Works of Frederick Engels 1855
The war raging on the shores of the Black Sea for the last two years, has called particular attention to the two millions of armed men kept in pay by Europe, even in the midst of peace, and destined, perhaps, to be very soon increased to twice that number; and if, as is all but certain, the war should continue, we may expect to see these four millions engaged in active operations, on a theater of war occupying, from sea to sea, the whole breadth of the European Continent.
For this reason, an account not only of the armies hitherto engaged in the Eastern conflict, but of the more important remaining armies of Europe as well, cannot he uninteresting to our readers, especially as, on this side of the Atlantic, nothing has fortunately ever been seen approaching, in any degree, the magnitude of even the second-rate armies of Europe; wherefore the organization of such bodies is but vaguely known to the non-professional public among us.
The jealousy which formerly surrounded the army of every power with mysterious secrecy, no longer exists. — Strange to say, even in countries the most adverse to publicity, where all departments of the civil administration remain, to the present day, enveloped in the darkness required by absolutism, the organization of the army is perfectly known to the public. Army lists are published, stating, not only the subdivision of the armed force in corps, divisions, brigades, regiments, battalions, and squadrons, but also the dislocations of these bodies, with the numbers and the names of the officers commanding them. Whenever great reviews take place, the presence of foreign officers is not only tolerated, but even courted, criticism is solicited, observations are exchanged, the distinctive institutions and contrivances of each army are sagely discussed, and a publicity is established, which but too strangely contrasts with many other features in the same government. The actual secrets which a European war-ministry can contrive to keep to itself, are a few recipes for chemical compositions, such as rockets or fuses; and even these are found out very soon, or are superseded by the progress of invention; as, for instance, the British congreve-rocket composition, by Mr. Hale’s war-rockets, adopted in the U.S. army, and now in the British army also.
This publicity causes, In time of peace, the various war ministries of the civilized world to form, as it were, one large military committee, for the purpose of discussing the merit of all proposed innovations, and allowing each member to profit by the experience of all the remainder. Thus it has been brought about that the arrangements, organization and general economy of almost all European armies are nearly the same, and in this sense it may be said that one army is about as good as any other. But national character, historical tradition, and, above all things, different degrees of civilization, create as many diversities, and give to each army its peculiar points of excellence and weakness. The Frenchman and the Hungarian, the Englishman and the Italian, the Russian and the German, under certain circumstances, may be equally good and efficient soldiers; but, in spite of a uniform system of drill, which appears to level all distinctions, every one will be good in his own way, by virtue of qualities different from those possessed by his rivals.
This brings us to a question but too often mooted between the military patriots of different nationalities: Which are the best soldiers? Of course, every people is jealous of its own fame; and, in the opinion of the general public, fed by narratives which, whatever they may lack in critical exactness, are amply adorned with high patriotic coloring, — one regiment of its own can “lick” any two or three of any other nation. Military history, as a science in which a correct appreciation of facts is the only paramount consideration, is but of very recent date, and boasts as yet of a very limited literature. It is, however, an established branch of science, and more and more every day scatters to the winds, like chaff, the unblushing and stupid bluster which too long has characterized works calling themselves historical because they made a trade of distorting every fact they recounted. The time is past when, in writing the history of a war, people can continue that war, so to say, on their own account, and safely cannonade the late enemy with dirt, after the conclusion of peace forbids them from cannonading him with iron. And although many a minor point in military history remains still to be settled, yet thus much is certain, that there are none of the civilized nations which cannot boast of having, at some time or other, produced the best soldiers of their time. The German Landsknechte of the later middle ages, the Swiss soldiers of the sixteenth century, were for a period as invincible as the splendid Spanish soldiers, who succeeded them to the rank of “the first infantry of the world;” the French of Louis the Fourteenth, and the Austrians of Eugene disputed, for a while, with each other this post of honor, until the Prussians of Frederick the Great settled the question by defeating both of them; these, again, were hurled down into utter disrepute by a single blow at Jena, and once more the French were universally acknowledged the first soldiers of Europe; at the same time, however, they could not prevent the English, in Spain, from proving themselves their superiors under certain circumstances and in certain moments of a battle. No doubt, the legions which Napoleon led, in 1805, from the camp of Boulogne to Austerlitz, were the finest troops of their time; no doubt Wellington knew what he said, when he called his soldiers at the conclusion of the Peninsular war “an army with which he could go any where, and do any thing;” and yet the flower of this Peninsular British army was defeated at New Orleans, by mere militia men and volunteers, without either drill or organization.
The experience of all past campaigns, then, leads us to the same result; and every sensible old soldier, unbiassed by prejudice, will confirm it: that military qualities, both as regards bravery and aptitude for the work, are, upon the whole, pretty impartially distributed among the different nations of the world; that it is not so much the degree, as the special nature of the qualification, which distinguishes the soldiers of different nationalities; and that with the publicity established now-a-days in military matters, it is the assiduous application of thought, improvement, invention, to the military institutions and resources of a State, and the development of the military qualities specially distinguishing a nation, by which alone an army can be made, for a time, to rank foremost among its rivals. Thus we see, at once, what an advantage, in a military sense, a higher development of civilization gives to a country over its less advanced neighbors. As an example, we may mention that the Russian army, though distinguished by many soldier-like qualities of the first order, has never been able to establish a superiority over any army of civilized Europe. At even chances, the Russians would fight desperately; but up to the present war, at least, they were sure to he beat, whether their opponents were French, Prussians, Poles, or English.
Before we consider the different armies separately, a few general remarks respecting them all are requisite.
An army, especially a large one of from three hundred thousand to five hundred thousand and more men, with all its necessary subdivisions, its different arms, and its requirements in men, material, and organization, is itself so complicated a body that the highest possible simplification becomes indispensable. There are so many inevitable varieties, that it might be expected they would not be increased by factitious and unmeaning variegations. Nevertheless, habit and that spirit of show and parade which is the bane of old armies, has complicated matters in almost every European army to an incredible degree.
