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Battle Studies by Colonel Charles-Jean-Jacques-Joseph Ardant du Picq

Part 5 out of 5

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soldiers do not hurry the command to fire in that the officers are so
afraid that their men will anticipate the command that they give it as
rapidly as possible, while the pieces are hardly in firing position,
often while they are still in motion.

The prescription that the command to fire be not given until about
three seconds after coming to the firing position may give good
results in the face of range targets. But it is not wise to believe
that men will wait thus for long in the face of the enemy.

It is useless to speak of the use of the sight-leaf before the enemy,
in fire attempted by the same officers and men who are so utterly
lacking, even on the maneuver ground. We have seen a firing
instructor, an officer of coolness and assurance, who on the range had
fired trial shots every day for a month, after this month of daily
practice fire four trial shots at a six hundred meter range with the
sight leaf at point blank.

Let us not pay too much attention to those who in military matters
base everything on the weapon and unhesitating assume that the man
serving it will adopt the usage provided and ordered in their
regulations. The fighting man is flesh and blood. He is both body and
soul; and strong as the soul may often be it cannot so dominate the
body that there is no revolt of the flesh, no mental disturbance, in
the face of destruction. Let us learn to distrust mathematics and
material dynamics as applied to battle principles. We shall learn to
beware of the illusions drawn from the range and the maneuver field.

There experience is with the calm, settled, unfatigued, attentive,
obedient soldier, with an intelligent and tractable man instrument in
short. And not with the nervous, easily swayed, moved, troubled,
distrait, excited, restless being, not even under self-control, who is
the fighting man from general to private. There are strong men,
exceptions, but they are rare.

These illusions nevertheless, stubborn and persistent, always repair
the next day the most damaging injuries inflicted on them by reality.
Their least dangerous effect is to lead to prescribing the
impracticable, as if ordering the impracticable were not really an
attack on discipline, and did not result in disconcerting officers and
men by the unexpected and by surprise at the contrast between battle
and the theories of peace-time training.

Battle of course always furnishes surprises. But it furnishes less in
proportion as good sense and the recognition of the truth have had
their effect on the training of the fighting man.

Man in the mass, in a disciplined body organized for combat, is
invincible before an undisciplined body. But against a similarly
disciplined body he reverts to the primitive man who flees before a
force that is proved stronger, or that he feels stronger. The heart of
the soldier is always the human heart. Discipline holds enemies face
to face a little longer, but the instinct of self-preservation
maintains its empire and with it the sense of fear.


There are chiefs, there are soldiers who know no fear, but they are of
rare temper. The mass trembles, for the flesh cannot be suppressed.
And this trembling must be taken into account in all organization,
discipline, formation, maneuver, movement, methods of action. For in
all of these the soldier tends to be upset, to be deceived, to
under-rate himself and to exaggerate the offensive spirit of the

On the field of battle death is in the air, blind and invisible,
making his presence known by fearful whistlings that make heads duck.
During this strain the recruit hunches up, closes in, seeking aid by
an instinctive unformulated reasoning. He figures that the more there
are to face a danger the greater each one's chances of escaping. But
he soon sees that flesh attracts lead. Then, possessed by terror,
inevitably he retreats before the fire, or "he escapes by advancing,"
in the picturesque and profound words of General Burbaki.

The soldier escapes from his officer, we say. Yes, he escapes! But is
it not evident that he escapes because up to this moment nobody has
bothered about his character, his temperament, the impressionable and
exciteable nature of man? In prescribed methods of fighting he has
always been held to impossibilities. The same thing is done to-day.
To-morrow, as yesterday, he will escape.

There is of course a time when all the soldiers escape, either
forward, or to the rear. But the organization, the combat methods
should have no other object than to delay as long as possible this
crisis. Yet they hasten it.

All our officers fear, quite justifiably from their experience, that
the soldier will too rapidly use his cartridges in the face of the
enemy. This serious matter is certainly worthy of attention. How to
stop this useless and dangerous waste of ammunition is the question.
Our soldiers show little coolness. Once in danger they fire, fire to
calm themselves, to pass the time; they cannot be stopped.

There are some people you cannot embarrass. With the best faith in the
world they say, "What is this? You are troubled about stopping the
fire of your soldiers? That is not difficult. You find that they show
little coolness, and shoot despite their officers, in spite even of
themselves? All right, require of them and their officers methods of
fire that demand extremes of coolness, calm and assurance, even in
maneuver. They cannot give a little? Ask a lot and you will get it.
There you have a combat method nobody has ever heard of, simple,
beautiful, and terrible."

This is indeed a fine theory. It would make the wily Frederick who
surely did not believe in these maneuvers, laugh until he cried. [50]

This is to escape from a difficulty by a means always recognized as
impossible, and more impossible than ever to-day.

Fearing that the soldier will escape from command, can not better
means be found to hold him than to require of him and his officer,
impracticable fire? This, ordered and not executed by the soldiers,
and even by the officers, is an attack on the discipline of the unit.
"Never order the impossible," says discipline, "for the impossible
becomes then a disobedience."

How many requisites there are to make fire at command possible,
conditions among the soldiers, among their officers. Perfect these
conditions, they say. All right, perfect their training, their
discipline, etc.; but to obtain fire at command it is necessary to
perfect their nerves, their physical force, their moral force, to make
bronze images of them, to do away with excitement, with the trembling
of the flesh. Can any one do this?

Frederick's soldiers were brought, by blows of the baton, to a
terrible state of discipline. Yet their fire was fire at will.
Discipline had reached its limits.

