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On War by Carl von Clausewitz

Part 7 out of 7

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have to do with the great battle in itself, we shall merely
say that the effects now depicted never fail to attend a
victory, that they mount up with the intensive strength
of the victory--mount up more the more the whole
strength of the Army has been concentrated in it, the
more the whole military power of the Nation is contained
in that Army, and the State in that military power.

But then the question may be asked, Can theory accept
this effect of victory as absolutely necessary?--must it
not rather endeavour to find out counteracting means
capable of neutralising these effects? It seems quite
natural to answer this question in the affirmative; but
heaven defend us from taking that wrong course of most
theories, out of which is begotten a mutually devouring
Pro et Contra.

Certainly that effect is perfectly necessary, for it has
its foundation in the nature of things, and it exists, even
if we find means to struggle against it; just as the motion
of a cannon ball is always in the direction of the terrestrial,
although when fired from east to west part of the general
velocity is destroyed by this opposite motion.

All War supposes human weakness, and against that
it is directed.

Therefore, if hereafter in another place we examine
what is to be done after the loss of a great battle, if we
bring under review the resources which still remain, even
in the most desperate cases, if we should express a belief
in the possibility of retrieving all, even in such a case;
it must not be supposed we mean thereby that the effects
of such a defeat can by degrees be completely wiped out,
for the forces and means used to repair the disaster might
have been applied to the realisation of some positive
object; and this applies both to the moral and physical

Another question is, whether, through the loss of a great
battle, forces are not perhaps roused into existence, which
otherwise would never have come to life. This case is
certainly conceivable, and it is what has actually occurred
with many Nations. But to produce this intensified
reaction is beyond the province of military art, which
can only take account of it where it might be assumed as
a possibility.

If there are cases in which the fruits of a victory appear
rather of a destructive nature in consequence of the reaction
of the forces which it had the effect of rousing into
activity--cases which certainly are very exceptional--
then it must the more surely be granted, that there is a
difference in the effects which one and the same victory
may produce according to the character of the people or
state, which has been conquered.


WHATEVER form the conduct of War may take in particular
cases, and whatever we may have to admit in the
sequel as necessary respecting it: we have only to refer
to the conception of War to be convinced of what follows:

1. The destruction of the enemy's military force, is
the leading principle of War, and for the whole chapter of
positive action the direct way to the object.

2. This destruction of the enemy's force, must be principally
effected by means of battle.

3. Only great and general battles can produce great

4. The results will be greatest when combats unite themselves
in one great battle.

5. It is only in a great battle that the General-in-Chief
commands in person, and it is in the nature of things,
that he should place more confidence in himself than in
his subordinates.

From these truths a double law follows, the parts of
which mutually support each other; namely, that the
destruction of the enemy's military force is to be sought
for principally by great battles, and their results; and
that the chief object of great battles must be the destruction
of the enemy's military force.

No doubt the annihilation-principle is to be found more
or less in other means--granted there are instances in which
through favourable circumstances in a minor combat, the
destruction of the enemy's forces has been disproportionately
great (Maxen), and on the other hand in a battle,
the taking or holding a single post may be predominant
in importance as an object--but as a general rule it remains
a paramount truth, that battles are only fought
with a view to the destruction of the enemy's Army, and
that this destruction can only be effected by their

The battle may therefore be regarded as War concentrated,
as the centre of effort of the whole War or
campaign. As the sun's rays unite in the focus of the
concave mirror in a perfect image, and in the fulness
of their heat; to the forces and circumstances of War,
unite in a focus in the great battle for one concentrated
utmost effort.

The very assemblage of forces in one great whole, which
takes place more or less in all Wars, indicates an intention
to strike a decisive blow with this whole, either voluntarily
as assailant, or constrained by the opposite party as
defender. When this great blow does not follow, then
some modifying, and retarding motives have attached
themselves to the original motive of hostility, and have
weakened, altered or completely checked the movement.
But also, even in this condition of mutual inaction which
has been the key-note in so many Wars, the idea of a
possible battle serves always for both parties as a point
of direction, a distant focus in the construction of their
plans. The more War is War in earnest, the more it is a
venting of animosity and hostility, a mutual struggle to
overpower, so much the more will all activities join
deadly contest, and also the more prominent in importance
becomes the battle.

In general, when the object aimed at is of a great and positive
nature, one therefore in which the interests of the enemy
are deeply concerned, the battle offers itself as the most
natural means; it is, therefore, also the best as we shall show
more plainly hereafter: and, as a rule, when it is evaded
from aversion to the great decision, punishment follows.

The positive object belong to the offensive, and therefore
the battle is also more particularly his means. But
without examining the conception of offensive and defensive
more minutely here, we must still observe that, even
for the defender in most cases, there is no other effectual
means with which to meet the exigencies of his situation,
to solve the problem presented to him.

The battle is the bloodiest way of solution. True, it is
not merely reciprocal slaughter, and its effect is more a
killing of the enemy's courage than of the enemy's soldiers,
as we shall see more plainly in the next chapter--but
still blood is always its price, and slaughter its character
as well as name;[*] from this the humanity in the General's
mind recoils with horror.

[*] "Schlacht", from schlachten = to slaughter.

But the soul of the man trembles still more at the
thought of the decision to be given with one single blow.
IN ONE POINT of space and time all action is here pressed
together, and at such a moment there is stirred up within
us a dim feeling as if in this narrow space all our forces
could not develop themselves and come into activity, as if
we had already gained much by mere time, although this
time owes us nothing at all. This is all mere illusion, but
even as illusion it is something, and the same weakness
which seizes upon the man in every, other momentous
decision may well be felt more powerfully by the General,
when he must stake interests of such enormous weight
upon one venture.