The differences in size, strength, and temperament which are found, both in men and horses, in every country, necessitate a separation of light infantry and cavalry from heavy infantry and cavalry. To attempt to completely obliterate this separation, would be to mix up in one body individuals whose military qualifications are opposite by nature, and would, therefore, to a certain degree neutralize each other; thereby lessening the efficiency of the whole. Thus, either arm is naturally divided into two separate bodies — the one comprising the heavier and clumsier men (and horses respectively), destined principally for the great decisive charges, and the fight in closed ranks; the other forming the lighter, more active men, specially adapted for skirmishing, outpost and advanced guard duty, rapid maneuvers, and the like. So far, the subdivision is perfectly legitimate. But, in addition to this natural distribution, in almost every army, each subdivision is again subdivided into branches distinguished by nothing but fanciful distinctions of dress and by theoretical quibbles which are constantly contradicted by practice and experience.
Thus, in every European army there exists a corps called Guards, pretending to be the élite of the army, but which in reality merely consists of the biggest monsters of men that can be got hold of. The Russian and the English Guards are most distinguished in this respect; though no proof exists that they exceed in bravery and effectiveness the other regiments in either service. Napoleon’s Old Guard was a far different institution; it was the actual élite of the army; and bodily size had nothing to do with its formation. But even this guard weakened the rest of the army, by absorbing its best elements, and consideration for such an unrivaled corps led Napoleon, sometimes, into mistakes-as at Borodino, where he did not bring the Guards forward at the decisive moment, and thereby missed the chance of preventing the Russian force from effecting their retreat in good order. The French have, beside their Imperial Guard, a sort of élite in every battalion, forming two companies — one of grenadiers, and the other of voltigeurs; thereby complicating the tactical evolutions of the battalion to an unnecessary degree. Other nations have similar corps. All these choice troops, beside their distinctive formation and dress, receive higher pay. It is ‘said that such a system Spurs the ambition of the private soldier, especially amongst excitable nations like the French and Italians; but the same object would be obtained, and perhaps more perfectly, if the men who had earned such distinctive marks should remain in the ranks of their respective companies, and were not made use of as a pretext for disturbing the tactical unity and symmetry of the battalion.
A still more striking humbug is practiced with regard to the cavalry. Here the distinction between light and heavy horse forms a pretext for subdivisions of all sorts-cuirassiers, dragoons, carabineers, lancers, chasseurs, hussars, and so on. All such subdivisions are not only useless, they are actually preposterous by the complications they cause. Hussars and lancers are imitated from the Hungarians and Poles; but in Hungary and Poland these arms have their sense-they were the national arms, and the dress of the troops carrying them was the national dress of the country. To imitate such peculiarities in other countries, where the national spirit is wanting that gave them life, is, to say the least of it, ridiculous; and well might, in 1814, the Hungarian hussar, when greeted with the title of “comrade” by a Russian hussar, reply, “No comrade — I hussar, you harlequin!” (Nix camerad — ich husar, du hanswurst!) Another such ridiculous institution, in almost all armies, is formed by the cuirassiers — men actually disabled, and disabling their horses, too, by the weight of their breast-plates (a French cuirass weighs twenty-two pounds), and, for all that, not protected by them from the effects of a rifle-ball fired at a hundred and fifty yards distance! The cuirass had been got rid of in almost all European armies, when Napoleon’s love of show and of monarchical tradition re-introduced it among the French, and his example was soon followed by all the nations of Europe.
Beside our own little army, the Sardinian is the only one, among civilized nations, in which cavalry consists of plain light and heavy horse, without any further subdivision, and Where the cuirass is completely done away with.
In the field artillery, a great complication of different calibers is found in every army. The English have the greatest diversity in theory, carrying eight calibers and twelve different models of guns; but in practice their enormous material allows them to reduce their artillery to great simplicity. In the Crimea, for instance, the nine-pounder and the twenty-four pound howitzer are almost the only calibers in use. The French have introduced, during the last few years, the greatest possible simplicity, by replacing their four different calibers by one, the light twelve-pound howitzer-gun, of which we shall speak in its place. In most other armies, from three to four calibers are still in existence, not counting the varieties of carriages, tumbrils, wheels, and the like.
The technical corps of the different armies, the engineers, and so on, to which we may add the staff, are organized in all armies upon a pretty similar footing, except that with the British, and to their great detriment, the staff does not form a separate corps at all. Other minor differences will be mentioned in their respective places.
We begin with that army which, from the organization it received during the revolution and under Napoleon, has served as a sort of model to all European armies since the beginning of this century.
France had, when the present war broke out, one hundred regiments of infantry of the line (the 76th to 100th were, up to a recent date, called “light infantry,” but their drill and organization was in no way distinguished from the line regiments). Each regiment counts three battalions, two field-battalions, and the third as a reserve. In time of war, however, the third battalion can be very soon organized for field duty, and a fourth battalion, formed by the extra dépôt company of each of the three battalions, undertakes the duties of the dépôt. This was done during the wars of Napoleon, who even formed fifth, and, in some instances, sixth battalions. For the present, however, we can only count three battalions per regiment. Each battalion has eight service-companies (one of grenadiers, one of voltigeurs, and six center-companies); and each company, on the war footing, counts three officers and one hundred and fifteen non-commissioned officers and soldiers. A French battalion of the line, therefore, amounts, on the war footing, to about nine hundred and sixty men, one-eighth of whom (the voltigeur company) are especially set apart for light infantry duty.
The special corps destined for light infantry service consist of the chasseurs-à-pied and of the African corps. The chasseurs, before the war, only ten battalions, were, in 1853, raised to twenty battalions, so that nearly every infantry division of the army (four regiments) can, on its formation, receive one chasseur battalion. These battalions count ten companies, or nearly 1,300 men. The troops specially destined for African service consist of: three regiments, containing nine battalions of Zouaves; two regiments, or six battalions, of the Foreign Legion; six battalions of light infantry (of which, three battalions native chasseurs), together twenty-one battalions, or about 22,000 men.