Man in battle, let us repeat again, is a being to whom the instinct of
self-preservation at times dominates everything else. Discipline,
whose purpose is to dominate this instinct by a feeling of greater
terror, can not wholly achieve it. Discipline goes so far and no

We cannot deny the existence of extraordinary instances when
discipline and devotion have raised man above himself. But these
examples are extraordinary, rare. They are admired as exceptions, and
the exception proves the rule.

As to perfection, consider the Spartans. If man was ever perfected for
war it was he; and yet he has been beaten, and fled.

In spite of training, moral and physical force has limits. The
Spartans, who should have stayed to the last man on the battle field,

The British with their phlegmatic coolness and their terrible rolling
fire, the Russians, with that inertia that is called their tenacity,
have given way before attack. The German has given way, he who on
account of his subordination and stability has been called excellent
war material.

Again an objection is raised. Perhaps with recruits the method may be
impracticable. But with veterans--But with whom is war commenced?
Methods are devised precisely for young and inexperienced troops.

They ask, also, if the Prussians used this method of fire successfully
in the last war, why should not we do as well? Supposing that the
Prussians actually did use it, and this is far from being proved, it
does not follow that it is practicable for us. This mania for
borrowing German tactics is not new, although it has always been
properly protested against. Marshal Luchner said, "No matter how much
they torment their men, fortunately they will never make them
Prussians." Later de Gouvion-Saint-Cyr said, "The men are drilled in
various exercises believed necessary to fit them for war, but there is
no question of adopting exercises to suit the French military genius,
the French character and temperament. It has not been thought
necessary to take this into account; it has been easier to borrow
German methods."

To follow preconceived tactics is more the part of the phlegmatic
German than it is ours. The Germans obey well enough, but the point is
that they try to follow tactics which are contrary to nature. The
Frenchman cannot. More spontaneous, more exciteable and
impressionable, less calm and obedient, he has in our last wars
promptly and completely violated both the letter and the spirit of the
regulations. "The German," said a Prussian officer, "has sentiments of
duty and obedience. He submits to severe discipline. He is full of
devotion, although not animated by a lively mind. Easy by nature,
rather heavy than active, intellectually calm, reflective, without
dash or divine fire, wishing but not mad to conquer, obeying calmly
and conscientiously, but mechanically and without enthusiasm, fighting
with a resigned valor, with heroism, he may let himself be sacrificed
uselessly, but he sells his life dearly. Without warlike tendencies,
not bellicose, unambitious, he is yet excellent war material on
account of his subordination and stability. What must be inculcated in
him is a will of his own, a personal impulse to send him forward."
According to this unflattering portrait, which we believe a little
extreme, even if by a compatriot, it is possible that the Germans can
be handled in tactics impossible with French. However, did they
actually use these tactics? Remember the urgent warning of Blucher to
his brigade commanders, not to let bayonet attacks break down into
fusillades. Note the article in the present Prussian firing
regulations, which prescribes trial shots before each fire delivered,
"so as to dissipate the kind of excitement that possesses the soldier
when his drill has been interrupted for some time."

In conclusion, if fire at command was impossible with the ancient
rifle, it is more so to-day, for the simple reason that trembling
increases as the destructive power increases. Under Turenne, lines
held longer than to-day, because the musket was in use and the battle
developed more slowly. To-day when every one has the rapid fire rifle,
are things easier? Alas no! Relations between weapons and the man are
the same. You give me a musket, I fire at sixty paces, a rifle, at two
hundred; a chessepot, at four hundred. But I have perhaps less
coolness and steadiness than at the old sixty paces, for with the
rapidity of fire the new weapon is more terrible at four hundred
paces, for me as well as for the enemy, than was the musket at sixty
paces. And is there even more fire accuracy? No. Rifles were used
before the French revolution, and yet this perfectly well known weapon
was very rarely seen in war, and its efficacy, as shown in those rare
cases, was unsatisfactory. Accurate fire with it at combat distances
of from two hundred to four hundred meters was illusory, and it was
abandoned in favor of the old rifle. Did the foot chasseurs know fire
at command? Picked troops, dependable, did they use it? Yet it would
have been a fine method of employing their weapons. To-day we have
weapons that are accurate at six hundred to seven hundred meters. Does
that mean that accurate fire at seven hundred meters is possible? No.
If your enemy is armed as we are, fire at seven hundred meters will
show the same results that have been shown for four hundred meters.
The same losses will be suffered, and the coolness shown will be the
same--that is, it will be absent. If one fire three times as fast,
three times as many men will fall, and it will be three times as
difficult to preserve coolness. Just as formerly it was impossible to
execute fire at command, so it is to-day. Formerly no sight-setting
was possible; it is no better to-day.

But if this fire is impossible, why attempt it? Let us remain always
in the realm of the possible or we shall make sad mistakes. "In our
art," said General Daine, "theorists abound; practical men are very
rare. Also when the moment of action arrives, principles are often
found to be confused, application impossible, and the most erudite
officers remain inactive, unable to use the scientific treasures that
they have amassed."

Let us then, practical men, seek for possible methods. Let us gather
carefully the lessons of their experience, remembering Bacon's saying,
"Experience excels science."

Appendix II


1. Cavalry

An Extract from Xenophon.

"The unexpectedness of an event accentuates it, be it pleasant or
terrible. This is nowhere seen better than in war, where surprise
terrorizes even the strongest.