Thus, then, Statesmen and Generals have at all times
endeavoured to avoid the decisive battle, seeking either
to attain their aim without it, or dropping that aim
unperceived. Writers on history and theory have then
busied themselves to discover in some other feature in
these campaigns not only an equivalent for the decision
by battle which has been avoided, but even a higher
art. In this way, in the present age, it came very near to
this, that a battle in the economy of War was looked upon
as an evil, rendered necessary through some error committed,a
paroxysm to which a regular prudent
system of War would never lead: only those Generals
were to deserve laurels who knew how to carry on War
without spilling blood, and the theory of War--a real
business for Brahmins--was to be specially directed to
teaching this.

Contemporary history has destroyed this illusion,[*] but
no one can guarantee that it will not sooner or later
reproduce itself, and lead those at the head of affairs to
perversities which please man's weakness, and therefore
have the greater affinity for his nature. Perhaps, by-and-
by, Buonaparte's campaigns and battles will be looked
upon as mere acts of barbarism and stupidity, and we shall
once more turn with satisfaction and confidence to the
dress-sword of obsolete and musty institutions and forms.
If theory gives a caution against this, then it renders a
real service to those who listen to its warning voice. MAY

[*] On the Continent only, it still preserves full vitality in
the minds
of British politicians and pressmen.--EDITOR.

[**] This prayer was abundantly granted--vide the German
of 1870.--EDITOR.

Not only the conception of War but experience also
leads us to look for a great decision only in a great battle.
From time immemorial, only great victories have led to
great successes on the offensive side in the absolute form,
on the defensive side in a manner more or less satisfactory.
Even Buonaparte would not have seen the day of Ulm,
unique in its kind, if he had shrunk from shedding blood;
it is rather to be regarded as only a second crop from the
victorious events in his preceding campaigns. It is not
only bold, rash, and presumptuous Generals who have
sought to complete their work by the great venture of a
decisive battle, but also fortunate ones as well; and we
may rest satisfied with the answer which they have thus
given to this vast question.

Let us not hear of Generals who conquer without bloodshed.
If a bloody slaughter is a horrible sight, then that
is a ground for paying more respect to War, but not
for making the sword we wear blunter and blunter by
degrees from feelings of humanity, until some one steps
in with one that is sharp and lops off the arm from our

We look upon a great battle as a principal decision, but
certainly not as the only one necessary for a War or a
campaign. Instances of a great battle deciding a whole
campaign, have been frequent only in modern times,
those which have decided a whole War, belong to the class
of rare exceptions.

A decision which is brought about by a great battle
depends naturally not on the battle itself, that is on the
mass of combatants engaged in it, and on the intensity of
the victory, but also on a number of other relations
between the military forces opposed to each other, and
between the States to which these forces belong. But
at the same time that the principal mass of the force available
is brought to the great duel, a great decision is also
brought on, the extent of which may perhaps be foreseen
in many respects, though not in all, and which although
not the only one, still is the FIRST decision, and as such,
has an influence on those which succeed. Therefore a
deliberately planned great battle, according to its relations,
is more or less, but always in some degree, to be regarded
as the leading means and central point of the whole
system. The more a General takes the field in the true
spirit of War as well as of every contest, with the feeling
and the idea, that is the conviction, that he must and
will conquer, the more he will strive to throw every
weight into the scale in the first battle, hope and strive
to win everything by it. Buonaparte hardly ever entered
upon a War without thinking of conquering his enemy
at once in the first battle,[*] and Frederick the Great,
although in a more limited sphere, and with interests
of less magnitude at stake, thought the same when,
at the head of a small Army, he sought to disengage
his rear from the Russians or the Federal Imperial

[*] This was Moltke's essential idea in his preparations for the
of 1870. See his secret memorandum issued to G.O.C.s on May 7.
1870, pointing to a battle on the Upper Saar as his primary

The decision which is given by the great battle, depends,
we have said, partly on the battle itself, that is on the
number of troops engaged, and partly on the magnitude
of the success.

How the General may increase its importance in respect
to the first point is evident in itself and we shall merely
observe that according to the importance of the great
battle, the number of cases which are decided along with
it increases, and that therefore Generals who, confident
in themselves have been lovers of great decisions, have
always managed to make use of the greater part of their
troops in it without neglecting on that account essential
points elsewhere.

As regards the consequences or speaking more correctly
the effectiveness of a victory, that depends chiefly on
four points:

1. On the tactical form adopted as the order of battle.

2. On the nature of the country.

3. On the relative proportions of the three arms.

4. On the relative strength of the two Armies.

A battle with parallel fronts and without any action
against a flank will seldom yield as great success as one in
which the defeated Army has been turned, or compelled
to change front more or less. In a broken or hilly country
the successes are likewise smaller, because the power
of the blow is everywhere less.

If the cavalry of the vanquished is equal or superior to
that of the victor, then the effects of the pursuit are
diminished, and by that great part of the results of victory
are lost.

Finally it is easy to understand that if superior numbers
are on the side of the conqueror, and he uses his advantage
in that respect to turn the flank of his adversary, or compel
him to change front, greater results will follow than if the
conqueror had been weaker in numbers than the vanquished.
The battle of Leuthen may certainly be quoted
as a practical refutation of this principle, but we beg
permission for once to say what we otherwise do not like,

In all these ways, therefore, the Commander has the
means of giving his battle a decisive character; certainly
he thus exposes himself to an increased amount of danger,
but his whole line of action is subject to that dynamic
law of the moral world.