The cavalry is divided into four distinct portions:-
1. Heavy or Reserve Cavalry, 12 regiments-2 of carabineers (cuirassier rifles), 10 of cuirassiers = 72 squadrons.
2. Cavalry of the line, 20 regiments- 12 of dragoons, 8 of lancers = 120 squadrons.
3. Light Cavalry, 21 regiments- 12 chasseurs-5-cheval, 9 hussars = 126 squadrons.
4. African light cavalry, 7 regiments-4 Chasseurs d'Afrique, 3 spahis = 42 squadrons.
The squadrons are of 190 men for the reserve and line cavalry, and 200 men for the light cavalry — on the war footing. In time of peace, there are scarcely four squadrons of 120 men fully equipped, so that, on every mobilization of the army, a great number of men on furlough have to be called in, and the horses for them to be found, which, in a country as poor in horses as France, can never be done without a large importation from abroad.
The artillery, as recently reorganized, is formed in seventeen regiments: five of foot-artillery, for garrison and siege duty; seven of the line (for service with the infantry divisions); four of horse-artillery, and one of pontoniers. The foot-artillery appear to be destined to act in the field on emergencies only. The artillery of the line have their gun-carriages and limbers constructed so that the gunners can ride on them during quick movements. The horse-artillery is organized as in other services. The line and horse-artillery count one hundred and thirty-seven batteries, of six guns each, to which sixty batteries of the foot-artillery may be added as a reserve, altogether, 1,182 guns.
Beside the above, the artillery comprises thirteen companies of workmen.
The special services of the army comprise:-A general staff of 560 officers; staffs for the fortresses, the artillery, and the engineers, of about 1,200 officers; three regiments of sappers and miners; five pack squadrons; five train squadrons; 1,187 medical officers, and so on. The total numbers are as follows:
|Line, 300 bat’s and 300 depot comp’s||335,000|
|Chasseurs, 20 battalions||26,000|
|African troops, 21 battalions||22,000|
|Reserve, 72 sq. and 12 dépôts,||16,300|
|Line, 120 " 20 "||28,400|
|Light, 126 " 21 "||31,300|
|African, 42 "||10,000||86,000|
|Artil'y and special corps||1,200 guns and||70,000|
|1,200 guns and||539,000|
To these are to be added the newly formed Guard in the strength of one division of infantry (two regiments of grenadiers, two of voltigeurs), one brigade of cavalry (one regiment of cuirassiers, one of guides), one battalion of chasseurs, and four or five batteries of artillery; as well as 25,000 men of the gendarmerie, 14,000 of whom are horse gendarmes. Two more regiments of infantry, the 101st and 102d, have recently been formed, and a new brigade of the foreign legion (Swiss) . is in course of formation. Altogether, therefore, the French army, in its present organization, contains the cadres for about 600,000 men, and this will be a pretty correct estimate of its present strength.
The army is recruited by ballot, among all young men who have reached their twentieth year. It is presumed that about 140,000 men are annually available, of which number, however, in time of peace, from 60,000 to 80,000 only are taken for service. The remainder may be called in at any time during the eight years following their ballot. A great number of soldiers, besides, are dismissed on long furloughs during peace, so that the actual time of service, even of those called in, does not exceed from four to five years. This system, while it gives the troops actually serving a high degree of efficiency, does not prepare any drilled reserves for a case of emergency. A great continental war, in which France would have to act with two or three large armies, would force her, even in the second campaign, to bring into the field many raw levies, and would show, in the third campaign, a very sensible deterioration of the army. The French are, indeed, very handy at learning the trade of a soldier, but, in that case, why keep up the long period of service, which excludes the greater portion of the available young men from the benefit of a school of military instruction?
Wherever military service is both compulsory and of long duration, the necessity of European society has introduced the privilege, for the wealthier classes, of buying off by a money-payment, in some shape or other, the obligation to serve personally. Thus, in France, the system of finding substitutes is legally recognized and about eighty thousand of these are constantly serving in the French army. They are mostly recruited from what are called the “dangerous classes;” they are rather difficult to handle, but, when once broken in, form capital soldiers. They require a very strict discipline to keep them in good behavior; and their notions of order and subordination are sometimes rather extravagant. Wherever there are large numbers of them in a regiment, they are sure to cause difficulties in a garrison. For this reason, it is thought that the best place for them is before the enemy, and, thus, the light troops of Africa are especially recruited from them; for instance, the Zouaves, who almost all entered the army as “remplaçants.” The Crimean campaign has fully shown that the Zouaves carry their African habits everywhere — their love of plunder, as well as their unruly conduct in adversity, and it is, perhaps, in this sense that a kindred genius, the late Marshal St. Arnaud, said, in his bulletin on the battle of the Alma, “The Zouaves are, indeed, the first soldiers of the world!”
The equipment of the French army is, upon the whole, first-rate. The arms are well constructed, and, especially the cavalry saber, of a very good model, though, perhaps, it is a little too long. The infantry are accoutred according to the new system which was introduced, at the same time, in France and Prussia; by it, the cross-belts, for pouch and sword, or bayonet, are done away with; both are worn on a belt round the waist, supported by two leather braces over the shoulders, while the knapsack is loosely worn over the shoulders by two straps, without the old-fashioned connecting strap across the chest. Thus, the chest is left entirely free, and the soldier becomes a different man altogether from the unfortunate being strapped and buckled up in the sort of leather cuirass in which the old system confined him. The dress is plain, but tasteful; it must, indeed, be admitted that, in military, as well as in civilian fashions, the French have showed more taste than any other nation. A blue tunic, or frock-coat, covering the thighs to the knees, with a low standing collar cut out in front, scarlet trowsers, moderately wide, a light képi, the most soldier-like headgear yet invented, shoes and gaiters, and a comfortable gray capote, form an outfit as simple and efficient as any known in European armies. In Africa, the head is protected from the rays of the sun by a white flannel capote, and flannel under-clothing is also served out to the troops. In the Crimea, heavy cloth capotes were worn during the last winter, covering the head, neck and shoulders. The chasseurs-à-pied are clothed all in gray, with green facings; the Zouaves have a sort of Turkish fancy costume, which appears well adapted to the climate and the duty they have to do. The Chasseurs, and some other African battalions, are armed with the Minié rifle, the remainder of the infantry, with plain percussion muskets. There appears to be, however, an intention to increase the proportion of the troops armed with rifled muskets.
