MILITARY DISASTERS IN FORMER WARS.
[From the North British Review, May 1855.] "Our contest with France under Napoleon lasted, from first to last, twenty-two years—from 1793 to 1815; and though, during the greater part of this period, the country was zealous and hearty in the cause, though we had vast armies on foot, and though Ministers were able to command Parlia- mentary majorities which made them despotic and almost omnipotent, yet it was not till the sixteenth year of the war that victory began to crown our arms. From 1793 to 1810, the history of our campaigns is one series of im- becilities and disasters. From the outbreak of hostilities, till Sir Arthur Wellesley took the command in the Peninsula, our land forces were uni- formly unfortunate, with the exception of some gallant but ineffective suc- cesses in Egypt. We began with the siege of Dunkirk, which, more eon- :met°, was intrusted to the Duke of York. The Allies were defeated, and he hastily retired, leaving fifty-two pieces of heavy artillery and a quantity of baggage and ammunition in the hands of the enemy. The expedition to Wakheres was one of our next large enterprises on the Continent ; and offers a parallel unusually close to our present position. Its object was the capture and destruction of Antwerp, a most important arsenal and strong- hold, which the French were doing their best to render impregnable. The expedition was well planned, and was fitted out on a grand scale. Consider- able delay took place in preparing everything necessary for the undertaking ; but at the end of July 1809, the fleet sailed, consisting of a hundred large ships, and eighty gun-boats, two trains of siege artillery, and upwards of 40,004 troops. We have the testimony of Napoleon, that if the army and fleet had pushed on and assailed Antwerp at once, it must have fallen an easy prey. It was inadequately garrisoned, and its defences were still in- complete. The orders given from home were judicious and decisive—to act promptly, and push on to Antwerp at once. Unhappily, the Ministers ap- pointed a general and an admiral who did not act harmoniously or energeti- cally together, and one or both of whom seem to have been singularly ill- selected. Delay after delay occurred-
" The Earl of Chatham, with sword drawn,
Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan ; Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em,
Stood waiting for the E 1 of Ch h "
They laid siege to Flushing instead of assaulting Antwerp ; and by the time they were ready to attack Antwerp, it had been strengthened and for- tified so as to present a nearly hopeless enterprise. The expedition there- fore fortified themselves in Walcberen ; where fever speedily attacked the ; troops, decimated their numbers, and destroyed their spirits. Soon nearly half their numbers were in hospital, and the deaths reached between 200 and 300 a week. At last, five months after the magnificent and powerful army had left our shores, its miserable remnant returned home, having left 7000 in an ignominious grave, and the rest bearing about them a malady which , never left them to the end of their lives.
"Of course so great a calamity led to fierce debates in both Houses of Par- liament; a loneinvestigation ensued, and Ministers with difficulty escaped an overthrow. Unfortunately, the Opposition then, as now and always, sought rather to infer Ministerial incapacity than to discover the real cause of the disaster. Government was severely blamed for having undertaken a hopeless and fruitless enterprise. It was argued that the expedition was ill-planned, could not have succeeded, and would have been nearly useless if it had succeeded. All the usual charges were reiterated—charges which we know to have been exaggerated or wholly groundless. The real sin of the Ministers was hardly touched upon in the debate—their inconceivable want of judgment or want of conscientiousness, in appointing so incapable a com- mander as Lord Chatham, and their want of resolution and reluctance to give pain to a respected and highly connected individual, shown in not at once superseding him as soon as his mismanagement and neglect of orders made his incapacity apparent. "The next parallel we meet with was in the early portion of the Penin- sular War, when the British Government had conic, to the determination of assisting the Spanish patriots, but had not yet learned how to do it. Storey provisions, clothing, arms, and ammunition, were sent with unexampled profusion ; but they never reached the army ; the agents to whom Mr. Can- ning intrusted their distribution proved utterly incapable. • At the period,' we read, when the Marquis of Romans and the insurgents in Gali- cia were praying for a few stand of arms and 5000/. from Sir John Cradock, the Spanish Junta possessed