Our Military Past and Future

AN observing visitor to a Southern plantation, having noticed an entirely tailless cat enter a hole in a corn-rick backwards, asked a colored agriculturalist if he knew the reason of that singular mode of ingress.

“ Why, ye see, boss.” was the reply, ‘‘dat ar cat use ter go inter dat hole headfomuss, jess like any other cat. But one day de tarrier dog, what had been lavin’ fur him a good spell, made a grab at him as he was a-gwine in, an’ bit his tail squar’ off. An’ ever sence den, boss, dat ar cat. goes inter dat hole hinefomuss, so ’s de farrier dog can’t bite off his tail agin.”

If the Southern extremity of our commonwealth had been carried clean away by the terrier dog of secession, instead of hanging painfully by a shred for several years, and at last getting cobbled on rather crazily, it is probable that we should have taken extreme precautions against a repetition of the amputating performance. In plain words (if any words can be plainer), what remained of our federative state would have conceded great powers to its general government, and would have provided it with a sufficient army.

But secession failed: we beat it after four years of doubtful war; we beat it at the price of half a million of lives and thousands of millions of money. Delighted with our success, and apparently all the more delighted with it because of its fearful cost in blood and treasure, we have fallen back upon our old belief that we need only the simulacrum of a military force. We have so enfeebled our army that we cannot concentrate a thousand men without difficulty, and must constantly hurry its thin battalions from point to point to meet the needs of a vast frontier. There is a strong political party which pretends to fear it as an engine of tyranny, and endeavors every now and then to weaken it. still further, or to stop its pay. One is tempted to admit that republics are indeed forgetful and short-sighted beyond all other governments.

We certainly need all the men that we have. Any attempt to reduce our military establishment below the present niggardly estimates should be discountenanced as the act of an ill-intentioned or silly demagogue. Indeed, a force of thirty-five or forty thousand regulars would not be more than we could employ profitably, nor more than it would be true wisdom and frugality to support. The fewness of our troops, so far from being productive of unmixed saving, necessitates extraordinary outlays in transportation, sufficient to maintain several thousand additional soldiers. At any moment we are liable to an Indian war, considerable enough to break through our slender lines. Finally, and far the most important consideration of all, there is the always possible chance of a contest with some civilized power, and the consequent need of a strong regular force to serve as a nucleus for our citizen troops, and to furnish them with instruction and leadership.

Copyright, 1879, by HOUGHTON, OSGOOD & Co.

Meantime, it is wise to admit that the American people will not maintain in time of peace such a land service as would be necessary in a great conflict. Of the political traditions of the free and self-governing Anglo-Saxon race, one of the very strongest is jealousy of a standing army. Our popular belief is that it is a potency hostile to liberty, and that it should not only be restrained to mere military action, but should be kept so weak in numbers as to be incapable of political influence. Our politicians dislike it because its cardinal motive of obedience cares naught for their arts of persuasion; because its modes of action are beyond their understanding, and largely beyond their direction; and because they cannot use its dignities as rewards for their adherents. Finally, our national frugality, or rather our simulation of that quality, militates against an institution which seems to be slightly needed in peace, and which, we constantly hope, will not be much needed in war. The result of these aversions and beliefs is that our permanent army has always been small, and that it will probably continue to be small for many years to come. It is but practical and wise to concede that in all great wars our principal reliance for numbers will be upon our citizen soldiers.

Of these we have two kinds, quite distinct in law from each other, — the militia of the different States, and the national volunteers. The latter, non-existent in time of peace, are in war on the same footing with the regular army, serving under an oath to the general government, and bound by its direct orders. The militia are not United States troops, but legally and strictly state troops, — the soldiers of Connecticut, of South Carolina, etc. The statutes of the United States on this subject go no farther than to require the enrollment in the militia of all able-bodied males between eighteen and forty-five, excepting those who are exempted by the laws of the United States, or who may be exempted by the laws of the different States. The troops of each State are organized, and their officers are appointed, by the authorities of that State. Nor can the general government call them directly into service; it can do that only through a requisition on the governor. In short, the militia is not a national force by constitution, and can be used temporarily as such only when the state rulers are loyal and willing.

Of these two very different kinds of citizen soldiers, which will be our main reliance in war, and which best deserves some serious national thought as to preparation and instruction? Let us look to the past for a reply. At the risk of terribly wounding American vanity, I shall present a truthful summary of


The militia of the Revolution was what the troops of semi - independent communities must always be. It was badly organized, because provincial governments cannot make a good organization; it was undisciplined, because it chose its own officers, and claimed privileges as local troops and as men who had not ceased to be citizens; it was inexperienced, because it seldom remained in the field more than three months at a time. In addition to these defects, it was ununiformed, armed with all sorts of guns, often ill supplied with ammunition, and generally destitute of bayonets. The short term of service was a great disadvantage to morale ; a man who goes to war for three months means to come back. The election of the officers by the men was equally disastrous: the discipline was very like that of her majesty’s ship Pinafore. Let us see how these most unmilitary soldiers, though patriotic and zealous citizens, conducted themselves in the presence of an enemy.

The affair after Lexington was a vigorous harassing, from behind cover, of a column which had effected its purpose, and was returning by order to its post. The political importance of the skirmish was very far greater than its military interest; the militia-men showed themselves high-spirited citizens rather than skillful soldiers capable of decisive operations; they could worry an inferior force, but could not capture it. Bunker’s Hill was highly creditable to the militia, and also to the English troops, both deserving more praise than the English generals. Some fifteen hundred novices endured patiently a cannonade to which they could not reply, resisted three thousand fine regulars until their ammunition was exhausted, inflicted a loss of over one thousand killed and wounded, and lost themselves four hundred and twenty, with only thirty prisoners. We must observe, however, that they were favored by an eminence and well covered by field-works, and that on an even field they would undoubtedly have been out-manœuvred and out-fought without difficulty. Thanks to such leaders as Montgomery, Arnold, Morgan, Greene, and Wooster, the invasion of Canada was a wonderful performance; but Montgomery pronounced the New Englanders “ the worst possible material for soldiers,” except the New Yorkers. “ The privates,” he wrote, “ are all generals, but not soldiers.” It is singular, by the way, that the finest feats of the citizen troops should have been done early in the war.

