TACTICAL USE OF THE THREE ARMS:
INFANTRY, ARTILLERY, AND CAVALRY.
FRANCIS J. LIPPITT,
EX-COLONEL SECOND INFANTRY, CALIFORNIA VOLUNTEERS.
NEW YORK: D. VAN NOSTRAND, PUBLISHER, 192 BROADWAY. 1865.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1865,
By D. VAN NOSTRAND,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.
TO THE MILITARY PUBLIC.
The Author would feel obliged for any facts or suggestions which might enable him to render a future edition of this work more valuable.
PROVIDENCE, R.I., July, 1865.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
Tactical Use of Infantry 3
I. ITS ATTACK, GENERALLY 4 II. FORMATIONS FOR ATTACK 8 III. THE ATTACK, HOW MADE 19 IV. BAYONET CHARGES 24 V. DEFENCE AGAINST INFANTRY 27 VI. DEFENCE AGAINST ARTILLERY 34 VII. DEFENCE AGAINST CAVALRY 36 VIII. SQUARES 40 IX. SKIRMISHERS 49 A. THEIR USE 50 B. HOW POSTED 53 C. HOW HANDLED 55 D. RULES FOR INDIVIDUAL SKIRMISHERS 56
Tactical Use of Artillery 59
I. HOW POSTED WITH RESPECT TO THE GROUND 59 II. HOW POSTED WITH RESPECT TO OUR OWN TROOPS 63 III. HOW POSTED WITH RESPECT TO THE ENEMY 66 IV. POSTING OF BATTERIES AND OF PIECES AS BETWEEN THEMSELVES 68 V. HOW USED 70 A. GENERALLY 70 B. IN OFFENSIVE COMBAT 72 C. IN DEFENSIVE COMBAT 75 D. AGAINST INFANTRY 78 E. AGAINST CAVALRY 82 F. AGAINST ARTILLERY 83 VI. ITS FIRE 85 VII. ITS SUPPORTS 89
Tactical Use of Cavalry 93
I. ITS FORMATIONS 93 II. ITS STRONG AND ITS WEAK POINTS 98 III. HOW POSTED 99 IV. ITS SUPPORTS 104 V. HOW USED 106 VI. HOW IT FIGHTS 109 VII. ITS CHARGE 113 VIII. ITS ATTACK ON INFANTRY 122 A. GENERALLY 122 B. ON SQUARES 124 IX. GENERAL REMARKS 127
TACTICAL USE OF THE THREE ARMS.
Every complete military force consists of three arms,—INFANTRY, ARTILLERY, and CAVALRY.
In battle, these three arms are united; and, other things being equal, that commander will prove victorious who is best acquainted with their combined use in the field.
In order thoroughly to understand the proper use of the three arms combined, we must obviously begin by learning the proper use of each of them separately.
Hence the importance of the subject of the present treatise. In discussing it, we shall commence with the
TACTICAL USE OF INFANTRY.
The subject will be considered under the following heads:—
I.—ITS ATTACK, GENERALLY. II.—FORMATIONS FOR ATTACK. III.—THE ATTACK, HOW MADE. IV.—BAYONET CHARGES. V.—DEFENCE AGAINST INFANTRY. VI.—DEFENCE AGAINST ARTILLERY. VII.—DEFENCE AGAINST CAVALRY. VIII.—SQUARES. IX.—SKIRMISHERS.
I.—Its Attack, generally.
Infantry attacks with its fire, or with the bayonet. Which of these is the more effective?
1. The object of an attack is to destroy or capture the hostile force, or, at least, to drive it from the field.
Capturing the enemy, or driving him from the field, cannot usually be effected by merely firing upon him.
True, a mere fire at a distance may finally destroy him. But an insuperable objection to this mode of attack is, that while we are killing or disabling his men, he is killing or disabling as many of our own.
2. If we fire from behind cover, our loss may be comparatively small. But, in that case, the enemy will never remain for any length of time exposed to our fire. He will either attack and rout us from our cover, or retire. And even if he did neither, his actual and complete destruction, capture, or rout, would still require an attack with the bayonet.
3. It follows that the proper mode of attack by infantry on infantry is with the bayonet.
The Russian Suwarrow's victories and reputation were won chiefly by his fierce bayonet attacks, which often effected great results, in spite of his ignorance of the art of war.
4. But there are exceptional cases where infantry may properly use only its fire; as—
(1.) When acting as a support to artillery, it should rarely, if ever, leave its position to use the bayonet; thereby endangering the safety of the guns which it is its first duty to guard. Its function, in this case, being purely defensive, it should act by its fire alone.
(2.) Against a line of skirmishers deployed, a well-directed fire will usually be sufficiently effective.
(3.) In mountain warfare, its only practicable mode of attack will sometimes be by its fire.
5. When both sides are equally exposed, the actual attack with the bayonet should not be preceded by a distant musketry fire; for, as in that case, our loss will generally be equal to the enemy's, this fire will give us no superiority in the charge, and the loss we have sustained will be therefore entirely thrown away.
6. Nevertheless, our actual attack should be prepared, when possible, by the infliction of such a loss on the enemy as will make him inferior to us at the decisive moment. In war, the object is not to test the comparative courage of the combatants, but to beat the enemy. We must never, therefore, when it can be avoided, fight him on equal terms; and so, never close with him without such a superiority in numbers, position, or spirit, as will make the chances decidedly in our favor. If, without exposing ourselves to much loss, we can inflict a considerable loss upon him, we shall render him inferior to us, both by the number of his men we have disabled, and by the demoralization thereby caused in his ranks.
7. This preparatory loss can be most effectually inflicted by the fire of artillery; as, from its great superiority of range, it can suffer but little, meanwhile, from the enemy's infantry fire. Our attacking infantry are thus enabled to keep out of the range of the fire of the infantry they are to attack, till the moment of advancing to close.
8. When we have no artillery disposable for the purpose, the preparatory effect may be produced by a well-sustained fire of infantry, provided it can find a sheltered position to deliver it from; or, by the fire of a heavy line of skirmishers.
9. If we can make the infantry we wish to attack engage in a prolonged fire, this will exhaust them, and thus render them inferior to us in strength and in spirit, even if we inflict on them but little loss. But as our attacking infantry should, in the mean time, be kept fresh, the preparatory fire, in such case, should not devolve on the troops that are to close with the enemy.
10. One cause of the indecisiveness of the results obtained in many of the battles of the late war, as compared with the great loss of life on both sides, has been, that the opposing battalions were too often kept firing at each other at a distance, both sustaining nearly equal loss, until the ranks were so weakened as to disable either party from making a vigorous and decisive charge. Or else, charges were made on the enemy's battalions before they had been shattered by artillery; so that the attacking troops were easily repulsed, sometimes with great slaughter.
II.—Formations for Attack.
1. Infantry may advance to attack in either of three ways: in column; in line, marching by the front; and by the flank; that is, in line, but faced to a flank.
2. Of these three formations, the last is undoubtedly the worst possible; for—
(1.) On arriving at the enemy, the troops are not concentrated at the point where the struggle is to be. As they must come up successively, they will be crushed in detail by superior numbers.
(2.) Advancing in such a formation, they would be exposed to a destructive raking fire from the enemy's guns; especially since the adoption of the new flank march by fours, which gives to rifled artillery a tolerable mark.
3. The question is, then, between an attack in column and an attack in line. Which is the better of the two?
The decisive effect of infantry is produced by a rush on the enemy with the bayonet. The chief elements of success in this attack at close quarters are, the physical momentum of the charge, and the powerful moral effect caused by the swift approach of a compact and orderly hostile mass. A charge in line does not admit of both these elements. The advance of a line of one or more battalions, to be united and orderly, cannot be rapid, and thus has no impetus. Such a line, advancing swiftly, especially over uneven ground, would soon become so broken and disunited as to destroy, in a great measure, the effect, both moral and physical, of its charge, and, at the same time, to deprive the attacking troops of that confidence which is inspired by the consciousness of moving together in one compact, formidable mass, in which every soldier feels himself fortified by the support of his comrades.
4. On the other hand, a column can move rapidly without losing its compactness and order.
In attacking the enemy's line, a close column concentrates successively, but rapidly, a force superior to the enemy at the decisive point, and can hardly fail to pierce the line attacked, if it arrive with its momentum unchecked.
In a close column, there is a real force created by the pressure of the mass behind on the leading subdivision, pushing it on the enemy, and preventing it from drawing back or stopping; thus imparting to it somewhat of the actual physical momentum of a mechanical engine.
