men who could hold their fire up to such a near approach of the
enemy, and fire into masses, would have killed the front rank, thrown
the others into confusion, and would never have been cut up as they
were. To make these men await, without firing, an enemy at twenty or
thirty paces, needed great moral pressure. Controlled by discipline
they waited, but as one waits for the roof to fall, for a bomb to
explode, full of anxiety and suppressed emotion. When the order is
given to raise the arms and fire the crisis is reached. The roof
falls, the bomb explodes, one flinches and the bullets are fired into
the air. If anybody is killed it is an accident.
This is what happened before the use of skirmishers. Salvos were
tried. In action they became fire at will. Directed against troops
advancing without firing they were ineffective. They did not halt the
dash of the assault, and the troops who had so counted on them fled
demoralized. But when skirmishers were used, salvos became impossible.
Armies who held to old methods learned this to their cost.
In the first days of the Revolution our troops, undrilled and not
strictly disciplined, could not fight in line. To advance on the
enemy, a part of the battalion was detached as skirmishers. The
remainder marched into battle and was engaged without keeping ranks.
The combat was sustained by groups fighting without formal order. The
art was to support by reserves the troops advanced as skirmishers. The
skirmishers always began the action, when indeed they did not complete
To oppose fire by rank to skirmishers was fools' play.
Skirmishers necessarily opposed each other. Once this method was
adopted, they were supported, reinforced by troops in formation. In
the midst of general firing fire at command became impossible and was
replaced by fire at will.
Dumouriez, at the battle of Jemmapes, threw out whole battalions as
skirmishers, and supporting them by light cavalry, did wonders with
them. They surrounded the Austrian redoubts and rained on the
cannoneers a hail of bullets so violent that they abandoned their
The Austrians, astounded by this novel combat method, vainly
reinforced their light troops by detachments of heavy infantry. Their
skirmishers could not resist our numbers and impetuosity, and
presently their line, beaten by a storm of bullets, was forced back.
The noise of battle, the firing, increased; the defeated troops,
hearing commands no longer, threw down their arms and fled in
So fire in line, heavy as it may be, cannot prevail against the power
of numerous detachments of skirmishers. A rain of bullets directed
aimlessly is impotent against isolated men profiting by the slightest
cover to escape the fire of their adversaries, while the deployed
battalions offer to their rifles a huge and relatively harmless
target. The dense line, apparently so strong, withers under the deadly
effect of the fire of isolated groups, so feeble in appearance.
The Prussians suffered in the same way at Jena. Their lines tried fire
at command against our skirmishers. You might as well fire on a
handful of fleas.
They tell us of the English salvos at Sainte-Euphemie, in Calabria,
and later in Spain. In these particular cases they could be used,
because our troops charged without first sending out skirmishers.
The battle of Sainte-Euphemie only lasted half an hour; it was badly
conceived and executed, "And if," says General Duhesme, "the advancing
battalions had been preceded by detachments of skirmishers who had
already made holes in enemy ranks, and, on close approach, the heads
of columns had been launched in a charge, the English line would not
have conserved that coolness which made their fire so effective and
accurate. Certainly it would not have waited so long to loose its
fire, if it had been vigorously harassed by skirmishers."
An English author, treating of the history of weapons, speaks of the
rolling fire, well directed, of the English troops. He makes no
mention of salvos. Perhaps we were mistaken, and in our accounts have
taken the fire of a battalion for the formal battalion fire at command
of our regulations.
The same tendency appears more clearly in the work on infantry of the
Marquis de Chambray, who knew the English army well. He says that the
English in Spain used almost entirely fire in two ranks. They employed
battalion fire only when attacked by our troops without skirmishers,
firing on the flanks of our columns. And he says "The fire by
battalion, by half battalion and by platoon is limited to the target
range. The fire actually most used in war is that in two ranks, the
only one used by the French." Later he adds "Experience proves fire in
two ranks the only one to be used against the enemy." Before him
Marshal Saxe wrote "Avoid dangerous maneuvers, such as fire by
platoon, which have often caused shameful defeats." These statements
are as true now as then.
Fire at command, by platoon, by battalion, etc., is used in case the
enemy having repulsed skirmishers and arrived at a reasonable range
either charges or opens fire for effect himself. If the latter, fire
is reciprocal and lasts until one or the other gives way or charges.