There is then nothing in War which can be put in comparison
with the great battle in point of importance, AND THE ACME OF

But it does not follow from the importance of these
things that they must be of a very complicated and
recondite nature; all is here rather simple, the art of
combination by no means great; but there is great need of
quickness in judging of circumstances, need of energy,
steady resolution, a youthful spirit of enterprise--heroic
qualities, to which we shall often have to refer. There is,
therefore, but little wanted here of that which can be
taught by books and there is much that, if it can be taught
at all, must come to the General through some other
medium than printer's type.

The impulse towards a great battle, the voluntary,
sure progress to it, must proceed from a feeling of innate
power and a clear sense of the necessity; in other words,
it must proceed from inborn courage and from perceptions
sharpened by contact with the higher interests of

Great examples are the best teachers, but it is certainly
a misfortune if a cloud of theoretical prejudices comes
between, for even the sunbeam is refracted and tinted by
the clouds. To destroy such prejudices, which many a
time rise and spread themselves like a miasma, is an
imperative duty of theory, for the misbegotten offspring
of human reason can also be in turn destroyed by pure


THE more difficult part, viz., that of perfectly preparing
the victory, is a silent service of which the merit belongs
to Strategy and yet for which it is hardly sufficiently
commended. It appears brilliant and full of renown by
turning to good account a victory gained.

What may be the special object of a battle, how it is
connected with the whole system of a War, whither the
career of victory may lead according to the nature of
circumstances, where its culminating-point lies--all these
are things which we shall not enter upon until hereafter.
But under any conceivable circumstances the fact holds
good, that without a pursuit no victory can have a great
effect, and that, however short the career of victory may
be, it must always lead beyond the first steps in pursuit;
and in order to avoid the frequent repetition of this, we
shall now dwell for a moment on this necessary supplement
of victory in general.

The pursuit of a beaten Army commences at the moment
that Army, giving up the combat, leaves its position;
all previous movements in one direction and another
belong not to that but to the progress of the battle itself.
Usually victory at the moment here described, even if it
is certain, is still as yet small and weak in its proportions,
and would not rank as an event of any great positive
advantage if not completed by a pursuit on the first
day. Then it is mostly, as we have before said, that the
trophies which give substance to the victory begin to
be gathered up. Of this pursuit we shall speak in the
next place.

Usually both sides come into action with their physical
powers considerably deteriorated, for the movements
immediately preceding have generally the character of
very urgent circumstances. The efforts which the forging
out of a great combat costs, complete the exhaustion;
from this it follows that the victorious party is very little
less disorganised and out of his original formation than
the vanquished, and therefore requires time to reform,
to collect stragglers, and issue fresh ammunition to those
who are without. All these things place the conqueror
himself in the state of crisis of which we have already
spoken. If now the defeated force is only a detached
portion of the enemy's Army, or if it has otherwise to
expect a considerable reinforcement, then the conqueror
may easily run into the obvious danger of having to pay
dear for his victory, and this consideration, in such a case,
very soon puts an end to pursuit, or at least restricts it
materially. Even when a strong accession of force by
the enemy is not to be feared, the conqueror finds in the
above circumstances a powerful check to the vivacity of
his pursuit. There is no reason to fear that the victory
will be snatched away, but adverse combats are still
possible, and may diminish the advantages which up to
the present have been gained. Moreover, at this moment
the whole weight of all that is sensuous in an Army, its
wants and weaknesses, are dependent on the will of the
Commander. All the thousands under his command
require rest and refreshment, and long to see a stop put
to toil and danger for the present; only a few, forming
an exception, can see and feel beyond the present moment,
it is only amongst this little number that there is sufficient
mental vigour to think, after what is absolutely necessary
at the moment has been done, upon those results which at
such a moment only appear to the rest as mere embellishments
of victory--as a luxury of triumph. But all these
thousands have a voice in the council of the General,
for through the various steps of the military hierarchy
these interests of the sensuous creature have their sure
conductor into the heart of the Commander. He himself,
through mental and bodily fatigue, is more or less
weakened in his natural activity, and thus it happens
then that, mostly from these causes, purely incidental to
human nature, less is done than might have been done,
and that generally what is done is to be ascribed entirely
to the THIRST FOR GLORY, the energy, indeed also the HARD-
HEARTEDNESS of the General-in-Chief. It is only thus we
can explain the hesitating manner in which many Generals
follow up a victory which superior numbers have given
them. The first pursuit of the enemy we limit in general
to the extent of the first day, including the night following
the victory. At the end of that period the necessity of
rest ourselves prescribes a halt in any case.

This first pursuit has different natural degrees.

The first is, if cavalry alone are employed; in that case
it amounts usually more to alarming and watching than
to pressing the enemy in reality, because the smallest
obstacle of ground is generally sufficient to check the
pursuit. Useful as cavalry may be against single bodies
of broken demoralised troops, still when opposed to the
bulk of the beaten Army it becomes again only the auxiliary
arm, because the troops in retreat can employ fresh
reserves to cover the movement, and, therefore, at the next
trifling obstacle of ground, by combining all arms they can
make a stand with success. The only exception to this
is in the case of an army in actual flight in a complete
state of dissolution.

The second degree is, if the pursuit is made by a strong
advance-guard composed of all arms, the greater part
consisting naturally of cavalry. Such a pursuit generally
drives the enemy as far as the nearest strong position for
his rear-guard, or the next position affording space for his
Army. Neither can usually be found at once, and, therefore,
the pursuit can be carried further; generally, however,
it does not extend beyond the distance of one or at
most a couple of leagues, because otherwise the advance-
guard would not feel itself sufficiently supported.
The third and most vigorous degree is when the
victorious Army itself continues to advance as far as its
physical powers can endure. In this case the beaten Army
will generally quit such ordinary positions as a country
usually offers on the mere show of an attack, or of an
intention to turn its flank; and the rear-guard will be
still less likely to engage in an obstinate resistance.