"When two armies are in touch or merely separated by the field of
battle, there are first, on the part of the cavalry, skirmishes,
thrusts, wheels to stop or pursue the enemy, after which usually each
goes cautiously and does not put forth its greatest effort until the
critical part of the conflict. Or, having commenced as usual, the
opposite is done and one moves swiftly, after the wheel, either to
flee or to pursue. This is the method by which one can, with the least
possible risk, most harm the enemy, charging at top speed when
supported, or fleeing at the same speed to escape the enemy. If it is
possible in these skirmishes to leave behind, formed in column and
unobserved four or five of the bravest and best mounted men in each
troop they may be very well employed to fall on the enemy at the
moment of the wheel."

2. Marius Against the Cimbrians

Extract from Plutarch's "Life of Marius."

"Boiorix, king of the Cimbrians, at the head of a small troop of
cavalry, approached Marius' camp and challenged him to fix a day and
place to decide who would rule the country. Marius answered that
Romans did not ask their enemies when to fight, but that he was
willing to satisfy the Cimbrians. They agreed then to give battle in
three days on the plain of Verceil, a convenient place for the Romans
to deploy their cavalry and for the barbarians to extend their large
army. The two opponents on the day set were in battle formation.
Catulus had twenty thousand three hundred men. Marius had thirty-two
thousand, placed on the wings and consequently on either side of those
of Catulus, in the center. So writes Sylla, who was there. They say
that Marius gave this disposition to the two parts of his army because
he hoped to fall with his two wings on the barbarian phalanxes and
wished the victory to come only to his command, without Catulus taking
any part or even meeting with the enemy. Indeed, as the front of
battle was very broad, the wings were separated from the center, which
was broken through. They add that Catulus reported this disposition in
the explanation that he had to make and complained bitterly of Marius'
bad faith. The Cimbrian infantry came out of its positions in good
order and in battle array formed a solid phalanx as broad as it was
wide, thirty stades or about eighteen thousand feet. Their fifteen
thousand horsemen were magnificently equipped. Their helmets were
crowned by the gaping mouths of savage beasts, above which were high
plumes which looked like wings. This accentuated their height. They
were protected by iron cuirasses and had shields of an astonishing
whiteness. Each had two javelins to throw from a distance, and in
close fighting they used a long heavy sword.

"In this battle the cavalry did not attack the Romans in front, but,
turning to the right they gradually extended with the idea of
enclosing the Romans before their infantry and themselves. The Roman
generals instantly perceived the ruse. But they were not able to
restrain their men, one of whom, shouting that the enemy was flying,
led all the others to pursue. Meanwhile the barbarian infantry
advanced like the waves of a great sea.

"Marius washed his hands, raised them to heaven, and vowed to offer a
hecatomb to the gods. Catulus for his part, also raised his hands to
heaven and promised to consecrate the fortune of the day. Marius also
made a sacrifice, and, when the priest showed him the victim's
entrails, cried, 'Victory is mine.' But, as the two armies were set in
motion, something happened, which, according to Sylla, seemed divine
vengeance on Marius. The movements of such a prodigious multitude
raised such a cloud of dust that the two armies could not see each
other. Marius, who had advanced first with his troops to fall on the
enemy's formation, missed it in the dust, and having passed beyond it,
wandered for a long time in the plain. Meanwhile fortune turned the
barbarians toward Catulus who had to meet their whole attack with his
soldiers, among whom was Sylla. The heat of the day and the burning
rays of the sun, which was in the eyes of the Cimbrians, helped the
Romans. The barbarians, reared in cold wooded places, hardened to
extreme cold, could not stand the heat. Sweating, panting, they shaded
their faces from the sun with their shields. The battle occurred after
the summer solstice, three days before the new moon of the month of
August, then called Sextilis. The cloud of dust sustained the Romans'
courage by concealing the number of the enemy. Each battalion
advancing against the enemy in front of them were engaged, before the
sight of such a great horde of barbarians could shake them.
Furthermore, hardship and hard work had so toughened them that in
spite of the heat and impetuousness with which they attacked, no Roman
was seen to sweat or pant. This, it is said, is testified to by
Catulus himself in eulogizing the conduct of his troops.

"Most of the enemy, above all the bravest, were cut to pieces, for, to
keep the front ranks from breaking, they were tied together by long
chains attached to their belts. The victors pursued the fugitives to
their entrenched camp.

"The Romans took more than sixty thousand Cimbrians prisoners, and
killed twice as many."

3. The Battle of the Alma

Extract from the correspondence of Colonel Ardant du Picq. A letter
sent from Huy, February 9, 1869, by Captain de V----, a company
officer in the attack division.

"My company, with the 3rd, commanded by Captain D---- was designated to
cover the battalion.

