The Chasseurs À Pied
AMONG the most celebrated corps of the French army, one of the most conspicuous and remarkable is that peculiar body of troops to which has been given the name of Chasseurs à Pied, or Foot-Chasseurs, to distinguish it from an organization of mounted men in the same service, uniformed and trained on similar principles. The Chasseurs à Pied have not attained the same romantic renown as that acquired by their brethren and rivals in arms, the Zouaves, but, nevertheless, they have had an exceedingly brilliant career in the late ware and conquests of France. They possess their own characteristics of originality, too, and are, in many respects, one of the most efficient and formidable forces in existence.
In order to convey a clear and correct idea of the new principles adopted in the organization and equipment of the Chasseurs, and to furnish our readers with some facts that may be interesting to them as historical students, and most useful to such among them as arc connected with or may have any aspiration for military life, we must beg them to go back with us, for a moment, to the very period of the invention of gunpowder. It would be out of the question, of course, to attempt, in these pages, a description of all the curious weapons that were at first employed under the name of fire-arms. We will only remark that such weapons were, despite the anathemas of Bayard and the sarcasms of Ariosto, very much used as early as the middle of the sixteenth century, and played an important part on the battle-fields of that epoch.
To the Spaniards belongs tlie credit of having rendered the use of fire-arms more easy, more regular, and more general among the nations. For more than a hundred years the Spaniards were the very masters of the art of war. Their power had begun to decline, but they still retained their military superiority ; and from the Battle of Cercsole, won by the Count of Enghien in 1544, down to the memorable victory of Rocroy, gained in 1643 by a hero of the same race and the same name, they had the upper-hand in all pitched engagements. Their generals were the very best and most thoroughly instructed, and formed a real school; they, too, were the only officers who practised strategy. Their organization was better than any other, and their celebrated tercios were the very model of all regiments. Their armament was likewise superior, as they had adopted the musket, which was the first fire-arm that a man could handle with any facility, load with rapidity, and aim with any precision. Each of their tercios or battalions contained a regulated proportion of these musketeers, and the number was large, compared to the whole mass of troops.
The excellent results attained by the Spaniards, in the more perfect organization and equipment of their infantry, did not escape the attention of the French officers; and one of them especially, the Duke Francis de Guise, endeavored to turn his observations to good account. It is to him that we are indebted for the first rough sketch of regimental organization modelled upon that of the tercios, and, in more than one encounter with the Huguenots, the numbers of thoroughly skilled arquebuse-men embodied in the old French bands in Picardy and Piedmont secured advantages to the Catholic armies. In the opposite party, a young general who was destined to become a great king, endowed with that creative instinct, that genius which is as readily applicable to the science of government as to that of war, and which, when tempered with good sense, may bestow glory and happiness upon whole nations, Henry IV., had taken particular pains to increase the number and the efficiency of his arquebuse-men, and frequently managed to employ them in ways as novel as they were successful. At the Battle of Coutras, he distributed them in groups of twenty-five, in the midst of his squadrons of cavalry, so that, when the royal gendarmerie advanced to charge the latter, they were suddenly received with murderous volleys by these arquebuse-men of the spur, as they were called, owing to their combination with the cavalry, and the shock they thus encountered gave victory to the Protestants. Henry IV. went even too far with his passion for fire-arms. He increased their number and their use among cavalry so extravagantly, that the latter arm was perverted from its proper object. The cavalry, for a long time, forgot that their strength lay in the points of their sabres, in the dash of the men, and the speed of their horses.
