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THE CAVALRY CHARGES AT SEDAN. THE AUTUMN MANŒUVRES.— THE MORAL THEY CONVEY.
BY LT.-COL. G. T. DENISON, JUNR.
HE years succeeding great wars have | time devoted to duty was occupied in learnalways been marked by an increased ing and continually repeating and practising impetus given to military science and litera- complicated manoeuvres conducted upon ture. The success of the victors and the the most rigid rules. This was all right as causes which produced it, as well as the les- far as it went, but instruction should not sons taught by the failure of the vanquished, have ceased there, as it practically did. The point out with equal force to those nations, system was bad in its results. The faculty which have occupied the position of by- of thought was never exercised, the power standers, the faults to avoid and the reforms of reasoning never brought into play. On to adopt. the contrary, they were distinctly and positively ignored and their use forbidden. Stolid obedience to orders, and a rigid adherence to routine and red tape were considered the highest type of military discipline and the best evidence of efficiency. The phrase “a soldier has no right to think" became a maxim the importance of which, it was supposed, could not be overrated.
The victories of Frederick the Great caused his army to become the model for Europe, and revolutionized the tactical and to a certain extent the strategical science of war. His plummet line and pace-stick are still retained in modern armies, although, at the present day, we do not attain the precision of drill which gave to Frederick's army a power of tactical manoeuvring which no other has ever acquired; although the system which arose out of it, and which required it, is a thing of the past. Napoleon also imprinted upon the warfare of his times the impetuous and dashing spirit of his military genius; while, in the Autumn Manoeuvres just completed in England, we see the effect of the late war between France and Germany.
The English Government are taking a lesson from Prussia, and are imitating the field manoeuvres by which the Prussians obtained that skill in the real practical work of campaigning which contributed so much to their success. The system hitherto adopted in our army has been simply ridiculous. Officers and men were taught with great care the routine of interior economy, ele. mentary drill, field movements, &c., on rules laid down with mathematical precision. The
The effect of this upon the intellect has never been properly appreciated. Officers living all their lives in an atmosphere where the repetition of apparently unmeaning duties forms the every-day occupation, where rule and line have laid down in advance the manner of performing every minute detail, cannot acquire that decisive, vigorous promptitude of judgment and fertility of resource so necessary in the ever-changing conditions. of active operations. The greatest natural talents must certainly feel the depressing and rusting effect of want of exercise.
It is a common remark that old army officers or men rarely succeed in business undertakings in civil life; and it is as frequently said that life in the army, in time of peace, unfits men for ordinary employments outside of mere routine. How can it be otherwise with men carefully trained never to think?
Nothing could be more ill-judged than the present system. One might as well teach a child his alphabet, teach him every letter and its pronunciation, make him go over it day after day and year after year, and then on examination expect him to read without ever having taught him to spell, as to make officers repeat manoeuvres year after year and expect them by inspiration to know how to apply them practically, in the ever-varying contingencies and trying straits of actual war. Sir Henry Lawrence well says, "No; it is not elementary knowledge "such as barrack life or regimental parades "that can give that which is most essential "to a commander-it is good sense, energy, "thoughtfulness and familiarity with inde"pendent action. "It is not by three times a day seeing "soldiers eat their rations, or by marching "round barrack squares, that officers "to be soldiers, much less generals."
success upon the plains of Bohemia and France.
We regret to find that almost all the English papers make the same complaint, that the manoeuvres in Hampshire were not free enough-that even generals commanding were tied down to a great extent to certain fixed conditions. There seems to have been too much constraint-too little freedom and dash. It is nevertheless a matter of congratulation that a step has been taken in the right direction.
The lesson conveyed to England on this point, applies with equal force to us in Canada. We have a well drilled volunteer force, thoroughly equipped and armed and composed of active and intelligent young men; but our staff officers are almost all
imported from the regular service, and the whole English system, with its rules, regulalearntions, manoeuvres, uniforms and pipe-clay, has been adopted by us as closely as it can be imitated.
One of the general officers in the late autumn campaign, speaking of the advantage of it to a correspondent of the "Times," said, "It teaches us to think," a remark almost pathetic in its honest simplicity.
The Prussians found out the secret of this weakness, and seem to have been the only nation to have seriously set themselves to remedy the evil. They invented a method of exercising their armies as near as possible approaching the real operations of war, by opposing two forces against each other, and by employing a staff of umpires to decide disputed points and to settle which side was entitled to the credit of the victory. There was a continual struggle of wits between the officers and men of the opposing forces, and consequently they were obliged to think, and to decide promptly and clearly their course of action in difficult and continually changing circumstances and conditions. Their practice-campaigns were in fact grand dress rehearsals of the part they afterwards played in earnest, and with such marvellous
In the Camp at Niagara last June, there were assembled nearly 5,000 men, consisting of one regiment of cavalry, 3 field batteries and II battalions of infantry. The force was in excellent condition, and the regimental and company officers deserve the greatest credit for the strength, efficiency and general good appearance of their corps. The management of the camp, however, and the method of drilling adopted, formed a brilliant illustration of the old-fashioned principles of routine and red tape. The whole sixteen days were occupied in continually repeating parade and field movements. It was professed that everything was done "as if it were in actual war," yet there was no chain of outposts covering the camp as would be absolutely necessary before an enemy; there were no videttes posted, no patrols sent out, no reconnoitring or scouting duty explained or taught. There seemed to be no attempt made to instruct the force in those duties of covering a camp, a bivouac or a line of march, on the proper
performance of which their safety would depend during nineteen days out of every twenty of active hostilities.