The cavalry are a fine-looking class of men, lighter in weight than in many other armies, but none the worse for that. In the peace establishment, they are, upon the whole, passably well horsed by animals procured abroad, or from the horse-breeding establishments of the government, and the districts where they have succeeded in improving the native breed, which, until lately, was very poor. But, in case of war, when the number of horses has to be suddenly doubled, the resources of the country are altogether insufficient, and thousands of horses have to be bought abroad, many of which are scarcely fit for cavalry service. Thus, in any long war, the French cavalry will soon be deteriorated, unless the government can lay its hands on the resources of countries rich in horses, as it did in 1805, ‘6, and ‘7.
The artillery are now armed exclusively with the new light twelve-pound gun, the so-called invention of Louis Napoleon. But, as the light twelve pounder, adapted for a charge one quarter the weight of the ball, already existed in the English and Dutch armies, as the Belgians had already done away with the chamber in their howitzers, and as both Prussians and Austrians are in the habit, in certain cases, of firing shells from common twelve and twenty-four-pound guns, the pretended invention reduces itself to the adaptation of this light twelve pounder to the common French eight pounder carriage. However, the French artillery has evidently gained in simplicity and efficiency by the change; whether its mobility has not suffered, remains to be seen; as also, whether the twelve pounder will be found efficient enough for hollow shot. We have, at least, seen it stated that it has already been found necessary to forward howitzers of a heavier caliber to the army in the East.
The tactical regulations of the French army are a strange compound of soldierly sense and old-fashioned traditions. There is, perhaps, no language better adapted for the short, distinct, dictatorial military word of command, than the French; yet the command is generally given with an excessive prolixity of words — where two or three words would be sufficient, the officer has to shout out a whole sentence, or even two. The maneuvers are complicated, and the drill contains a good deal of old-fashioned nonsense, quite inapplicable to the present state of tactics. In skirmishing, that very function which appears innate to the Frenchman, the men are drilled with a pedantry hardly surpassed in Russia. The same is true in some of the cavalry and artillery maneuvers. But whenever the French have to go to war, the necessity of the case very soon dispenses with these antiquated and pedantic maneuvers; and new tactical methods, suited to new situations, are arranged and introduced by nobody so quickly as by the French.
Upon the whole, light troop duty is the forte of the French. They are literally the lightest troops in Europe. Nowhere is the average bodily size of the army so low as in France. In 1836, of about 80,000 men in the French army, only 743 were five feet eight inches or above; and only seven measured six feet; while full 38,000 measured from four feet ten and a half inches to five feet two inches! And yet these little men not only fight exceedingly well, but they also stand the heaviest fatigues, and beat, in agility, almost every other army. General Napier maintains that the British soldier is the heaviest laden fighting animal in the world; but he had never seen these French African campaigners carry, beside their arms and personal baggage, tents, firewood, provisions, heaped up on their backs to a hight far over-towering their shakos, and thus march thirty or forty miles in a day, under a tropical sun. And then compare the big, clumsy British soldier, who, in time of peace, measures five feet six inches, at least, with the puny, short-legged, tailor-like Frenchman, of four feet ten! And still, the little Frenchman, under all his load, remains a capital light-infantry-man; skirmishes, trots, gallops, lies down, jumps up, all the while loading, firing, advancing, retiring, dispersing, rallying, re-forming, and displays not only twice as much agility, but also twice as much intelligence as his bony competitor from the island of “rosbif.” This light-infantry service has been brought to perfection in the twenty battalions of chasseurs-à-pied. These incomparable troops, incomparable for their peculiar service, are drilled to make every movement, when within range of the enemy, in a sort of easy trot, called pas gymnastique, in which they make between one hundred and sixty and one hundred and eighty paces per minute. But not only can they run, with short intervals, for half an hour and more, but creeping, jumping, climbing, swimming, every movement that can possibly be required, are equally familiar to them, while they are first-rate riflemen. Who, at even odds, can hold out, in skirmishing fights, against these dead shots, finding shelter behind the least inequality of ground?
As to the action of the French infantry in masses, their passionate character gives them great advantages with great disadvantages. Generally, their first charge will be business-like, rapid, determined, if not furious. If successful, nothing can resist them. If defeated, they will soon rally, and be in a position to be again brought forward; but, in an unfortunate or even chequered campaign, French infantry will soon lose its solidity. Success is a necessary element to all armies, but especially to those of the Romano-Celtic race. The Teutonic race has, in this respect, a decided superiority over them. The French, when Napoleon had once put them on the track, could, for fifteen years, overthrow everything before them, until reverses broke them down; but a seven years’ war, such as Frederick the Great carried through, a war where often enough he was on the brink of ruin, often defeated, and yet finally victorious-such a war could never be won with French troops. The war in Spain, 1809-14, affords a conclusive example on this head.
Under Napoleon, the French cavalry were, in contrast to the infantry, far more renowned for their action in masses than for their duty as light troops. They were deemed irresistible, and even Napier admits their superiority over the English cavalry of that day. Wellington, to a certain degree, did the same. And strange to say, this irresistible cavalry consisted of such inferior horsemen, that all their charges were made in a trot, or, at the very outside, an easy canter! But they rode close together, and they were never launched except when the artillery, by a heavy fire, had prepared the way for them; and then in large masses only. Bravery and the flush of victory did the rest. The present French cavalry, especially the Algerian regiments, are very fine troops, good riders in general, and still better fencers; though, in horsemanship, they are still inferior to the British, Prussians, and, especially, the Austrians. But as the army, when placed on a war-footing, must double its cavalry, there is no doubt the quality will be deteriorated; it is, however, a fact, that the French possess, in a high degree, that essential quality of a horse-soldier which we call dash, and which makes up for a great many deficiencies. On the other hand, no soldiers are so careless of their horses as the French.