If the enemy charges, what happens? He advances preceded by
skirmishers who deliver a hail of bullets. You wish to open fire, but
the voices of your officers are lost. The noise of artillery, of small
arms, the confusion of battle, the shrieks of the wounded, distract
the soldiers' attention. Before you have delivered your command the
line is ablaze. Then try to stop your soldiers. While there is a
cartridge left, they will fire. The enemy may find a fold of ground
that protects him; he may adopt in place of his deployed order columns
with wide intervals between, or otherwise change his dispositions. The
changing incidents of battle are hidden by smoke and the troops in
front, from the view of the officers behind. The soldiers will
continue to fire and the officers can do nothing about it.
All this has been said already, has been gone into, and fire at
command has been abandoned. Why take it up again? It comes to us
probably from the Prussians. Indeed the reports of their general staff
on their last campaign, of 1866, say that it was very effectively
employed, and cite many examples.
But a Prussian officer who went through the campaign in the ranks and
saw things close up, says, "In examining the battles of 1866 for
characteristics, one is struck by a feature common to all, the
extraordinary extension of front at the expense of depth. Either the
front is spun out into a single long thin line, or it is broken into
various parts that fight by themselves. Above all the tendency is
evident to envelop the enemy by extending the wings. There is no
longer any question of keeping the original order of battle. Different
units are confused, by battle, or even before battle. Detachments and
large units of any corps are composed of diverse and heterogeneous
elements. The battle is fought almost exclusively by columns of
companies, rarely of half-battalions. The tactics of these columns
consists in throwing out strong detachments of skirmishers. Gradually
the supports are engaged and deployed. The line is broken, scattered,
like a horde of irregular cavalry. The second line which has held
close order tries to get up to the first promptly, first to engage in
the fight, also because they suffer losses from the high shots
directed at the first line. It suffers losses that are heavy as it is
compact and supports them with impatience as it does not yet feel the
fever of battle. The most of the second line then forces entry into
the first, and, as there is more room on the wings, it gravitates to
the wings. Very often even the reserve is drawn in, entirely, or so
largely that it cannot fulfill its mission. In fact, the fighting of
the first two lines is a series of combats between company commands
and the enemy each command faces. Superior officers cannot follow on
horseback all the units, which push ahead over all sorts of ground.
They have to dismount and attach themselves to the first unit of their
command met. Unable to manipulate their whole command, in order to do
something, they command the smaller unit. It is not always better
commanded at that. Even generals find themselves in this situation."
Here is something we understand better. It is certainly what occurs.
As for the instances cited in the general staff reports, they deal
with companies or half-battalions at most. Not withstanding the
complacency with which they are cited, they must have been rare, and
the exception should not be taken as establishing a rule.
6. Fire at Will--Its Efficacy
Thus fire at command, to-day as in the past, is impractical and
consequently not actually used in battle. The only means employed are
fire at will and the fire of skirmishers. Let us look into their
Competent authorities have compiled statistics on this point.
Guibert thinks that not over two thousand men are killed or wounded by
each million cartridges used in battle.
Gassendi assures us that of three thousand shots only one is a hit.
Piobert says that the estimate, based on the result of long wars, is
that three to ten thousand cartridges are expended for each man hit.
To-day, with accurate and long range weapons, have things changed
much? We do not think so. The number of bullets fired must be compared
with the number of men dropped, with a deduction made for the action
of artillery, which must be considered.
A German author has advanced the opinion that with the Prussian needle
rifle the hits are 60% of the shots fired. But then how explain the
disappointment of M. Dreyse, the happy inventor of the needle rifle,
when he compared Prussian and Austrian losses. This good old gentleman
was disagreeably astonished at seeing that his rifle had not come up
to his expectations.
Fire at will, as we shall presently show, is a fire to occupy the men
in the ranks but its effect is not great. We could give many examples;
we only cite one, but it is conclusive.
"Has it not been remarked," says General Duhesme, "that, before a
firing line there is raised a veil of smoke which on one side or the
other hides the troops from view, and makes the fire of the best
placed troops uncertain and practically without effect? I proved it
conclusively at the battle of Caldiero, in one of the successive
advances that occurred on my left wing. I saw some battalions, which I
had rallied, halted and using an individual fire which they could not
keep up for long. I went there. I saw through the smoke cloud nothing
but flashes, the glint of bayonets and the tops of grenadier's caps.