Our authorities should take advantage of the experience of the late war in this particular, and give our volunteers an opportunity of learning, by field campaigning with umpires, those practical duties, the knowledge of which is so necessary to the safety of an army in the field.
The war seems also to have settled conclusively the hitherto vexed question as to the inutility of cavalry of the line in modern warfare. Heavy cavalry has been continually decreasing in value in the same ratio as the weapons for the projection of missiles have been improved. Before the invention of gunpowder, the cavalry then (under the feudal system) composed of knights and men-at-arms, formed the main portion of armies, and infantry were practically powerless to oppose them.
The invention of gunpowder gave the infantry a projectile weapon of far greater range and power. About the middle of the 16th century, the Spanish musquet was inIt was a large unwieldy weapon, fired from a rest with a cushion or pad to relieve the force of the recoil. Its bullets pierced the best coats of mail. The Duke of Alva introduced it into the war in Flanders about the year 1550, and, soon afterwards, opinion so completely changed that defensive armour was for a time looked upon with contempt. Cavalry were consequently much lightened in their equipment, in order to increase their mobility and enable them to diminish the effect of the bullets as much as possible, by shortening by increased speed the interval between their arriving within range of fire and the moment of contact in the charge.
ments of Pappenheim's cavalry, who were completely cased in armour, with his own, who were for the most part destitute of such protection. The result proved that these iron-clad warriors were more formidable in appearance than in reality.
Cuirasses were afterwards re-introduced, and have been often used since that date. It is stated that Gustavus Adolphus, at the battle of Leipsig, could not conceal his uneasiness when he compared the accoutre
Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange, gave cuirasses to his cavalry, but it was as a protection against the Spanish lancers. We find also that the cavalry of Frederick the Great comprised 13 regiments of cuirassiers, 12 of dragoons and 10 of hussars. But Seidlitz, his great cavalry general, does not appear to have had much confidence in his cuirassiers. General Warnery, his bosom friend and compeer, in his " Remarques sur la Cavalerie," published in 1781, says, "Seid"litz, whose regiment ought for the useful "(pour le solide) to serve as a model to all "the cavalry of the universe, Seidlitz, I say, "admitted that, in a march of moderate "length, he could not with his regiment re"sist 600 good hussars."
The Emperor Napoleon revived the heavy cuirassier at the commencement of the Empire, by giving cuirasses to several of his cavalry regiments, and by decree of the 24th December, 1809, he also gave them to the regiments of carabineers.
Great as is Napoleon's authority on all military questions, his opinion on this point is now entirely out of date. From the first use of gunpowder, for some three hundred years, the infantry musket had not attained any great perfection of precision, rapidity or range. The flint-lock muskets of Napoleon's era, were much the same as they had been since their invention, which took place so far back as 1630, and were not much more deadly than the matchlock which preceded them. It is only of late years that rifles have been brought into use, which seem to have arrived at perfection of aim, range and rapidity of fire. These rifles render it almost impossible for cavalry to charge over the space which intervenes between a line of infantry and the extreme
range of their weapons, without being destroyed in the attempt.
Cavalry officers have lately theorized to a great extent upon the question of the effect of the breech-loading rifle upon the future employment of heavy cavalry. Some of them admit that, under most circumstances, charges of cavalry against the long-range rifle could not be made, but hold the view that contingencies must occur and chances arise where the impetuous charge would be followed with great results. We have shut our eyes too long to the fact that while the speed of the horse and weight of the man have remained stationary, the precision of aim, length of range, and rapidity of fire of the new rifle have increased to such an extent, as to destroy the conditions which formerly made cavalry charges so important an element in winning battles.
