Chapter IV

Mahan’s Outpost


223. To keep an enemy in ignorance of the state of our forces and the character of our position is one of the most indispensable duties in war. It is in this way that we oblige him to take every possible precaution in advancing; forcing him to feel his way, step by step, and to avoid risking his own safety in hazarding those bold and rapid movements which, when made against a feeble, or an unprepared enemy, lead to the most brilliant results.

224. This object is effected, by placing between the position occupied by the main force, and the presumed direction of the enemy, a body detached from the main force, but acting always with reference to it, termed an Advanced-Guard. This term is used for any body of troops so separated from the main-body; whatever its strength and composition; and whether the troops be in position, or on a march.

225. For a large force, the advanced-guard is necessarily composed of troops of all arms; its strength being proportioned to that of the main force;-the more or less resistance of an independent character it may be required to make; -and the greater or less extent it may be found necessary to embrace, by its advanced-posts, on the front and flanks, to watch and anticipate every movement of the enemy. The proportion of the advanced-guard to the main-body may vary from a third to a fifth of the total force. In armies of some strength, or large corps-d’armee, particularly where the nature of the country requires a wide development of advanced-posts, the larger proportion is demanded; as at least one-third, or even one-half of its strength will be required for the advanced-post service. In a small force of two or three thousand men, one-fifth will usually be all that can be well spared for the same purposes.

226. Our purpose, in all cases, should be to keep the enemy in a state of uncertainty as to our actual force, and movements; and this can be effected only by keeping constantly between him and our main body a force of sufficient strength to offer an obstinate resistance, if necessary, to every attempt he may openly make to gain information; and even to act offensively against him, when occasion offers, so as to keep him in doubt as to the actual character and number of the troops before him; the old military axiom, being always kept in mind, that “a sword opportunely drawn frequently keeps another back in its scabbard.”

227. In all defensive positions, the advanced-guard and its advanced-posts should retire slowly but circumspectly; so that the main-body may have time to take all its defensive measures. In the offensive, the attack of the advanced-guard should be decided and vigorous; pressing upon the enemy at every point; and leaving nothing undone to moralize him, by the confusion which so often follows from an impetuous onset.

228. Whilst in position, the advanced-guard should take advantage of the natural, or other obstacles on its front and flanks which are within supporting distance; to strengthen itself, and gain supports for its advanced-posts. In this way, its means of resistance, whether acting offensively, or otherwise, may be greatly augmented. Ground of this character, taken up by the troops, should not be abandoned without very cogent reasons for it; since, should circumstances bring about a forward movement, it might cost more to regain what was given up than to have maintained up than it obstinately at first.

229. The ground to be taken up by an advanced-guard. and embraced within its advanced-posts, should be carefully chosen. To take position where the movements of the enemy can be well watched, whilst our own troops are kept concealed, and not liable to a sudden attack, either in front or flank, are the desiderata in such cases. If, in following this guide, it should lead to a development of advanced-posts which would be too weak at any point for a tolerable resistance, there remains but the alternative to retire slowly before the enemy,–taking care that he do not slip behind the out-posts and their supports,– upon some central point to the rear, where the advanced-posts, united to the troops in reserve, may make a good stand; and from which, if the chances are favorable, they may advance upon the enemy, and make him pay dearly for his temerity.

230. In all affairs of advanced-posts, great circumspection is to be shown, both by the officer in command of the advanced-guard, in throwing forward fresh troops to strengthen a point assailed, as well as on the part of the general-in-chief, in sustaining the advanced-guard by weakening his main-body. These are points that can only be decided on the spot. The safer rule, in all cases, is not to weaken the main defense, or main attack, by detaching from it, to support a feeble point. lf the force engaged, under such circumstances does not suffice for its own defense, it is best for it to fall back in time; and, taking position with the main-body, endeavor, by their combined efforts, to turn the scales of victory in their favor.