In the battle of Brooklyn Heights an army of militia was outwitted and whipped with the greatest ease. At Trenton our victorious column consisted mainly of Continentals ; the two auxiliary columns of militia failed to cross the icy river. At Princeton the militia, forming three fourths of the army, fired two or three volleys, and then fled before the bayonet, leaving the battle to the Continental regiments, the ragged and barefooted sufferers of the New Jersey bivouacs, starved by a Congress which even in war was jealous of a regular army. The force which defended Fort Sullivan under Moultrie was a battalion of South Carolina regulars, not yet turned over to the general government. The battle of Bennington was honorable to the militia; but their antagonists were less than half as numerous, and had the additional disadvantage of coming into the field by detachments; there was no one period of the action during which the Americans were less than four to one. The army which conquered near Saratoga consisted, at the close of the operations, of 9093 Continentals and 4129 militia. I have no means of deciding whether the latter did their numerical share of the fighting; but the study of other Revolutionary conflicts leads one to suppose the contrary.

At the Brandywine Stirling’s regular brigade stood firm long after both its flanks had been uncovered by a stampede of militia. After the battle Congress summoned Continentals from all quarters, showing that it had begun to lose confidence in its citizen soldiers, and leading us to infer that they had behaved even worse than the writers of the time confess. At Germantown the regulars lost in killed and wounded one hundred and twenty-seven commissioned and non - commissioned, and four hundred and eighty-seven privates. The militia, comprising about a quarter of the army, lost in commissioned and noncommissioned three killed, four wounded, and eleven missing, the latter supposed to be runaways or prisoners. Its loss in privates was not reported, but probably had the same unhappy proportion of missing, always an ugly item for the honor of a force. So far as these figures go, they show that the regulars fought the battle pretty much alone. In the combat of Brier Creek the militia fled promptly, some of them without firing; and the only troops who kept in shape, even for a little, were a few scores of Georgia Continentals. The storming of Stony Point, the finest American feat of the war, was done by regulars alone.

At Camden the Virginia militia, although they had bayonets, ran at the first volley, followed by all the North Carolina militia except one regiment, which stood next the Continentals. The regulars fought magnificently till their uncovered flanks were crushed, and, if we may credit the imperfect returns, more than one third of them were killed. It is difficult to believe that the militiamen could be of the same race with these heroes. Organization and discipline made the whole difference. At Cowpens the militia retreated with its usual alacrity, and the battle was saved by a volley and charge from Howard’s two hundred and ninety Continentals, supported by a few regular riflemen, and followed up by the dash of Colonel Washington’s regular troopers. Quite wonderful was the cool dexterity of Howard and the steadiness of his handful of infantry. Overlapped in consequence of the flight of the militia, he obliqued his line, retired a short distance, faced about as if on parade, and struck at the flank of the hurrying and disordered pursuers. No body of “state troops” ever performed such a movement under circumstances anything like so trying. It was, by the way, the first time, and perhaps also the last lime, that a Highland regiment was ever seen to run.

At Guilford Court House eleven hundred North Carolina militia fled before it lost a man, and seventeen hundred Virginia militia followed it after a few volleys. Fifteen hundred Continentals, aided by two hundred regular cavalry, bore the whole brunt of the action, although there was only one veteran regiment present, the rest being raw recruits. The losses were, Continentals, three hundred killed and wounded; Virginia militia, one hundred ditto and two hundred and ninety-four missing; North Carolina militia, nine ditto and five hundred and fifty-two missing. “ As is always the case after a battle,” wrote Lee, “ the missing might be found safe at their own firesides.”At Eutaw Springs the militia behaved with unwonted steadiness, some regiments of them firing as many as seventeen rounds. Once broken, however, they left the field as usual, and the battle was fought out by the Continentals. Of the force which brought Cornwallis to surrender, the American part consisted of about seven thousand regulars and about four thousand militia. Only the former were used in assaulting, or could have been serviceable as artillerists, or could be trusted to do important guard duty, so that the contribution of the latter to the result must have been small.

The above summary of the principal conflicts of the Revolutionary struggle shows clearly enough that if our forces had been wholly militia we should probably have Failed to achieve our independence; and that if they had been wholly regulars we should have achieved it with fewer defeats and in much less time.

Our subsequent wars with the Indians and the war of 1812 with Great Britain tell the same humiliating story as to the unreliability of state troops. In the defeat of St. Clair a vanguard of three hundred Kentucky militia, good marksmen and accustomed to forest adventures, broke at the first fire, and carried confusion into the main body. At Tippecanoe the militia, eight hundred and fifty strong, was supported by three hundred and fifty regulars, while the Shawnee warriors were not numerous, and their war-chief was absent. In 1812 General Hopkins had to give up an expedition against the Indians because his two thousand Kentuckians mutinied and turned back.