A close column shelters raw troops, and carries them irresistibly along with it.
A close column, in case of need, can rapidly extend its front by deploying.
It can promptly make itself impenetrable to cavalry.
Finally, in a column, the officers being seen by the men, the benefit of their example is not lost.
The close column would, therefore, seem to be the best formation for attack.
5. Movements in line requiring that high degree of perfection in drill which can rarely be attained by any but regular troops, they were accordingly abandoned by the raw and undisciplined masses of French soldiers that so successfully defended the French Republic from invasion against the veteran armies of Europe; some of which were led by generals who had served under Frederick the Great. Conscious of their military inferiority to the enemy, they instinctively clustered together in close and heavy columns; then rushed down on the enemy's line with the force of an avalanche, often carrying every thing before them. Thus was inaugurated that system of attack in deep and solid columns, which was afterwards so successfully used by Napoleon.
6. Close columns have two defects. One is, that they are oppressive and exhausting to the men, especially in hot weather.
But this is not a very serious objection; for they are, or should be, formed only when about to be used, and then their work is generally soon over.
7. The other defect, however, is of so grave a nature as, in the opinion of some, to more than outweigh their advantages; and this is, the terribly destructive effect upon them of the enemy's artillery fire, or of that of his sharpshooters; for the solid mass is an easy target, into which every shot is sure to penetrate. Many of the missiles which would fly over an advancing line, are sure to fall, somewhere or other, in a deep column.
This destructive effect was strikingly illustrated in Macdonald's charge on the Allied centre at Wagram. The eleven thousand men (some accounts say fifteen thousand) composing that famous column, advanced under the fire of one hundred and eighty hostile guns. After being driven back twice, they succeeded, in a third attack, in breaking the enemy's centre. But of the entire column, only eleven hundred men, it is said, were left standing.
8. The recent improvements in fire-arms must render the fire on a close column of infantry, both by artillery and sharpshooters, still more destructive than it was before. But this sacrifice of life can be prevented, to a great extent, by using the columns at a proper time and in a proper manner. They should, like storming parties (which they really are), never be launched against the enemy's line till the fire by which they would suffer has been quite or nearly silenced by our batteries. Sometimes this may be impracticable; but this precaution has often been neglected when it was perfectly feasible, thus causing a great and useless slaughter.
9. But destructive as may be artillery fire on close columns, on troops advancing in line grape and canister begin to be equally so on their arriving within four hundred yards of the enemy's batteries; and are certainly quite as destructive, and more so, at the distance of two hundred yards. So that, within this distance, at least, the superiority of lines over columns ceases; and, probably, much sooner.
10. The desideratum is to preserve the advantages of the column, while saving the attacking troops from the almost total destruction which would now seem to threaten them, when marching in such a formation, from the new rifled artillery, which is said to fire with accuracy at two thousand yards, and from the new infantry rifles, said to be reliable, in the hands of sharpshooters, at five hundred yards.
11. Perhaps this object might be attained by the advance of the attacking troops in line, but in loose order, and at double quick, to about two hundred paces from the enemy, a halt, a prompt alignment on the colors, a rapid ployment into close column doubled on the centre, followed by a swift and resolute charge with the bayonet.
This method, while giving the rapid clearing of the intervening ground, to within two hundred paces of the enemy, and afterwards the impetus, and other advantages of the column, would, at the same time, afford that comparative immunity from a destructive fire which is the chief advantage of an advance in line.
To guard against the danger, in the use of this method, of the troops stopping to fire, instead of ploying into a column of attack, they should commence their advance with pieces unloaded. Their boxes might even be previously emptied of their ammunition. Why should not a battle, as well as an assault on a fortress, have its "forlorn hope?"
12. This mode of attack would be open, it is true, to two objections:—
First. It would require for its successful execution under fire great coolness, and much previous instruction in the manoeuvre, to enable the troops to perform it promptly and accurately.
Secondly. In presence of a bold and active enemy, it would expose the attacking troops to the danger of being charged and routed while manoeuvring.
13. In the late War of the Rebellion, in lieu of close columns, attacks have been sometimes made in several lines, following each other at distances of three hundred paces or more. Although these attacks have sometimes succeeded, they are objectionable in principle; for each line is in danger of being repulsed successively, before the arrival of the one in its rear; and there is wanting that great superiority of force at the decisive point which is the most important element of success in a battle.
Such formations are essentially defensive in their nature, and not suitable for attack. A line in position, against which the enemy is advancing, is strong in its fire, which will usually preserve it from absolute defeat till a second line, posted at one hundred and fifty, or even three hundred paces in its rear, has had time to come up in support. But even these distances Napoleon's experience appears to have taught him to be much too great; for in his last battle, at Waterloo, he posted his second line, both infantry and cavalry, at only sixty paces behind the first; thus sacrificing, to a great extent, the advantage of keeping the second line out of fire, in order to secure the more important one of concentration of force. But this was only his formation for defence; for, in the same battle, his formations for attack were always in close columns.
14. Our present Infantry Tactics have adopted two new expedients to accelerate the advance of battalions, and diminish the loss to which columns of attack are liable—Division Columns and Advancing by the Flank of Subdivisions.
As Division Columns break the battalion line into several columns, each of two or three subdivisions deep, as a substitute for a single column four or five subdivisions deep, they undoubtedly diminish the loss from the enemy's artillery fire in corresponding proportion. But in compensation for this partial advantage, they have three defects:—
(1.) In moving rapidly for any distance, especially over broken or obstructed ground, both the alignment and the proper intervals between the columns will usually be lost; thus causing, in the deployment, a dangerous loss of time in re-establishing the alignment and the correct intervals.
(2.) In advancing in line of division columns, there is no means of forming square, except by passing through an intermediate formation.
(3.) The intervals between the columns are so many gaps, through which cavalry could easily penetrate, and take the columns in rear.
The line of division columns appears to have been first suggested by Marshal Marmont, who was a good artillery commander, but not necessarily, for that reason, a weighty authority on a point of Infantry Tactics.
15. The manoeuvre of Advancing by the Flank of Subdivisions is obnoxious to all the objections just pointed out in regard to Division Columns. On being threatened by cavalry, though the troops would have no intermediate formation to pass through to prepare for forming square, they would have to face into column and close to half distance, which there would often not be time to do.
In addition to this, the flank march being habitually by fours, the subdivisions would offer a tolerable mark for the enemy's artillery, and thus be exposed to a destructive enfilade.
And in forming into line, where the leading guides have not accurately preserved both their alignment and their intervals, which must be the usual case in the field, there must be more or less delay and confusion, of which a prompt and active enemy would not fail to take fatal advantage.
The mode prescribed by the Tactics (Par. 150, School of the Battalion), for executing the manoeuvre of forming line while advancing by subdivision flanks, seems also to call for remark; it being "by company (or division) into line." In other words, each individual soldier brings a shoulder forward, breaks off from his comrades, and hurries up, not on a line with them, but detached from them, and moving independently, to find his proper place. This destroys for the time being, and at a critical moment, the unity of the subdivisions, and so impairs the confidence soldiers derive from realizing that they form part of a compact mass. In thus executing this manoeuvre under fire, and near the enemy, there is danger of the men becoming confused and bewildered. For this reason, a better method of forming line would seem to be to re-form the column by a simple facing, and then to wheel into line by subdivisions.
16. The worst possible order of marching in battle, for any considerable number of men, as a battalion, for instance, is by the flank. Such a line, advancing in what is really a column of fours, would be rolled up and crushed, on the enemy's attacking its head; and would, meanwhile, be exposed to enfilade. Marching to a flank, it would be running the gauntlet of the enemy's batteries and musketry fire. In forming into line in either case, much time would be lost; as in flank marching in the field, especially when the ground is ragged or obstructed, distances cannot be preserved.
It may be here remarked, that marching to a flank in column also, whether by division, company, or platoon, is highly objectionable, as it constantly exposes the column to an enfilading fire, as well as to be suddenly charged in flank by cavalry.
III.—The Attack, how made.
1. The speed of a column of attack must never be checked for a moment, to enable it to reply to the enemy's fire. The fire of the column will be ineffective, for it will be the fire of excited men, and very limited in extent, as it can proceed from the leading division only; and the fire once begun, it will be hard to stop it. If, in order to fire, we halt the column, re-forming it under the excitement of the fire will be very difficult; and the enemy's least forward movement may then cause a rout.