231. The duties of advanced-guards being so much more frequently to feel and occupy an enemy, preparatory to some decisive blow by the main-body, than to engage him with a view to follow up any advantage gained, it follows, as a matter of course, that they should be composed of the most efficient and active light troops at the general’s disposal. Such troops, in the hands of a solid, energetic, but prudent leader, will be the right arm of an army. Prompt on all occasions; never taken at fault, they keep the enemy constantly occupied; harass him with fatiguing precautions, to secure his flanks and rear; whilst their own force is kept relieved from these annoyances, and always fresh for any great emergency.

232. Advanced-Posts. The duties of the advanced-posts are the same whether the troops are stationary or in movement; they are, 1. To keep a good lookout for the enemy, and when in his immediate presence, to take all means to be accurately i, position, and movements; 2. Should the enemy advance, to hold him in check long enough to give the main-body ample time to be prepared for his attack.

233. By a faithful discharge of these duties, the whole army can, at all times, and under all circumstances, be kept in a state of readiness for action; without subjecting the soldier to any failure beyond the ordinary physical endurance of a well-developed manhood; as but a small portion, comparatively, of the force present is required to watch over the safety of the rest, and can therefore be frequently relieved, so that every one may have time sufficient for the repose demanded after extraordinary exertions.

234. The object being to secure the front and flanks of the position, occupied by the main-body, from any attempt-either to reconnoiter, or attack it, the detachments which form the advance-posts must be so distributed as to embrace all the avenues by which the enemy can approach the position. The system adopted, in most services, to effect this object, consists of two, or three concentric lines of posts, disposed in a fan-shaped order. The exterior line, which forms the Out-Posts, embraces a wide circumference; and by means of a chain of Sentinels, posted in advance, prevents any one from penetrating to the rear between the posts, without being seen.

235. The second line, which is one of Grand-Guards, embraces a narrower circumference than the line of out-posts; occupying the more important avenues from the out-posts to the interior; so as to be in a position to support the out-posts in case of necessity; and to receive them if driven in.

236. The interior line consists of several strong detachments, termed Pickets, posted upon the main avenues to the position. They serve as supports to the two exterior lines, upon which they rally if forced to retire before the enemy.

237. Besides these dispositions for security, Paroles are kept up between the line of posts, to keep the one informed of the state of the other; and also between the out-posts and chain of sentinels, to see that the duties of the latter are well performed ; and to search any ground not brought well under the eyes of the sentinels. The whole, in this way forms a connected system, for observing the enemy and for mutual support in case of attack.

238. The duties of the out-posts, and of the advanced-guards which form their supports, are strictly those of observation. If attacked, they offer no resistance farther than to enable them to feel the enemy perfectly, and never lose sight of him. The task of holding the enemy in check by a vigorous resistance, so as to procure sufficient time for the main-body to make its dispositions for the battle, is consigned to the pickets.

239. The ground taken up by the advanced-posts will depend on the capabilities which its natural features offer for the defense; on the number and character of the approaches it presents to an enemy for attacking the front, or flanks of the position occupied by the main-body; and upon the facilities it may afford for communication between the posts.

240. Out-Posts. The position of the out-posts, with respect to the main-body, will be regulated by the more or less broken character of the country. As a general rule, the mean distance may be taken at about two miles. The line occupied by these posts should take in all the approaches to the front and flanks of the main position. When a position is to be held for some time, or is taken up after a battle, the out-posts may be thrown farther in advance; to procure greater repose and security for the main-body.

241. The ground on which the line of out-posts is established should be carefully examined; with a view both to observation and defense. As far as able, those points should be selected for posts present, some natural advantages for the defense will screen the troops from the enemy’s view; and enable them to watch all his movements. Whenever the features of the ground do not offer natural obstacles to cover the posts, artificial means of a slight character should be resorted to. The flanks of the line should rest upon strong natural obstacles; when such cannot be found, without giving the line too great an extent, these points must be secured by strong pickets of cavalry or infantry, thrown back to form crochets; from which patrols must be constantly kept up on the flanks, in the presumed direction of the enemy.