"At eight or nine hundred meters from the Alma, we saw a sort of wall,
crowned with white, whose use we could not understand. Then, at not
more than three hundred meters, this wall delivered against us a
lively battalion fire and deployed at the run. It was a Russian
battalion whose uniform, partridge-gray or chestnut-gray color, with
white helmet, had, with the help of a bright sun, produced the
illusion. This, parenthetically, showed me that this color is
certainly the most sensible, as it can cause such errors. [51] We replied
actively, but there was effect on neither side because the men fired
too fast and too high.... The advance was then taken up, and I don't
know from whom the order can have come.... We went on the run, crossing
the river easily enough, and while we were assembling to scramble up
the hill we saw the rest of the battalion attacking, without order,
companies mixed up, crying, 'Forward,' singing, etc. We did the same,
again took up the attack, and were lucky enough to reach the summit of
the plateau first. The Russians, astounded, massed in a square. Why? I
suppose that, turned on the left, attacked in the center, they thought
themselves surrounded, and took this strange formation. At this moment
a most inopportune bugle call was sounded by order of Major De M----
commanding temporarily a battalion of foot chasseurs. This officer had
perceived the Russian cavalry in motion and believed that its object
was to charge us, while, on the contrary it was maneuvering to escape
the shells fired into it while in squadron formation by the Megere, a
vessel of the fleet. This order given by bugle signal was executed as
rapidly as had been the attack, such is the instinct of
self-preservation which urges man to flee danger, above all when
ordered to flee. Happily a level-headed officer, Captain Daguerre,
seeing the gross mistake, commanded 'Forward' in a stentorian tone.
This halted the retreat and caused us again to take up the attack. The
attack made us masters of the telegraph-line, and the battle was won.
At this second charge the Russians gave, turned, and hardly any of
them were wounded with the bayonet. So then a major commanding a
battalion, without orders, sounds a bugle call and endangers success.
A simple Captain commands 'Forward,' and decides the victory. This is
the history of yesterday, which may be useful tomorrow."

It appears from this that, apart from the able conception of the
commander-in-chief, the detail of execution was abominable, and that
to base on successes new rules of battle would lead to lamentable
errors. Let us sum up:

First: A private chasseur d'Afrique gave the order to attack;

Second: The troops went to the attack mixed up with each other. We
needed nearly an hour merely to reform the brigade. This one called,
that one congratulated himself, the superior officers cried out, etc.,
etc.; there was confusion that would have meant disaster if the
cavalry charge which was believed to threaten us, had been executed.
Disorder broke out in the companies at the first shot. Once engaged,
commanders of organizations no longer had them in hand, and they
intermingled, so that it was not easy to locate oneself;

Third: There was no silence in ranks. Officers, non-commissioned
officers and soldiers commanded, shouted, etc.; the bugles sounded the
commands they heard coming from nobody knew where;

Fourth: There was no maneuvering from the first shot to the last. I do
not remember being among my own men; it was only at the end that we
found each other. Zouaves, chasseurs, soldiers of the 2Oth line formed
an attack group--that was all. About four o'clock there was a first
roll call. About a third of the battalion was missing at nine at night
there was a second roll call. Only about fifty men were missing,
thirty of whom were wounded. Where the rest were I do not know.

Fifth: To lighten the men, packs had been left on the plain at the
moment fire opened, and as the operation had not been worked out in
advance, no measures were taken to guard them. In the evening most of
the men found their packs incomplete, lacking all the little
indispensables that one cannot get in the position in which we were.

It is evidently a vital necessity to restrain the individual
initiative of subordinates and leave command to the chiefs, and above
all to watch the training of the soldiers who are always ready, as
they approach, to run on the enemy with the bayonet. I have always
noted that if a body which is charged does not hold firm, it breaks
and takes flight, but that if it holds well, the charging body halts
some paces away before it strikes. I shall tell you something notable
that I saw at Castel-Fidardo. They talk a lot of the bayonet. For my
part I only saw it used once, in the night, in a trench. Also it is
noted that in the hospital, practically all the wounds treated were
from fire, rarely from the bayonet.

4. The Battle of the Alma

Extract from the correspondence of Colonel A. du Picq. Letters dated
in November, 1868, and February, 1869, sent from Rennes by Captain
P---- of the 17th battalion of foot chasseurs, with remarks by the
colonel and responses of Captain P----.

First letter from Captain P----

"... It is there that I had time to admire the coolness of my brave
Captain Daguerre, advancing on a mare under the enemy's eyes, and
observing imperturbable, like a tourist, all the movements of our

"I will always pay homage to his calm and collected bravery...."

Remarks by the colonel.

"Did not Captain Daguerre change the bugle call 'Retreat,' ordered
by ---- to the bugle call 'Forward?'"

Answer of Captain P----

"In fact, when protected in the wood by pieces of wall we were firing
on the Russians, we heard behind us the bugle sounding 'Retreat' at
the order of ----. At this moment my captain, indignant, ordered
'Forward' sounded to reestablish confidence which had been shaken by
the distraction or by the inadvertance of ----."

5. The Battle of Inkermann

Extract from the correspondence of Colonel Ardant du Picq.

First: Letter sent from Lyon, March 21, 1869, by Major de G----, 17th
Line Regiment.

"... The 1st Battalion of the 7th Light Regiment had hardly arrived
close to the telegraph when it received a new order to rush to the
help of the English army, which, too weak to hold such a large army,
had been broken in the center of its line and driven back on its

"The 1st Battalion of the 7th Light Regiment, Major Vaissier, had the
honor to arrive first in the presence of the Russians, after moving
three kilometers on the run. Received by the enthusiastic cheers of
the English, it formed for battle, then carried away by burning cries
of 'Forward, with the bayonet' from its brave major it threw itself
headlong, on the Russian columns, which broke.

"For two hours the 1st Battalion of the 7th Light Regiment, a
battalion of the 6th Line Regiment, four companies of the 3rd
Battalion of foot chasseurs, five companies of Algerian chasseurs held
the head of the Russian army which continued to debouch in massed
columns from the ravine and plateau of Inkermann.

"Three times the battalion of the 7th Light Regiment was obliged to
fall back some paces to rally. Three times it charged with the
bayonet, with the same ardor and success.