Most of the great captains of an early day thus signalized their progress by some improvement in the equipment of their infantry. One of the most formidable enemies of Spanish power, Maurice of Nassau, a skilful engineer and tactician, was the first to array infantry in such a manner as to combine the simultaneous use of the musket and the pike. Before his time, fire-arms had been used only for skirmishing service; he commenced to use them in line. This reform was, however, only foreshadowed, as it were, by the Dutch General; it was reserved for Gustavus Adolphus to complete it. While he was executing a series of military operations such as the world had not beheld since the days of Cæsar, he was also creating a movable artillery, and giving to the fire of his infantry an efficacy which had not been attained before. For the heavy machines of war which were drawn by oxen to the field of battle, and which remained there motionless and paralyzed by the slightest movements of the contending armies, he substituted light cannon drawn by horses and following up all the manæuvres of either cavalry or foot. He had found the infantry formed in dense battalions. His system arranged it in long continuous lines in which each rank of musketeers was sustained by several ranks of pikemen, so that his array, thus distributed, should present to the enemy a front bristling with steel, while, at the same time, it could cover a large space of ground with its discharge of lead. Attentive to all kinds of detail, he also gave his soldiers the cartouch-box and knapsack instead of the cumbersome apparatus to which they had been accustomed. In fact, Gustavos Adolphus was the founder of the modern science of battle. In strategy and the grand combinations of warfare, he was the disciple and rival of the ancient masters; for, evert if this “ divine portion ” of the military art be inaccessible to the vast number of its votaries, and if history can easily enumerate those who were capable of comprehending it, and, more especially, of applying it, its rules and principles have, nevertheless, been by no means the same in all ages. On the contrary, the invention of fire-arms demanded an entirely new system of tactics, and this the Swedish hero introduced.
The example set by Gustavus was not, however, very rapidly followed, and, although some slight improvements were introduced by French officers during the seventeenth century, it was not until the time of Louis XIV. that the reforms started by Maurice of Nassau, and so successfully continued by the Swedish army, began to attain their consummation. The progress made in that direction was due to Vauban, whose eminent genius had mastered every question and every branch of study so completely, that, when applied to on any subject connected with politics or war, his opinion was always clear and correct. The very numerous essays and sketches from his hand which are found deposited in the fortresses and in the archives of France all reveal some flash of genius, and even his wildest speculations bear the stamp of his high intellect and excellent heart. Engineering science was carried by him to such a degree of perfection that it has made but few advances since his time; and it was Vauban who induced Louis XIV. to replace the pike and the musket with a weapon which should be, at one and the same time, an instrument for both firing and thrusting, namely, the bayonet-gun. The Royal Fusileer Regiment, since called the Royal Artillery, was the first one armed with this weapon, (in 1670,) and in 1703 the whole French army finally gave up the pike. Notwithstanding some reverses sustained by the infantry thus armed, and notwithstanding the disapproval of Puységur and others, this gun was soon adopted by all Europe, and the success of the great Frederick put a conclusive indorsement on this new style of weapon. Frederick had taken up and perfected the ideas of Gustavus Adolphus; and he now laid down certain rules for the formation and manæuvring of infantry, which are still followed at this day ; and since that time, no one has disputed the fact that the strength of foottroops lies in their guns and their legs. Our present firelock differs from the article used during the Seven Years’ War only in its more careful construction and some modifications of detail. The most important of these relates to the more rapid explosion of the charge. In 1840 the old flint-locks were generally replaced by the percussion-lock, which is simpler, is less exposed to the effects of dampness, and more quickly and surely ignites the powder. Even the ordinary regulation-musket with its bayonet was spoken of by Napoleon in his time as “ the best engine of warfare ever invented by man.” Since the day of the Great Emperor, and even during the reign of the present Napoleon, continued improvements have been made in the character of the weapon used by the French infantry. The weight, length, correctness of aim, durability, and handiness of the gun have all been carefully examined and modified, to the advantage of the soldier, until, finally, we have a weapon which combines wonderful qualities of lightness, strength, correctness of equipoise, ease and rapidity of loading, with perfect adaptability as a combination of the lance, pike, and sword, when it has ceased to be a fire-arm.
We have not here the space to enter upon a disquisition concerning these progressive changes; but suffice it to say that nearly all the peculiar styles of fire-arms were well known at an early period, and that the rifling, etc., of guns and cannon, with the other modifications now adopted, are merely the development and consummation of old ideas. For instance, the rifled arquebuse was known and used at the close of the fifteenth century, and, although the rifled musket was not put in general use by the French infantry, from the fact that its reduced length and the greater complication of movements required in loading and discharging it deprived it of other advantages when in the hands of troops of the line, still it was adopted in a certain proportion in some branches of the French service.