In all three cases the night, if it sets in before the conclusion
of the whole act, usually puts an end to it, and the
few instances in which this has not taken place, and the
pursuit has been continued throughout the night, must be
regarded as pursuits in an exceptionally vigorous form.

If we reflect that in fighting by night everything must be, more
or less,
abandoned to chance, and that at the
conclusion of a battle the regular cohesion and order of
things in an army must inevitably be disturbed, we may
easily conceive the reluctance of both Generals to carrying
on their business under such disadvantageous conditions.
If a complete dissolution of the vanquished Army, or a
rare superiority of the victorious Army in military virtue
does not ensure success, everything would in a manner be
given up to fate, which can never be for the interest of
any one, even of the most fool-hardy General. As a rule,
therefore, night puts an end to pursuit, even when the
battle has only been decided shortly before darkness sets
in. This allows the conquered either time for rest and to
rally immediately, or, if he retreats during the night it gives
him a march in advance. After this break the conquered
is decidedly in a better condition; much of that which
had been thrown into confusion has been brought again
into order, ammunition has been renewed, the whole has
been put into a fresh formation. Whatever further encounter
now takes place with the enemy is a new battle
not a continuation of the old, and although it may be far
from promising absolute success, still it is a fresh combat,
and not merely a gathering up of the debris by the victor.

When, therefore, the conqueror can continue the pursuit
itself throughout the night, if only with a strong advance-
guard composed of all arms of the service, the effect of
the victory is immensely increased, of this the battles of
Leuthen and La Belle Alliance[*] are examples.

[*] Waterloo.

The whole action of this pursuit is mainly tactical,
and we only dwell upon it here in order to make plain the
difference which through it may be produced in the
effect of a victory.

This first pursuit, as far as the nearest stopping-point,
belongs as a right to every conqueror, and is hardly in any
way connected with his further plans and combinations.
These may considerably diminish the positive results of a
victory gained with the main body of the Army, but they
cannot make this first use of it impossible; at least cases
of that kind, if conceivable at all, must be so uncommon
that they should have no appreciable influence on theory.
And here certainly we must say that the example afforded
by modern Wars opens up quite a new field for energy.
In preceding Wars, resting on a narrower basis, and altogether
more circumscribed in their scope, there were many
unnecessary conventional restrictions in various ways,
but particularly in this point. THE CONCEPTION, HONOUR OF
VICTORY seemed to Generals so much by far the chief thing
that they thought the less of the complete destruction of
the enemy's military force, as in point of fact that destruction
of force appeared to them only as one of the many
means in War, not by any means as the principal, much
less as the only means; so that they the more readily put
the sword in its sheath the moment the enemy had
lowered his. Nothing seemed more natural to them than
to stop the combat as soon as the decision was obtained,
and to regard all further carnage as unnecessary cruelty.
Even if this false philosophy did not determine their
resolutions entirely, still it was a point of view by which
representations of the exhaustion of all powers, and physical
impossibility of continuing the struggle, obtained
readier evidence and greater weight. Certainly the
sparing one's own instrument of victory is a vital question
if we only possess this one, and foresee that soon the time
may arrive when it will not be sufficient for all that remains
to be done, for every continuation of the offensive must
lead ultimately to complete exhaustion. But this calculation
was still so far false, as the further loss of forces by a
continuance of the pursuit could bear no proportion to
that which the enemy must suffer. That view, therefore,
again could only exist because the military forces were not
considered the vital factor. And so we find that in former
Wars real heroes only--such as Charles XII., Marlborough,
Eugene, Frederick the Great--added a vigorous pursuit
to their victories when they were decisive enough, and
that other Generals usually contented themselves with the
possession of the field of battle. In modern times the
greater energy infused into the conduct of Wars through
the greater importance of the circumstances from which
they have proceeded has thrown down these conventional
barriers; the pursuit has become an all-important business
for the conqueror; trophies have on that account
multiplied in extent, and if there are cases also in modern
Warfare in which this has not been the case, still they
belong to the list of exceptions, and are to be accounted
for by peculiar circumstances.

At Gorschen[*] and Bautzen nothing but the superiority
of the allied cavalry prevented a complete rout, at Gross
Beeren and Dennewitz the ill-will of Bernadotte, the
Crown Prince of Sweden; at Laon the enfeebled personal
condition of Bluecher, who was then seventy years old and at the
confined to a dark room owing to an injury to his eyes.

[*] Gorschen or Lutzen, May 2, 1813; Gross Beeren and Dennewitz,
August 22, 1813; Bautzen. May 22, 1913; Laon, March 10 1813.