"At four in the afternoon the Russians were in rout, and were pursued
into the valley of Inkermann.

"On this memorable day all the officers, non-commissioned officers and
soldiers of the 7th Light Regiment performed their duty nobly,
rivalling each other in bravery and self-sacrifice."

Second: Notes on Inkermann, which Colonel A. du Picq indicates come
from the letters of Captain B---- (these letters are missing).

"In what formation were the Russians? In column, of which the head
fired, and whose platoons tried to get from behind the mead to enter
into action?

"When Major Vaissier advanced was he followed by every one? At what
distance? In what formation were the attackers? in disordered masses?
in one rank? in two? in mass? Did the Russians immediately turn tail,
receiving shots and the bayonet in the back? did they fall back on the
mass which itself was coming up? What was the duration of this attack
against a mass, whose depth prevented its falling back?

"Did we receive bayonet wounds?

"Did we fall back before the active reaction of the mass or merely
because, after the first shock, the isolated soldiers fell back to
find companions and with them a new confidence?

"Was the second charge made like the first one? Was the 6th Line
Regiment engaged as the first support of the 7th Light Regiment? How
were the Zouaves engaged?"

6. The Battle of Magenta

Extract from the correspondence of Colonel Ardant du Picq. Letters
from Captain C----, dated August 23, 1868.

"At Magenta I was in Espinasse's division, of Marshal MacMahon's
corps. This division was on the extreme left of the troops that had
passed the Ticino at Turbigo and was moving on Magenta by the left
bank. Close to the village a fusillade at close range apprised us that
the enemy was before us. The country, covered with trees, hedges, and
vines, had hidden them.

"Our 1st Battalion and the 2nd Foreign Regiment drove the Austrians
into Magenta.

"Meanwhile the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of Zouaves, with which I was,
remained in reserve, arms stacked, under control of the division
commander. Apparently quite an interval had been left between
Espinasse's division and la Motterouge's, the 1st of the corps, and,
at the moment of engagement, at least an Austrian brigade had entered
the gap, and had taken in flank and rear the elements of our division
engaged before Magenta. Happily the wooded country concealed the
situation or I doubt whether our troops engaged would have held on as
they did. At any rate the two reserve battalions had not moved. The
fusillade extended to our right and left as if to surround us; bullets
already came from our right flank. The General had put five guns in
front of us, to fire on the village, and at the same time I received
the order to move my section to the right, to drive off the invisible
enemy who was firing on us. I remember that I had quit the column with
my section when I saw a frightened artillery captain run toward us,
crying 'General, General, we are losing a piece!' The general
answered, 'Come! Zouaves, packs off.' At these words, the two
battalions leaped forward like a flock of sheep, dropping packs
everywhere. The Austrians were not seen at first. It was only after
advancing for an instant that they were seen. They were already
dragging off the piece that they had taken. At the sight of them our
men gave a yell and fell on them. Surprise and terror so possessed the
Austrians, who did not know that we were so near, that they ran
without using their arms. The piece was retaken; the regimental
standard was captured by a man in my company. About two hundred
prisoners were taken, and the Austrian regiment--Hartmann's 9th
Infantry--was dispersed like sheep in flight, five battalions of them.
I believe that had the country not been thick the result might have
been different. The incident lasted perhaps ten minutes.

"The two battalions took up their first position. They had had no
losses, and their morale was in the clouds. After about an hour
General Espinasse put himself at the head of the two battalions and
marched us on the village. We were in column of platoons with section
intervals. The advance was made by echelon, the 2nd Battalion in
front, the 3rd a little in rear, and a company in front deployed as

"At one hundred and fifty paces from the Austrians, wavering was
evident in their lines; the first ranks threw themselves back on those
in rear. At that instant the general ordered again, 'Come! Packs off.
At the double!' Everybody ran forward, shedding his pack where he was.

"The Austrians did not wait for us. We entered the village mixed up
with them. The fighting in houses lasted quite a while. Most of the
Austrians retired. Those who remained in the houses had to surrender.
I found myself, with some fifty officers and men, in a big house from
which we took four hundred men and five officers, Colonel Hauser for

"My opinion is that we were very lucky at Magenta. The thick country
in which we fought, favored us in hiding our inferior number from the
Austrians. I do not believe we would have succeeded so well in open
country. In the gun episode the Austrians were surprised, stunned.
Those whom we took kept their arms in their hands, without either
abandoning them or using them. It was a typical Zouave attack, which,
when it succeeds, has astonishing results; but if one is not lucky it
sometimes costs dearly. Note the 3rd Zouaves at Palestro, the 1st
Zouaves at Marignano. General Espinasse's advance on the village, at
the head of two battalions, was the finest and most imposing sight I
have ever seen. Apart from that advance, the fighting was always by
skirmishers and in large groups."

7. The Battle of Solferino

Extract from the correspondence of Colonel Ardant du Picq. Letters
from Captain C----.

"The 55th infantry was part of the 3rd division of the 4th corps.

"Coming out of Medole, the regiment was halted on the right of the
road and formed, as each company arrived, in close column. Fascines
were made.

"An aide-de-camp came up and gave an order to the Colonel.

"The regiment was then put on the road, marched some yards and formed
in battalion masses on the right of the line of battle. This movement
was executed very regularly although bullets commenced to find us.
Arms were rested, and we stayed there, exposed to fire, without doing
anything, not even sending out a skirmisher. For that matter, during
the whole campaign, it seemed to me that the skirmisher school might
never have existed.