As early as the middle of the seventeenth century, some corps of light cavalry called Carabins were armed with the short rifle-musket, and hence the derivation of the term carabines applied to the weapon. These "carabines” were also very promptly adopted by hunters and sportsmen everywhere. The Swiss and the Tyrolese employed them in chasing the chamois among their mountains, and practised their skill in the use of them at general shooting-matches, which to this very day are celebrated as national festivals. The Austrian Government was the first to profit by this preference on the part of certain populations for accurate fire-arms, and at once proceeded to organize battalions of Tyrolese Chasseurs, or Huntsmen, — to give the meaning of the French word. These Chasseurs were applied in the Austrian service as light troops, and so great was their efficiency against the Prussians that Frederick the Great was compelled, in his turn, to organize a battalion of Chasseur sharp-shooters. France followed suit, in the course of the eighteenth century, and called into existence various corps of the same description, under different names. These, however, were but short-lived, although some of them, for instance, the Grassin Legion, acquired quite a reputation.
Finally came the French Revolution. The troops of the Republic were more remarkable for courage and enthusiasm than for tactics and drill. They usually attacked as skirmishers,
—a system which may be employed successfully by even the most regularly disciplined armies, but which is sometimes more especially useful to raw troops, because it gives the private soldier an opportunity to compensate by personal intelligence for the lack of thorough instruction. Struck by the aptitude of the French recruits for that kind of fighting, the Convention, in reorganizing the army, decreed the formation of some half-brigades of light infantry. The picked men were to be armed with the new weapon, and received the name of Carabiniers. The carabine of 1793 is the first specimen of that kind of arm which was regularly employed in France.
Subsequently, owing to many practical defects, when Napoleon reorganized the equipment of the French armies, the carabine was dropped from the service, although the regiments of light infantry were retained, and their picked companies preserved the title of Carabiniers. In the Imperial Guard, too, there were companies of Skirmishers, Flankers, and Chasseurs, but neither one of these corps was distinguished by any particular style of arms or drill. The Emperor's wish was to have the armament and training of all his infantry uniform, so that all the regiments should be equally adapted to the service of troops of the line or light troops. Finally, to carry out his design with greater ease, he formed all the men who were more active and agile than the rest, or whose low stature prevented them from becoming Grenadiers, into companies of Voltigeurs, — and this was one of his finest military creations.
However, notwithstanding the correctness of Napoleon’s views, as a general principle, the thousand and one uses of a corps of picked marksmen as light troops were so universally admitted that the different nations of Europe continued and even augmented that branch of their military service. Under different names they were found not only in the armies of England, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, but also under the banners of the secondary powers, such as Sweden, Piedmont, and Switzerland.
After the disasters of 1815, the reorganization of the French army was confided to Marshal Gouvion de St. Cyr, who united to sincere patriotism every qualification of an able general. He gave to the French service the basis of its present success, his suggestions having, of course, been perfected and expanded in the mean time. Among other things, he prescribed the formation of battalions of Chasseurs, to be organized in legions, side by side with the infantry of the line, but with their own special equipment. This plan was not efficiently executed, and the Chasseur battalions shared the fate of the Department Legions of France, and were merged in the existing regiments.
The project, in a different form, was revived by Marshal Soult, who, as Minister of War, in 1833, succeeded in securing the passage of a royal ordinance prescribing the formation of companies of sharp-shooters “armed with carabines and uniformed in a manner befitting their special service.” These companies were to be united subsequently into battalions, and were to undergo a particular course of training. Although the ordinance was not immediately carried into execution, the impulse had been given, and erelong successful improvements in the rifle having been effected by an old officer of the Royal Guard, named Delvigne, and a certain Colonel Poncharra, inspector of the manufacture of arms, the Duke of Orléans brought about the formation of a company of marksmen peculiarly trained and equipped, and provided with the so-called Delvigne-Poncharra carabine. This company was placed in garrison at Vincennes, where, under skilful and popular commanders, it gave such satisfaction that it was finally decided to try the experiment on a larger scale, and a decree of November 14, 1838, created a battalion of the same character.