But Borodino is also an illustration to the point here,
and we cannot resist saying a few more words about it,
partly because we do not consider the circumstances are
explained simply by attaching blame to Buonaparte,
partly because it might appear as if this, and with it a
great number of similar cases, belonged to that class which
we have designated as so extremely rare, cases in which the
general relations seize and fetter the General at the very
beginning of the battle. French authors in particular,
and great admirers of Buonaparte (Vaudancourt, Chambray,
Se'gur), have blamed him decidedly because he did
not drive the Russian Army completely off the field,
and use his last reserves to scatter it, because then what
was only a lost battle would have been a complete rout.
We should be obliged to diverge too far to describe
the mutual situation of the two Armies; but
this much is evident, that when Buonaparte passed the
Niemen with his Army the same corps which afterwards
fought at Borodino numbered 300,000 men, of whom now
only 120,000 remained, he might therefore well be apprehensive
that he would
not have enough left to march
upon Moscow, the point on which everything seemed to
depend. The victory which he had just gained gave him
nearly a certainty of taking that capital, for that the
Russians would be in a condition to fight a second battle
within eight days seemed in the highest degree improbable;
and in Moscow he hoped to find peace. No doubt
the complete dispersion of the Russian Army would have
made this peace much more certain; but still the first
consideration was to get to Moscow, that is, to get there
with a force with which he should appear dictator over
the capital, and through that over the Empire and the
Government. The force which he brought with him to
Moscow was no longer sufficient for that, as shown in the
sequel, but it would have been still less so if, in scattering
the Russian Army, he had scattered his own at the same
time. Buonaparte was thoroughly alive to all this, and
in our eyes he stands completely justified. But on that
account this case is still not to be reckoned amongst those
in which, through the general relations, the General is
interdicted from following up his victory, for there never
was in his case any question of mere pursuit. The victory
was decided at four o'clock in the afternoon, but the
Russians still occupied the greater part of the field of
battle; they were not yet disposed to give up the ground,
and if the attack had been renewed, they would still have
offered a most determined resistance, which would have
undoubtedly ended in their complete defeat, but would
have cost the conqueror much further bloodshed. We
must therefore reckon the Battle of Borodino as amongst
battles, like Bautzen, left unfinished. At Bautzen the
vanquished preferred to quit the field sooner; at Borodino
the conqueror preferred to content himself with a
half victory, not because the decision appeared doubtful,
but because he was not rich enough to pay for the whole.

Returning now to our subject, the deduction from our
reflections in relation to the first stage of pursuit is, that
the energy thrown into it chiefly determines the value of
the victory; that this pursuit is a second act of the
victory, in many cases more important also than the first,
and that strategy, whilst here approaching tactics to receive
from it the harvest of success, exercises the first act of
her authority by demanding this completion of the victory.

But further, the effects of victory are very seldom
found to stop with this first pursuit; now first begins the
real career to which victory lent velocity. This course is
conditioned as we have already said, by other relations of
which it is not yet time to speak. But we must here mention,
what there is of a general character in the pursuit in
order to avoid repetition when the subject occurs again.

In the further stages of pursuit, again, we can distinguish
three degrees: the simple pursuit, a hard pursuit,
and a parallel march to intercept.

The simple FOLLOWING or PURSUING causes the enemy to
continue his retreat, until he thinks he can risk another
battle. It will therefore in its effect suffice to exhaust
the advantages gained, and besides that, all that the enemy
cannot carry with him, sick, wounded, and disabled from
fatigue, quantities of baggage, and carriages of all kinds,
will fall into our hands, but this mere following does not
tend to heighten the disorder in the enemy's Army, an
effect which is produced by the two following causes.

If, for instance, instead of contenting ourselves with
taking up every day the camp the enemy has just vacated,
occupying just as much of the country as he chooses to
abandon, we make our arrangements so as every day to
encroach further, and accordingly with our advance-
guard organised for the purpose, attack his rear-guard
every time it attempts to halt, then such a course will
hasten his retreat, and consequently tend to increase his
disorganisation.--This it will principally effect by the
character of continuous flight, which his retreat will thus
assume. Nothing has such a depressing influence on the
soldier, as the sound of the enemy's cannon afresh at the
moment when, after a forced march he seeks some rest;
if this excitement is continued from day to day for some
time, it may lead to a complete rout. There lies in it a
constant admission of being obliged to obey the law of
the enemy, and of being unfit for any resistance, and the
consciousness of this cannot do otherwise than weaken the
moral of an Army in a high degree. The effect of pressing
the enemy in this way attains a maximum when it drives
the enemy to make night marches. If the conqueror
scares away the discomfited opponent at sunset from a
camp which has just been taken up either for the main
body of the Army, or for the rear-guard, the conquered
must either make a night march, or alter his position in
the night, retiring further away, which is much the same
thing; the victorious party can on the other hand pass
the night in quiet.

The arrangement of marches, and the choice of positions
depend in this case also upon so many other things,
especially on the supply of the Army, on strong natural
obstacles in the country, on large towns, &c. &c., that it
would be ridiculous pedantry to attempt to show by a
geometrical analysis how the pursuer, being able to
impose his laws on the retreating enemy, can compel him
to march at night while he takes his rest. But nevertheless
it is true and practicable that marches in pursuit may
be so planned as to have this tendency, and that the efficacy
of the pursuit is very much enchanced thereby. If
this is seldom attended to in the execution, it is because
such a procedure is more difficult for the pursuing Army,
than a regular adherence to ordinary marches in the daytime.
To start in good time in the morning, to encamp
at mid-day, to occupy the rest of the day in providing
for the ordinary wants of the Army, and to use the night
for repose, is a much more convenient method than to
regulate one's movements exactly according to those of
the enemy, therefore to determine nothing till the last
moment, to start on the march, sometimes in the morning,
sometimes in the evening, to be always for several hours
in the presence of the enemy, and exchanging cannon shots
with him, and keeping up skirmishing fire, to plan manoeuvres
to turn him, in short, to make the whole outlay of
tactical means which such a course renders necessary.
All that naturally bears with a heavy weight on the pursuing
Army, and in War, where there are so many burdens
to be borne, men are always inclined to strip off those
which do not seem absolutely necessary. These observations
are true, whether applied to a whole Army or as in
the more usual case, to a strong advance-guard. For the
reasons just mentioned, this second method of pursuit,
this continued pressing of the enemy pursued is rather a
rare occurrence; even Buonaparte in his Russian campaign,
1812, practised it but little, for the reasons here
apparent, that the difficulties and hardships of this campaign,
already threatened his Army with destruction before
it could reach its object; on the other hand, the French
in their other campaigns have distinguished themselves
by their energy in this point also.