242. The strength of each out-post, and the distance from one to the other, will be regulated by the features of the ground, and the number of sentinels, or vedettes that each post must throw out. The posts should, as far as practicable, be within sight of the advanced-guards to which they belong, and the sentinels of their respective posts. When the ground does not permit this arrangement, sentinels should be placed at intermediate points, to communicate promptly whatever may happen at the line of posts, or of sentinels, to the rear. Posts of infantry should not, as a general rule, be placed farther apart than 600 paces; nor their sentinels more than 300 paces in advance of the posts. Those of cavalry may be some 1500 paces apart; and their vedettes from 600 to 800 paces in advance. The strength of each post should be calculated at the rate of four men for each sentinel, or vedette.

243. Sentinels. The sentinels and vedettes form a chain in advance, and are posted on points from which they can best watch the enemy, without being seen by, or exposed to him, in any way. As one of their main duties is to prevent any one from passing their chain, they should be so placed with respect to each other, that they can see all the ground between their respective posts, and be able to stop anyone who may attempt to pass between them. At night and in misty weather, the sentinels should be doubled and be drawn in nearer to the out-posts. Whenever it may be deemed necessary to post sentinels on points beyond the line of out-posts, they should be furnished by posts detached in advance of the line.

244. Grand-Guards. As the grand-guards furnish the out-posts, and serve as their supports, not more than one-third of their force should betaken for the out-posts. The grand-guards are posted on the principal avenues leading to the detachments on which they are to fall back, if driven in; and, when of infantry, about 200 paces, and of cavalry, 600 to 800 paces, in the rear of the out-posts. The points which they occupy should be selected, both to secure them from the enemy’s view, and to give a ready communication between them and their respective out-posts. No difficult, or broken ground, should lie between the grand-guards and their out-posts; if any such occur, particularly if it be of a nature to offer facilities to in enemy to penetrate to the rear, the whole should be posted on the farther, or hither side of it; and in preference in the latter position, if by it the chain of posts can be preserved unbroken.

245. Pickets. The main-detachments or pickets, which form the supports to the grand-guards and out-posts, occupy the principal avenues to the position of the main-body. As their duty is to hold the enemy in check; the points which they take up should be susceptible of a good defense; such, for example, as villages, defiles, &c.; whenever these advantages are not found at hand, resort should be had to any temporary obstacles, as abatis, &c, which can be readily procured, to place the troops under shelter. The points thus occupied should, as a general rule, be about midway between the line of out-posts and the position of the main-body.

246. Small posts should be thrown forward by the pickets, between their position and the line of grand-guards; both for the greater security of the detachments, and as supports to the grand-guards. In like manner, when the line of pickets is of considerable extent, intermediate posts must be established, to keep open a communication between them.

247. No pains should be spared to obstruct the approaches of the enemy to the points occupied by the pickets; particularly those which lead to the flanks; leaving open such only as will oblige the enemy to attack under the most unfavorable circumstances; and if, between the advanced-posts and the main-body, a defile, or other unfavorable pass should occur; which the enemy, by turning the line of the advanced-posts, might seize upon, and thus cut off their retreat, it should be occupied by a strong detachment; both to prevent such a maneuver, and to favor the retreat on the main-body.

248. Strength of Advanced-Posts. The entire strength of the advanced-posts, as well as the relative strength of the pickets, grand-guards, and out-posts, will depend upon the character of the ground covered by them; as being more or less open; and presenting more or less facilities for circumscribing the approaches of the enemy to the main position, It rarely occurs that sufficient troops can be detached to cover all the accessible ground, and perform the duties in a thorough manner.

249. The strength of each picket, and the kind of troops of which it is composed, will depend on the degree of resistance to be offered to the enemy’s attack; and the character of the position occupied. In most cases, where a vigorous defense is called for, they will consist of troops of all arms; and an aggregate of several hundred men. The grand-guards, out-posts, and patrols, should not exceed one-third the strength of the pickets to which they belong. They will be composed of cavalry, or infantry, according to the more or less broken features of the ground.