At Maida, in Calabria, in 1806, the French columns attacked the English under General Stuart. When within thirty paces, the English gave them a volley. The French, stunned, as it were, began, at once, to deploy. The English fired again, and the French retreated.
At Waterloo, in the last grand attack by the French, the advance column of the Imperial Guard was decisively repulsed by the British Guards. These had been lying on the ground behind the crest of the slope until the French appeared, when they suddenly rose up and poured in a murderous volley at short range. Instead of instantly charging with the bayonet, the French hesitated, then began to deploy. The British charged at once, and drove them down the hill.
2. This dangerous halt and deployment is apt also to occur when the column finds sheltering objects by the way. Therefore, hurry by these, and hasten the step.
3. It will also tend to prevent such an untoward accident, if we furnish the columns of attack, where several are employed, with skirmishers in their intervals, as well as on their outer flanks, to draw the enemy's fire. Otherwise, the column fired into will be apt, in order to return the fire, to halt instinctively and deploy into line, which breaks up the attack.
4. From this it appears that the limited fire of a column of attack is, in fact, no defect, the highest offensive power of infantry being in the bayonet. Fire, in the attack, is generally ineffective, and sometimes injurious. It should rarely be used till the enemy has turned his back.
5. As to attacking cavalry:
Infantry may advance in line and attack cavalry safely, provided its flanks are protected. Before a long line of infantry, cavalry must retreat, or be destroyed by its fire. In the Austrian service it is said to be a received maxim, that horses will not stand before the steady approach of a mass of infantry, with bayonets at the charge, but will always retire before the infantry closes on them.
6. So, infantry in column, either closed in mass, or at half distance, may attack cavalry successfully; taking care to be ready to form square, or "column against cavalry," at the first symptom of their preparing to charge.
7. As to attacking artillery:
Before charging, the infantry sometimes first seeks the shelter of ground, using its sharpshooters to annoy it, and, if possible, to silence its fire.
Or, when circumstances are favorable, as when it can get a position near its flank, it attacks it vigorously, at once, with fire and bayonet.
But when infantry has to advance to the attack of a battery in front, it should never be in any compact formation, but always deployed as skirmishers. Otherwise, it would usually meet with a bloody repulse; especially where any considerable space of ground is to be cleared.
At the battle of Malvern Hill, the rebel General Magruder's division was sent, either in column or in line, to charge a powerful Union battery just beyond an open field a mile and three-quarters in length. The rebels rushed into the field at a full run, but encountered a murderous fire from the guns they were sent to attack, which mowed them down by hundreds. By the time they had cleared two-thirds of the ground, the carnage was so dreadful as to drive them back to the woods from which they had started. Twice more they were sent forward in the same manner, but with the same result; when the undertaking was abandoned.
8. In attacking a battery, we may often secure its capture by a volley aimed at the horses; the effect of which may prevent the enemy from carrying it off. But this should be avoided when there is a good prospect of capturing the battery without disabling the horses; since then, if we succeed, we shall be able to immediately use the battery against the enemy ourselves.
9. In the French Revolution, the Chouans of La Vendee attacked the Republican batteries in several single files, of one or two hundred men each, at intervals of fifty paces. Such a formation protects the attacking columns, to a great extent, from the enemy's fire, but exposes them to destruction by a charge from the battery supports. In the absence of these, it would often be very advantageous; since, by proper drilling, these columns in one rank could be made, on arriving near the enemy, to rapidly double in two or four ranks, without halting, and then, by filing to a flank and facing, to advance by the front in a compact line.
The same formation would be useful for troops advancing to assault an intrenchment; but, as in the case of a battery, subject to the risk of being destroyed by a sudden sortie from the work.
10. Artillery is never without supports. One part of the infantry, therefore, deployed as skirmishers, should attack the guns, circling round them, and opening fire on the men and horses; while the other part attacks the support in flank. On getting sufficiently near, the assailants should try to draw the fire of the guns, and then rush on them before they have time to reload.
If a battery gets into confusion, or there is any delay in unlimbering or limbering up, then is the most favorable time to capture it by a vigorous charge with the bayonet.
1. When made resolutely, and without slackening the gait, bayonet charges have succeeded in nine cases out of ten.
2. The bayonet is usually more effective than grape, canister, or bullets.
At the battle of Leipsic, in 1813, Kleist's Prussian division was sent to carry the position of Probstheyda. For this purpose it was necessary to advance up a long slope, the crest of which was occupied by Drouot's artillery. The French allowed the Prussians to approach to within a short distance, and then poured into them a most destructive shower of grape, which drove them back for a moment in confusion. But they immediately rallied, and rushed desperately on again. Marshal Victor then charged them with the bayonet, and completely repulsed them.
Afterwards, having been re-enforced by Wittgenstein's Russian division, they again advanced, under a constant shower of grape from Drouot. They, nevertheless, kept advancing; and, in spite of the great loss they suffered, were about carrying the position, when the French again charged with the bayonet, forcing them down to the very foot of the declivity; where, being once more covered with grape, their repulse was complete and final.
So, at the battle of Mill Springs, in January, 1862, after the combatants had been exchanging musketry fires for several hours without any decisive result, the rebels' left was vigorously charged by the Ninth Ohio with the bayonet. This charge broke the enemy's flank. His whole line gave way in confusion, and the battle was won.
So, at Malvern Hill, in 1862, in several instances, columns of rebels whom a storm of canister and shell had failed to repulse, were driven back and routed by a dash with the bayonet, after a volley poured in at a few yards from the muzzles of the guns.
So, at the battle of Seven Pines, according to General Heintzelman's report, whenever our troops used the bayonet, their loss was comparatively light, and the enemy was driven back, suffering heavily.
3. The bayonet charge, when made from any considerable distance, should be in column; the only formation in which order can be combined with sufficient speed. But, at a short distance, a bayonet charge by a line, instantly after firing a volley to repel an attack, will be very effective, and usually successful.
4. In ordinary cases, the charge should be prepared by first shattering the hostile masses, or, at least, wearying and demoralizing them by artillery, or by skirmishers' fire.
5. The more vigorous and resolute the charge, the greater the chance of success. The enemy never retires before a moderate advance.
6. Where the enemy is forced into a defile, a charge with the bayonet, preceded by a few rounds of grape, will complete his destruction.
7. When the enemy is behind cover, the best way to drive him from it is with the bayonet. This will cause less loss of life than to attempt to return his fire. But, in such case, the charge should be prepared, when possible, by a few shells, or rounds of canister.
8. Shots up or down a declivity usually miss. A height should, therefore, be carried with the bayonet, without firing.
The moral effect, moreover, of a steady charge of infantry up a hill, without stopping to fire, is very great; and such a charge is usually successful. Prince Czartoryski, Alexander's most experienced general at Austerlitz, admitted that he lost all confidence in the result on seeing the French infantry ascending the plateau of Pratzen, the key to the Allies' position, with a firm and decided step, without once stopping to fire.
So, at Chattanooga, in November, 1863, Thomas's troops carried the height of Missionary Ridge by a similar steady and determined ascent, in spite of the volleys of grape and canister from nearly thirty pieces of artillery, and of musketry from the rebels' rifle-pits at the summit. General Grant attributed the small number of casualties our troops sustained in the attack to the rebels' surprise at its audacity, causing "confusion and purposeless aiming of their pieces."
V.—Defence against Infantry.
1. The defence of infantry is by its fire, and therefore its proper defensive formation is in deployed lines.
2. Avoid a premature commencement of the fire. Long firing exhausts the men's energy, expends the ammunition, fouls the pieces, destroys the soldier's confidence in his weapon, and emboldens the enemy.
3. So, a fire upon an enemy while under cover, as in a wood, would be virtually thrown away. If his fire from such a position causes us any loss, he had better be shelled, or driven away by skirmishers, according to circumstances.
4. The practice of hostile regiments exchanging for a considerable time a musketry fire at a distance, is highly objectionable, as it causes a great sacrifice of life without corresponding results. Instead of standing in line for ten minutes, receiving and returning fire at a distance of three hundred yards, it would be much better to clear this space at double quick in two or three minutes, and close with the enemy; for, in returning his fire, we can do him no more harm than we receive, while nothing decisive is accomplished. The case is, of course, different where our own troops are behind cover, while the enemy's are exposed.
5. But in special cases, as where we have to cover a flank movement of our second line, or of the reserve, or to await a force coming to our support, it may be necessary to keep up an incessant fusillade, without regard to losses received.
6. Fire in action is of two kinds: the fire at will, and the fire by volleys; the former kind being the rule, the latter the exception. Although the fire at will is the one principally used, there are very strong objections to it.