Lastly, the third and most effectual form of pursuit is,
the parallel march to the immediate object of the retreat.

Every defeated Army will naturally have behind it, at
a greater or less distance, some point, the attainment of
which is the first purpose in view, whether it be that
failing in this its further retreat might be compromised,
as in the case of a defile, or that it is important for the
point itself to reach it before the enemy, as in the case of
a great city, magazines, &c., or, lastly, that the Army
at this point will gain new powers of defence, such as
a strong position, or junction with other corps.

Now if the conqueror directs his march on this point by
a lateral road, it is evident how that may quicken the
retreat of the beaten Army in a destructive manner,
convert it into hurry, perhaps into flight.[*] The
conquered has only three ways to counteract this: the first
is to throw himself in front of the enemy, in order by an
unexpected attack to gain that probability of success which
is lost to him in general from his position; this plainly
supposes an enterprising bold General, and an excellent
Army, beaten but not utterly defeated; therefore, it can
only be employed by a beaten Army in very few cases.

[*] This point is exceptionally well treated by von Bernhardi in
his "Cavalry in Future Wars." London: Murray, 1906.

The second way is hastening the retreat; but this is
just what the conqueror wants, and it easily leads to
immoderate efforts on the part of the troops, by which
enormous losses are sustained, in stragglers, broken guns,
and carriages of all kinds.

The third way is to make a detour, and get round the
nearest point of interception, to march with more ease at
a greater distance from the enemy, and thus to render the
haste required less damaging. This last way is the worst
of all, it generally turns out like a new debt contracted
by an insolvent debtor, and leads to greater embarrassment.
There are cases in which this course is advisable;
others where there is nothing else left; also instances in
which it has been successful; but upon the whole it is
certainly true that its adoption is usually influenced
less by a clear persuasion of its being the surest way of
attaining the aim than by another inadmissible motive--
this motive is the dread of encountering the enemy.
Woe to the Commander who gives in to this! However
much the moral of his Army may have deteriorated, and
however well founded may be his apprehensions of being
at a disadvantage in any conflict with the enemy, the evil
will only be made worse by too anxiously avoiding every
possible risk of collision. Buonaparte in 1813 would never
have brought over the Rhine with him the 30,000 or 40,000
men who remained after the battle of Hanau,[*] if he had
avoided that battle and tried to pass the Rhine at Mannheim
or Coblenz. It is just by means of small combats
carefully prepared and executed, and in which the defeated
army being on the defensive, has always the assistance of
the ground--it is just by these that the moral strength of
the Army can first be resuscitated.

[*] At Hanau (October 30, 1813), the Bavarians some 50,000 strong
threw themselves across the line of Napoleon's retreat from
By a masterly use of its artillery the French tore the Bavarians
and marched on over their bodies.--EDITOR.

The beneficial effect of the smallest successes is
incredible; but with most Generals the adoption of this
plan implies great self-command. The other way, that
of evading all encounter, appears at first so much easier,
that there is a natural preference for its adoption. It is
therefore usually just this system of evasion which best,
promotes the view of the pursuer, and often ends with
the complete downfall of the pursued; we must, however,
recollect here that we are speaking of a whole Army, not
of a single Division, which, having been cut off, is seeking
to join the main Army by making a de'tour; in such a
case circumstances are different, and success is not uncommon.
But there is one condition requisite to the
success of this race of two Corps for an object, which is that
a Division of the pursuing army should follow by the same
road which the pursued has taken, in order to pick up
stragglers, and keep up the impression which the presence
of the enemy never fails to make. Bluecher neglected this
in his, in other respects unexceptionable, pursuit after
La Belle Alliance.

Such marches tell upon the pursuer as well as the pursued,
and they are not advisable if the enemy's Army
rallies itself upon another considerable one; if it has a
distinguished General at its head, and if its destruction is
not already well prepared. But when this means can be
adopted, it acts also like a great mechanical power.
The losses of the beaten Army from sickness and fatigue
are on such a disproportionate scale, the spirit of the Army
is so weakened and lowered by the constant solicitude
about impending ruin, that at last anything like a well
organised stand is out of the question; every day thousands
of prisoners fall into the enemy's hands without
striking a blow. In such a season of complete good
fortune, the conqueror need not hesitate about dividing
his forces in order to draw into the vortex of destruction
everything within reach of his Army, to cut off detachments,
to take fortresses unprepared for defence, to occupy
large towns, &c. &c. He may do anything until a new
state of things arises, and the more he ventures in this
way the longer will it be before that change will take
is no want of examples of brilliant results from
grand decisive victories, and of great and vigorous
pursuits in the wars of Buonaparte. We need only quote
Jena 1806, Ratisbonne 1809, Leipsic 1813, and Belle-
Alliance 1815.


IN a lost battle the power of an Army is broken, the moral
to a greater degree than the physical. A second battle
unless fresh favourable circumstances come into play,
would lead to a complete defeat, perhaps, to destruction.
This is a military axiom. According to the usual course
the retreat is continued up to that point where the
equilibrium of forces is restored, either by reinforcements,
or by the protection of strong fortresses, or by great defensive
positions afforded by the country, or by a separation
of the enemy's force. The magnitude of the losses
sustained, the extent of the defeat, but still more the
character of the enemy, will bring nearer or put off the instant
of this equilibrium. How many instances may be found
of a beaten Army rallied again at a short distance, without
its circumstances having altered in any way since the
battle. The cause of this may be traced to the moral
weakness of the adversary, or to the preponderance
gained in the battle not having been sufficient to make
lasting impression.