The French artillery has always ranked very high. Almost all improvements made in gunnery, during the last three or four centuries, have originated with the French. During the Napoleonic wars, the French artillery were especially formidable by their great skill in selecting positions for their guns, an art then but imperfectly understood in other armies. All testimony agrees that none equated the French in placing their guns so that the ground in front, while covering them from the enemy’s fire, was favorable to the effect of their own. The theoretical branch of artillery has also been constantly a favorite science with the French; their mathematical turn of mind favors this; and the precision of language, the scientific method, the soundness of views, which characterize their artilleristic literature, show how much this branch of science is adapted to the national genius.
Of the special corps, the engineers, staff, sanitary and transport corps, we can merely say that they are highly efficient. The military schools are models of their kind. The French officer is not required to have that general education which is expected in Prussia; but the schools he has to pass through furnish him with a first rate professional training, including a thorough knowledge of the auxiliary sciences, and a certain proficiency in at least one living language. There is, however, another class of officers in the French army, viz., that selected from old non-commissioned officers. These latter seldom advance higher than to a captaincy, so that the French often have young generals and old captains; and this system answers exceedingly well.
Upon the whole, the French army shows, in all its features, that it belongs to a warlike and spirited nation, that feels a pride in its defenders. That the discipline and the efficiency of this army have overcome the seductions laid out for it by Louis Bonaparte, and that the Pretorians of December, 1851, could so soon be turned into the heroes of the Crimea, certainly speaks highly to their credit. Never was an army more flattered, more courted by a government, more openly solicited to all sorts of excesses than the French in the autumn of 1851; never were they allowed such license as during the civil war of December; yet they have returned to discipline and do their duty very well. The Pretorian element, it is true, has, several times, risen to the surface in the Crimea, but Canrobert always succeeded in quelling it.
The British army forms a complete contrast to the French. There are not two points of similarity between them. Where the French are strong, there the British are weak, and vice versa. Like old England herself, a mass of rampant abuses, the organization of the English army is rotten to the core. Everything seems to be arranged so as to prevent all possibility of the end aimed at ever being attained. By an inexplicable haphazard, the boldest improvements-though few, indeed-take their stand in the midst of a heap of superannuated imbecility; and yet, whenever the clumsy, creaking machine is set to work, it somehow or other manages to do its duty.
The organization of the British army is soon described. Of infantry there are three regiments of guards, eighty-five regiments of the line, thirteen regiments of light infantry, two regiments of rifles. During the present war, the guards, the rifles, and a few other regiments have three battalions, the remainder have two-a depot being formed by one company in each. The recruiting, however, is hardly sufficient to fill up the vacancies caused by the war, and so the second battalions can scarcely be said to be in existence. The present effective total of the infantry does certainly not exceed 120,000 men.
Beside the regular troops, the militia form part of the infantry as a sort of reserve or nursery for the army. Their number, according to act of Parliament, may come up to 80,000, but they cannot now number more than 60,000, although, in Lancashire alone, there are six battalions called out. As the law stands at present, the militia may volunteer to serve in the Colonies, but cannot be conducted to foreign theaters of war. They can, therefore, only serve to set free the line-soldiers who garrison Corfu, Malta and Gibraltar, or, perhaps, hereafter, some of the more distant settlements.
Of cavalry there are three regiments of guards (cuirassiers), six of dragoon guards (heavies), four of heavy dragoons, four of light dragoons, five of hussars, and four of lancers. Each regiment is to be raised, on the war-footing, to 1,000 sabers (four squadrons of two hundred and fifty men, beside a dépôt). Some regiments did go out with this strength, but the disasters of the Crimea in winter, the senseless charge at Balaklava, and the dearth of recruits have re-established, on the whole, the old peace-footing. We do not think that the whole of the twenty-six regiments amount, at this moment, to 10,000 sabers, or 400 sabers per regiment, on an average.
The artillery consists of the regiment of foot-artillery (twelve battalions, with ninety-six batteries), and the brigade of horse artillery (seven batteries and one rocket-battery). Each battery has five guns and one howitzer; the calibers of the guns are three, six, nine, twelve, and eighteen pounders, those of the howitzers four and two-fifth inches, four and a half inches, five and a half inches, and eight inches. Each battery, also, has two models of guns, of almost every caliber, heavy and light ones. In reality, however, the light nine pounder and twelve pounder, with four and a half inch and five and a half inch howitzer, form the field-calibers, and, upon the whole, the nine pounder may now be said to be the universally adopted gun of the British artillery, with the four and a half inch (twelve pounder) howitzer as an auxiliary. Beside these, six pounder and twelve pounder rockets are in use.
As the English army, on its peace establishment, forms but a cadre for the war-footing, and as it is recruited entirely by voluntary enlistment, its real force, at a given moment, can never be precisely stated. We believe, however, we may estimate its present strength at about 120,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry, and 12,000 artillery, with about 600 guns (of which, not one-fifth part are horsed). Of these 142,000 men, about 32,000 are in the Crimea, about 50,000 in India and the Colonies, and the remaining 60,000 (of whom one-half are raw recruits, the other half drilling them) at home. To these are to be added about 60,000 militia men. The pensioners, yeomanry cavalry, and other useless corps, not available for service abroad, we do not count at all.
The system of recruiting by voluntary enlistment, makes it very difficult, in time of war, to keep up the efficiency of the army, and this the English are now, again, experiencing. We see again, as under Wellington, that 30,000 or 40,000 men is the very outside of what they can concentrate and keep up on a given theater of war; and as, now, they have not Spaniards for their allies but French, the “heroic little band” of Britishers almost disappears in the midst of the allied army.