(1.) The men load and fire as individuals, and generally with great rapidity, and under more or less excitement, rarely stopping to take a deliberate aim. The consequence is, that very few shots take effect, and the fire is, for the greater part, wasted, as is shown by the well-established fact that, in every engagement, for every man killed or disabled, there have been from three to ten thousand musket or rifle bullets fired.
(2.) Except on windy days, a cloud of smoke soon collects in front of a line firing at will, hiding, more or less completely, the enemy from view. The fire being then at random, it is, of course, unreliable.
(3.) The fire at will leads to a rapid and enormous consumption of ammunition. To show how serious is this objection also, it is only necessary to consider in how many instances victory has been turned into defeat by the premature exhaustion, by one or more regiments, of their ammunition.
(4.) As a necessary consequence of this rapid consumption of ammunition, the pieces soon become fouled, and thus, to a great extent, useless.
(5.) Troops under a musketry fire at will, soon become accustomed to it, and its incessant din produces on them a stunning effect, which deadens, in no small degree, their sensibility to danger.
7. On the other hand, volley firing has often been attended with decisive results, especially when it has been reserved to the proper moment, and delivered at short range. Instances of this have occurred in almost every great battle we read of in history, as also in the late War of the Rebellion. For example: at the battle of South Mountain, Doubleday's brigade was engaged with a heavy force of rebels at some thirty or forty paces in its front. Our men were behind a fence, firing at will; but their fire made little or no impression on the enemy, who attempted to charge at the least cessation of the fire. Our troops were then made to cease firing, to lie down behind the fence, and, on the enemy's approach to within fifteen paces, to spring up and pour in a volley. This was so deadly, that the rebels fled in disorder, leaving their dead and wounded, and could not be rallied again.
At Chickamauga, in 1863, the regiments of Hazen's brigade fired only by volleys; every one of which, it is officially reported, was powerfully effective in checking the enemy's attacks.
8. Nevertheless, it has been a common military saying, and supported even by high authority, that the fire at will is the only one possible in action. This assertion implies that the rank and file are not sufficiently cool to reserve their fire, and that they must be kept constantly occupied by the excitement, noise, and smoke of their own fire, in order to make them remain steady in their ranks under that of the enemy.
As applied to raw, undisciplined, or demoralized troops, the proposition may be, to a great extent, true. But in reference to disciplined or veteran troops, whose morale has not been impaired, it will be found disproved on almost every page of military history; from which a few examples will be cited hereafter. For the present, one instance will suffice; that of Colonel Willich's regiment of Thirty-second Indiana Volunteers, at the battle of Shiloh, in April, 1862. While under fire, their commander, perceiving their own fire to have become "a little wild," caused them to cease firing, and then drilled them in the manual of arms, which they went through as if on parade; after which, they again opened on the enemy a fire, which is reported to have been "deliberate, steady, and effective."
It may be here observed that, whenever troops lose their presence of mind, there is no surer way of restoring it than by the repetition, by their officers, in their usual tone, of any words of command they have learned instinctively to obey on the drill-ground.
9. Infantry, when charged in position, should reserve its fire till it can be made with deadly effect, as at the distance of fifty paces; and the volleys should be instantly followed up by a countercharge with the bayonet on the charging enemy. For, if our fire has staggered him, a vigorous charge will complete his repulse; and if it has not, our only chance of success is in suddenly taking the offensive ourselves.
Whilst awaiting his charge, we shall incur but little, if any, loss from the enemy's fire; for the fire of troops advancing to attack is usually of very little account.
The only disadvantage attending a volley just before we charge is, that, as the smoke veils us from the enemy's view, it will rob us, to some extent, of the moral effect of our swift advance.
But, in many cases, if the enemy see us awaiting his bayonet attack, and reserving our fire to the very last, he loses resolution, relaxes his speed, and then stops short, or retires.
At Cowpens, Colonel Howard broke and routed the British line which was advancing to attack him, by reserving his fire to within thirty yards, and then charging with the bayonet.
At the battle of Friedland, the Russian Imperial Guard charged on Dupont's division with the bayonet. The French did not wait for them to close, but rushed on with the bayonet themselves, and completely routed them.
10. A volley concentrated upon the enemy's regimental colors will usually disable the color-guard and the men near it; and, if promptly followed up by a charge, may enable us to capture the colors. This is always an important advantage; for, by the loss of its colors, a regiment is not only dispirited, but in danger of disorganization; these being its proper rallying-point.
11. When infantry is acting as a support to artillery which is attacked, it should throw out sharpshooters to reply to the enemy's skirmishers that are firing at the gunners and horses, whilst it engages the compact mass by which it is itself attacked.
If the enemy should commit the blunder of attacking the battery with his entire force, without detaching to engage the support, we should profit by it by instantly charging him in flank; but taking care not to be led away to any distance from the battery we are protecting.
12. Infantry, surrounded by the enemy, will often be able to cut its way through and escape. For this purpose, as the highest degree of concentration is required, its formation should be in close column.
VI.—Defence against Artillery.
1. The best defence of infantry against artillery is by the fire of sharpshooters deployed as skirmishers, to pick off the gunners and the horses; the main body, meanwhile, occupying the most sheltered locality it can find.
2. Where no shelter is afforded by any natural obstacles, or by irregularities of ground, it may be sometimes necessary to make the men lie down.
But this expedient should be used as rarely as possible, on account of its demoralizing tendency. Troops that have become accustomed to it cannot be expected to bravely face the enemy; and the habit is very rapidly formed. At Bull Run, in July, 1861, a whole company was seen to grovel in the dust at the mere snapping of a percussion-cap of one of their own muskets.
This demoralizing tendency does not exist, however, where troops lie down only to enable their own artillery to fire over them. This was shown at the battle of Pea Ridge, where several of our regiments lay on the ground for two hours or more, while thirty of our guns were firing over them. When, at last, this fire had silenced the enemy's guns, our infantry then rose, charged him in a compact line, and drove him from the field.
3. A line of infantry may avoid cannon-shot by advancing or retiring fifty paces. A column or a square would have to move this distance, or more, according to its depth.
Ricochet shots may be avoided by moving fifty paces to the right or left.
This shifting of position is but a temporary expedient, it is true, for the enemy's guns will soon obtain the exact range again. But for this, several trial-shots will be requisite, thus making the enemy lose time; and, in battle, a few minutes lost or gained have often decided between victory and defeat.
4. When the enemy opens an artillery fire on a square, preparatory to a cavalry charge, his fire must cease when his cavalry approaches the square; say, on its arriving within one hundred and fifty yards. To avoid the artillery fire, the square may safely remain lying down until the hostile cavalry has reached this point. For, as they will require about half a minute to clear the intervening ground, the square will still have time enough left to rise, align its ranks, and deliver a volley before the cavalry reaches it.
VII.—Defence against Cavalry.
1. The discipline of infantry is never put to a severer test than when it is required to resist a charge of cavalry, properly made. The moral effect of a charge of a body of horse at full speed, on the troops waiting to receive it, is like that caused by the swift approach of a locomotive under full steam, seeming quite as irresistible. It would be so in reality, but for the counter effect produced both on the horses and their riders by the sight of the infantry standing firm and reserving its fire. I have been told by an old cuirassier officer, who served through the campaigns of Napoleon with distinguished bravery, that there was no operation that his regiment so much dreaded as a charge upon well-disciplined infantry.
2. This counter moral effect on the charging cavalry is the greater, the longer the infantry reserve their fire; since, the less the distance at which it is delivered, the more fatal will be its effects. A volley at long range is not destructive enough to check the cavalry's advance; while this effect has often been produced by the infantry merely withholding its fire till the cavalry has approached very near; and a volley delivered at the very last moment has, in by far the greater number of instances, effectually repulsed the charge.
Infantry should, therefore, let cavalry approach to within forty paces, or nearer still, and then give them a general volley.
At the battle of Neerwinden, in 1793, the Austrian cavalry was repulsed by the French infantry under Dumouriez, by a volley poured in at the very muzzles of the pieces.
At Austerlitz, a Russian cavalry charge on French infantry in line was repulsed by a volley delivered so near, that it stretched four hundred troopers on the ground. The rest dispersed in disorder to the right and left.
3. The armor of cuirassiers is bullet-proof. To repel a charge of these troops, therefore, it will be necessary to aim at the horses. Their armor is so heavy, that the mere fall of the riders on the ground is usually sufficient to disable them, as was the case with the French cuirassiers at Waterloo.