To profit by this weakness or mistake of the enemy, not
to yield one inch breadth more than the pressure of circumstances
demands, but above all things, in order to keep up
the moral forces to as advantageous a point as possible,
a slow retreat, offering incessant resistance, and bold
courageous counterstrokes, whenever the enemy seeks to
gain any excessive advantages, are absolutely necessary.
Retreats of great Generals and of Armies inured to War
have always resembled the retreat of a wounded lion,
such is, undoubtedly, also the best theory.

It is true that at the moment of quitting a dangerous
position we have often seen trifling formalities observed
which caused a waste of time, and were, therefore, attended
with danger, whilst in such cases everything depends on
getting out of the place speedily. Practised Generals
reckon this maxim a very important one. But such cases
must not be confounded with a general retreat after a
lost battle. Whoever then thinks by a few rapid marches
to gain a start, and more easily to recover a firm standing,
commits a great error. The first movements should be
as small as possible, and it is a maxim in general not to
suffer ourselves to be dictated to by the enemy. This
maxim cannot be followed without bloody fighting with
the enemy at our heels, but the gain is worth the sacrifice;
without it we get into an accelerated pace which soon
turns into a headlong rush, and costs merely in stragglers
more men than rear-guard combats, and besides that
extinguishes the last remnants of the spirit of resistance.

A strong rear-guard composed of picked troops, commanded
by the bravest General, and supported by the whole
Army at critical moments, a careful utilisation of ground,
strong ambuscades wherever the boldness of the enemy's
advance-guard, and the ground, afford opportunity; in
short, the preparation and the system of regular small
battles,--these are the means of following this principle.

The difficulties of a retreat are naturally greater or
less according as the battle has been fought under more
or less favourable circumstances, and according as it has
been more or less obstinately contested. The battle of
Jena and La Belle-Alliance show how impossible anything
like a regular retreat may become, if the last man is used
up against a powerful enemy.

Now and again it has been suggested[*] to divide
for the purpose of retreating, therefore to retreat in
separate divisions or even eccentrically. Such a separation
as is made merely for convenience, and along with
which concentrated action continues possible and is kept
in view, is not what we now refer to; any other kind is
extremely dangerous, contrary to the nature of the thing,
and therefore a great error. Every lost battle is a principle
of weakness and disorganisation; and the first and
immediate desideratum is to concentrate, and in concentration
to recover order, courage, and confidence. The
idea of harassing the enemy by separate corps on both
flanks at the moment when he is following up his victory,
is a perfect anomaly; a faint-hearted pedant might be
overawed by his enemy in that manner, and for such a
case it may answer; but where we are not sure of this
failing in our opponent it is better let alone. If the
strategic relations after a battle require that we should
cover ourselves right and left by detachments, so much
must be done, as from circumstances is unavoidable, but
this fractioning must always be regarded as an evil, and
we are seldom in a state to commence it the day after
the battle itself.

[*] Allusion is here made to the works of Lloyd Bullow and

If Frederick the Great after the battle of Kollin,[*] and
the raising of the siege of Prague retreated in three columns
that was done not out of choice, but because the position
of his forces, and the necessity of covering Saxony, left
him no alternative, Buonaparte after the battle of
Brienne,[**] sent Marmont back to the Aube, whilst he
himself passed the Seine, and turned towards Troyes;
but that this did not end in disaster, was solely owing to
the circumstance that the Allies, instead of pursuing
divided their forces in like manner, turning with the one
part (Bluecher) towards the Marne, while with the other
(Schwartzenberg), from fear of being too weak, they
advanced with exaggerated caution.

[*] June 19, 1757.

[**] January 30, 1814.


THE manner of conducting a combat at night, and what
concerns the details of its course, is a tactical subject;
we only examine it here so far as in its totality it appears
as a special strategic means.

Fundamentally every night attack is only a more vehement
form of surprise. Now at the first look of the thing
such an attack appears quite pre-eminently advantageous,
for we suppose the enemy to be taken by surprise, the
assailant naturally to be prepared for everything which
can happen. What an inequality! Imagination paints
to itself a picture of the most complete confusion on the
one side, and on the other side the assailant only occupied
in reaping the fruits of his advantage. Hence the constant
creation of schemes for night attacks by those who
have not to lead them, and have no responsibility, whilst
these attacks seldom take place in reality.

These ideal schemes are all based on the hypothesis that
the assailant knows the arrangements of the defender
because they have been made and announced beforehand,
and could not escape notice in his reconnaissances, and
inquiries; that on the other hand, the measures of the
assailant, being only taken at the moment of execution,
cannot be known to the enemy. But the last of these is
not always quite the case, and still less is the first. If we
are not so near the enemy as to have him completely under
our eye, as the Austrians had Frederick the Great before
the battle of Hochkirch (1758), then all that we know of
his position must always be imperfect, as it is obtained by
reconnaissances, patrols, information from prisoners, and
spies, sources on which no firm reliance can be placed
because intelligence thus obtained is always more or
less of an old date, and the position of the enemy may
have been altered in the meantime. Moreover, with the
tactics and mode of encampment of former times it was
much easier than it is now to examine the position of the
enemy. A line of tents is much easier to distinguish than
a line of huts or a bivouac; and an encampment on a line
of front, fully and regularly drawn out, also easier than
one of Divisions formed in columns, the mode often used
at present. We may have the ground on which a Division
bivouacs in that manner completely under our eye, and
yet not be able to arrive at any accurate idea.