This corps, then, and even now, known to the people as the Tirailleurs de Vincennes, wore a uniform very similar to that of the present Chasseurs, but quite different from that of the infantry of the period. Instead of the stiff accoutrements and heavy headgear of the latter, they assumed a frock, wide and roomy pantaloons, and a light military shako. The double folds of white buckskin, which were very fine to look at, to be sure, but which oppressed the lungs and offered a conspicuous mark to the enemy, were discarded ; the sabre was no longer allowed to dangle between the legs of the soldier and impede his movements; while the necessary munitions were carried in a manner more convenient and better adapted to their preservation. The arms consisted of a carabi ne, and a long, Solid, sharpened appendage to it, termed the sword-bayonet. This latter weapon was provided with a hilt, and could be used for both cut and thrust, with considerable effect, while, affixed to the end of the carabine, it furnished a most formidable pike.
Although the Delvigne-Poncharra carabine had great advantages, it still did not command the range of the coarser and heavier muskets of the line, and, in order to make up for this in some degree, the most robust and skilful men of the corps were armed with a heavier gun, constructed on the same principles, but capable of throwing a heavier charge with precision, to greater distances. The proportion of men so armed was one-eighth of the battalion. The use of these two different calibres of fire-arms had some drawbacks, but they were counterbalanced by some curious advantages. For instance, the battalion could keep up a steady fire at ordinary distances, while, at the same moment, the men armed with the heavy carabines, or Carabiniers, as they were distinctively called, even within their own battalion, could reach the enemy at points where he deemed himself beyond the range of the force he saw in front of him. United in groups, the Carabiniers could thus produce severe effect, and actually formed a sort of hand artillery, — to use an expression often employed concerning them.
The Tirailleurs thus composed were, owing to the shortness of their carabines, drawn up in two ranks, instead of in the regimental style of three ranks. They manæuvred in line, like all other infantry battalions, but, in addition to the ordinary drill, were trained in gymnastics and double-quick evolutions, as well as in fencing with the baronet, a special course of sharp-shooting, and what was termed the new Tirailleur drill.
Gymnastics have always been encouraged in the French army, and, when not carried to excess, they are of the greatest use, particularly in developing the strength of young men, giving suppleness and confidence to raw recruits, and facilitating their manæuvres. Running was naturally a portion of these exercises, although it was rarely permitted in the evolutions of French troops, since it was found to produce much disorder. The Tirailleurs were so trained, however, that they could move, with all their accoutrements, in ranks, without noise and without confusion, at a cadenced and measured running step termed the pas gymnastique, or gymnastic step, — and they could use it even during complicated field-manæuvres. This was a most, excellent innovation, for it enabled infantry to pass rapidly to any important point, and to execute many evolutions with the promptitude in some degree which cavalry obtains from the combination of the two gaits.
The bayonet-exercise was very acceptable to the men, for it augmented their confidence in their weapons and their skill in handling them.
The target or sharp-shooting drill was much the most complicated and difficult, as the troops were taught to fire when kneeling and lying on the ground, and to avail themselves of the slightest favoring circumstances of the soil. The rules and methods adopted in this branch of the drill have been the subject of profound and careful study, and are exceedingly ingenious.
The approval of these measures by the French Government was such, that, by a decree of August 28th, 1839, the merely temporary organization of the Tirailleurs was made permanent and separate, and the corps was sent to camp at Fontainebleau. There, the agility of the men, their neat and convenient uniforms and equipments, and their rapid and orderly evolutions struck every one who saw them. When, at the close of their period of encampment, the King was passing them in review as a special compliment, he warmly asked Marshal Soult what he thought of the new corps. The Marshal, in replying, emphatically expressed the wish that His Majesty had thirty such battalions instead of only one.
However, the new organization found some opponents, and many urgent arguments were adduced to prevent its extension. In order to put all these to the test, it was finally determined to submit the Tirailleurs to the ordeal of actual warfare; and they were speedily shipped to Africa, where it was quickly discovered that their gymnastic training had so prepared them that they easily became inured to the fatigues and privations of campaigning life. Their heavy carabines succeeded admirably, and the skill of their marksmen— among others, of a certain Sergeant Pistouley—was the theme of universal praise.
The Tirailleurs were now brigaded with the Zouaves, and erelong had shared glorious laurels with those celebrated troops.
Finally, in 1840, the dangers that seemed to be accumulating over France on all sides assumed so dark a form that the patriotism of the whole nation was aroused, and, in the midst of the general outpouring of men and means, the Duke of Orléans was authorized to form no less than ten battalions of Chasseurs.