An article in the "Saturday Review" of the 7th October last, on "the tactical lessons of the Autumn Campaign," is a good illustration of the theories held on this question of cavalry charges. It says:—
"We have learnt that cavalry of every "description is as necessary a component of an army as it ever was, but that it must "be handled and organized in a new fash❝ion. At present our cavalry leaders are "but mere apprentices, and the glorious arm "at their disposal was in the recent campaign "rather an incumbrance to the army than "otherwise. In the intervals between the "battles, the light cavalry very imperfectly "performed their duty as purveyors of intel"ligence, and on the day of battle, the "chief object of every one appeared to be to get our squadrons out of the way, both of "harm and of the other branches of the ser"vice. It is very evident that masses of cavalry will for the future be only used ex"ceptionally, and that they must be kept in 66 reserve until the decisive moment. * By a sudden swoop on the flank, however, or even a direct attack, where from "the nature of the ground, the enemy's fire
cannot take effect until within 200 yards'
distance, great things are still to be effected. "In the concluding battle of our sham cam"paign, we had a proof of this. A body of cav"alry suddenly appeared on the brow of a hill "and dashed at the skirmishers of the 42nd "Highlanders, who, startled at the appari"tion, hastily proceeded to form rallying squares. The dragoons were, however, 'upon them before they could complete "the movement, and had the contest been "a real one, would have sabred them to a man. The Highlanders have been "blamed for forming squares. They ought, it "is said, to have remained steady, and have "trusted to the effect of their fire. Setting aside, however, the moral effect of the sudden appearance of a body of horsemen "charging down at full speed, the High"landers could not at the outside have fired more than twice, and that hurriedly, and, "under any circumstances, they would have "been annihilated."
The above is the most common theory on this subject. We will now quote an account of the French cavalry charges at Sedan, from a letter received by the writer of this article from a distinguished officer who was with the Prussian army during the earlier battles of the war. This officer, who has himself seen much service, says:
"The question of cavalry charging infan"try with breech-loaders is, I think, settled "conclusively by this campaign. Whereever it has been tried-by the 8th and 9th "French cuirassiers at Woerth, by the 7th 'Prussian cuirassiers at Vionville, on the "16th of August, or by the two French "Light Cavalry brigades on their extreme left "at Sedan-the result has been the same66 a fearful loss of life with no result what
"be no greater calumny than to say they "did not charge home. General Sheridan as
"thirty hours after, while the dead men and "horses all lay there, so that I formed as "correct an idea of it as if I had seen it."sured me they behaved most nobly, coming "up again and again at the signal to charge.
They were sheltered from fire till the "last moment, were carefully handled, and "skilfully and bravely led. The ground "they charged over was not more than four "hundred yards, yet the result was virtually "their destruction as a military body, with"out any effect whatever.
"I took great pains to ascertain the facts. "A friend of mine, whom I had known in "Africa ten years before, was a major com
"regiments. He showed me the roll of "his two squadrons, with each man's name "marked off. The result was fifty-eight men "of all ranks left effective, out of two hun"dred and sixteen that went into action."The whole time they were under musketry "fire must have been under a quarter of an "hour. So much for charging against breech"loaders."
"The first charge delivered by the 1st "French Huzzars, was made under the most "favourable circumstances possible. They "were very well handled. As the Prussian "infantry skirmishers, in advance of the main "body, came over the hill behind which they "had been waiting, they were led round "under cover of the brow till they got com"pletely in rear of, and on the right flank of "the skirmishers. They thus got within one "hundred yards of them before they were "seen, and then charged most gallantly, sweep-"manding two squadrons of one of these "ing down the whole line. But, even under "these advantageous circumstances, the "charge had no result worth speaking of.— "The Germans ran into knots and opened "fire; a very few who ran to the rear, say "twenty-five or thirty, were cut down. On "the other hand, the fire of these clumps "and rallying squares completely destroyed "the huzzars. The two rear squadrons "wisely swerved off and regained the shelter "of the hill. Those who went down the "line were all killed, wounded, or driven "down on the Prussian side of the slope "into a village and there captured. It did "not delay the advance of the Prussian in"fantry five minutes. The succeeding "charges made by the 1st, 3rd, and 4th "Regiments of Chasseurs d'Afrique, and the "6th Chasseurs came to nothing, though "they were most gallantly and perseveringly "made. The Prussians simply waited for "them in line till they got to one hun"dred and fifty yards, and then just mowed "them down with volleys. They were shot "down before they could get within 50 yards. "It was a useless, purposeless slaughter. It "had, practically, no result whatever. The "hill side was literally covered with their "dead, and the bodies of their little grey Arab "horses. These two brigades of five regiments "must have lost quite 350 killed, besides "their wounded and prisoners. There can
A comparison between the circumstances of the charge on the skirmishers of the 42nd Highlanders and this charge on the Prussian skirmishers will show the parallel in the two cases to have been almost complete. They form a good illustration of the difference between theory and practice.
The fact is our Cavalry force must be reorganized. The Life Guards, splendid men and well horsed as they undoubtedly are, are nevertheless mere relics of the feudal age in their equipments. Imposing in their appearance upon peaceful parades, and as escorts in State ceremonials they may be; but they are useless in modern warfare, loaded down as they are by armour designed as a protection against missiles long since disused. One of the old German Emperors is said to have remarked that “ armour protects the wearer and prevents him from injuring others." The first part of this saying no longer holds good, but the latter is almost as appropriate as ever.