250. It rarely occurs that artillery is placed at the out-posts. Whenever it happens that a piece, or two, may be deemed necessary, to sweep some passage, or defile, in advance of the line of outposts, the guns must be protected by a strong post, to insure their safety in a retreat.

251. If, from the character of the ground, the out-posts are mainly of infantry, some cavalry should always be attached to them, to patrol in advance of the position, and to convey intelligence to the rear of what may be passing in the neighborhood of the out-posts.

252. When the advanced-posts cover an advanced-guard, the commanding officer of the whole should take a position, with his artillery and the main-body of his command, at some central point, in the rear of the pickets; in order to be ready to support them if hard pressed by the enemy. The choice of this position is an object of the greatest importance; as the safety of the advanced-posts as well as that of the main-body may depend upon the degree of judgment shown in this selection.

253. So soon as the advanced-posts have taken their stations, instructions should be given to the officers of the different posts, with respect to the points upon which they are to fall back, in case of being forced in; the lines of communication they must retire by; and the position they must take up, in joining the supports to which they respectively belong

254. Duties of an Officer commanding an Out-post. An officer in command of any of the out-posts must be capable of untiring vigilance and activity; to perform the various duties which devolve upon him. He should be provided with a good map of the country, a telescope, and writing materials.

255. He will thoroughly reconnoiter the ground upon which he is to dispose his command; and also as far in advance as circumstances will admit; questioning closely any inhabitant he may find. After taking up his position, he should go forward, with the half of his command, and post each sentinel himself. If, however, he relieves another in the command, and deems it advisable to make any changes in the dispositions of his predecessors, he should promptly report the facts to the commanding officer in his rear.

256. When the officer finds that the enemy is not in his immediate neighborhood, he should endeavor to feel his way cautiously towards him by patrols; and when in immediate presence, he should omit no means to watch the enemy’s movements; and from the occurrences of the moment, such as noises, the motion of clouds of dust, camp fires, conflagrations, &c., endeavor to divine what is passing in his camp, and his probable intentions.

257. Accurate written reports should be promptly sent to the officer in command, in the rear, on all these points. The reports should be legibly written, and should clearly, but concisely, state what has fallen under the officer’s eye; what he has learned from others; and the character of the sources from which his information is drawn.

258. He will particularly see that no communication with the enemy be allowed; and that no flag be permitted to pass the line of posts, without orders from the rear.

259. The post under the officer’s command, whether horse or foot, should not all be allowed to sleep, or eat at once. The horses, when watered, should be taken singly, or by pairs, and always mounted. At night, one-half of the command should be under arms, prepared for an attack; the other seated, their arms and the bridles of their horses in hand. The men should never be permitted to occupy a house; and if the weather is such that a fire out of doors is indispensable, it should be as much concealed as practicable; one-half only being allowed to sit near it; the other posted, at a convenient spot at hand, to fall on the enemy should he attempt a stroke.

260. When the position taken up is to be held for some time, it will be well to change the locality of the posts occasionally; this should be done, particularly at night, in a hilly district, changing the post from the brow of the hill, where the men can best keep a look-out by day, to the low ground at night, as more favorable to detect any movement above.

261. The out-posts are usually relieved at daybreak, as, being the most favorable moment for the enemy to attempt a surprise ; the new-guard will serve to reinforce the old. For the same reason, the old guard should not be suffered to retire before the patrols come in, and report all safe.

262. As a general rule, no post should ever retire before an inferior force; and, if attacked by one superior to it, resistance should be cautiously made with a view solely to give time to the grand-guard to be in readiness to receive the enemy. When it is seen that the movement of the enemy is serious, the officer should draw in his sentinels as skirmishers, and retire upon the grand-guard; the latter will usually be divided into two divisions, one of which will be sent to take up a position to the rear, to cover the retreat; the other will act as support to the line of skirmishers, so as to feel the enemy. In all cases of retiring, whether of sentinels upon their posts, or of posts upon their supports, care should be taken to assume a direction towards the flank of the force in rear; so as to unmask its front and not impede any forward movement it may make, if necessary.