In the beginning of the war of 1812 the governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut declined to call out their troops at the call of the president, on the sole ground that their States were not threatened with invasion. Hull, the dismal hero of the surrender of Detroit, was tormented by his Ohio militia. One company amused itself with riding its officers on avail; others fell back on their supposed legal rights and refused to cross the frontier. He said to Miller, the colonel of his only regular regiment, “ Without the Fourth I could not march these other men to Detroit.” In a skirmish which was remarkable as the first of the war, and which certainly did not furnish a cheering augury, one hundred and seventeen militia fled, with a loss of eight men, carrying along in their panic a considerable reinforcement. In the next skirmish two hundred militia ran away from a troop of Indians, with a loss of seventeen killed and a few wounded, all of whom were abandoned. In a third skirmish six hundred Americans, who differed from their inefficient comrades only in the fact that they were nearly all regulars, defeated an equal force of British, Canadians, and Indians. Hull’s surrender was a timorous act, resulting partly from the feebleness of age and infirmity, and partly from a justifiable lack of confidence in the great majority of his troops. A good subordinate officer in the Revolution, he had been twenty-five years in civil life, and he was nearly sixty years old.

At Queenstown the militia general in command declined the assistance of a regular regiment under Winfield Scott, in order to give the direction of the invasion and the honor of a victory to his own son, also a militia officer. After a successful landing had been effected, some fifteen hundred New York state troops became frightened at the sight of battle, set up a claim that they were not legally bound to cross the frontier, and would not enter the boats. Of the eight hundred in the advance columns five hundred surrendered without fighting, and the others took small part in the engagement. The three hundred regulars present did nearly all the work and behaved with really astonishing spirit, although they were mostly recruits, and were commanded during the greater part of the day by boyish officers of six months’ standing.

The melodramatic failure on the Upper Niagara (November, 1812) was the work partly of General Smyth, one of the few incapables who have appeared in the regular army; partly of the Pennsylvania volunteers, who set up a claim that they were state troops, and would not cross the frontier; and partly of the New York militia, who showed the same reverence for boundaries. Over and over in this war, as in that of the Revolution, bodies of militia went home on the expiration of their term, no matter how much they might be needed. Meantime their officers posted one another as cowards, exchanged challenges, and sometimes fought duels. The generals, mostly old Revolutionary heroes recalled to war from twenty-five years of civil life, could do nothing with such soldiers but cover the enemy with glory. In the South, where there were only half-civilized Indians to fight, and the militia was always twice as numerous as its antagonists, it gained some victories under an energetic leader, in spite of its tendency to break when charged.

The massacre of the River Raisin and the defeat of Colonel Dudley were militia disasters. The storming of York under General Pike was the feat of four regiments of regulars, supported by a small body of a new kind of troops, — United States volunteers. The storming of Fort George was done by regulars and a few volunteers, led by Winfield Scott. At Saokett’s Harbor about eight hundred militia fled after one volley, headed by a still famous officer, who “ started first because he was a little lame,” leaving their general to give his undivided attention to a small band of stubborn regulars. Eventually a false report of victory decoyed some three hundred of them near the field of conflict; and by appearing on the flank of the English they inadvertently decided the latter to retreat. The successful defense of Fort Stephenson was conducted by Major Croghan of the seventeenth regulars, with one hundred and forty of his own men and seven volunteers. During the operations of Cockburn on the Maryland and Virginia shore, the local troops ran away invariably, and usually at the first fire, although they were defending their homes. The battle of the Thames was a militia victory, gained over a very inferior force of regulars and Indians. The English commander committed the fatal errors of forming his infantry in open order to resist cavalry, and of interposing a swamp between his wings, so that they could not support each other.

At Chippewa, our first creditable field engagement, there were no militia; and the volunteers, although they fought well for a time, eventually left the battle to the regulars. The victory at Lundy’s Lane, by far our most honorable conflict during the war, was won by regulars alone. Fort Erie was triumphantly defended by both regulars and volunteers, and both shared equally in the well-managed and victorious sortie. At Plattsburg the regulars stood firm, while the militia broke and fled, abandoning a ford anil nearly ruining everything. The retreat of Sir George Prevost was not due to the resistance by land, but to the destruction of his squadron on the lake, and the consequent impossibility of feeding his column during an advance. Of the seven thousand men under Winder, who gave up our capital to four thousand English, six thousand were local troops. At Bladensburg they not only broke, leaving the flanks of the regulars uncovered, but they at once sought the peace of their own firesides. No man loves his home more than the militia-man, especially in a period of disorder and violence. Our total loss in that farcical skirmish was twenty-six killed and fiftyone wounded. The general in command was an able lawyer.

The struggle in front of New Orleans shows the excellences of a militia of marksmen and the defects of all militia. The night attack on the British camp was executed with great spirit ; but the assailants had an unusually inspiring leader, and two fifths of them were regulars. In the deciding conflict the troops on the left bank were more than three fourths militia; but they held an unflankable line of field-works, and the result was a slaughtering victory. On the right bank there were no regulars, and the position could be turned, and the result was an easy defeat. It is the old militia tale of a good fight behind ramparts, and a very poor one in the field.

Such is the history of the American as a soldier, when he goes forth to battle without organization and discipline, invested with the uniform, the supposed legal privileges, and the military ignorance of our home guards. Is there anywhere, in the records of civilized and gallant races, such another monotonous chronicle of disaster and disgrace ? One is tempted to suggest a comic history of the militia with Cruikshank illustrations. When we talk about “the heroism of our forefathers “ we ought to state that we do not mean the troops of the local governments. To deserve the epithet of heroic it is not sufficient merely to shoot well from behind breast-works; it is necessary also to stand firm upon an equal field, to carry strong positions, and to storm ramparts; and not one of these things has been done by our militia.

Does the American people, a people of brave and intelligent men, like such a military history? Is it proud of producing battalions whose wretched organization and lack of discipline are sure, in an open field, to send them to the right-about before an advance of good troops? If it wishes for a more Spartan record in future wars, it must get rid of its provincial system of defense, and devise something more practical. The entire antiquated and feeble jumble, with its forty civilian head-quarters and its party-colored host of predestined runaways, should be swept out of existence. In place of state troops who will not cross frontiers and who owe allegiance to governors, let us have a force of national volunteers, willing to march wherever they can see the enemies of their country, and bound by oath to obey its Congress and chief magistrate. Only we must remember that even these will need the backing of a good regular army, to furnish them with instructors and commanders of a high grade, and to steady them in their first battles.