"Then up came a Major of Engineers, from General Niel, to get a
battalion from the regiment. The 3rd battalion being on the left
received the order to march. The major commanding ordered 'by the left
flank,' and we marched by the flank, in close column, in the face of
the enemy, up to Casa-Nova Farm, I believe, where General Niel was.

"The battalion halted a moment, faced to the front, and closed a

"'Stay here,' said General Niel; 'you are my only reserve!'

"Then the general, glancing in front of the farm, said to the major,
after one or two minutes, 'Major, fix bayonets, sound the charge, and

"This last movement was still properly executed at the start, and for
about one hundred yards of advance.

"Shrapnel annoyed the battalion, and the men shouldered arms to march

"At about one hundred yards from the farm, the cry 'Packs down,' came
from I do not know where. The cry was instantly repeated in the
battalion. Packs were thrown down, anywhere, and with wild yells the
advance was renewed, in the wildest disorder.

"From that moment, and for the rest of the day, the 3rd Battalion as a
unit disappeared.

"Toward the end of the day, after an attempt had been made to get the
regiment together, and at the end of half an hour of backing and
filling, there was a roll-call.

"The third company of grenadiers had on starting off in the morning
one hundred and thirty-two to one hundred and thirty-five present. At
this first roll-call, forty-seven answered, a number I can swear to,
but many of the men were still hunting packs and rations. The next day
at reveille roll-call, ninety-three or four answered. Many came back
in the night.

"This was the strength for many days I still remember, for I was
charged with company supply from June 25th.

"As additional bit of information--it was generally known a few days
later that at least twenty men of the 4th company of grenadiers were
never on the field of battle. Wounded of the company, returned for
transport to Medole, said later that they had seen some twenty of the
company together close to Medole, lying in the grass while their
comrades fought. They even gave some names, but could not name them
all. The company had only been formed for the war on April 19th, and
had received that same day forty-nine new grenadiers and twenty-nine
at Milan, which made seventy-eight recruits in two months. None of
these men were tried or punished. Their comrades rode them hard, that
was all."

8. Mentana

Extract from the correspondence of Colonel Ardant du Picq. Letters
from Captain C----, dated August 23, 1868.

"November 3, at two in the morning, we took up arms to go to
Monte-Rotondo. We did not yet know that we would meet the Garibaldians
at Mentana.

"The Papal army had about three thousand men, we about two thousand
five hundred. At one o'clock the Papal forces met their enemies. The
Zouaves attacked vigorously, but the first engagements were without
great losses on either side. There is nothing particular in this first
episode. The usual thing happened, a force advances and is not halted
by the fire of its adversary who ends by showing his heels. The papal
Zouaves are marked by no ordinary spirit. In comparing them with the
soldiers of the Antibes legion, one is forced to the conclusion that
the man who fights for an idea fights better than one who fights for
money. At each advance of the papal forces, we advanced also. We were
not greatly concerned about the fight, we hardly thought that we would
have to participate, not dreaming that we could be held by the
volunteers. However, that did not happen.

"It was about three o'clock. At that time three companies of the
battalion were employed in protecting the artillery--three or four
pieces placed about the battle-field. The head of the French column
was then formed by the last three companies of the battalion, one of
the 1st Line Regiment; the other regiments were immediately behind.
Colonel Fremont of the 1st Line Regiment, after having studied the
battle-field, took two chasseur companies, followed by a battalion of
his regiment and bore to the right to turn the village.

"Meanwhile the 1st Line Regiment moved further to the right in the
direction of Monte-Rotondo, against which at two different times it
opened a fire at will which seemed a veritable hurricane. Due to the
distance or to the terrain the material result of the fire seemed to
be negligible. The moral result must have been considerable, it
precipitated a flood of fugitives on the road from Mentana to
Monte-Rotondo, dominated by our sharpshooters, who opened on the
fugitives a fire more deadly than that of the chassepots. We stayed in
the same position until night, when we retired to a position near
Mentana, where we bivouacked.

"My company was one of the two chasseur companies which attacked on
the right with the 1st Line Regiment. My company had ninety-eight
rifles (we had not yet received the chassepots). It forced the
volunteers from solidly held positions where they left a gun and a
considerable number of rifles. In addition, it put nearly seventy men
out of action, judging by those who remained on the field. It had one
man slightly wounded, a belt and a carbine broken by bullets.

"There remained with the general, after our movement to the right,
three companies of chasseurs, a battalion of the 29th, and three of
the 59th. I do not include many elements of the Papal army which had
not been engaged. Some of my comrades told me of having been engaged
with a chasseur company of the 59th in a sunken road, whose sides had
not been occupied; the general was with this column. Having arrived
close to the village, some shots either from the houses or from enemy
sharpshooters, who might easily have gotten on the undefended flanks,
provoked a terrible fusillade in the column. In spite of the orders
and efforts of the officers, everybody fired, at the risk of killing
each other, and this probably happened. It was only when some men, led
by officers, were able to climb the sides of the road that this firing
ceased. I do not think that this was a well understood use of new

"The fusillade of the 1st Line Regiment against Monte-Rotondo was not
very effective, I believe negligible. I do not refer to the moral
result, which was great.

"The Garibaldians were numerous about Monte-Rotondo. But the terrain
like all that around Italian villages was covered with trees, hedges,
etc. Under these conditions, I believe that the fire of sharpshooters
would have been more effective than volleys, where the men estimate
distances badly and do not aim."