The Duke set himself about this important task with all the zeal that had characterized his first effort to create the organization, and all the erudition he had gleaned from years of military study and research. In the first place, he abandoned the title of Tirailleurs, as being not sufficiently distinctive, and adopted that of Chasseurs à Pied, or Foot-Chasseurs. The organization by battalions was retained, and the one formed two years before at Vincennes was designated as the First Battalion, and recalled from Africa to St. Omer as a model for the other nine that were to be organized. St. Omer offered extensive barracks, a vast field suitable to military exercise, and, in fine, all the establishments requisite for a large concourse of troops. The ranks were soon filled with picked men from all sides, and ardent, ambitious officers from every corps of the army sought commands. Among the latter we may mention a certain Captain, since Marshal do M’Mahon, who was put at the head of the Tenth Battalion.
Under the eyes of the Prince Royal, and in accordance with a scries of regulations drawn up by him with the greatest care, and constantly modified to suit circumstances, the battalions were drilled and trained assiduously in all the walks of their profession connected with their own destined service. Every branch of their military life was illustrated by their exercises, and even the officers went through a thorough course of special instruction under accomplished tutors, who were also officers of peculiar ability and experience. While the Duke of Orléans, with the distinguished General Rostolan and two picked lieutenant-colonels, remained at St. Omer in charge of the growing force, another lieutenant-colonel was intrusted with the task of training subordinates to serve as teachers in sharp-shooting, and for this purpose a detachment was assembled at Vincennes, consisting of ten officers and a number of subalterns who had attracted attention by their particular aptitude. These, after having been thoroughly instructed in the manufacture of small arms, the preparation of munitions, and the rules and practice of sharp-shooting, were sent to St. Omer to furnish the new battalions with the officers who were to form part of the permanent organization. The weapon selected was an improvement upon the former carabines of the Tirailleurs ; and while the old proportion, to wit, the eighth part of each battalion, were armed with guns of longer range, and styled distinctively Carabiniers, these were set apart as the picked company of each battalion. The Duke, taking up his residence at St. Omer, attended in person to all that was going forward; and so constant were his exertions, and so warm the zeal of those who assisted the enterprise, that in a few months all the battalions were equipped, armed, and well drilled.
One fine spring morning,—it was in May, 1841, — a long column of troops entered Paris with a celerity hitherto unknown. There was no false glitter, no tinsel; everything was neat and mar tial, with bugles for their only music, and a uniform that was sombre, indeed, but of such harmonious simplicity as to be by no means devoid of elegance. This column consisted of the Chasseurs, coming to receive their standard from the hands of Louis Philippe, and speeding through the streets with their gymnastic step. On the very next day, as though to signalize the serious and entirely military character of the organization, four of these battalions were sent off to Africa, and the remaining six posted at the different leading fortresses of France, where the collections of artillery, etc., enabled them to proceed with the perfect development of their training.
It was only a year later, when the Duke of Orléans was snatched away, on the very eve of some crowning experiments he was about to make in illustration of the full uses and capacities of this force, that it received the title of Chasseurs d’Orléaus, which the modesty of its founder would not tolerate during his lifetime. This name they gallantly bore through the combats that marked their novitiate in Africa, where it was at once found that the complete preparation of both officers and men made victory comparatively easy for them. The deadly precision of their aim struck terror into the Arabs, and, as early as 1842, the splendid behavior of the Sixth Battalion in the bloody fights of the Oued Foddah at once ranged the Chasseurs among the finest troops in Africa. To attempt to follow them step by step in their career would be idle in the space we have here allotted to ourselves. We shall therefore cite merely a few instances where their courage and efficiency shone with peculiar lustre.