It has already been noted that the volunteer made his advent into American warfare (and east his mighty shadow, it may be added, upon future American politics) during the struggle of 1812. At first thought one is surprised that the champions of state sovereignty should have permitted the birth of an idea so conducive to national unity. But Great Britain menaced; the militia-man was remembered for his stampedes from Revolutionary battle-fields and his scruples as to frontiers; the regular army was “an engine of tyranny,” and its recruitment was difficult; and thus the national volunteer was accepted. The new force was not, however, well organized, nor much used. Few volunteer regiments were raised; the term of service was too short to allow of the introduction of thorough discipline; the men seem to have thought themselves state troops, and sometimes refused to cross boundaries; their only memorable achievement was the part which they took in the sortie from Fort Erie. But the potent national idea remained, and in after days brought forth noble fruit.

In the conflict with Mexico, an admirably managed war in every respect, there were thirty volunteer regiments. This revolution in our military methods was established and confirmed by the excellent behavior of the newly devised force. From the Rio Grande to California, and from Vera Cruz to the enemy’s capital, the volunteers marched and battled by the side of the regulars with a long-winded patience, obedience, and steadiness wholly unknown to militia. They recognized and showed that they were United States troops, under the same statutes and the same rules of honor with the permanent army, and able to abide by them. They proved that the American citizen needs but a rational military organization to become in a short time an excellent soldier. They took the heart of the people, as they took the heights of Monterey, by storm. Henceforward the republic was in possession of an idea full of military power and of the promise of national unity.

Every one knows the history of our civil war. The militia of the seceding States refused to obey the president, and held by their allegiance to their disloyal governors and legislatures. A few organizations of loyal militia disappeared in a short time from the conflict, or remained in it only as regiments of national volunteers. The regular army, twelve thousand strong at the outset, was re-

cruited with difficulty, and from first to last numbered but sixty-seven thousand men. The war was mainly fought out by some two million of volunteers, whose military oath bound them to the service of the United States government, and to no other.1 What this army could endure is shown in a roll of eighty thousand slain in battle, of three or four times that number wounded, and of two hundred and fifty thousand dead of disease or hardship. What it could do appears in the crushing of a confederacy which was able to raise eight hundred thousand brave troops, and to set at their head such remarkable commanders as Lee, Jackson, and Johnston.

And yet the organization of the volunteers was incomplete and in some respects vicious. There was no proper system of recruitment; the sterling old regiments of 1862 were suffered to dwindle to skeletons; when more men were needed, new battalions were raised,— battalions green throughout, and of course ill fitted for service. Wisconsin alone had the genius, the firmness, and the patriotism to establish a strict conscription, and thus keep its veteran regiments full; the result being that Wisconsin troops had a uniform character for steadiness, and that a Wisconsin brigade was nearly equivalent in power to an average division. Let me observe, in passing, that the same lesson is taught us by the example and experience of the South. Without the conscription a population of eight or ten millions could not possibly have faced, on hundreds of battlefields, a population of twenty-five or twenty-eight millions. It produced not only numbers, but also excellence, both of rank and file and of officers.

Another fault of our system was that, while the volunteers were strictly United Stales troops, the selection of their officers was left to the governors of the States. The result was that political influence, social influence, and in general civilian influence dictated the choice. Nepotism and favoritism flourished. A democrat could sometimes get a field position by promising that his adherents should run a “split ticket.” The general rule was that the commissions should go to the men who could secure enlistments. Examinations were a sham, because real ones would have thrown out nearly all the applicants; my own, for instance, consisted of a few minutes of genial conversation about the chances of European interference. Every volunteer officer remembers some sad or ridiculous consequence of this hap-hazard method of appointment. We learned that even ward managers, heads of firecompanies, bosses of mining gangs, heroes of the prize-ring, professional gamblers, popular bar-keepers, and martial tailors might be cowards, as well as knaves or fools. I knew a lieutenant commanding who, during a storming party, proposed to loan and did loan his company to another lieutenant, and betook himself to distant cover. I knew a captain who, when reprimanded for consorting with his enlisted men, replied that before the war they had been customers of his “ saloon,” that he might again be dependent on their favor for his subsistence, and that, rather than offend them, he chose to resign. I knew a major whose scandalous poltroonery drove him from the service, but who was reappointed to a new regiment by the governor of his State, for the sake of “ whitewashing " him and enabling him to “ go on the stump.” I knew a captain (foreign by birth) who sold stores to his own men, and transit across the lines to the enemy. For plenty more of this sort of thing consult the records of the Bureau of Military Justice.

Such cases, however, were not the rule. Moreover, the dastards and imbeciles were rapidly weeded out by their own terrors, by the stern demands of field service, and by courts-martial. After the first year, the great mass of the volunteer officers were brave men, of honorable character, and already military in their habits and ideas. Perhaps the governors made as good appointments as could be expected under the circumstances. They were civilians themselves, and so poor judges of soldierly qualities. They were politicians, naturally eager to carry elections, and so disposed to please voters and men who influenced voters. Finally, it was a perplexing task to glean officers out of a population which knew nothing of war, and very little of preparation for it. At first the best that could be done was to commission such militia-men as had learned something of the manual and of company movements, and to add thereto such stray West Pointers, college graduates, leading politicians, clever clerks, and martial adventurers as chance offered.