[1] General Daumas (Manners and Customs of Algeria). Nocturnal
Surprise and Extermination of a Camp.

[2] Among the Romans, mechanics and morale are so admirably united,
that the one always comes to the aid of the other and never injures it.

[3] The Romans did not make light of the influence of a poet like
Tyrtaeus. They did not despise any effective means. But they knew the
value of each.

[4] Also their common sense led them to recognize immediately and
appropriate arms better than their own.

[5] This is an excuse. The maniple was of perfect nobility and, without
the least difficulty, could face in any direction.

[6] This was an enveloping attack of an army and not of men or groups.
The Roman army formed a wedge and was attacked at the point and sides
of the wedge; there was not a separate flank attack. That very day the
maniple presented more depth than front.

[7] They had been sent to attack Hannibal's camp; they were repulsed
and taken prisoner in their own camp after the battle.

[8] This extract is taken from the translation of Dom Thuillier. Livy
does not state the precise number of Roman combatants. He says nothing
had been neglected in order to render the Roman army the strongest
possible, and from what he was told by some it numbered eighty-seven
thousand two hundred men. That is the figure of Polybius. His account
has killed, forty-five thousand; taken or escaped after the action,
nineteen thousand. Total sixty-four thousand. What can have become of
the twenty-three thousand remaining?

[9] The Numidian horsemen were a light irregular cavalry, excellent for
skirmishing, harassing, terrifying, by their extraordinary shouts and
their unbridled gallop. They were not able to hold out against a regular
disciplined cavalry provided with bits and substantial arms. They were
but a swarm of flies that always harasses and kills at the least
mistake; elusive and perfect for a long pursuit and the massacre of
the vanquished to whom the Numidians gave neither rest nor truce. They
were like Arab cavalry, badly armed for the combat, but sufficiently
armed for butchering, as results show. The Arabian knife, the Kabyle
knife, the Indian knife of our days, which is the favorite of the
barbarian or savage, must play its part.

[10] They formed the third Roman line according to the order of battle
of the Legion. The contraction of the first line into a point would
naturally hem them in.

[11] Brought back by Hannibal who had reserved to himself the command
of the center.

[12] The triarians, the third Roman line.

[13] What effect this might have, was shown in the battle of Alisia,
where Caesar's men, forewarned by him, were nevertheless troubled by
war-whoops behind them. The din of battle in rear has always demoralized

[14] His cavalry consisted of seven thousand horse, of which five
hundred were Gauls or Germans, the best horsemen of that time, nine
hundred Galicians, five hundred Thracians, and Thessalians, Macedonians
and Italians in various numbers.

[15] Caesar's legions in battle order were in three lines: four cohorts
in the first line, two in the second, and three in the third. In this
way the cohorts of a legion were, in battle, always supported by cohorts
of the same legion.

[16] Caesar stated that in order to make up the numerical inferiority of
his cavalry, he had chosen four hundred of the most alert young men,
from among those marching ahead of the standards, and by daily exercise
had them accustomed to fighting between his horsemen. He had in this
way obtained such results that his thousand riders dared, in open field,
to cope with Pompey's seven thousand cavalry without becoming frightened
at their number.

[17] Any one who wishes to read in extenso is referred to the fight
of the ten thousand against Pharnabazus in Bithynia, Xenophon, par. 34,
page 569, Lisken & Sauvan edition.--In Polybius, the battle of the
Tecinus, Chapt. XIII, of Book III.--In Caesar or those who followed
him the battles against Scipio, Labienus, and Afranius, the Getae and
the Numidians, par. 61, page 282, and par. 69, 70, 71 and 72, pp. 283,
285, and 286, in the African war, Lisken & Sauvan edition.

[18] In ancient combat, there was almost only, dead or lightly wounded.
In action, a severe wound or one that incapacitated a man was
immediately followed by the finishing stroke.

[19] Hand-to-hand, sword-to-sword, serious fighting at short distances,
was rare then. Likewise in the duels of our day blades are rarely
crossed in actual practice.

[20] To-day, it is the riflemen who do nearly all the work of

[21] Considering Caesar's narrative what becomes of the mathematical
theory of masses, which is still discussed? If that theory had the
least use, how could Marius ever have held out against the tide of the
armies of the Cimbri and Teutons? In the battle of Pharsalus, the advice
given by Triarius to Pompey's army, a counsel which was followed and
which was from a man of experience, who had seen things close at hand,
shows that the shock, the physical impulse of the mass was a by-word.
They knew what to think of it.

[22] The individual advance, in modern battle, in the midst of blind
projectiles that do not choose, is much less dangerous than in ancient
times, because it seldom goes up to the enemy.

At Pharsalus, the volunteer Crastinius, an old centurion, moved ahead
with about a hundred men, saying to Caesar: "I am going to act,
general, in such a way that, living or dead, to-day you may have cause
to be proud of me."

Caesar, to whom these examples of blind devotion to his person were
not displeasing, and whose troops had shown him that they were too
mature, too experienced, to fear the contagion of this example, let
Crastinius and his companions go out to be killed.

Such blind courage influences the action of the mass that follows.
Probably for that reason, Caesar permitted it. But against reliable
troops, as the example of Crastinius proves, to move ahead in this
way, against the enemy, is to go to certain death.

[23] The men of the maniple, of the Roman company, mutually gave
their word never to leave ranks, except to pick up an arrow, to save a
comrade (a Roman citizen), or to kill an enemy. (Livy).