4. Infantry in line, in two ranks even, may withstand cavalry, if in compact order, and attacked in front. But the slightest cavalry charge on the flank of a line will rout it.
At Quatre Bras, a French infantry line, advancing, repulsed a charge of the Brunswicker Lancers under the Duke of Brunswick, by receiving it in steadiness and good order, and then pouring in a destructive fire.
But, in the same battle, the Sixty-ninth British Regiment was instantly rolled up and destroyed by a charge of French cuirassiers on its flank.
5. Where infantry is well disciplined, and its commander is cool and prompt, it may sometimes avoid the effect of a cavalry charge by other means than its fire, or formation in square. At Talavera, a French infantry division, drawn up in close column, seeing an English cavalry regiment charging down upon them, avoided the shock by simply stepping aside, thus allowing the cavalry to pass by them. A portion of the charging troops wheeled round to follow them; but, by the cross-fire of another division, and the charge of other cavalry, which fell upon it in its confusion, it was completely annihilated.
6. A line of infantry charged by cavalry in flank, and so suddenly as to allow no time to form square, could hardly escape destruction. It would seem that the best course to be adopted in such a case would be to open the ranks by a rapid and simultaneous movement of both of them, thus compelling the charging cavalry to ride between them. If the front rank should then face about, this would bring the cavalry between two fires, which might be poured in with most destructive effect.
But where the cavalry charges with a very wide front, or in line, this manoeuvre might be difficult, or impossible.
7. Whenever an infantry line is charged by cavalry in front, and it is doubtful whether it will stand the shock, the wisest course would seem to be to make the men lie down, and let the charging cavalry leap over them. This the horses will instinctively do, with but little risk of injury to the men, provided they lie in a position parallel to the line of battle, thus presenting the least possible depth. It is said that the British infantry has sometimes done this, and risen up again immediately after the cavalry had passed. The cavalry could thus be promptly taken in rear.
8. In retreating, when threatened by cavalry, if there be a long plain in our rear, we must retire slowly. But if cover, or ground unfavorable to cavalry, be near, we must reach it as soon as possible.
1. In 1813, France was nearly exhausted of soldiers, so that Napoleon, on hastily preparing for his campaign of that year, was obliged to incorporate into his army a large number of raw conscripts, who had scarcely begun their elementary drill. On the route to their respective points of concentration, he accordingly ordered his columns to halt each day, to practise the three movements which he considered to be the most important for infantry to be familiar with. These were, forming battalions in square, deploying in line, and re-forming in column of attack.
2. In the Austrian service, squares formed by a column in mass are considered preferable to hollow ones, on the supposition that though horses will recoil from a dense mass, they may be easily brought to break through a shallow formation, over which they can see the open ground. But this theory seems to be refuted by numerous facts. A large proportion of the formations that have successfully repulsed cavalry, since the beginning of this century, have been hollow squares.
3. The rule laid down in the Tactics (Par. 143, Skirmishers), directing the skirmishers, in rallying on the square, to "come to a ready without command, and fire upon the enemy; which will also be done by the reserve, as soon as it is unmasked by the skirmishers," is an unsound one, for a compliance with it would be dangerous. A square cannot expect to repulse cavalry by an irregular fire at will, but only by well-directed volleys. If cavalry charge a square firing irregularly, it will probably rout it. On the other hand, if a square wait coolly till the cavalry is at twenty paces, its volley will be murderous. At Waterloo, the Allied squares that reserved their fire till the French cavalry had arrived at from twenty to forty paces, invariably repulsed it. At that battle, Ney led eleven cavalry charges against the British squares, every one of which failed.
At the opening of the campaign of 1813, Napoleon had, comparatively, but a handful of cavalry; so few, that they had to keep close to their infantry for protection. In crossing the plains of Lutzen, a large and splendid cavalry force of the Allies, supported by infantry and by horse-artillery, made an attack on Ney's corps, which consisted chiefly of young and raw recruits, who saw an enemy for the first time. The situation was extremely dangerous, and Ney and his principal generals threw themselves into the squares to encourage them. By volleys delivered at a signal, the enemy's charges were all repulsed, and the conscripts acquired great confidence from the ease with which this was done. Ney then broke up his squares, and, pursuing the enemy in columns, completed their repulse.
At Auerstadt, in 1806, Davoust's French squares had to sustain a long succession of charges from ten thousand Prussian horse. By reserving their fire, each time, to within thirty or forty paces, its effect was so deadly, that a rampart of dead and disabled men and horses was soon formed around the squares, and the charges were all repulsed.
So, at Jena, on the same day, Ney, posted in a square, allowed the Prussian cuirassiers to charge up to within fifteen or twenty paces, when the front attacked, at his word of command, poured in a fire which completely repulsed the charge, strewing the whole ground with dead and wounded. The Prussian cavalry, in that battle, are said to have been "terrified at the sight of a motionless infantry reserving its fire."
Again, at Mount Tabor, in 1798, General Kleber, marching with an infantry division of only three thousand men, over an immense sandy plain, was attacked by twelve thousand Turkish horse. The French squares resisted their successive charges for six hours, by means of volleys reserved till the enemy were at the very muzzles of their guns; which soon built up a rampart around them of men and horses. Bonaparte then arrived with another division. Dividing it into two squares, he rapidly advanced them in such a manner as to enclose the Turks in a kind of triangle; when, by a sudden fire upon them from three points at once, he drove them upon each other in confusion, making them flee in every direction.
It may be observed, that advancing or manoeuvring in squares is practicable only on open and level plains, like the sandy deserts of Egypt and Syria.
4. The best reliance of an infantry square being, therefore, on its fire by volleys, the men should be instructed to come to a charge bayonet, instead of a "ready," immediately on forming square. From this latter position, there would be much greater danger of the volley being prematurely delivered. The fire of a single excited man will usually be followed by a general discharge.
5. It may be often advisable that the volley should be delivered by both ranks at once, and not by a single one. Par. 1191, School of the Battalion, directing that "a battalion, in square, will never use any other than the fire by file, or by rank," should therefore be amended.
6. Moreover, in view of what has been said as to volley-firing, and of the examples that have been cited in confirmation, there is reason to doubt the wisdom of the direction contained in Par. 67, School of the Company: "The fire by file being that which is most frequently used against an enemy, it is highly important that it be rendered perfectly familiar to the troops. The instructor will, therefore, give it almost exclusive preference."
The fire by file, after its commencement, becomes a mere individual fire at will. Independently of the general ineffectiveness of this kind of fire, one would have supposed that the instructor's attention should be rather directed to accustoming the men to the more difficult reserved fire by volleys, instead of practising them almost exclusively in a fire which, once learned, they will use instinctively, and without any practice at all.
7. Infantry breech-loading weapons would be very useful to troops in square, when charged by cavalry; since, being rapidly reloaded, they would enable the square to repulse, with a volley, each subdivision successively, where the charging column is formed at the usual distances. But it is doubtful whether, on the whole, these weapons are preferable to muzzle-loaders. Certain it is, that they exhaust the ammunition much more rapidly, and so cause a suspension of fire, and a withdrawal from the line of battle, till a new supply can arrive. And, to obtain this new supply, a long time is generally required; infantry ammunition being usually carried in the second, or more distant ammunition train, instead of the first, or nearest one, as it ought to be.
8. Although a reserved fire is much the most reliable in repulsing cavalry, the men may sometimes be ordered to commence the fire at a considerable distance. In such case, they should be instructed to aim at the horses, instead of their riders, as affording a better mark.
9. European cavalry is often practised, on arriving within four hundred yards, or effective grape-shot distance, of an infantry square, to halt, and then open at the centre, unmasking a battery of horse-artillery, which plays for a certain time on the square, when the cavalry closes again, and charges.
A square, however, attacked in this manner, is not in so much danger of being broken as might be imagined. The enemy's guns, after being unmasked, would usually require several trial rounds to get the exact range; and our sharpshooters, who could safely be thrown forward one hundred yards, with the new rifled arms, ought, in the mean time, to inflict such loss on the cavalry, as well as on the battery, as to cause it either to retire, or to charge feebly, and, therefore, ineffectively. At the very worst, the square would have ample time to re-form its ranks, and deliver a deadly volley before the cavalry could reach it, as it also would if this operation were attempted much nearer, say at two hundred yards. In this last case, a few volleys from the square itself, with the new arms, would probably be destructive enough to prevent the charge altogether.