Beyond a very little drill, our officers at the outset knew nothing of their duties. I have seen a colonel, a man of much militia experience, deploy column under fire in such fashion as to bring his rear rank in front, and the right of every company where the left should be, with the necessary result of throwing his regiment into utter confusion. I have known a captain sent out on vidette when he did not know what a vidette was, and formed his men as skirmishers. Commandants of grand guards were ignorant of the necessity of vigilance, and thought if a shame not to let their tired “ boys” sleep on post. No one can estimate the number of brave men who perished uselessly in small operations because their immediate officers did not know how to manage them. In large operations it was still worse. Of men fit for independent commands, or even fit to handle a division under clear instructions, the state troops had none to offer, as they always will have none.

If we had not been opposed to troops about as ill directed as ourselves, and if we had not had the science of West Point and the regular service to organize and discipline and guide us, our early experiences would have been far more disastrous than they were.

The chief strength of the volunteer forces lay in the very superior character of the rank and file. They were brave, intelligent, self-respecting citizens, determined to master their new duties, and determined to win. Mere drill they learned rapidly, and to admirable perfection. They soon discovered, too, the necessity of discipline, and actually aided their officers in establishing it. Of their patience under the cruelty of forced marches, and of their courage on the field of battle, I cannot write even now without a throb of emotion. The fragment of my old company, in its last bloody fight with a gallant enemy, made charge after charge under a corporal. “ You don’t go into such a hole because you like it,” explained a trooper, describing a dash through a cannon-swept valley; “you go in because you are ashamed to go back on the boys.” “ It ’s a burning shame that the captain should be sent up without his own company! ” exclaimed a private soldier, when his officer was ordered forward to rally a forlorn hope which had already lost three commandants. “ We may as welt do it to-day as to-morrow,” said the men to one another, as they advanced under Sheridan to recover the field of Cedar Creek. Such was the spirit of the masses of that memorable army, and, also, as I suppose, of the very similar army which confronted it. Self-respect, a noble feeling of comradeship, earnest purpose, and common sense supplied in great measure the lack of complete discipline and of trained regimental officers.

With all their defects of ignorance and non-preparation, the volunteers will be our chief resource in war. I predict that, in case of another great conflict, the regular army will not be largely increased, and the militia organizations will scarcely be used. The first momentous military act of the government will be to levy half a million of United States volunteers. If it is wise it will do more: it will at once establish a conscription; and it will assume the duty of officering its own soldiers. Thus the regiments will be kept full; the recruits will be rapidly disciplined by educated commanders and veteran comrades; the expense and demoralization of bounty brokerage will be unknown. It is an important fact, in connection with the question of appointments, that our citizen soldiers prefer regularly trained officers. My recollection is positive that my old companions in arms soon came to look upon a regiment which had a West Point colonel as a fortunate regiment. It is positive also as to the fact that we were quite right in this belief, inasmuch as such a regiment was always notable for its fine condition and drill, and rarely failed to acquire special fame as a fighting corps. What men desire above all things, and soldiers above all other men, is success. A leader who gives his followers victory and fame is sure of their preference and devotion.

But why should there not be some preparation in peace for the inevitable coming of that tiger in ambush, our next war? Would it not be well, this very year, to establish a national guard of United States volunteers, organized by the only war department that we have, instructed by officers detailed from our thoroughly trained army, and command ed by the national chief magistrate? As for our provincial forces, let them “ vanish in a torrent of laughter and cheers,” except so far as the governors might want a body-guard for parade purposes, or to escort them to the frontier in case of invasion. Something would be added to the budget of the nation, but the same sum would be deducted from the budgets of the States; and we should have a movable and serviceable national guard, instead of an uncollectable, feeble miscellany of local guards, —a solid nucleus for a fighting army, instead of a spectre sure to vanish before three months of warfare.

Another act of wise preparation would be the introduction of a system of


I have a bold and broad proposition to make, ope, no doubt, to some practical objections, and perhaps open to ridicule. It seems to me that a people which is determined to do the most of its own fighting might properly add the elements of military science to the number of its enforced studies. Why should we not learn somewhat of this most important part of a citizen’s duty in the same institutions which supply us with our other bits and scraps of knowledge? An American youth, whether in the public school or in the university, will as readily commit to memory a lesson in outpost duty as a lesson in grammar or logic. He will be as willing to draw on the blackboard an order of battle as a problem from Euclid. The military figure, indeed, would interest him more than the other, and would remain in his memory longer. It is highly probable that the art of war would become his preferred study. There will be no objection to this scheme on the side of the scholar.

But who will be the teacher? I reply that at first it must of course be the text-book. Why not this science by text-book, as well as another? What does the ordinary school-master or tutor practically know of astronomy? Yet with the aid of text-books he is able to give his pupils a fairly correct idea of it. I have before me a small duodecimo of three hundred and twenty-six pages, prepared for the use of the cadets at West Point by Brevet Colonel J. B. Wheeler, and entitled A Course of Instruction in the Elements of the Art and Science of War. It is my belief that there is nothing in it which an intelligent civilian teacher could not soon comprehend, and easily convey to the minds of his maturer youngsters. A series of questions at the foot of the page would facilitate the process of instruction. A blackboard for drawing the few simple illustrative figures would be essential.

My proposal is to popularize the science and art of war through our schools and universities. In a country like ours, which occasionally needs military tuition urgently, and which believes in the general diffusion of all knowledge, it is a marvel that this has not already been done. The idea is as practicable as the idea of common schools, — as practicable as the project of teaching a whole nation anything, a project which a century ago would have been scouted as visionary. If the American people decide upon it, if the people of any one State decide upon it, it will be accomplished while men are still calling it impossible.