In the course of the year 1845, an impostor, playing upon the credulity of the Arabs, and artfully availing himself of the organization ready furnished by the religious sect to which he belonged, succeeded in bringing about a revolt of a great portion of the tribes in Algiers and Oran. He went by the title of “Master of the Hour,” a sort of Messiah who had been long expected in that region. But he was more generally known as Bou-Maza, or The Father with the She-Goat, from the fact that a shegoat was his customary companion, and was supposed by the populace to serve him as a medium of communication with the supernatural Powers. This man exhibited a great deal of skill and audacity. His activity was so extraordinary, and he had been seen at so many different points at almost the same time, that his very existence was at first doubted, and many supposed him to be a myth. At one time it was thought that the insurrection had been quelled, as a chief calling himself Bou-Maza had been captured and shot, when, suddenly, the real leader reappeared among the Flittas, one of the most warlike tribes of Algeria, and living in a region very difficult of access. Against these and the Prophet, General Bourjolly, the French commander, marched at once, but unfortunately with very inadequate force. A terrible combat ensued, the Fourth Regiment of the Chasseurs d’Afrique and the Ninth Battalion of the Chasseurs d’Orléans having to sustain the brunt of it. Both these corps performed prodigies of valor, and it was worth while to hear the men of each reciprocally narrating the glory and the peril of their comrades, — these telling by what noble exploits the mounted Chasseurs (d’Afrique) had saved the remains of Lieutenant-Colonel Berthier, and the others describing the Chasseurs à Pied, how they stood immovable, although without cartridges, around the body of their commander, Clère, with their terrible sword-bayonets bloody to the hilt!
On almost the same day, the Eighth Battalion succumbed to a frightful catastrophe. At a period of supposed tranquillity, the Souhalia tribe, who had been steadfast allies of the French, were unexpectedly attacked by Abd-el-Kader at the head of an overwhelming force. Lieutenant-Colonel Montagnac, with only sixty-two horsemen of the Second Hussars and three hundred and fifty men of the Eighth Chasseurs d'Orléans, hurried to the rescue. He was repeatedly warned of the danger, but, despite all that could be said, he dashed at the whole force of Abd-el-Kader. At the very first discharge, Montagnac fell mortally wounded, and in a few moments all the horses and nearly all the men were disabled. Captain Cognord, of the Second Hussars, rallied the survivors, and this little handful of heroes, huddled together upon a hillock, fought like tigers, until their ammunition was exhausted. The Arabs then closed in upon the group, which had become motionless and silent, and, to use the expressive language of an eyewitness, “ felled them to the earth as they would overturn a wall.” The enemy found none remaining but the dead, or those who were so badly wounded that they gave no sign of life. Before expiring, Montagnac had summoned to his aid a small detachment he had left in reserve. The latter, on its approach, was immediately surrounded, and perished to the very last man. There was now surviving of the whole French force only the Carabinier company of the Eighth Chasseurs, upon whom the Arabs rushed with fury, from every side. After a resistance of almost fabulous heroism, during which the flag of the company was shot away in shreds, and the Carabiniers cut their bullets into six and eight pieces so as to prolong their defence, every volley decimating the foe, this little band of seventy men, encumbered with ten wounded, succeeded in wearying and disheartening the Emir to such an extent that he determined to abandon the direct assault which was costing him so dearly, and to surround the French detachment in the ruined building which served them for a refuge, and so starve them out. Captain Dutertre, Adjutant of the Eighth, who had been captured by the Arabs in the early part of the action, was sent forward by the enemy toward his old comrades. For a moment the firing ceased, and the Captain shouted so that all could hear him, —“ Chasseurs, they have sworn to behead me, if you do not lay down your arms ; and I say to you, Die, rather than surrender one single man ! ”
The Captain was instantly sabred, and the conflict recommenced. The same summons was repeated twice afterwards, and twice failed, when, finally, the firing ceased, and the Arabs bivouacked around their prey. Every possible approach was closed and guarded, and, thus caged in, the Chasseurs remained for three nights and days without food or drink. At length, by a sudden and desperate dash, on the morning of September 26th, the seventy heroes, bearing their ten wounded comrades, succeeded in breaking through the line of Arab sentinels, and escaped to a neighboring chain of hills. Thither they were pursued by their wild foemen, who, although infuriated at the daring and success of this sally, had a sufficient respect for the heavy carabines of the French, and merely hovered closely on their rear, awaiting some favorable opportunity to dash in upon them. This moment soon came. The French soldiers, no longer able to withstand the torments of thirst, descending from the hills, in spite of the entreaties of their officers, dashed into a neighboring stream to cool their burning lips. The instant of doom had come, and, in less time than it takes to recite the narrative, all but twelve of the little band were massacred by the exulting Arabs. The twelve escaped to Djemaa only after terrible privations and sufferings.
