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ON PURSUITS; WITH REMARKABLE EXAMPLES.
If there be formidable difficulties and dangers attending the retreat of an army, those to which the pursuers are liable must ever be remembered by a prudent general." The utter destruction or dispersion of the enemy is, of course, the primary object, but next to that the most important point to be secured by a pursuit, is to prevent the junction of the retreating army with other corps from which it has become separated. If we permit the enemy to do so, we play his own game, and the result may be our own discom fiture.
The most striking example of the sort usually quoted by continental writers is that of Grouchy, who, they say, by an error of this kind roined the French at Waterloo. General Dufour, one of the best of military writers, is very emphatic in bis condemnation of Grouchy, for not having hung upon the right of the retreating Prussians after their defeat at Ligny, in order to separate them from the bridges of the Dyle—which placed them in communication with the British Army. As it was, he actually drove then upon Wavre, where they crossed the river, and, at the decisive moment, joined their allies on the field of Waterloo.
However, whether Grouchy did right or wrong in acting as he did, nothing is more certain than that he strictly obeyed his orders, reiterated twice over by Napoleon, at ten and one o'clock from the very field of Waterloo, so that the fault can in justice be ascribed to no one but the latter. Grouchy had special orders to direct his march on Wavre, and to watch the Prussian General closely.
Moreover, he was nearly matched by the Prussians under Thielman, whom he fought at Wavre. It could have been of no avail to the French if he had come up to their succour with 32,000, if all Blucher's force, still 80,000 strong, had in consequence joined Wellington. It is by entirely keeping out of view this important fact of Grouchy being matched at Wavre, and the impossibility of his joining Napoleon without the whole of Blucher's force joining Wellington, that the French and other continental writers have been able to elevate into a degree of importance, the alleged failure of Grouchy to appear in the field at the decisive moment.
The fact points emphatically to the very great error on the part of Napoleon in giving battle at all at Waterloo, with such masses of Prussians hovering in the vicinity. Even bad Grouchy directed his march to his left instead of his right, contrary to orders, he would have fallen on Blucher while struggling through the defiles of St. Lambert, and probably stopped both the advance of Bulow's corps, which he commanded in person, and that of Thielman; but he could not have prevented the corps of Ziethen and Pirch from acting on Napoleon's flank; and their force, still above 50,000 strong, was amply sufficient to bave completed his overthrow.
The utmost that Grouchy's advance in that direction could have secured, would have been probably to retard their advance and render the struggle at the crisis more violent, and the victory less complete than it actually was at Waterloo. There can be no doubt, however, that this pursuit, as ordered by Napoleon at Waterloo, erred in direction, and played the game of his enemies. As regards, however, that painful but useful information which is derived from the study of mistakes, no battle ever equalled Waterloo, that “ day of disasters," as Napoleon called it, in wbich the deficiency of appropriate tactics exceeded everything of the kind in any general action on record. To borrow a French phrase, Napoleon “ lost his head," and so lost his crown, at Waterloo.
So much for an error in direction alone; but, unfortunately, all the good results depending upon a pursuit may be sometimes greatly compromised by others which cannot be prevented, such as the temptation produced by the prodigious spoil in the path of the British soldiers in the terrible pursuit of the French after the Battle of Vittoria, resulting in the utter demoralization of the British Army, and positively thinning the ranks of double the number of men that had fallen in the memorable battle. The private wealth strewn along the route was so prodigious that for miles together the pursuers may almost be said to have marched upon gold and silver ; whilst so vast was the pumber of ladies of pleasure who were among the carriages in the train of the French officers, that it was a common saying afterwards in the army, that it was no wonder they were beaten at Vittoria, for they sacri. ficed their guns to save their mistresses. Wives and concubines, nuns and actresses, arrayed in the highest luxury and fashion, were taken by hundreds. Rich vestures of all sorts ; velvet and silk brocades, gold and silver plate, poble pictures, jewels, laces, cases of claret and champagne, poodles, parrots, monkeys, and trinkets lay scattered about the field in endless confusion, amidst weeping mothers, wailing infants, and all the unutterable misery of warlike overthrow.
The consequence was the dissolution of the bonds of discipline in a large part of the army. “We started," writes the Duke, “with the army in the highest order, and up to the day of the battle nothing could get on better ; but that event has, as usual, totally annihilated all order and discipline. The soldiers of the army have got among them about a million sterling in money, with the exception of about 100,000 dollars which were got in the military chest. The night of the battle, instead of being passed in getting rest and food, to prepare them for the pursuit of the following day, was passed by the soldiers in looking for plunder. The consequence was, that they were incapable of marching in pursuit of the enemy, and were totally knocked up. The rain came on and increased our fatigues; and I am convinced that we have now out of our ranks double the amount of our loss in the battle, and have lost more men in the pursuit than the enemy bave, though we have never in one day made more than an ordinary march.” The loss in the battle was just 5,000; and 7,500 had straggled, from the effects of the plunder.
Such cases are, however, exceptional, and the ordinary difficulties of pursuits are only those necessarily incidental to the operation.
A pursuit is a march in advance executed according to the general rules of strategical marches to the front, with only a few additional special rules adapted to the case. Above all, as the object of a pursuit is to derive all possible advantages from victory, it must be executed with the utmost rapidity. It must be incessant, tenacious, unrelenting.
There are two kinds of pursuits : 1. The direct pursuit—when we follow the enemy, taking the same routes, as did Latour after Moreau in 1796, or as Masséna after Wellington in 1810. 2. The parallel pursuit—which consists in following up the retreating army with a corps of light troops, whilst, with the bulk of our forces, we march parallel to the enemy, our object being either to get ahead of him, in order to bar his progress, if he is disorganised, or, in the contrary case, to establish ourselves on his flank, and do all we can with him.