We were not far from the enemy however, perhaps sixty paces. A ravine
separated us, but it could not be seen. I went into the ranks, which
were neither closed nor aligned, throwing up with my hand the
soldiers' rifles to get them to cease firing and to advance. I was
mounted, followed by a dozen orderlies. None of us were wounded, nor
did I see an infantryman fall. Well then! Hardly had our line started
when the Austrians, heedless of the obstacle that separated us,
It is probable that had the Austrians started to move first, the
French would have given way. It was veterans of the Empire, who
certainly were as reliable as our men, who gave this example of lack
In ranks, fire at will is the only possible one for our officers and
men. But with the excitement, the smoke, the annoying incidents, one
is lucky to get even horizontal fire, to say nothing of aimed fire.
In fire at will, without taking count of any trembling, men interfere
with each other. Whoever advances or who gives way to the recoil of
his weapon deranges the shot of his neighbor. With full pack, the
second rank has no loophole; it fires in the air. On the range,
spacing men to the extremity of the limits of formation, firing very
slowly, men are found who are cool and not too much bothered by the
crack of discharge in their ears, who let the smoke pass and seize a
loophole of pretty good visibility, who try, in a word, not to lose
their shots. And the percentage results show much more regularity than
with fire at command.
But in front of the enemy fire at will becomes in an instant haphazard
fire. Each man fires as much as possible, that is to say, as badly as
possible. There are physical and mental reasons why this is so.
Even at close range, in battle, the cannon can fire well. The gunner,
protected in part by his piece, has an instant of coolness in which to
lay accurately. That his pulse is racing does not derange his line of
sight, if he has will power. The eye trembles little, and the piece
once laid, remains so until fired.
The rifleman, like the gunner, only by will-power keeps his ability to
aim. But the excitement in the blood, of the nervous system, opposes
the immobility of the weapon in his hands. No matter how supported, a
part of the weapon always shares the agitation of the man. He is
instinctively in haste to fire his shot, which may stop the departure
of the bullet destined for him. However lively the fire is, this vague
reasoning, unformed as it is in his mind, controls with all the force
of the instinct of self preservation. Even the bravest and most
reliable soldiers then fire madly.
The greater number fire from the hip.
The theory of the range is that with continual pressure on the trigger
the shot surprises the firer. But who practices it under fire?
However, the tendency in France to-day is to seek only accuracy. What
good will it do when smoke, fog, darkness, long range, excitement, the
lack of coolness, forbid clear sight?
It is hard to say, after the feats of fire at Sebastopol, in Italy,
that accurate weapons have given us no more valuable service than a
simple rifle. Just the same, to one who has seen, facts are facts.
But--see how history is written. It has been set down that the
Russians were beaten at Inkermann by the range and accuracy of weapons
of the French troops. But the battle was fought in thickets and wooded
country, in a dense fog. And when the weather cleared, our soldiers,
our chasseurs were out of ammunition and borrowed from the Russian
cartridge boxes, amply provided with cartridges for round, small
calibered bullets. In either case there could have been no accurate
fire. The facts are that the Russians were beaten by superior morale;
that unaimed fire, at random, there perhaps more than elsewhere, had
the only material effect.
When one fires and can only fire at random, who fires most hits most.
Or perhaps it is better said that who fires least expects to be hit
Frederick was impressed with this, for he did not believe in the
Potsdam maneuvers. The wily Fritz looked on fire as a means to quiet
and occupy the undependable soldiers and it proved his ability that he
could put into practice that which might have been a mistake on the
part of any other general officer. He knew very well how to count on
the effect of his fire, how many thousand cartridges it took to kill
or wound an enemy. At first his soldiers had only thirty cartridges.
He found the number insufficient, and after Mollwitz gave them sixty.
To-day as in Frederick's day, it is rapid random fire, the only one
practicable, which has given prestige to the Prussians. This idea of
rapid fire was lost after Frederick, but the Prussians have recovered
it to-day by exercising common sense. However our veterans of the
Empire had preserved this idea, which comes from instinct. They
enlarged their vents, scornful of flare backs, to avoid having to open
the chamber and prime. The bullet having a good deal of clearance when
the cartridge was torn and put in the gun, with a blow of the butt on
the ground they had their arms charged and primed.