10. It is hardly necessary to observe, that troops formed in square, when charged by cavalry, can secure their safety only by standing firm. A single opening will suffice to let in the enemy, who will then easily ride over the square, and cut it in pieces. Whereas, if the square remain unbroken, cavalry can inflict upon it no loss, or but a trifling one.
11. In repulsing a cavalry charge, coolness and presence of mind will sometimes enable troops to accomplish extraordinary results.
At Quatre Bras, the square of the Forty-second Highlanders was not completed, the companies still running in to form the rear face, when the enemy's leading troop entered. But the square, nevertheless, finished its formation; and the French cavalry, caught, as it were, in a net, was soon destroyed by the concentrated fire of all the fronts, which had faced inward.
In the same battle, the Forty-fourth British Regiment, standing in line in two ranks, was suddenly charged in rear by the French Lancers, who had dashed round one of their flanks for that purpose. The rear rank suddenly faced about, and, at a very short distance, poured in a deadly fire, which put them into confusion. On their way back to re-form, the front rank, in its turn, gave them a volley, which destroyed great numbers of them, and completed their rout.
12. Even when a square has been actually broken, it is not necessarily lost. If the troops are brave and well disciplined, it may sometimes be rallied again, re-formed, and made to repulse the attacking cavalry, as was the case with some of the Allied squares at Waterloo.
So, at the battle of Pultusk, in 1806, a French battalion that had been broken and overthrown by Russian cavalry, immediately rallied, fell on the troopers floundering in the mud, and dispatched them.
So, at the battle of Krasnoe, in 1812, a large Russian square was retreating before the French cavalry masses. Occasionally, in order to pass a narrow defile, it was obliged, temporarily, to break the square. At these times the French made furious charges, penetrated into the column, and captured men and guns. But as soon as the defile was passed, the Russians instantly re-formed the square, and continued their retreat. They finally succeeded in reaching Korytnia, after killing and wounding some four hundred or five hundred of the French; though with the loss of eight guns, one thousand prisoners, and seven hundred or eight hundred hors de combat, out of five thousand or six thousand men.
We shall consider—
First, THEIR USE.
Secondly, HOW THEY ARE POSTED.
Thirdly, HOW THEY ARE HANDLED.
Fourthly, RULES FOR INDIVIDUAL SKIRMISHERS.
A. THEIR USE.
1. In approaching the enemy through a wooded or broken country, skirmishers thrown out in advance, and on the flanks of the leading column, are absolutely indispensable, in order to reconnoitre the ground, and prevent a surprise.
2. Skirmishers protect the main body, or any particular portion of it, from attack while manoeuvring.
A regiment, or a brigade, in covered ground, whether the enemy be visible or not, should never change its position in battle, or manoeuvre, without the protection of a skirmishing line.
3. They furnish a screen, behind which the main body may hide its movements, and be enabled to attack at an unexpected point.
4. Where a ravine, a wood, or other similar obstacle causes a break in our line of battle, by occupying it with skirmishers we guard it against penetration by the enemy, and connect the separated corps with each other.
5. Skirmishers may be used to alarm the enemy at a point where he expected no attack, and thus create a diversion.
6. By their attack at various points, they serve to unmask the enemy's position.
7. They may be employed to open the way for a charge with the bayonet.
At the battle of Stone River, the rebels, on one occasion, advanced in line, with a double column in rear of each wing, preceded by a double line of skirmishers, who reserved their fire till close to our line, when they halted, poured in a murderous fire, and fell back on their main body, which then rushed forward. Both our first and second lines, staggered by this sudden and destructive fire, were swept from the ground.
8. Skirmishers have been sometimes thrown forward to test the spirit and disposition of the enemy.
At Biberach, in 1800, the French general St. Cyr, after having carried the place, and driven the Austrians through the defile in rear of it back upon their main body, posted on the heights of Wittenburg, sent forward a strong line of skirmishers to open fire on them, with the view of ascertaining their temper and disposition after their vanguard had been defeated and driven in. This drew forth a general and continued discharge, like that which demoralized troops are apt to indulge in to keep up their spirits by their own noise. Seeing this, St. Cyr instantly prepared to charge, although he had with him but twenty thousand men, and the Austrians numbered sixty thousand, and were in a strong position. The result justified his decision; for, on the near approach of the French, the Austrians fired a volley or two and then retreated in confusion.
9. Skirmishers should accompany columns of attack; for—
(1.) They increase the confidence of the troops they accompany. Placed between the columns, they advance boldly because the columns advance, and the columns advance boldly because the skirmishers do.
(2.) Preceding the columns, by driving back the enemy's skirmishers, and diverting his fire to themselves, they keep the attacking columns as free from loss as possible till the shock.
They, moreover, serve to annoy the troops we are about to attack, by the incessant sharp buzzing of their deadly bullets among them, like so many bees, killing some and disabling others; and this, sometimes, to such a degree as to demoralize them.
It is said that, at Waterloo, the swarms of skirmishers that covered the French attacking columns so galled and excited the stationary columns and squares of some of the Allies, as to nearly drive them from the field.
(3.) On the flanks of a column, they cover them from attack.
(4.) They draw the enemy's fire prematurely, and thus render it comparatively ineffective.
(5.) They prevent the columns from halting to deploy and fire.
(6.) They may sometimes conceal the direction of the march of the attacking column, and even seize the guns that have been playing on it.
10. In defence, if they can encircle the enemy's advancing column, they may destroy it by their concentric fire.
11. In a retreat, skirmishers cover the rear, so long as the enemy attacks without cavalry.
12. The NEW RIFLED ARMS have obviously much increased the effectiveness of skirmishers.
B. HOW POSTED.
1. They should be always near enough to the main body to be supported by it, if hard pressed, and also to enable the main body to profit at once of any advantage that may have been gained by them.
2. They should cover the main body, both in front and in flank, except where the ground may render this impracticable or unnecessary; and, in defensive positions, they should occupy every point from which the enemy's skirmishers might annoy us.
3. In a defensive combat, they should be so posted as to take the enemy's attack in flank:
(1.) Because their fire will be thus the more destructive; and—
(2.) They will not be exposed to be driven back by the enemy's fire, or by his advance.
4. If thrown into an enclosure, they must have an easy exit. Skirmishers feeling themselves in danger of being cut off, will lose somewhat of that coolness which is so essential to their efficiency.
5. They should not be kept stationary behind a straight line, as a wall, a fence, or a hedge; for this would expose them to enfilade.
6. Skirmishers are only auxiliary to the main force, and are not capable, by themselves, of effecting any decisive result. Therefore, in order not to exhaust the men, heavy skirmishing lines should not be used, except to lead a decided advance, or to repel one.
7. The principle is, to post skirmishers so as to give them the maximum of shelter, whilst inflicting the maximum of loss on the enemy. This applies to the placing of the whole line, and to the separate groups. The way skirmishers produce their effect is by sharpshooting, which requires calmness; and the more completely sheltered they are, the calmer they will be, and the more deadly will be their aim.
C. HOW HANDLED.
1. Deploy them before coming within range of musketry; for infantry in compact order is a good target for the enemy.
2. They should be kept well in hand; especially at the moment of success, when they are in danger of rushing headlong to destruction.
3. Coming upon the enemy's main body, they should occupy him in front and flank till our own main body gets up.
4. Except in urgent cases, never deploy a line of skirmishers on a run; for this makes them lose breath and calmness, and, with their calmness, their accuracy of aim.
So, after deployment, avoid all rapid and violent movements.
5. Skirmishers become exhausted after long firing. The longer they continue out, the worse they shoot. Therefore, relieve them often.
6. Skirmishers should be accustomed to lie down at a given signal; as it is sometimes very important that both our artillery and infantry should be able to fire over them.
7. In retreat, skirmishers occupy every favorable point for holding the enemy in check.
D. RULES FOR INDIVIDUAL SKIRMISHERS.
1. In advancing, in retreat, or at a halt, use every cover that presents itself.
2. Preserve the alignment and the intervals, so far as possible. On open ground, this may be done perfectly. In woods, skirmishers should never, for a moment, lose sight of each other.
3. The security of the flanks should be looked out for by the men near them.
4. Run over exposed ground as quickly as possible.
5. Approach the crest of a hill with great caution.
6. If threatened by artillery alone, advance and kill off the men and horses before they get into battery. When the pieces have got into battery, lie down, if on exposed ground, till they limber up again, and then recommence the fire.
7. A skirmisher, with the new rifled arms, ought, at five hundred yards, to be more than a match for a gun; for, in men and horses, he has a much larger target than the gun has in him.
Again, with the new rifle shells, he may be able to blow up a caisson.