The column which has to turn the enemy must be supported, if not it should not be despatched. At Dresden, Vandamme was ordered to debouche from Peterswald, and advance upon the enemy's line of retreat, he was to have been supported by Napoleon, but unfortunately Napoleon could not follow him as he had promised; the counter order could not reach him, and the copsequence was that Vandamine's division was crushed and anni. bilated.
Contrary to the established maxim against the division of our forces, we may adopt it in the pursuit, in the enemy's state of weakness and discouragement, in order to give greater mobility to our columns, provided, however, they preserve the interior lines, and are pressing the enemy eccentrically.
The intensity of the pursuit varies with the character of the general and the demoralization of the conquered army; but we must not in general be afraid of not making "a golden bridge,” for the enemy in retreat-according to the old Roman adage-or of exposing ourselves to the possible deeds of his desperation; for, in truth, there is little in general to fear from a destroyed army. All history proves this without a single exception. Thus, at Craone, the principal column in pursuit consisted of the light cavalry, preceded by thirty pieces of cannon ; the second column followed the valley of the Lette, ready to swarm upon the enemy and receive him if he debouched in that valley, and they were ordered to pursue him without stint or measure.
On the other hand, there are cases in which the old Roman maxim should be applied. When we have overtaken the enemy we may adopt two courses ; we may either stop him, if we are strong enough to meet his desperation; or we may hang upon his Hank, allowing him to move off as well as he can with our incessant inflictions. Perhaps this course is always preferable, because it is dangerous to reduce a body of men, however weak, to the dire alternative of death or victory. In such cases, brave men surpass themselves, and very dearly sell their life or liberty. There is nothing to be gained in such a situation. It is therefore better to attack them by the flank, waiting for them on their route of retreat; for then they will endeavour to escape rather than fight, which would be impossible without suffering great losses. In order to put ourselves astride an army or a strong detachment, with impunity, we must be in sufficient force to oppose to it a barrier against which all its efforts must fail ; otherwise, we had better make the enemy "a bridge of gold,” rather than expose ourselves to considerable punishment, or even to be knocked over, as were the Bavarians at Hanau in 1813, when they tried to bar the road to France to Napoleon's army in retreat after the disastrous Battle of Leipsic.
If in the pursuit, some of our attacks succeed, and the enemy is thrown into partial confusion, it will be the part of the light cavalry to avail themselves of this occurrence, and to do him all possible injury, looking out particularly for his ordnance, ammunition and baggage. These, if we cannot carry them with us, are to be destroyed; but if the enemy's reinforcements arrive too early, we must retire in order. Should confusion everywhere pervade the enemy's army, he is then effectually to be pursued in regular order, and by large masses ; still we must beware of falling into ambuscades, or unexpectedly meeting with a superior hostile force in any direction.
The function of the cavalry in pursuit is most important, as was abundantly proved throughout the French wars. After the Battle of Alba-de-Tormès, Kellermann at the head of six regiments of dragoons, surprised General Del Parque, who was retreating precipitately. He threw Del Parque's cavalry upon his infantry and 'routed him completely, with a loss of 4,000 prisoners and twenty guns.
When the enemy retires, preserving a certain degree of order, and his corps are united, without exposing their flanks to partial attacks, the pursuit is operated by the entire army en masse. But then we should not confine ourselves to merely following the enemy on the same route; because, as soon as he meets with a defile or any other favourable position, he will stop and force us to dislodge him ; much precious time will be lost, which he will turn to advantage in getting up his reinforcements. We should therefore quit the main route to manœuvre on the flank of the
enemy, whilst at the same time a portion of our army follows him up by the rear.
By this method, he cannot take up a position without its being turned in an instant, and he will be forced to fall back almost as soon as he becomes posted. Thus, the march of the pursuing army will be only slightly slackened, and it will be very difficult for the enemy to re-organize his forces.
Kutusoff availed himself of the advantages of a parallel pursuit in the disastrous campaign of 1812. Instead of following the same route as the French army, where he would have greatly suffered for want of provisions, and where he would have had to do with strong rear-guards, he marched beside the long column of the enemy, attacking it everywhere he could, dashing into the intervals or openings caused by the length of the way, by cold, and the general misery of the retreating army. That excellent plan of the Russian general contributed immensely to augment the losses and the disorganization of the French on that memorable occasion.
The main Russian army advanced in two columns, and moved in the chord of the arc of which Napoleon was describing the
Their advance was such as to threaten the nications of the French, and preclude the possibility of their remaining where they had taken up their position. By following this route, Kutusoff not only got the start of his enemies, and compelled them to continue a disastrous retreat after they had hoped to have arrived at its termination, but had the immense advantage of quartering his troops under cover in the villages, in a country as yet unwasted by war, during the severity of the winter nights. The march of the army was so rapid that several detached bodies of the French, who had not yet received orders to retreat, fell into their hands.
So admirable, indeed, was the plan of the Russian general in that terrible pursuit, that it may be said the French Army owed its safety throughout chiefly to the circumstance that the Russian generals were far from being aware of the miserable condition to which their antagonists were reduced, and took their measures to resist the “grand army," when in truth, it was only the skeleton of that awful array which was before them. By a more vigorous onset they might, in all probability, have effected its entire destruction. It appears that this illusion was purposely kept up by a kind of ruse de guerre on the part of the French generals. In several intercepted despatches from Berthier to the marshals of the army, which fell into the hands of the Russians, he spoke of different corps of the armies as if they still existed in considerable strength, whereas, in fact, they were little better than shadows.
If the passage of a large river presents so many delicate chances when we are followed in the rear by the enemy, it becomes a much