Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/1016

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come up to the accepted standard, and the essential points of the French infantry tactics having been assimilated they developed a relatively higher standard of endurance as measured by time. Means had to be discovered to ensure their destruc- tion before nightfall gave them the opportunity of withdrawal; and the evolution of the artillery arm (see Artillery) at last gave Napoleon the weapon he required to realize the ideal implanted in his mind by his teacher du Teil, vix. concentration of the destructive elements on the decisive point, which was derived originally from the analogy between the attack on a fortress and the conduct of a battle. A battle is but an abbrevi- ated siege, or a siege a prolonged battle. In the former the object is to purchase time at the cost of men's lives, in the latter to economize men by expenditure of time; but in both the final step is the same, viz. the creation of a breach of con- tinuity in the enemy's defence through which the assaulting columns can penetrate to the heart oi his position. Thanks to the increased mobility in the field artillery and skill in handling it (the result of years of experience), it was now pos- sible, once the aim of the enemy's infantry had been unsteadied, to bring up masses of guns to case-shot range and to breach the living rampart of the defence; and through the gap thus created, infantry or cavalry, or both combined, poured to overwhelm the last reserves beyond. This step completed Napoleon's means of destroying that " independent will power " of his adversary which is after all the greatest variable in the whole problem of war. His advanced guard engaged and fixed his enemy's attention, inducing him prematurely to use up his reserves, and when the battle was " ripe, " to use his own expression, the great blow was delivered with overwhelming suddenness by the balance of fresh troops which he had in hand. But the whole of his action depended essentially on an exact appreciation of the endurance of his own troops first engaged, at the cost of whom the reserves were saved up. It was the possession of this method which rendered Napoleon supreme upon the battlefield and fully justified the reluctance which his enemies showed to hazard its issue; but in the end it also proved the cause of his downfall, for in his fruitless efforts to bring the allies to action in 1813 he so completely wore out his troops that it became physically impossible for them to meet his demands. The campaign of 18 13 deserves attentive study, for in it Napoleon was both at his best and worst, acting as strategist pure and simple, applying the means at hand to the attainment of the object in view almost without a second thought for the diplomatic relations which so often hampered his military action, notably in 1814. In the famous " defensive campaign " of the latter year, which is usually held up as a model for imitation, he can hardly be said to have acted as a strategist at all, his movements being primarily directed to the destruction of the personal relations existing between the three allied monarchs, not to the annihilation of their respective armies, a task for which from the first he knew his resources to be entirely inade- quate. The Waterloo campaign (q.v.) again reveals the appli- cation of this system in its most finished form. That it failed ultimately was due primarily to atmospheric influences beyond the emperor's control, and in the second place to the intro- duction of a new tactical method by the British army for which his previous experience had in no way prepared him.

That after the event Napoleon should have sought to justify himself is further proof of the essential duality of his nature, which only rose to intuitive genius in war under the pressure of visible and tangible realities. Relaxed from excitement, he was the creature of his surroundings, controlled by contemporary thought like everyone else; and it is to failure to recognize this duality in his mind that all subsequent confusion in strategical thought owes its origin. It was clear that the career of such a genius could not pass unnoticed by military critics, hence, even while it was still in the making, every student of the military art felt compelled to pass judgment upon its incidents merely to show thathe was abreast of the times. More or less, each one tried to show that Napoleon's victories were due to the observance of the critic's own hobbies. These men, brought up on the old

military classics, and unaware of the ceaseless current of sociai changes which was seething around them, instinctively distorted facts to fit in with their preconceived theories. This is always inevitable with regard to contemporary criticism, since distance of time is always needed to bring facts down to their true perspective. It is quite clear from his innumerable reported conversations, and it is quite natural when one considers Napoleon's age, that in the back of his mind he stood rather in awe of these older and often far more deeply-read men. In any case it was quite obvious to him that his military reputation would stand or fall by their collective judgment. Hence, as soon as he had leisure, he set himself to explain his exploits in terms which they could understand. That he would be criticized for his frequent de- parture from established practice (for instance, in neglecting his communications, and again and again accepting or forcing on a battle in situations in which defeat must have spelt utter ruin) he was well aware. Hence to stifle such criticism in advance he went out of his way to accentuate the care he had devoted to his communications, as in the Marengo campaign, at Ulm, at Austerlitz, and again and again in the campaigns of Wagram and of Dresden. But the truth really is that as long as he adhered to his " bataillon carree " formation, and the country in which he was operating was fertile enough to support his men, his communications mattered little to him. His certainty of victory, if only the enemy could be induced to stand, was so great that he could fight his way through to where his rein- forcements were prepared for him, in whatever direction suited him best. Whilst he admitted, as all must do, the sound common sense at the bottom of all rules deduced from centuries of experi- ence, he never raised them to the dignity of inviolable principles, as he did the principle of the fixed point as a pivot for manoeuvres, the case-shot attack, and the employment of the avant-garde genirale. It seems indeed as if these fundamental principles appeared to his mind so self-evident that he assumed them as common knowledge in every intelligent mind, and hence never took the trouble to explain them to his marshals, though he did condescend to allude to them when writing to his brother Jerome and to Eugene de Beauharnais, with the limitations of whose minds he was quite familiar. Marmont, Rogniat, Soult and St Cyr were men for whose intellect he had the highest esteem, and all wrote at length on the subject of his campaigns, yet not an expression in their works, not a manceuvre in their independent commands, can be held to betray a knowledge of what was really the secret of the emperor's successes. For instance, by the year 18 12 Marmont may fairly be assumed to have learnt all he ever could learn from Napoleon's example; yet at Salamanca we find him manoeuvring quite like one of Frederick's generals. Napoleon would have attacked Welling- ton with a strong advanced-guard, one-fourth of his command at the least, and whilst the latter was busied in warding off his assailant's successive blows the emperor would have swung the remainder round upon his enemies' flank, and, with a three-to- one superiority at the decisive point, have driven him off the road back to Salamanca. This idea never even entered Marmont's head. Watching Wellington with a screen of vedettes only, he set his whole army in motion to march round his flank, like Frederick at Leuthen. An Austrian army in the old days would usually stand to be surrounded, but Wellington, instead, set his whole force in motion, i.e. manoeuvred. Again in 18 13 (just after frequent conversations with the emperor, in one of which the latter stated his opinion that war was a " science " like any other, and that some day he would write a book out of which any one could learn it), Marmont, in command of the VI. corps, found himself opposed to the Silesian army under Bliicher, and immediately took up a defensive position, which he occupied by two lines of brigades deployed in line and echeloned from left to right. No one who had entered into the spirit of the emperor's method could have adopted such a formation. Instances of a similar nature might be multiplied, and their multiplicity need surprise no one who has studied the psychology of action taken under circumstances of intense excitement or imminent danger. Most of us know rules for