[24] A small body of troops falling into a trap might present a sort
of melee, for a second, the time necessary for its slaughter. In a
rout it might be possible at some moment of the butchery to have
conflict, a struggle of some men with courage, who want to sell
their lives dearly. But this is not a real melee. Men are hemmed in,
overwhelmed, but not thrown into confusion.

[25] The Greek phalanx.

[26] The Romans lost no one as their companies entered the openings
in the phalanx.

[27] The Roman velites, light-armed soldiers, of the primitive legion
before Marius, were required to stand for an instant in the intervals
of the maniples, while awaiting the onset. They maintained, but only
for an instant, the continuity of support.

[28] A result forced by the improvement of war appliances.

[29] In troops without cohesion, this movement begins at fifty leagues
from the enemy. Numbers enter the hospitals without any other complaint
than the lack of morale, which very quickly becomes a real disease. A
Draconian discipline no longer exists; cohesion alone can replace it.

[30] It is a troublesome matter to attack men who shoot six to eight
shots a minute, no matter how badly aimed. Will he have the last word
then, who has the last cartridge, who knows best how to make the enemy
use his cartridges without using his own?

The reasoning is always the same. With arrows: Let us use up their
arrows. With the club: Let us break their clubs. But how? That is
always the question. In matters of war, above all, precept is easy;
accomplishment is difficult.

[31] The more one imagines he is isolated, the more has he need of

[32] Are not naval battles above all the battles of captains? All
captains endeavor to promote a feeling of solidarity which will cause
them all to fight unitedly on the day of action. Trafalgar--Lissa.

In 1588, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, preparing for a naval engagement,
sent three commanders on light vessels to the advance-guard and three
to the rearguard, with executioners, and ordered them to have every
captain hanged who abandoned the post that had been assigned to him
for the battle.

In 1702, the English Admiral Benbow, a courageous man, was left almost
alone by his captains during three days of fighting. With an amputated
leg and arm, before dying, he had four brought to trial. One was
acquitted, three were hanged; and from that instant dates the
inflexible English severity towards commanders of fleets and vessels,
a severity necessary in order to force them to fight effectively.

Our commanders of battalions, our captains, our men, once under fire,
are more at sea than these commanders of vessels.

[33] The effect of surprise would certainly not last long to-day.
However, to-day wars are quickly decided.

[34] See Appendix VI. (Historical documents). (Editor's note).

[35] See Appendix VI. (Historical documents). (Editor's note).

[36] See Appendix VI. (Historical documents). (Editor's note).

[37] See Appendix VI. (Historical documents). (Editor's note).

[38] See Appendix VI. (Historical documents). (Editor's note).

[39] It is true that such measures are recommended in camps of
instruction and in publications. But in maneuvers they are neglected
in the mania for alignment, and in that other mad desire of generals
to mix in details which do not concern them.

[40] See Appendix VI. (Historical documents.) (Editor's note.)

[41] See Appendix VI. (Historical documents.) (Editor's note.)

[42] See Appendix II. (Historical documents.) (Editor's note.)

[43] A propos of gaps: At the battle of Sempach thirteen hundred badly
armed Swiss opposed three thousand Lorraine knights in phalanxes. The
attack of the Swiss in a formation was ineffective, and they were
threatened with envelopment. But Arnold von Winkelried created a gap;
the Swiss penetrated and the massacre followed.

[44] See Appendix II. (Historical documents.) (Editor's note.)

[45] See Appendix II. (Historical documents.) (Editor's note.)

[46] See Appendix II. (Historical documents.) (Editor's note.)

[47] It is hard to determine what method of fire, at command or at
will, was used. But what we find in the works of the best military
authorities, from Montecuculli to Marshal Saxe, is general opposition
to the replacement of the pike by the rifle. All predicted the
abandonment of the rifle for the pike, and the future always proved
them wrong. They ignored experience. They could not understand that
stronger than all logic is the instinct of man, who prefers long
range to close fighting, and who, having the rifle would not let it
go, but continually improved it.

[48] The danger arising from this kind of fire, led to proposals
to put the smallest men in the front rank, the tallest in the rear

[49] Nothing is more difficult than to estimate range; in nothing is
the eye more easily deceived. Practice and the use of instruments
cannot make a man infallible. At Sebastopol, for two months, a
distance of one thousand to twelve hundred meters could not be
determined by the rifle, due to inability to see the shots. For
three months it was impossible to measure by ranging shots, although
all ranges were followed through, the distance to a certain battery
which was only five hundred meters away, but higher and separated from
us by a ravine. One day, after three months, two shots at five hundred
meters were observed in the target. This distance was estimated by
everybody as over one thousand meters; it was only five hundred. The
village taken and the point of observation changed, the truth became

[50] His war instructions prove this. His best generals, Zieten,
Warnery, knew of such methods, saw nothing practicable in them and
guarded against them in war as indeed he did himself. But Europe
believed him, tried to imitate his maneuvers on the field of battle,
and aligned her troops to be beaten by him. This is what he was after.
He even deceived the Prussians. But they came back to sound methods
after 1808, in 1813 and afterwards.

[51] It is noted here that French uniforms are of an absurd color,
serving only to take the eye at a review. So the chasseurs, in black,
are seen much further than a rifleman of the line in his gray coat.
The red trousers are seen further than the gray--thus gray ought
to be the basic color of the infantry uniform, above all that of

At night fall the Russians came up to our trenches without being seen
by any one, thanks to their partridge-gray coats.

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