263. The degree of resistance to be offered by the pickets will defend on the object to be obtained, and the importance of the point occupied. They should not retire until they have received the whole of their grand-guards, out-posts and patrols.

264. At night the precautions should be necessarily redoubled; and every movement be made with extreme caution. Whenever any noise is heard in the direction of a sentinel’s post, the officer should proceed, with a part of his command, in its direction ; to ascertain the cause of it. If he finds that it arises from an onward movement of the enemy, he should only fall back upon his grand-guard when he sees that resistance would be unavailing; retiring slowly -and cautiously, and taking every advantage, which the ground offers, to check the enemy’s advance. Should the enemy fall suddenly upon his command, he must endeavor to cut his way through, and reach his position in the rear by the best circuit he can find.

265. Advanced-Guards. Measures of precaution, for a force in position, are far more easily arranged than for one in motion. At a halt of some days, but slight changes in the first dispositions, arising from a more thorough knowledge of the sound taken up, will be requisite; on a march, the scene is continually shifting; and the enemy may fall on just at that point, or under those circumstances in which we are least prepared to meet him. Hence a necessity for doubling the ordinary precautions on a march, and keeping the troops more in hand, so as to be, at all moments, prepared for any emergency.

266. The spirit of the dispositions is the same in both cases; changes in the details, so as to adapt our force to the changing features of the ground passed over, present the real difficulty. On a march we may have to guard against an attack on the head of the column; on either flank, or both; and in the rear. Hence a necessary disposition of movable advanced-posts, in each of these directions, keeping pace with the progress of the main-body, and far enough from it to give it timely warning of a threatened attack.

267. The dispositions in front is termed the Advanced-Guard; those on the flanks, the Flankers; and those in rear, the Rear-Guard.

268. As the head of a column in march towards the enemy is the weak point, it is here that the principal strength must be accumulated, so that, if threatened with an attack, sufficient resistance can be offered, to enable the rear divisions to come and take timely position for battle. The advanced guard should therefore be composed of troops of all arms, and be always in a suitable state of readiness to receive the enemy, according to the nature of the ground upon which it may be formed. To watch the enemy; resist him with obstinacy, should he suddenly attack, until time in gained for the main-body to receive him; drive in his advanced-posts with impetuosity: such are the duties which this body may in turn be called on to perform.

269. The first of these duties, that of learning the whereabouts of an enemy, is intrusted to individuals, or to parties of more or less strength, as the occasion may require; light cavalry being usually selected, in preference to any other arm, for this service.

270. Head of Advanced-Guard. A head or leading detachment of some force, composed usually of both cavalry and infantry, and if requisite some pioneers, forms the advance of the main-body of the advanced-guard; for the purpose of searching all the ground within a dangerous proximity; And of clearing the way for the advancing columns. Through this detachment a communication is kept up with the flankers; all the ground is thus hemmed in around the advancing column, by which an enemy might approach it.

271. The strength of the leading detachment will depend greatly upon the character of the country; and upon the state of the weather and season being more or less favorable to the unobserved approach of an enemy. A leading detachment of one-fourth the total advanced-guard; two flank detachments, to act as flankers, of one-eighth; and a rear detachment, acting as a rear-guard, also of one-eighth; taking, in all, one-half the total strength of the advanced-guard, is considered, under ordinary circumstances, a good distribution for the duties to be performed.

272. All the ground, within the proximity of the advanced-guard, must be carefully searched by it. No invariable rule can be laid down on this subject, everything depending on the character of the country; the state of the weather; and the march being by day or night, as to the more or less dispersed order that can be adopted for examining the ground.

273. The leading detachment, and those on the flanks, should keep in a position, with respect to each other, that will admit of prompt mutual support and guarding against the approach of an enemy unperceived. The flank detachments, for this purpose, keeping some-what to the rear of the leading one. The most advanced potions of these troops should be of cavalry, unless the country be mountainous, or very thickly wooded, in which cases infantry is the best arm for the duty.