8. Neither should a skirmisher have much to fear from a single horseman. With his bayonet fixed, he would usually be able to defend himself successfully against the trooper, whose sabre is the shorter weapon of the two; more especially, if he will take care to keep on the trooper's left, which is his exposed side.
9. Never lose your calmness. Your power consists, not in rapid firing, but in the accuracy of your aim. Avoid all hurried and violent movements; and never raise your gun till sure of a shot.
10. The aim, according to the Tactics, is made by bringing the gun down, instead of raising it up. However little the soldier may be excited, he will be apt to pull the trigger more or less too soon; that is, while the muzzle is yet too elevated. This is the reason why infantry missiles usually fly too high. The difficulty would not be obviated by causing the aim to be made by raising the piece; for then the same disturbing cause already mentioned, the soldier's excitement, would make the shots fly as much too low, as they now fly too high.
Rapid firing is another cause of this incompleteness of aim. Infantry firing is already too rapid to be effective; so that what is claimed for the new breech-loading weapons as an advantage, that they increase the rapidity of fire, furnishes, on the contrary, a strong objection to them. The effectiveness of the fire of a sharp-shooter, especially, will be usually in inverse, instead of direct proportion to the number of shots he delivers in a given time.
In view of this, and of the tendency to pull the trigger before the muzzle is sufficiently depressed, it has become an established maxim, to
"Aim low, Fire slow"
TACTICAL USE OF ARTILLERY.
The subject will be treated under the following heads:—
I.—HOW POSTED WITH RESPECT TO THE GROUND. II.—HOW POSTED WITH RESPECT TO OUR OWN TROOPS. III.—HOW POSTED WITH RESPECT TO THE ENEMY. IV.—POSTING OF BATTERIES AND PIECES AS BETWEEN THEMSELVES. V.—HOW USED. VI.—ITS FIRE. VII.—ITS SUPPORTS.
I.—How posted with respect to the Ground.
1. Artillery has a much longer range than musketry. In order to avail ourselves of this advantage, we must so post it as to overlook all the ground to which its utmost range extends. It therefore requires an elevated position.
2. It has been considered an additional advantage of a commanding position for artillery, that it enables our guns to cover our infantry, attacking or attacked, by firing over their heads.
This was done by the French at Waterloo, apparently with great effect. But the advantage is a doubtful one; for firing over our own troops, especially with cast-shot or shell, is very dangerous to them, and is apt to intimidate them. It moreover furnishes to the enemy a double target. The shot which miss our troops will be apt to fall among the guns behind them; and some of those which do not reach the guns, will probably take effect among the troops in front of them.
3. But very high points are unfavorable positions for batteries. Batteries so placed would not command the ground immediately below them; as guns cannot be depressed to fire below a certain angle without soon destroying their carriages. And this would facilitate their capture; for, once arrived on the ground near them, the assailants could not be injured by their fire. It has been estimated that the slope in front of a battery should not exceed one perpendicular to fifteen base.
4. When guns have to be used as a support to other parts of the line, which is often the case, their capture might lead to serious consequences. They should therefore have the ground clear of all obstacles which may mask their fire, not only in front, but to their right and left.
5. Although the most favorable position for guns is an eminence sloping gradually towards the enemy, an open and level plain is by no means an unfavorable one; for, on such ground, the enemy will be visible at a great distance, and our shot may act by ricochet, which causes more destruction than ordinary point-blank firing.
For ricochet, firm and even ground is requisite; on soft or rough ground it is not attainable.
6. In enfilading the enemy's position, or in raking his advancing columns from head to rear, a grazing fire is the most destructive that can be used. This consists of a long succession of ricochets at low heights. Where the ground is level and firm, we can obtain this fire at a short distance from the enemy; as, on such ground, ricochet shots do not rise much. But where the ground is uneven, to obtain such a fire, a more distant position will be requisite.
7. Muddy ground is unfavorable for artillery. Over such ground, its carriages move slowly, and its fire is less effective. Balls cannot ricochet; and shells often sink into the mud, and thus are either extinguished or explode with but little effect.
Napoleon depended so much on his artillery at Waterloo that, although every moment was precious, he delayed commencing the battle till his chief of artillery had reported the ground, which had been covered by a soaking rain, to be sufficiently dry for the movements and effectiveness of that arm. The three hours' delay thus caused, would have sufficed him to crush Wellington's army before the arrival of the Prussians.
8. Stony ground is a bad location for a battery; for the enemy's shot will scatter the stones around it with more or less fatal effect.
9. Rough or uneven ground immediately in front of a battery is not objectionable, as it will stop the enemy's shot.
10. A battery, when it is possible to avoid it, should not be posted within musket range of woods, bushes, ravines, hedges, ditches, or other cover from which the enemy's sharpshooters might kill off the gunners, or, by a sudden dash, capture the guns.
11. To prevent the enemy from approaching a battery under cover, it should be so placed as to be able to sweep all villages, hollows, and woods, in front and in flank.
12. In taking up a position, a battery should avail itself of all inequalities of the ground, for the shelter of its pieces and gunners, or of its limbers and caissons, at least.
For the same purpose, a battery posted on an eminence should have its pieces some ten paces behind its crest.
13. Where the ground affords no shelter, and where the position of the guns is not likely to be changed, it may be worth while to cover them by an epaulement or breastwork, some three feet, or more, high.
II.—How posted with respect to our own Troops.
1. In order to be ready to support the flanks of our attacking columns, and to aid in the defence in every part of the field, batteries should be placed at several different points in the line of battle.
2. In a defensive battle especially, as it is uncertain on what point the enemy will mass his principal attack, the artillery should usually be distributed through the whole line.
3. A line of battle has been compared to the front of a fortification, of which the infantry is the curtain, and the artillery batteries the bastions.
4. The lighter guns should be placed on the salient points of our line, from which they can be more easily withdrawn; the heavier guns, constituting the stationary batteries, on the more retired points.
5. Pieces should not be placed in prolongation with troops; for this would be giving the enemy a double mark. Artillery posted in front of other troops will draw a fire on them. When a battery must be placed in front of the line, let the infantry in rear of it clear the ground by ploying into double columns.
6. Never place artillery so as to impede the movements of the other two arms. A battery posted in front of the centre would often hamper the movements of the infantry; besides being peculiarly exposed to a converging fire from the enemy's batteries.
7. The safest position for a battery is on that wing which is most secure from a flank attack.
But guns should re-enforce the weaker points, thus making the enemy attack the strongest ones.
Therefore, where a wing is weak, place the largest number of guns there, to support it. If we have one wing entirely uncovered, of four batteries, for instance, we should give three to the uncovered wing.
8. Of the heavy batteries, one, at least, should be placed in the first line, so that we may be able to open an effective fire on the enemy at the earliest possible moment.
9. The prompt use, at the proper moment, of the reserve, may decide the battle. The movements of heavy artillery, therefore, are too slow for the reserve, which should have most of the light pieces. Horse artillery is especially suitable for it.
10. Guns near an infantry square should be posted at its angles. If the square is charged by cavalry, the gunners run into the square, after filling their ammunition pouches, which they take in with them, as well as their sponges and other equipments. The limbers and caissons are sent to the rear; or, if there is no time to do this, they may be brought into the square. If this is impossible, they may be formed into a barricade.
At Waterloo, on the French cavalry's retiring from their charges on the enemy's squares, the British gunners rushed out from the squares in which they had taken refuge, and plied their guns on the retiring squadrons.
III.—How posted with respect to the Enemy.
1. If the enemy's batteries are concentrated in one position, by placing our own batteries properly we may obtain a powerful cross-fire on them.
2. It is always advantageous to so dispose our batteries as to take those of the enemy in enfilade, or obliquely (en echarpe, as it is called).
At the battle of Murfreesboro', in December, 1862, a rebel battery, being taken in enfilade by one of our own, was silenced in about five minutes.
3. So, also, if we can obtain an oblique or enfilading fire on his troops, it will be very destructive. A flanking battery, raking the enemy's position, is often enough, of itself, to decide a battle.
Thus, the battle of Chippewa was finally decided by our getting a gun or two in a flanking position, enabling us to enfilade the British line.
So, at the battle of Shiloh, the rebels' triumphant advance on the evening of the first day was effectually checked by the fire of our gun-boats Tyler and Lexington, which had taken an enfilading position opposite their right flank.
4. For this reason, we must never post one of our own batteries so that the enemy's guns will take it obliquely, or in flank; unless, indeed, by doing so, we may probably obtain some important and decisive effect before it can be destroyed, or made unserviceable.