But to-day as then, in spite of skill acquired in individual fire, men
stop aiming and fire badly as soon as they are grouped into platoons
Prussian officers, who are practical men, know that adjustment of
sights is impracticable in the heat of action, and that in fire by
volleys troops tend to use the full sight. So in the war of 1866 they
ordered their men to fire very low, almost without sighting, in order
to profit by ricochets.
7. Fire by Rank Is a Fire to Occupy the Men in Ranks
But if fire at will is not effective, what is its use? As we have
already said its use is to occupy the men in the ranks.
In ordinary fire the act of breathing alone, by the movement it
communicates to the body greatly annoys men in firing. How then can it
be claimed that on the field of battle, in rank, men can fire even
moderately well when they fire only to soothe themselves and forget
Napoleon said "The instinct of man is not to let himself be killed
without defending himself." And indeed man in combat is a being in
whom the instinct of self preservation dominates at times all other
sentiments. The object of discipline is to dominate this instinct by a
greater terror of shame or of punishment. But it is never able
entirely to attain this object; there is a point beyond which it is
not effectual. This point reached, the soldier must fire or he will go
either forward or back. Fire is then, let us say, a safety vent for
In serious affairs it is then difficult, if not impossible, to control
fire. Here is an example given by Marshal Saxe:
"Charles XII, King of Sweden, wished to introduce into his infantry
the method of charging with the bayonet. He spoke of it often, and it
was known in the army that this was his idea. Finally at the battle
of ---- against the Russians, when the fighting started he went to his
regiment of infantry, made it a fine speech, dismounted before the
colors, and himself led the regiment to the charge. When he was thirty
paces from the enemy the whole regiment fired, in spite of his orders
and his presence. Otherwise, it did very well and broke the enemy. The
king was so annoyed that all he did was pass through the ranks,
remount his horse, and go away without saying a word."
So that, if the soldier is not made to fire, he will fire anyway to
distract himself and forget danger. The fire of Frederick's Prussians
had no other purpose. Marshal Saxe saw this. "The speed with which the
Prussians load their rifles," he tells us, "is advantageous in that it
occupies the soldier and forbids reflection while he is in the
presence of the enemy. It is an error to believe that the five last
victories gained by the nation in its last war were due to fire. It
has been noted that in most of these actions there were more Prussians
killed by rifle fire than there were of their enemies."
It would be sad to think the soldier in line a firing machine. Firing
has been and always will be his principal object, to fire as many
shots in as short a time as possible. But the victor is not always the
one who kills the most; he is fortunate who best knows how to overcome
the morale of his enemy.
The coolness of men cannot be counted on. And as it is necessary above
all to keep up their morale one ought to try above all to occupy and
soothe them. This can best be done by frequent discharges. There will
be little effect, and it would be absurd to expect them to be calm
enough to fire slowly, adjust their ranges and above all sight
8. The Deadly Fire Is the Fire of Skirmishers
In group firing, when the men are grouped into platoons or battalions,
all weapons have the same value, and if it is assumed to-day that fire
must decide engagements, the method of fighting must be adopted which
gives most effect to the weapon. This is the employment of
It is this class of fire, indeed, which is deadliest in war. We could
give many examples but we shall be content with the two following
instances, taken from General Duhesme.
"A French officer who served with the Austrians in one of the recent
wars," says General Duhesme, "told me that from the fire of a French
battalion one hundred paces from them, his company lost only three or
four men, while in the same time they had had more than thirty killed
or wounded by the fire of a group of skirmishers in a little wood on
their flank three hundred paces away."
"At the passage of the Minico, in 1801, the 2nd battalion of the 91st
received the fire of a battalion of Bussi's regiment without losing a
man; the skirmishers of that same organization killed more than thirty
men in a few minutes while protecting the retreat of their
The fire of skirmishers is then the most deadly used in war, because
the few men who remain cool enough to aim are not otherwise annoyed
while employed as skirmishers. They will perform better as they are
better hidden, and better trained in firing.
The accuracy of fire giving advantages only in isolated fire, we may
consider that accurate weapons will tend to make fighting by
skirmishers more frequent and more decisive.
For the rest, experience authorizes the statement that the use of
skirmishers is compulsory in war. To-day all troops seriously engaged
become in an instant groups of skirmishers and the only possible
precise fire is from hidden snipers.