We might readily fill a volume with episodes equally glorious and equally gloomy in the career of the Chasseurs. They were in nearly all the brilliant actions of the ensuing Algerian campaigns, and, at Zaatcha, Isly, and other famed engagements, they contended side by side with the renowned Zouaves for the palm of military excellence. Their agility, their promptitude in action, their ardor in attack, and their solidity in retreat, their endurance on the march, their skill and intelligence in availing themselves of every inequality of ground and in turning everything to account, made them so conspicuously preferable, as an infantry corps, for certain operations, that Marshal Bugeaud caused the number of battalions employed in Africa to be increased to six. From that time to the present, continual progress has been made in the organization, discipline, and instruction of the Chasseurs, and all the objections which at different periods were raised against the special composition and details of the force having been one by one met and obviated, France now counts no less than twenty-one battalions of them in her army.
It was for a long time thought by some, that, although the Chasseurs, like the Zouaves, had been successful in the skirmishing engagements of Algeria, they would not be found so useful in European warfare. This opinion was proved to be erroneous at the siege of Rome, in 1849, where the Chasseurs, armed with their new and terrible weapon, the carabine à tige, in the management of which they had been thoroughly drilled, rendered the most important service ; and from what was seen of them there it became evident that the existence of such a force, so perfected in every particular, would hereafter greatly modify the relations and conditions of the defence and attack of fortified works. The importance of this fact will impress the reader, when he remembers how large a part fortresses have played in warfare since 1815, and especially when he glances at the tendency everywhere perceptible now toward transforming military strongholds into great intrenched camps, as revealed at Antwerp in Belgium, Fredericia in Denmark, Buda and Comorn in Hungary, Peschiera, Mantua, Venice, Verona, and Rome in Italy, Silistria and Sebastopol in the East, and Washington, Manassas, and Richmond in America.
Other nations have not been slow to follow French example. Russia is rapidly manufacturing rifled pieces for her service ; England is providing her whole army with the Minié musket, and Austria and Prussia are applying inventions of their own to the armament of corps organized and trained on the principle of the French Chasseurs.
The Duke of Wellington is said to have remarked, not long before his death, while speaking of the English troops, that they had, indeed, adopted the new musket, but that it would be physically difficult for them to transform themselves into light infantry. The same observation will undoubtedly apply to all the Continental nations excepting the French ; but in the United States, while we could muster the finest heavy troops in the world, we have also the most abundant material for just such light infantry as those described in the foregoing sketch.
The Chasseurs are not merely distinguished as perfect light infantry, but they also form excellent troops of the line. By the weight of their fire, they are capable of producing in battles and sieges effects unknown before their appearance on the scene, and that is the great point, the entirely new feature about them.
The creation of these battalions, well planned and happily executed as it has been, remains a most important event in military history. Consecrated by the valor and the intelligence of the officers and soldiers of France, it has been the signal and the source of new and rapid reforms. One of these battalions attached to each infantry division adds fresh force to that fine classification which first arose under the Republic, and, although somewhat perverted under the Empire, still remains the basis of the French grand organization, recalling, as it does, the immortal idea of the Roman Legion.
With the aid of its example, and the emulation inspired by the success of the Chasseurs, the splendid system of the French infantry-service has been completed under the present Napoleon ; and we now behold the race he rules so disciplined for war, the respective qualities of the North aud the South of France, the firmness and solidity of the former and the enthusiasm and ardor of the latter, so beautifully blended, that we may well exclaim, “ Here, indeed, is a whole nation armed ! in pedite robur! ”
In conclusion, the writer and compiler of this sketch would not he venturing too far, perhaps, were he to remark that so excellent an example can be nowhere better followed than in this country, if, as would to-day appear a certainty, we are to turn aside from the ways of peace to study the art of war. We have here precisely the material for whole armies of light infantry, the most favorable conditions for their equipment and instruction, and, owing to the nature of the region we inhabit, its dense woodlands, its wide savannas, its broad rivers, and its numerous ranges of rough mountains, the very land in which the tactics and marksmanship of the Chasseurs would be most available.