5. Batteries should be so placed as to command the whole ground in our front, even almost up to our bayonets, and so as to be able to direct their fire towards every point; at all events, so that a fire can be kept up on the enemy till he is within short musket-range.
It is manifest that the best position for a battery, to enable it to effectually cover the entire ground in our front, would not be in our line of battle, but in advance of one of its flanks, from which it could take the enemy's troops advancing over it, in enfilade.
6. Artillery fire from an unexpected quarter always has a powerful moral effect. Two guns, even, hoisted up to a place where the enemy does not dream of there being any, may have a decisive effect.
IV.—Posting of Batteries and of Pieces as between themselves.
1. The best mode of posting batteries is in the form of a crescent, its horns pointing towards the enemy, or forming the sides of a re-entering angle; for this gives a convergent fire to the enemy's divergent one.
Its inconvenience is, the exposure of its flanks to attack, or to enfilade. Therefore, when such a position is adopted, its flanks must be protected by natural obstacles or by artificial defences.
2. Batteries, or parts of batteries, should be at supporting distances from each other; that is, not over six hundred yards apart, so as to effectually cover the whole ground between them, in case of need, with grape and canister. When rifled guns are used, this distance may be increased.
3. A long line of guns in our line of battle is objectionable; for, if it should become necessary to withdraw them, they would leave a dangerous interval.
4. It is dangerous to collect a great many pieces in one battery, especially in the beginning of an action, when the enemy is fresh, for it strongly tempts him to capture it. When used, such a battery should have powerful supports to protect it, or should be sheltered by a village, a defile, or other cover, occupied beforehand.
5. Although, to be used offensively, guns should be in strong masses, in order to strike a decisive blow on some single point; this is by no means the case when used defensively; for,
(1.) It is only when guns are more or less scattered over different parts of the field, that they can be made to give a cross-fire on the enemy's advancing columns, or on any part of his line.
(2.) If the position where they are massed does not happen to be attacked, they become useless, while stripping the rest of the line.
(3.) If they are captured, all the artillery is lost at once, as happened to the Austrians at the battle of Leuthen, causing their defeat.
6. A certain number of pieces of horse-artillery must always be kept in reserve, so that, if an artillery fire at any point should be suddenly wanted, it may be furnished with the least possible delay.
7. Guns of various calibres should never be in the same battery, to prevent confusion as to the respective ranges, and in the supply of their ammunition.
8. An independent section or battery should never consist of howitzers alone, for the proper fire of these pieces is too slow to be effective in repulsing an attack on them.
9. There should always be wide intervals between the pieces; otherwise the battery would offer too good a mark to the enemy.
First, GENERALLY. Secondly, IN OFFENSIVE COMBAT. Thirdly, IN DEFENSIVE COMBAT. Fourthly, AGAINST INFANTRY. Fifthly, AGAINST CAVALRY. Lastly, AGAINST ARTILLERY.
1. So far as is possible, guns should be kept hidden from the enemy till the moment of opening on him. They may be masked by the ground, or other cover, natural or artificial, or by troops placed in front of them. The surprise will add much to their effect. Moreover, concealed, they will be less exposed to be taken. Nothing discourages troops more than the loss of a battery at the beginning of an action.
2. A desultory and indiscriminate artillery fire will accomplish nothing. To effect any thing important, it must be concentrated on some object; and the fire must be persevered in till the desired effect has been produced.
3. It is a general principle that artillery should not reply to the enemy's batteries, unless compelled to by their effect on our own troops. To obtain the most decisive effects from artillery fire, it should be directed on the enemy's troops, instead of his guns.
4. If it should become advisable to silence one of his batteries, it will be done more promptly and effectually by the employment, for this purpose, of two of our own batteries, than of a single one.
5. There is usually great advantage in keeping our batteries constantly shifting their position; for then—
(1.) They have the effect of a surprise, by opening on the enemy at some unexpected point.
(2.) They make the enemy believe our guns to be more numerous than they really are.
(3.) They are in less danger of being captured.
But these changes of position are attended with this inconvenience, that they expose the horses to be taken in flank by the enemy's batteries and sharpshooters.
6. The movements of a battery in the field should be as rapid as possible; for, while moving, it is helpless and exposed.
Moreover, celerity of movement and accuracy of fire will often more than compensate for inferiority in the number of guns; as was the case at the battle of Palo Alto, in the Mexican War, where the enemy's guns outnumbered ours two to one.
B. IN OFFENSIVE COMBAT.
1. When used to prepare for an attack of infantry or cavalry, artillery concentrates as much fire as possible on the point where the attack is to be made, in order to overcome the resistance there, and thus make success easy.
2. When there are several points on which our fire should be directed, we must not batter them all at once, but concentrate our whole fire on them in succession.
3. In attack, artillery should not be split up among different brigades or divisions; else no decisive result can be expected from it. Whole batteries, used together, will have a more telling effect than if scattered over the field in separate sections.
In no case should less than two pieces be used together; for, while one piece is being loaded, the piece and its gunners need the protection of another one ready to be discharged.
4. Pieces in support of an infantry column of attack should never be in its rear, but on its flanks, near its head, in which position it will best encourage the infantry. But if a battery have already a position from which it can afford to the attack effective assistance, it should remain in it; sending a few pieces to accompany the infantry, which always greatly values artillery support.
5. Powerful effects may be produced by the sudden assemblage of a great number of guns on some particular point. This was a favorite manoeuvre of Napoleon; who, by his rapid concentration of immense batteries of light artillery on the important point, usually obtained the most decisive results. At Wagram, for instance, when Macdonald's column was ready to make its great charge on the Austrian centre, Napoleon suddenly massed one hundred guns in front of his own centre, and made it advance in double column at a trot, then deploy into line on the leading section, and concentrate its fire on the villages forming the keys to the enemy's position, in front of his right and left wings respectively; each battery opening its fire on arriving at half-range distance. The effect was overwhelming.
6. The nearer artillery delivers its fire, the more powerful, of course, are its effects. Horse artillery, in sufficient strength, attacking the enemy at short grape-shot distance, say within three hundred or four hundred yards, may lose half its pieces, but with the other half it will probably decide the battle at that point.
At Palo Alto, Duncan's rapid closing with his guns to less than half range, drove back the Mexican right wing, which could not stand the destructive fire.
7. Horse artillery does not usually attempt to follow up cavalry in its attack; but takes a position to cover its retreat, if repulsed, or to push forward in support, in case of success.
8. When cavalry has to debouch from a defile, horse artillery may render it most effectual assistance, by taking a position that will enable the cavalry to form without fear of being charged and destroyed while forming.
C. IN DEFENSIVE COMBAT.
1. Artillery should always reserve its fire till the enemy's real attack.
2. It should play on that portion of the hostile force that threatens us most.
3. It should wait till the enemy has come within destructive distance, and then open on his columns with a concentrated fire.
4. It should protect our troops while manoeuvring, and accompany them in retreat.
5. We must subdivide our batteries whenever we wish to obtain cross-fires on a debouche, or on the head of an advancing column, or on the ground in front of a weak part of our line. By so doing, we compel the enemy to divide his own artillery in order to reply to our fire.
6. A sudden concentration of a great number of guns at some particular point may be used with the same decisive effect in a defensive, as in an offensive battle; though in this case, artillery plays, for the time being, a part strictly offensive.
At the battle of Friedland, where the French were attacked by the Russians in overwhelming numbers, Ney's corps was driven back by a terrific concentrated fire, in front and in flank, from the Russian batteries on the opposite side of the river; its own artillery being too feeble to stand before them. Seeing this, Napoleon instantly ordered all the guns of the different divisions of the corps next to Ney's, on the left, to be united and thrown in one mass in front of Ney's corps. Taking post at some hundred paces in front, these batteries, by their powerful fire, soon silenced the Russian batteries; then advancing on the Russian troops that had crossed the river to within grape-shot range, they made frightful havoc in their deep masses. The French infantry, profiting by this, rushed forward and captured the village of Friedland, driving the enemy in their front over the bridges, which they then burned. This was decisive of the battle; for the whole Russian army was then driven into the river.
So, at the battle of Kunersdorff, in 1759, after Frederick's left and centre had driven the Russians, and captured seventy guns and many prisoners, Soltikoff promptly massed the whole artillery of his right wing at a single point behind a ravine, which, by its concentrated fire, swept away the flower of the Prussian army in their efforts to force its passage; and Frederick was badly defeated.