many millions of money, (mainly furnished to them by England,) and their magazines at Cadiz were bursting with the con- tinually increasing quantity of stores and arms arriving from England, but which were left to rot as they arrived, while from every quarter the demand for these things was incessant.' "The retreat to Corunna comes next in order. Sir John Moore was a consummate general : few more skilful ; none more vigilant and conscien- tious; none assuredly in common estimation more unfortunate. Ile had an impossible task set him ; a scanty army, inadequate magazines, cowardly and imbecile allies, and an enemy who commanded overwhelming numbers. He did much, but of course he failed of success, and of course be was as- sailed by the most unfounded and outrageous calumny. He was blamed for his advance ; he was blamed for his retreat; he was blamed because he fought a battle ; he was blamed because he had not fought it sooner ; and an unworthy Ministry at home (how unlike the present one !) took advan- tage of the popular dismay to throw on the General the condemnation due rather to their own or their agents' incapacity. The people, who had not been trained to learn the inevitable results of war, were horror-stricken at contrasting the haggard and dilapidated troops who returned, with the trim and gallant regiments who had set out a few months before, and they were at once indignant and desponding. No doubt their sufferings had been great, though their commander was not in fault. He had at one time 4000 men out of 31,000 in hospital, and lost 4000 in the retreat. Yet now that the history has been written, we find him acquitted, and not only acquitted but applauded, by the decision of every competent authority: Soult, Napo- leon, and Wellington, all concur in awarding him the highest meed of praise. He was one of our unsuccessful great men.'
"But. the most instructive portion of the annals of the Peninsular War is that which relates to the period after the Duke of Wellington had been promoted to the chief command. His energy, his vigilance, his foresight, his wonderful and unrivalled capacity both for conquest and for organiza- tion, none will now deny. And if we find the same complaints made by him as are made or insinuated now—if we find the same sufferings endured by his army as by Lord Raglan's—if we find that he, like Lord Raglan, ad- mitted the existence of 'insuperable' difficulties,—surely we shall be dis- posed to pause before we condemn as incapable one who is apparently no worse off than a commander whose capacity has long been our admiration, and was once our safety. If, further, we find that he experienced and bit- terly complained of that very evil which it is now beginning to be univer- sally believed lies at the bottom of our disasters, viz. the incompetency and inexperience of our young officers of family, and the want of education and organization in the civil department of the service, we shall be more disposed to attack the enduring system rather than the transitory men. And, finally, if we find that the Opposition of that day, losing sight of sense, justice, and patriotism, in their virulent criticisms not only on Ministers, but on the army itself, and on the great General who led it out to glory and trained it by degrees to victory—if we find that the speakers of that day, as of this, played the game of the enemy, exaggerated his successes and pal- liated his misdeeds, encouraged his tenacity, and poured despondency and dismay over the hearts of men at home, and behaved in a manner which all the noble-minded among them afterwards bitterly repented,—surely we shall disdain to act over again a course of conduct as unrighteous as it is un- patriotic and suicidal. " Yet all these things were so. At the commencement of the Talavem campaign, says Napier, '4000 men (out of 27,000) were in hospital ; the commissariat was without sufficient means of transport ; the soldiers nearly barefooted, and totally without pay. The military chest was empty and the hospitals were full. The battle of Talavera was fought and won by men who for twenty-four hours had tasted nothing but a few grains of corn in the ear.' The want of shoes actually prevented some military movements. 'during a month which followed the junction of the two armies on the of July, the troops were literally starving—they had not received ten days' bread ; on many days they only got a little meat without salt, on others no- thing at all. The cavalry and artillery horses had not received at the same time three deliveries of forage ; and in consequence, 1000 horses had died, and 700 were on the sick list.' After this description we are not surprised to learn that a month later, in the valley of the Guadiana, '7000 men were in hospital '—one-third of the effective force.