In the teaching itself there are no insuperable difficulties; no other science, I imagine, could be popularized more easily. Its first principles are common sense itself; its reasonings are more obvious than those of metaphysics or geology; its processes are simpler than those of chemistry. What can be more comprehensible or undeniable than the statement that in general two men will whip one? Or this other, that the two had better whip the one before he can get away or obtain help? Yet these (in other words) are the two foundation maxims of modern strategy and tactics. They are the same as saying: (1) Concentrate a superior force on some point of the enemy’s line. (2.) Make your attack speedily, before the enemy can divine your purpose and take measures to frustrate it. A youth in the public school or in college will memorize such lessons as easily as a youth at West Point; and the first snow-balling match in which he puts them to a practical test will convince him of their soundness.

Other maxims of the science of war are simply instructions as to the execution of these foundation principles. Read, for instance, the following, taken substantially from the memoirs of Napoleon, — a genius vulgarly supposed to have acted outside of the sphere of ordinary human intelligence: “The forces employed should be proportioned to the resistance to be overcome.” “ On the day of battle neglect no chance of success; a battalion sometimes decides the fate of a day.” “ In presence of a superior enemy avoid a decisive struggle, and supply the lack of numbers by activity.” “ Make no considerable detachments on the eve of a serious conflict.” All these rules are as reasonable and comprehensible as the statement that “two men will generally beat one;” they simply mean, “Have more troops at the fighting point than the enemy, and not fewer troops.”

A boy who is scuffling with another boy knows very well that if he presents his side to his antagonist at close quarters the latter will have a fair chance to hit him or trip him. Why, then, should he not instantly see the value of the precept, “ Make no flank movements within sight or reach of the enemy ”? Obvious enough, also, is the good sense of the principle that “ all complicated plans of attack are liable to failure, through the necessary lack of constant communication and understanding between isolated columns, and through unforeseen obstacles delaying the advance of one or more of them.”Even an urchin learns, after he has managed one or two snow-balling contests, that he cannot strictly depend upon the party which proposes to make a circuit and fall upon the hostile rear, and that it would be best to keep it within reach of his voice and heroic example. Equally plain and sensible is the maxim, “ Be prepared to meet the enemy at all hours of the day and night, whether in camp or on the march.” The youth who holds himself thus ready against teacher or professor will be sure to graduate creditably.

Such as these are the famous “ principles ” of scientific warfare. They perhaps seem too general to be of practical use to a novice. Critics will perhaps liken them to that famous motto of a business man, " Buy when things are cheap, and sell when they are dear.” But the fact is that they would have afforded precious light to many a citizen soldier of our late war. They are scarcely less applicable to the handling of an isolated regiment, or company, than to the direction of a great army. Nor is it at all certain that the cleverest volunteer would by himself discover these apparently self-evident truths. The generals of veteran Europe did not fully apprehend the two cardinal principles of modern warfare until the concentration and swiftness of Napoleon had stolen a score of victories. Consider, too, how liable even an able man is to lose his head amid novel circumstances, and to take the most irrational steps. With a few settled principles in his memory he would do, perhaps not perfectly well, but much better; at least, he would be able to decide upon some one course, and thus avoid that terrible vice of delay, so noxious in war. Every one who has learned whist knows how helpful are the phrases, “ second hand low,” “ third hand high,” etc. Hesitation ends; the hand is played quickly; in general the right card is thrown; the tyro does pretty nearly as well as the veteran,— at all events, far better than if he had been obliged to invent his own game.

Of course these simple and obvious axioms are not the whole of military science. They have to be carried out amidst obstacles, perplexities, surprises, and perils which render necessary a host of preparations and precautions. Hence come the minor rules of the science, — rules showing how the grand maxims should be put into execution under varying; circumstances; rules mainly of a practical nature, and descending gradually to minute details ; in technical phrase, the rules of the art of war. Of Colonel Wheeler’s sixteen chapters only two or three deal with general principles. He lectures briefly on strategy and tactics and the nature of modern warfare, and at length on orders of battle, the execution of marches, the choice of positions, advanced guards and outposts, detachments and convoys, reconnaissances and topography, camps and bivouacs and cantonments. He directs, down to the strength of an advanced guard and the position of its scouts, the arrangement of a column in march through a hostile region, — Dryasdust details, at first sight, but terribly important in this awful science, and capable on study of intelligent interest. For instance, a minute account of two different methods of moving a train of artillery does not seem to promise alluring reading. But when we learn that one of these methods resulted in a successful march of eighty-five miles in three days, and the other in wearing out the horses and dispersing the convoy, we are struck with the ever-fascinating problem of cause and effect, and we give the passage a second perusal.

A boy who should memorize this lesson could hardly fail to understand it, and would be long in forgetting it. I use the word memorize in full seriousness. The elements of war should be learned by heart, like any other elements. The scholar should become as familiar with their technical words as with those of grammar or geometry. He should be able to draw on the blackboard the formation, or the movement, which he has described. There should be faithful reviewing and sharp examination. Popularized military education need not be broad, —it need cover no more than the action of infantry and cavalry; but within that limit it should thoroughly use the understanding and memory. As I have already said, the text-book will be the principal teacher. But from the textbook a vast deal can be learned, if I am not greatly and absurdly mistaken.

Whether the drill - book should be added to the elements is questionable. The manual of arms and the school of the company (the points of knowledge where our militia usually halts) are not difficult to learn, but must be learned by practice. These things might be left to the day when the youngster enters a company of militia or a battalion of volunteers. They will then be quickly mastered. In our service, movements have been greatly simplified by the admirable changes of Upton. The formation of squares, the perplexing pivot-wheel, and the awkward method of doubling into fours are all gone. Company manœuvres can now be learned in half the time that they cost before and during the civil war. As for the manual of arms, it is sheer coxcombry, of the smallest possible use. On the whole, considering how much our embryo citizens have to study, I advise to omit the drill-book.