But the position again is not all that we want to know
the measures which the defender may take in the course
of the combat are just as important, and do not by any
means consist in mere random shots. These measures
also make night attacks more difficult in modern Wars
than formerly, because they have in these campaigns an
advantage over those already taken. In our combats
the position of the defender is more temporary than definitive,
and on that account the defender is better able to
surprise his adversary with unexpected blows, than he
could formerly.[*]

[*] All these difficulties obviously become increased as the
power of
the weapons in use tends to keep the combatants further

Therefore what the assailant knows of the defensive
previous to a night attack, is seldom or never sufficient
to supply the want of direct observation.

But the defender has on his side another small advantage
as well, which is that he is more at home than the
assailant, on the ground which forms his position, and
therefore, like the inhabitant of a room, will find his way
about it in the dark with more ease than a stranger. He
knows better where to find each part of his force, and
therefore can more readily get at it than is the case with
his adversary.

From this it follows, that the assailant in a combat at
night feels the want of his eyes just as much as the
defender, and that therefore, only particular reasons can
make a night attack advisable.

Now these reasons arise mostly in connection with
subordinate parts of an Army, rarely with the Army itself;
it follows that a night attack also as a rule can only take
place with secondary combats, and seldom with great battles.

We may attack a portion of the enemy's Army with a
very superior force, consequently enveloping it with a
view either to take the whole, or to inflict very severe loss
on it by an unequal combat, provided that other circumstances
are in our favour. But such a scheme can never
succeed except by a great surprise, because no fractional
part of the enemy's Army would engage in such an unequal
combat, but would retire instead. But a surprise on an
important scale except in rare instances in a very close
country, can only be effected at night. If therefore we
wish to gain such an advantage as this from the faulty
disposition of a portion of the enemy's Army, then we must
make use of the night, at all events, to finish the preliminary
part even if the combat itself should not open till
towards daybreak. This is therefore what takes place
in all the little enterprises by night against outposts, and
other small bodies, the main point being invariably through
superior numbers, and getting round his position, to entangle
him unexpectedly in such a disadvantageous combat,
that he cannot disengage himself without great loss.

The larger the body attacked the more difficult the
undertaking, because a strong force has greater resources
within itself to maintain the fight long enough for help
to arrive.

On that account the whole of the enemy's Army can
never in ordinary cases be the object of such an attack for
although it has no assistance to expect from any quarter
outside itself, still, it contains within itself sufficient
means of repelling attacks from several sides particularly
in our day, when every one from the commencement is
prepared for this very usual form of attack. Whether the enemy
can attack us
on several sides with success depends generally on conditions
quite different
from that of its being done unexpectedly; without entering here
the nature of these conditions, we confine ourselves to
observing, that with turning an enemy, great results,
as well as great dangers are connected; that therefore,
if we set aside special circumstances, nothing justifies it
but a great superiority, just such as we should use against
a fractional part of the enemy's Army.

But the turning and surrounding a small fraction of the
enemy, and particularly in the darkness of night, is also
more practicable for this reason, that whatever we stake
upon it, and however superior the force used may be, still
probably it constitutes only a limited portion of our Army,
and we can sooner stake that than the whole on the risk
of a great venture. Besides, the greater part or perhaps
the whole serves as a support and rallying-point for the
portion risked, which again very much diminishes the
danger of the enterprise.

Not only the risk, but the difficulty of execution as well
confines night enterprises to small bodies. As surprise
is the real essence of them so also stealthy approach is
the chief condition of execution: but this is more easily
done with small bodies than with large, and for the columns
of a whole Army is seldom practicable. For this reason
such enterprises are in general only directed against single
outposts, and can only be feasible against greater bodies
if they are without sufficient outposts, like Frederick the
Great at Hochkirch.[*] This will happen seldomer in future
to Armies themselves than to minor divisions.

[*] October 14, 1758.

In recent times, when War has been carried on with so
much more rapidity and vigour, it has in consequence
often happened that Armies have encamped very close to
each other, without having a very strong system of
outposts, because those circumstances have generally
occurred just at the crisis which precedes a great decision.

But then at such times the readiness for battle on both
sides is also more perfect; on the other hand, in former
Wars it was a frequent practice for armies to take up camps
in sight of each other, when they had no other object but
that of mutually holding each other in check, consequently
for a longer period. How often Frederick the Great stood
for weeks so near to the Austrians, that the two might
have exchanged cannon shots with each other.

But these practices, certainly more favourable to night
attacks, have been discontinued in later days; and armies
being now no longer in regard to subsistence and requirements
for encampment, such independent bodies complete
in themselves, find it necessary to keep usually a day's
march between themselves and the enemy. If we now
keep in view especially the night attack of an army, it
follows that sufficient motives for it can seldom occur,
and that they fall under one or other of the following

1. An unusual degree of carelessness or audacity which
very rarely occurs, and when it does is compensated for by
a great superiority in moral force.

2. A panic in the enemy's army, or generally such a
degree of superiority in moral force on our side, that this
is sufficient to supply the place of guidance in action.

3. Cutting through an enemy's army of superior force,
which keeps us enveloped, because in this all depends
on surprise. and the object of merely making a passage
by force, allows a much greater concentration of forces.

4. Finally, in desperate cases, when our forces have
such a disproportion to the enemy's, that we see no
possibility of success, except through extraordinary

But in all these cases there is still the condition that
the enemy's army is under our eyes, and protected by no

As for the rest, most night combats are so conducted
as to end with daylight, so that only the approach and
the first attack are made under cover of darkness, because
the assailant in that manner can better profit by the
consequences of the state of confusion into which he
throws his adversary; and combats of this description
which do not commence until daybreak, in which the night
therefore is only made use of to approach, are not to be
counted as night combats,

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