There is one institution in the British army which is perfectly sufficient to characterize the class from which the British soldier is recruited. It is the punishment of flogging. Corporal punishment does not exist in the French, the Prussian, and several of the minor armies. Even in Austria, where the greater part of the recruits consist of semi-barbarians, there is an evident desire to do away with it; thus the punishment of running the gauntlet has recently been struck out from the Austrian military code. In England, on the contrary, the cat-o'-nine-tails is maintained in its full efficiency — an instrument of torture fully equal to the Russian knout in its most palmy time. Strange to say, whenever a reform of the military code has been mooted in Parliament, the old martinets have stuck up for the cat, and nobody more zealously than old Wellington himself. To them, an unflogged soldier was a monstrously misplaced being. Bravery, discipline, and invincibility, in their eyes, were the exclusive qualities of men bearing the scars of at least fifty lashes on their backs.
The cat-o'-nine-tails, it must not be forgotten, is not only an instrument calculated to inflict pain; it leaves indelible scars, it marks a man for life, it brands him. Now, even in the British army, such corporal punishment, such branding, really amounts to an everlasting disgrace. The flogged man loses caste with his fellow soldiers. But, according to the British military code, punishment, before the enemy, consists almost exclusively in flogging; and thus, the very punishment which is said, by its advocates, to be the only means of keeping up discipline in cases of great urgency, is the means of ruining discipline by destroying the morale and the point d'honneur of the soldier.
This explains two very curious facts: first, the great number of English deserters before Sebastopol. In winter, when the British soldiers had to make superhuman exertions to guard the trenches, those who could not keep awake for forty-eight or sixty hours together, were flogged! The idea of flogging such heroes as the British soldiers had proved themselves in the trenches before Sebastopol, and in winning the day of Inkermann in spite of their generals! But the articles of war left no choice. The best men in the army, when overpowered by fatigue, got flogged, and, dishonored as they were, they deserted to the Russians. Surely there can be no more powerful condemnation of the flogging system thin this. In no former war have troops of any nation deserted in numbers to the Russians; they knew that they would be treated worse than at home. It was reserved to the British army to furnish the first strong contingent of such deserters, and, according to the testimony of the English themselves, it was flogging that made the men desert. The other fact is, the signal failure of the attempt to raise a foreign legion under the British military code. The Continentals are rather particular about their backs. The prospect of getting flogged has overcome the temptation of the high bounty, and good pay. Up to the end of June, not more than one thousand men had enlisted, where fifteen thousand were wanted; and this much is certain, if the authorities attempt to introduce flogging even among these one thousand reprobates, they will have to encounter a storm which will force them either to give way, or to dissolve the foreign legion at once.
The dress and equipments of the British soldiers are a model of what they should not be. Up to the present time, the dress in common wear is the same as armies used to wear as long ago as 1815. No improvement has been admitted. The old swallow-tall coatee, disfigured by ugly facings, still distinguishes the British from every other soldier. The trowsers are tight, and uncomfortable. The old cross-belt system for fixing bayonet-scabbard, pouch and knapsack, reigns supreme in almost all regiments. The cavalry wear a better fitting dress than the infantry, and far superior; but, for all that, it is much too tight and inconvenient. Besides, the English are the only nation who have maintained in their army the red coat, the “proud red coat” as Napier calls it. This coat, which makes their soldiers look like dressed-up monkeys, is supposed by its brilliancy to strike terror into the enemy. But alas, whoever has seen any of the brick-colored British infantry must confess that their coats, after four weeks’ wear, inspire ever looker-on with an incontrovertible idea, not of frightfulness, but of shabbiness, and that any other color would be far more terror-inspiring, if it only could stand dust, dirt, and wet. The Danes and Hanoverians used to wear the red coat, but they dropped it very soon. The first campaign in Schleswig proved to the Danes what a capital mark to the enemy is offered by a red coat and white cross-belts.
The new dress-regulation has brought forward a red coat of the cut of the Prussian coat. The infantry wear the Austrian shako, or the képi; the cavalry the Prussian helmet. The cross-belt accoutrements, the red color, the tight trowsers, are more or less maintained. Thus, the improvement amounts to nothing; and the British soldier will only look as strange as ever in the midst of the other European armies, dressed and accoutred, as they are, a little more in accordance with common sense.
Nevertheless, one improvement has been carried out in the British army, which far surpasses anything that has been done in other countries. This is, the arming f the whole of the infantry with the Minié rifle, as improved by Pritchett. How the old men, at the head of the army, men generally so obstinate in their prejudices, could come to so bold a resolution, it is difficult to imagine; but they did it, and thus doubled the efficiency of their infantry. At Inkermann, there is no doubt that the Minié rifle, by its deadly certainty of aim and great power, decided the day in favor of the English. Whenever an English line of infantry delivers its fire, the effect must be overpowering to any enemy armed with the common musket, for the English Minié rifle loads as quickly as any smooth-bored gun.
The cavalry are fine men, well horsed, armed with swords of a very good model; and what they can do, the have shown at Balaklava. But, on the whole, the men are too heavy for their horses, and, therefore, a few months of active campaigning must reduce the British cavalry to nothing. The Crimea has given us a fresh example of this. If the standard for heavy cavalry was reduced to five feet six inches, and for light cavalry to five feet four or, even, two inches, as, we believe, it is now for the infantry, a body of men might be formed far more suitable for their actual field duties. But, as it is, the horses are too heavily loaded, and must break down before they can be used, with effect, against the enemy.
The artillery, too, is composed of taller men than it should be. The natural standard of size for an artilleryman is, that he should be big enough to unlimber a twelve pound gun, and five feet two to five feet six inches are ample for this purpose, as we know from abundant personal experience and observation. In fact, men of about five feet five, or six, inches, if stoutly made, are, generally, the best handlers of guns. But the British want a crack corps, and their men, therefore, though tall and elegant to look at, lack that compactness of body which is so necessary to a really useful artilleryman. Their artillery material is first-rate. The guns are the best in Europe, the powder is acknowledged to be the strongest in the world, the shot and shell are of a smoothness of surface unknown anywhere else. But for all that, no guns in the world have as much windage, and this shows by what sort of men they are commanded. There is hardly an artillery in Europe officered by men of so deficient professional education as the British. Their information very seldom goes beyond the mere elements of the science of artillery, and, in practice, the handling of field-guns is as much as they understand, and that but imperfectly. Two qualities, in both officers and men, distinguish the British artillery: uncommonly good eye-sight, and great calmness in action.