But the schools should not be furnished with text-books alone. There should be military histories in their libraries, — not the trashy, misleading ones which prattle of ” billows of cavalry ” and " infantry standing like rocks;” not such stuff as the world has had about war from a host of ignorant romancers calling themselves historians; but books which show just what war is, and what to do amidst its difficulties and perplexities. There are no more billows of cavalry, if there ever were any; cavalry dismounts now, and fires from behind walls and thickets and other cover; only now and then does it steal a charge on other cavalry, or on broken infantry, — never on infantry not already broken. Nor or does infantry stand like a rock, but rather like reeds shaken by the wind. It stands as well as it can against, shrieking flights of missiles, scattering wounds and death. It stands firmest when it lies down, using what shelter and hiding it can find, — a ripple of ground, clumps of bushes, tall herbage. It stands, not in solid masses, but in fragile groups or Slender lines, swaying backwards and forwards unexpectedly, gaping open here and there with slaughter or sudden quailing, cobbled into temporary form by hoarse and anxious officers, supported hastily by panting reinforcements, doing its suffering best perhaps, but not at all like a rock. The columns of attack which one reads of are frail and fluctuating threads, for the most part dragging wearily along as if on a march, though sometimes breaking forth in brief, partial spurts. What they advance against the spectator can seldom discern with the eye; he only guesses it when a long, light roll of smoke leaps from the earth in front, followed by a continuous harsh roar; something invisible and perhaps altogether unexpected is causing regiments and brigades to vanish away. Or if the charge succeeds, it seems marvelous that the defeated should have fled, the conquerors look so scattered and few. A return attack will surely sweep them backward, and the master of the science of war is still needed, or victory will be turned to defeat.

A military history is useless, or even noxious, which does not show clearly that the best soldiers sometimes reel under blasts of destruction ; that they must have sagacious guidance and swift aid to carry them through their fieriest trials; and that this guidance and aid consist of certain definite things, to be done in certain approved ways. No rhetorical generalities, such as are produced by most civilian historians, should go on the military shelf of the school libraries. What is wanted there is $uch practical and instructive writing as Cæsar’s Commentaries, the Memoirs of Napoleon, Napier’s Peninsular War, Carlyle’s Life of Frederick the Great, Kinglake’s War in the Crimea, and other like volumes, — sadly few in number, — which give a faithful picture of war and a clear explanation of its giant mechanism and sublime logic.


It is worth while, in more ways than one, for a people to know somewhat of the art and science of war. It is worth while to us as a people of readers, —as a people which takes, I think, a particular interest in history, — as a people which, because it manages its own affairs, ought to read history understandingly. Now no other portion of the chronicle of humanity is in general so incompletely presented and so imperfectly eomprehended as that which relates to military events. As history is usually written, an ordinary civilian may read about campaigns and battles all his life, without ever really knowing why one army failed and another succeeded. His first supposition probably is that the victors were braver than the vanquished. Then he is puzzled to account for the apparently resulting fact that Germans, for instance, are sometimes braver than Frenchmen, and sometimes not so brave. If he is a liberal in politics, he explains this by talking about “ the spirit of an age.”If lie is a hero - worshiper, he speaks of the genius of Frederick, or the genius of Napoleon. But in neither case can he show the process by which his favorite cause produced the given effect.

On the other hand, the intelligent military student really and clearly sees why this or that battle ended as it did. He concedes, of course, a difference in the morale of armies, and a difference in commanders. But he investigates more minutely than this: he inquires into the particulars of organization, discipline, and other preparation; he studies the geography and topography of the scene of action, and the handling of the opposing columns; to this final circumstance. indeed, he attributes an almost decisive influence. Examining the details of Rossbach, for example, and remembering the principle “ not to make a flank march within sight and reach of an active enemy,” he understands why forty-six thousand French and allies were beaten by twenty-two thousand Prussians. Examining Napoleon’s first campaign in Italy, and remembering the principle “not to make detachments on the eve of a conflict,” he understands why seventy-five thousand Austrians and Piedmontese were crushed by forty-four thousand French. With the same ease many minor mysteries of military history are unlocked by the minor keys of military science. An outpost is captured, or a convoy comes to grief, through lack of small precautions, all well known to the educated soldier, though sometimes neglected by him, and all beyond even the guessing range of the mere civilian.

To Americans it is especially interesting to note how perfectly the principles of war explain certain extraordinary events of our great civil conflict. When, for instance, we read of one hundred and twenty thousand Americans under Hooker recoiling before seventy thousand Americans under Lee, we cannot at first tell what to make of it. We suspect, perhaps, that the one hundred and twenty thousand were not so brave as the seventy thousand. There is a little sense in that supposition, as applied to the period in question. The army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville was depressed by repeated failures, while the army of Virginia was confident through repeated successes. But that was not the only, nor indeed the principal, cause of this remarkable repulse. Hooker was only half-way an able commander. He had enough knowledge of strategy to make an excellent plan on paper, but he had not the moral force to carry it out in the face of unexpected aggressiveness, He knew perfectly well that two men would be likely to beat one, but he neglected the other grand principle, that they should do it promptly. The skill which he showed in crossing the Rappahannock and getting upon the left flank of Lee was admirable. Displaying three corps in front of Fredericksburg, and thus alluring the mass of the Southern army to that point, he at the same time slipped four corps across the river some miles further north, and then quietly drew after him one of the corps which had amused Lee. So far all was perfect : he had turned the left wing of the Confederates with a great army; he had only to advance and crush them between himself and Sedgwick, who was now seizing Fredericksburg.