However, the military education which we have received, the spirit of
the times, clouds with doubt our mind regarding this method of
fighting by skirmishers. We accept it regretfully. Our personal
experience being incomplete, insufficient, we content ourselves with
the supposition that gives us satisfaction. The war of skirmishers, no
matter how thoroughly it has been proven out, is accepted by
constraint, because we are forced by circumstance to engage our troops
by degrees, in spite of ourselves, often unconsciously. But, be it
understood, to-day a successive engagement is necessary in war.
However, let us not have illusions as to the efficacy of the fire of
skirmishers. In spite of the use of accurate and long range weapons,
in spite of all training that can be given the soldier, this fire
never has more than a relative effect, which should not be
The fire of skirmishers is generally against skirmishers. A body of
troops indeed does not let itself be fired on by skirmishers without
returning a similar fire. And it is absurd to expect skirmishers to
direct their fire on a body protected by skirmishers. To demand of
troops firing individually, almost abandoned to themselves, that they
do not answer the shots directed at them, by near skirmishers, but aim
at a distant body, which is not harming them, is to ask an impossible
As skirmishers men are very scattered. To watch the adjustment of
ranges is difficult. Men are practically left alone. Those who remain
cool may try to adjust their range, but it is first necessary to see
where your shots fall, then, if the terrain permits this and it will
rarely do so, to distinguish them from shots fired at the same time by
your neighbors. Also these men will be more disturbed, will fire
faster and less accurately, as the fight is more bitter, the enemy
stauncher; and perturbation is more contagious than coolness.
The target is a line of skirmishers, a target offering so little
breadth and above all depth, that outside of point blank fire, an
exact knowledge of the range is necessary to secure effect. This is
impossible, for the range varies at each instant with the movements of
the skirmishers. 
Thus, with skirmishers against skirmishers, there are scattered shots
at scattered targets. Our fire of skirmishers, marching, on the target
range, proves this, although each man knows exactly the range and has
time and the coolness to set his sights. It is impossible for
skirmishers in movement to set sights beyond four hundred meters, and
this is pretty extreme, even though the weapon is actually accurate
Also, a shot is born. There are men, above all in officer instructors
at firing schools, who from poor shots become excellent shots after
years of practice. But it is impossible to give all the soldiers such
an education without an enormous consumption of ammunition and without
abandoning all other work. And then there would be no results with
half of them.
To sum up, we find that fire is effective only at point blank. Even in
our last wars there have been very few circumstances in which men who
were favored with coolness and under able leadership have furnished
exceptions. With these exceptions noted, we can say that accurate and
long range weapons have not given any real effect at a range greater
than point blank.
There has been put forward, as proof of the efficacy of accurate
weapons the terrible and decisive results obtained by the British in
India, with the Enfield rifle. But these results have been obtained
because the British faced comparatively poorly armed enemies. They had
then the security, the confidence, the ensuing coolness necessary for
the use of accurate weapons. These conditions are completely changed
when one faces an enemy equally well armed, who consequently, gives as
good as he gets.
9. Absolute Impossibility of Fire at Command
Let us return to fire at command, which there is a tendency to-day to
have troops execute in line.
Can regular and efficient fire be hoped for from troops in line? Ought
it to be hoped for?
No, for man cannot be made over, and neither can the line.
Even on the range or on the maneuver field what does this fire amount
In fire at command, on the range, all the men in the two ranks come to
the firing position simultaneously, everybody is perfectly quiet. Men
in the front rank consequently are not deranged by their neighbors.
Men in the second rank are in the same situation. The first rank being
set and motionless they can aim through the openings without more
annoyance than those in the first rank.
Fire being executed at command, simultaneously, no weapon is deranged
at the moment of firing by the movements of the men. All conditions
are entirely favorable to this kind of fire. Also as the fire is
ordered with skill and coolness by an officer who has perfectly
aligned his men (a thing rare even on the drill ground) it gives
percentage results greater than that of fire at will executed with the
minutest precautions, results that are sometimes astonishing.
But fire at command, from the extreme coolness that it demands of all,
of the officer certainly more than of the soldier, is impracticable
before the enemy except under exceptional circumstances of picked
officers, picked men, ground, distance, safety, etc. Even in maneuvers
its execution is farcical. There is not an organization in which the