Upon the whole, the efficiency of the British army is sorely impaired, by the ignorance, both theoretical and practical, of the officers. The examination which they are now expected to undergo, is actually ridiculous — a captain examined on the first three books of Euclid! But the British army is mainly instituted for the stowing away, in respectable situations, of the younger sons of the aristocracy and gentry, and the standard of education for its officers must, therefore, be regulated, not by the requirements of the service, but by what little information is commonly expected in an English “gentleman.” As to the practical military knowledge of the officer, it is equally insufficient. The British officer believes he has only one duty to perform: to lead his men, on the day of battle, straight against the enemy, and to give them an example of bravery. Skill in handling troops, seizing favorable opportunities, and the like, is not expected from him; and as to looking after his men and their wants, why, such a thing hardly ever enters his head. One half of the disasters of the British in the Crimea arose from this universal incapacity of the officers. They have, however, one quality which fits them for their functions: being, most of them, passionate huntsmen, they possess that instinctive and rapid appreciation of advantages of ground, which the practice of hunting is sure to impart.
The incompetence of the officers nowhere creates greater mischief than on the staff. As no regularly educated staff-corps exists, every general forms his own staff from regimental officers, ignorant of every part of their duty. Such a staff is worse than none. Reconnoitering, especially, is always done in a slovenly manner, as it must be, when done by men who know little of what is expected from them.
The education of the other special corps is rather better, but far below the standard in other nations; and, in general, an English officer would pass as an ignoramus amongst men of his class in any other country. Witness the military literature of the British. Not a work hardly, but is full of blunders which would not be forgiven anywhere else, to a candidate for a lieutenancy. Every statement of facts is given in a slovenly, unbusiness-like, and unsoldier-like manner, leaving out the most important points, and showing, at once, that the writer does not know his business.’ The consequence is, that the most ridiculous statements of foreign books are credited at once. We must, however, not forget to state that there are some honorable exceptions, amongst which W. Napier’s “Peninsular War,” and Howard Douglas’s “Naval Gunnery,” rank foremost.
The administrative, medical, commissariat, transport, and other accessory departments are in a deplorable state, and have experienced a thorough breakdown when put to the test in the Crimea. Efforts are made to improve them, as, also, to centralize the administration, but little good can be expected while the civil administration, and, in fact, the entire governing power, remains altogether the same.
With all these enormous drawbacks, the British army manages to hobble through every campaign, if not with success, yet without disgrace There is a loss of life, a deal of mismanagement, a compound of blunders which astonish us when compared with the state of other armies under the same circumstances; yet there is no loss of military honor, there is seldom a repulse, almost never a complete defeat. It is the great personal bravery and tenacity of the troops, their discipline and implicit obedience, which bring this about. Clumsy, unintelligent, and helpless as the British soldier is when thrown upon his own resources, or when called upon to do the duty of light troops, nobody surpasses him in a pitched battle where he acts in masses. His forte ‘s the action in line. An English line of battle will do what has scarcely ever been done by other infantry: receive cavalry in line, keep their muskets charged to the last moment, and fire a volley when the enemy is at thirty yards, and in almost every instance with perfect success. The fire of British infantry is delivered with such a coolness, even in the most critical position, that it surpasses, in effect, that of any other troops. Thus, the Highlanders, in line, repulsed the Russian cavalry at Balaklava. The indomitable tenacity of this infantry was never shown to greater advantage than at Inkermann, where the French, under the same circumstances, would certainly have been overwhelmed; but, on the other hand, the French would never have allowed themselves to be surprised, unguarded, in such a position. This solidity and tenacity in attack and defense, form the great redeeming quality of the British army, and have alone saved it from many a defeat, well-merited and all but intentionally prepared by the incapacity of its officers, the absurdity of its administration, and the clumsiness of its movements.
Austria profited by the first moments of repose after her severe trials in 1848 and 1849, to reorganize her army upon a modern footing. Almost every department has been completely reformed, and the army is now far more efficient than ever.
First comes the infantry. The line consists of sixty-two regiments, beside which there are one regiment and twenty-five battalions of rifles, and fourteen regiments and one battalion of frontier-infantry. The latter, with the rifles, make up the light infantry.
An infantry regiment of the line consists of five field and one depot battalion-together thirty-two companies — of which the field companies count 220 men, and the depot companies 130 men. Thus, the field battalion numbers about 1,300 men, and the whole regiment nearly 6,000 men, or as many as a British division. The whole line, therefore, on the war-footing, is about 370,000 strong.
The frontier infantry have per regiment, two field and one dépôt battalion, together sixteen companies; in all, 3,850 men: the whole frontier infantry comprises 55,000 men.
The chasseurs, or rifles, count in all thirty-two battalions, of about 1,000 men each: total, 32,000 men.
In cavalry, the army has, of heavies: eight regiments of cuirassiers, and eight of dragoons; of light horse: twelve of hussars, and twelve of lancers (seven of which were formerly light dragoons, or chevau-légers, but have been, latterly, turned into lancers).
The heavy regiments count six squadrons, beside one dépôt — the light ones eight squadrons, and one depot squadron. The heavy regiments have 1,200 men, the light ones 1,600 men. The whole cavalry numbers about 67,000 men, on the war-footing.
Of artillery, there are twelve field regiments, each consisting of four six pounders, three twelve pounder foot batteries, six cavalry batteries, and one howitzer battery, on the war-footing: total, 1,344 guns; one coast regiment, and one rocket regiment, of twenty batteries, with one hundred and sixty tubes. Total, 1,500 guns and rocket tubes, and 53,000 men.
This gives a total effective number, on the war-footing, of 522,000 fighting men.
To these are to be added about 16,000 sappers, miners and pontoniers, 20,000 gens d'armes, the transport corps, and the like, raising the total to about 590,000 men.
By calling in the reserve, the army can be increased by from 100,000 to 120,000 men; and by draining the resources of the military frontier to their utmost limit, another 100,000 to 120,000 men may be made available. But, as these forces could not be collected at a given moment, they would drop in gradually, and thus serve mainly to fill up the vacancies in the ranks. More than 650,000 men Austria could hardly bring together, at a time, under arms.