But the moment Lee wheeled upon him he lost courage and retreated. The offensive was his rôle, but he took to intrenching. He lay still, — nothing more, He saw Jackson moving around his right, and did not attack his extended column of march,—a thing which Napoleon would have been almost certain to do, and no doubt with tremendous success. After enduring several assaults in front and rear, after suffering himself to be in a manner besieged by an inferior enemy, he retired across the Rappahannock. At least one third of his numerous and fine army had not fired a musket. He had brought upon the field of operations a far larger force than his antagonist, and then had used but a part of it, and that only in self-defense. Lee, who was to have been overwhelmed by numbers and enterprise, was allowed to recover the offensive, and to turn his whole power, first upon Hooker, and then upon Sedgwick. A novice in the science of war can see that what ruined the campaign of Chancellorsville was inattention to the Napoleonic principle that “ a force must act with the greatest possible velocity.” It was this same lack of energy and speed which spoiled the plan of McDowell at Bull Run, and of Burnside at Fredericksburg, and which made McClellan but half-way a great general.

But, objects a doubter, popularized military education is not likely to produce chiefs of armies; and of what possible use will a study of “ grand warfare ” be to subordinate officers? I repeat that the principles which govern large operations and great battles are frequently applicable to the movements and combats of detachments. At Ligny Napoleon pounded the Prussian right till he induced Blücher to reinforce it heavily, and then suddenly pushed a strong column through his enemy’s weakened centre, deciding the conflict at a blow. The chief of a line of skirmishers, if he is adroit and determined and prompt, may play the same game upon an opposing line of skirmishers, and with the same success. Just as Blücher, after Ligny, got clear of Grouchy by changing his direct withdrawal to a flank march, so a retiring company may sometimes escape pursuit by slyly quitting its natural line of retreat for another. Just as Wurmser found it bad policy to divide an army of eighty thousand men into isolated columns, so did Custer, in his last battle, find it bad policy thus to break up a single regiment.

But if the fairly complete education of professional soldiers often produces imperfect officers, what can be expected of the far more superficial one which I propose? If a graduate of West Point could forget the grand principles of war at Chancellorsville, what is the use of imparting a smattering of them to a student at Harvard ? In a country like ours, where the self-made man and the selftaught man have played the part of Romulus and Remus, and are the objects of popular worship, — in a country where the thoroughly trained expert is to some extent a mark for suspicion and aversion, as a species of intellectual aristocrat, — these questions require more notice than they deserve. When the Shah of Persia was invited to attend the Derby, he replied, “ It is already known to me that one horse will run faster than another.” Well, we learn a truth of about the same nature from the campaign of Chancellorsville, — we learn that one professional soldier may have more promptness in deciding and acting than another.

Yet just as the slowest of a stable of racers will outpace a good family horse, so an inferior “ regular ” will outwit and beat an intelligent novice in warfare. If Hooker had been opposed to Floyd or Pillow, it is not at all likely that he would have lost confidence and been tricked out of his tactical advantage. Consider, too, what a help it would have been to him, morally as well as otherwise, to be supported throughout by trained subordinates. Let us suppose that for ten years previous to the rebellion the schools of the North had taught the elements of the art of war, and had furnished the loyal army with officers who knew somewhat of military principles and of minor military methods. In such a case, Hooker, who was naturally a brave and pugnacious man, would have believed in his troops. He would have been encouraged, at every forward step, by finding that the details of his movement were cleverly executed, and that the preliminary skirmishes were? mostly in his favor. He would not have been so likely to turn faint-hearted on the news that Lee was advancing. He would probably have pushed his fine plan to the end, and he could hardly have failed to see it result in victory.

It will be perceived that I do not exaggerate the value of popularized military instruction. I do not expect to evoke great generals from the public schools; only good regimental and company officers, who may grow to be able chiefs of division, etc., — though that, let us remember, is more than we had in our great extremity of 1861. Useful as an elementary study of warfare may be to a democracy which fights most of its own battles, it will not do away with the need of a permanent army, furnished with highly trained officers. For commanders of large independent, columns we shall probably always have to look to our regular service and to West Point. Civilian life has not produced a distinguished leader in war since Cromwell, unless we except Washington 2 and some few insurrectionary chiefs, such as the heroes of La Vendée. Napoleon and all his marshals were either graduates of military schools, or professional soldiers in youth. The best of our citizen generals, Terry and Logan and Sickles, rarely acted except under the direction of regulars; and the success of the former was perhaps due to the fact that years before the war he had a military library and the zeal to study it. That very acute and energetic civilian, Benjamin F. Butler, found in warfare nothing but fiascos. Banks, another civilian of considerable talent and force, ordered assaults at Port Hudson without due preparation, and arranged on the Red River the most stupid of advances. During the whole contest neither side gained a notable victory, or performed a creditable man&3339;uvre on a large scale, except under the supervision of a West Pointer. The solemn fact is that to know much of the science of war the cleverest man needs years of study and experience; and another solemn fact is that in such a momentous business we had better look for supreme guidance to experts, and to experts alone.

The facts and suggestions of this article are addressed not only to the national authorities, but also to the American people. It cannot be expected that Congress, in time of peace, should enter upon broad and radical changes in our military system, until the people shall demand them. If the ideas which I propose ever become law, it will be through the insistence of patriotic citizens and union-loving communities, prevailing over the champions of local sovereignty and of the right of secession. As for details, there will be time enough to draw them up when the measures themselves receive popular sanction; and the delicate task should properly be left to legal and military experts. I will therefore conclude by summing up my recommendations as follows : —

(1.) To do away with the militia, or troops of the States.

(2.) To substitute therefor a force of national volunteers, organized by the war department and commanded by the president.

(3.) To maintain an efficient permanent army, sufficiently officered to furnish instructors to the volunteers in time of peace and commanders of high grade in time of war.

(4.) To establish a system of popular instruction in the elements of the art and science of war.

  1. There were enlistments equivalent to 2,254,063 three years' enlistments, of course including many reënlistments; the exact number of men is unknown. The statement as to losses excludes regular troops and colored
  2. A soldier in youth, and hardly a first-class general.