"The disorganization of our army during the retreat from Burgos, while under Wellington's own command, called from him his celebrated and se- vere but unjust and indiscriminate rebuke. He was angry, and described it as surpassing what he bad ever witnessed or read of.' This was an ex- aggeration, but no doubt the disorders were bad enough. Here is Alison's explanation, which bears a startling resemblance to much that we hear now. Wellington was not aware that his own well-conceived arrangements for the supply of provisions to his troops had been in many cases rendered to- tally nugatory, from the impossibility of getting means of transport for the stores, or from the negligence of inferior functionaries in carrying his orders into execution. In some cases, when he supposed the men were receiving their three rations a day regularly served out, they were in fact living on acorns which they picked up, or swine which they shot in the woods.' "Once more. We are shocked, and naturally ea, at the reports which reach us from the Crimea of the deaths by disease, and the number of sick in the hospital. Well, precisely the same facts add to the gloom of our last wars. In 1811 we read of '20,000 sick in the hospital at one moment ' ; and of an army 30,000 strong, which could only bring 14,000 bayonets into the field ' ; and the returns of the Inspector-General show that in the six years immediately preceding the peace, not less than 360,000 men passed through the military hospitals in Portugal.'
"Finally. In nearly every page of the Peninsular War we meet with instances of incapacity, ignorance, extraordinary blunders, inconceivable mismanagement, under the very eyes of the Duke himself, and even where his brother was a leading Cabinet Minister at home, which equal, if they do not cast into shade, those charged upon the officials here, at Scutari, and before Sebastopol. We find a wholly inefficient and ignorant com- missariat department, which only learned its duties by slow degrees, and at the cost of the starved and suffering troops. We hear just the same complaint of want of horses, mules, and waggons for transport—a want remedied only two years before the termination of the war ; of the new re- cruits falling sick as soon as they went out ; of tattered uniforms and sole- less shoes ; of inadequate battering ordnance, so that towns had to be taken by storm which ought to have been regularly besieged; and lastly, of mining and intrenching tools sent out so abominably bad that our troops were de- dendent on those they captured from the enemy, and of scaling ladders so short they would not reach the walla they were to surmount. In a word, we find all the same official delays, negligences, stupidities, ignorances, baffling the Iron Duke himself, which harass and perplex us now.
"It is one thing to have a large army ; it is another thing to have a small army in the most perfect state of efficiency. The one is extravagance—the other is economy. To maintain during peace an army of 200,000 men would be needless, foolish, and wasteful ; and the House of Commons never would, and never ought, to sanction such a thing. To maintain an army of 100,000 men, of which every department should be in the highest and most com- plete organization in which every officer should know his business, and every soldier be trained to the use of his arms ; with a transport service that needed nothing but augmentation ; with a commissariat department that needed nothing but expansion ; with engineers, artillery, sapper and miner corps, all efficient, and requiring no change beyond an addition to their numbers ; furnished with the newest weapons, the best ordnance, the most scientific improvements; to a machine, in short, of which every wheel should be well oiled, every beam tested, every screw and nail in its place ; to maintain such a force in the most perfect efficiency, and in readiness for instant service, is what the country has never refused to pay for, what it always has paid for, (without ever getting it,) what the Parliament will always sanction, and what no Minister should retain office for one hour if he does not possess or cannot obtain. Had we the nucleus of such an effi- cient army, its numbers would be a matter of comparatively small moment. The addition of a company or two, or a troop or two, to every regiment—the placing a few officers upon full pay—the purchase of a certain number of additional horses to the waggon-service and the artillery—the engaging a few supplementary clerks of competent ability to the commissariat—would suffice to place our forces on a war footing. One vote of the House of Com- mons would do it all. As it is, when hostilities break out we have not to increase our army, but to create it, teach it, train it—not to augment its numbers merely, but to organize its every department. It is not a larger but a wiser expenditure that we require—not a larger but a better army. The parsimonious disposition of the country, then, is not to blame."