The army is divided into two quite distinct corps, the regular army and the frontier troops. For the first, the time of service is of eight years’ duration — after which the men remain two more years in the reserve. Long furloughs, however, are granted-as in France-and five years may be nearer the actual time the men are kept with the colors.
The frontier troops are got together upon a quite different principle. They are the descendants of South-Slavonian (Croat or Serbian), Wallachian, and partly of German, settlers who hold their lands by military tenure under the crown, and were formerly employed to protect the frontier, from Dalmatia to Transylvania, against the inroads of the Turks. This service is now reduced to a mere formality, but the Austrian government, nevertheless, has shown no inclination to sacrifice this capital nursery of soldiers. It was the existence of the frontier organization, which in 1848 saved Radetzky’s army in Italy, and which in 1849 made possible the first invasion of Hungary under Windischgrätz. Next to Russia, it is to the South-Slavonian frontier regiments that Franc’s Joseph owes his throne. In the long stretch of country occupied by them, every crown-tenant (that is almost every inhabitant), is obliged to serve from his twentieth to his fiftieth year, when called upon. The younger men, of course, make up the strength of the regiments; the older men, generally, only take their turns at the frontier guard-houses, until called upon to serve in time of war. This explains how a population of about 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 can furnish a contingent, in case of need, of 150,000 to 170,000 men, or from ten to twelve per cent, of the whole number.
The Austrian army has many points of resemblance to the British army. In both there are many nationalities mixed together, though each regiment, generally, belongs to one nation only. The Highland Gael, the Welshman, the Irishman, and the Englishman, scarcely vary more than the German, the Italian, the Croat, and the Magyar. In either, officers of all races, and even a great many foreigners, are to be found. In either, the theoretical instruction of the officers is extremely defective. In either, the tactical forms have retained a deal of the ancient line-formations, and adopted, in a limited degree only, the use of columns and skirmishing. In either, the dress is of an unusual color: with the English, red, with the Austrians, white. But in the efficiency of their arrangements, in the practical experience and competence of the officers, and in tactical mobility, the Austrians by far surpass the British.
The dress of the soldier, leaving apart the absurd white color of the infantry coat, has been adapted in its cut to the modern system. A short tunic, like the Prussians’ sky-blue trowsers, a gray capote, a light képi, similar to the French, make a very good and serviceable dress, excepting, always, the tight trowsers of the Hungarian and Croat regiments, which form part of the national dress, but are, for all that, very inconvenient. The accoutrements are not what they should be; the cross-belt system has been maintained. The frontier troops and artillery are dressed in brown coats; the cavalry, either white, brown or blue. The muskets are rather clumsy, and the rifles, with which both the chasseurs and a certain portion of each company are armed, are of a rather antiquated model, and far inferior to the Minié rifle. The common musket is the old flint gun changed, in an imperfect manner, into a percussion musket, and very often misses fire.
The infantry, and in this respect it is similar to the English, is more distinguished by its action in masses, than by its agility in light infantry service. We must, however, except the frontier troops and the chasseurs. The first are; for the most part, very efficient in skirmishing, especially the Serbians, whose favorite warfare is one of ambuscades. The chasseurs are mainly Tyrolians, and first-rate marksmen. But the German and Hungarian infantry generally impose by their solidity, and, during Napoleon’s wars, they often showed that in this respect they deserve to be placed along with the British. They, too, have more than once received cavalry, in line, without deigning to form square, and wherever they have formed squares, the enemy’s cavalry could seldom break them up — witness Aspern.
The cavalry is excellent. The heavy or “German” cavalry, consisting of Germans and Bohemians a is well horsed, well armed, and always efficient. The light cavalry has, perhaps, lost by mixing up the German chevau-1égers with the Polish lancers, but its Hungarian hussars will always remain the models of all light cavalry.
The artillery, recruited mostly from the German provinces, has always stood high; not so much by early and judicious adoption of improvements, as by the practical efficiency of the men. The non-commissioned officers, especially, are educated with great care, and are superior to those of any other army. With the officers, theoretical proficiency is left too much an optional matter, but yet Austria has produced some of the best writers on the subject. In Austria, study is the rule, at least with subalterns, while in England, an officer who studies his profession is considered a disgrace to his regiment. The special corps, staff, and engineers, are excellent, as is proved by the beautiful maps they have made from their surveys, especially of Lombardy. The British ordnance map, though good, is nothing in comparison.
The great confusion of nationalities is a serious evil. In the British army, every man can at least speak English, but with the Austrians, even the non-commissioned officers of the non-German regiments can scarcely speak German. This creates, of course, a deal of confusion, difficulty, and interpreting, even between the officer and the soldier. It is partly remedied by the necessity in which frequent change of quarters places the officers of learning at least something of every language spoken in Austria. But yet, the inconvenience is not obviated.
The severity of the discipline, which is whacked into the men by frequent applications of a hazel stick to their posteriors, and the long time of service, prevent the outbreak of serious quarrels between the various nationalities of the army, at least in time of peace. But 1848 showed how little internal consistency this body of troops possesses. At Vienna, the German troops refused to fight the revolution. In Italy and Hungary, the national troops passed over to the side of the insurgents, without as much as a struggle. Here it is that the weak point of this army lies. Nobody can tell how far or how long it will hold together, or how many regiments will leave it in any peculiar case, to fight their former comrades. There are six different nations, and two or three different creeds, represented in this one army; and, as to the sympathies pervading it, they must necessarily clash in a time like the present, when nations are panting for the free use of their forces. In a war with Russia, would the Greek Catholic Serbian, influenced by Pan-slavist agitation, fight the Russians, his cousins by race, and holding the same creed as he? In a revolutionary war, would the Italian and Hungarian forsake his country, to battle for an emperor foreign to him in language and nationality? It is not to he expected; and therefore, whatever the strength of the Austrian army may be, very particular circumstances are required to bring its full power into play.