274. The distance that should be left between the leading detachment and the principal body of the advanced-guard, will depend upon the more or less of necessary precaution already alluded to. An interval of from a thousand to two thousand paces may be left between the leading detachment and the main-portion; the small detachments thrown forward from the leading detachment may precede it from two hundred to six hundred paces ; whilst the leading men, who form, as it were, the apex of this disposition, precede the last about one hundred paces.

275. Dispositions of Advanced-Guard. From these indications of the manner of distributing the troops of the advanced-guard, the following general dispositions, adapted to ordinary circumstances of locality may be gathered. The apex, or most advanced point, may he formed of a staff, or other intelligent officer, under the escort of a few horsemen; in his rear follow small detachments of horse, preceded by a line of horsemen, as skirmishers, in dispersed order, thrown out from them; this line of small detachments and their men may embrace a front of a thousand or more paces, according to the face of the country. On each flank of the detachments, from which the skirmishers are thrown forward, march small detachments of both horse and foot, as supports of the line. In the rear of this line, at a hundred paces or so, may be placed a small detachment, charged with patrolling either on the front or flanks. Finally, at some sixty paces in rear of the detachment for patrols, follows the remaining portion of the horse and foot, composing the leading detachment. The main-body of the advanced-guard, following some hundred paces farther to the rear; and the rear of its march, being closed by the small rear detachment already mentioned. It will be seen, by comparing this disposition of troops of an advanced-guard in march, with the one adopted for the advanced-posts at a halt, that they are analogous, and differ in no material respect, as their object in each case is the same.

276. In a forward movement, this general disposition of the troops of the troops pf the leading detachment should be adhered to, as far as the features of the ground will permit. Whenever these features become such that a concentration on the centre is rendered necessary, a proper order should be temporarily taken, to enable the troops promptly to resume their original order, so soon as the ground opens. The leading line of skirmishers will carefully examine all hit ground over which they pass; and observe all that occurs around them. The men, for this purpose, keeping in pairs; and taking all suitable precautions not to place themselves in positions favorable to being seen from a distance.

277. If the enemy is met, dispositions are immediately taken to receive him. The line of skirmishers is strengthened; the supports brought up; and if there is any artillery, it takes position on the road, to sweep it. In this order, the whole of the leading detachment falls back slowly upon the main body of the advanced-guard; and further dispositions are made according to the exigency of the case.

278. The general order of march of an advanced-guard remains the same in all circumstances of ground; the position of the troops alone varying with changes of its features. In broken ground, for instance, the line of skirmishers of the leading detachment would be of infantry, and this line would be supported by some cavalry.

279. A strict observance of good order, particularly among the troops of the leading detachment, is of the first importance; nothing should therefore be permitted which might either withdraw their attention from their chief duty of watching; or which might give warning to an enemy of their approach. They should especially guard against being drawn into the use of their fire-arms, short of an actual surprise.

280. On a night-march the precautions should be redoubled. The leading detachment will be more concentrated, keeping mostly to the road. If the enemy is seen, word will be sent at once to the rear, for a haIt, and the suitable dispositions will be taken, as noiselessly as practicable.

281. All defiles met with of any length should be examined carefully by some scouts, before any number of troops venture into them; and then proper measures should be taken for securing them from an attack, until the troops are all clear of them. All woods that can be easily gone round should be made the circuit of by some horse before passing through them. Thick forests should be carefully examined, a hundred or more paces on each side of the road. And in all cases any doubtful ground must be first searched, by the leading troops, before any large body approaches within musket-range of it.

282. Flank Patrols. Besides the flankers proper, which constitute a part of the movable advanced-posts, detachments of an independent character are sent out to patrol along the flanks of the main-column. These should keep themselves in communication, by suitable dispositions of vedettes, with the flankers.

283. As the flank patrols are frequently beyond direct supporting distance, they must adopt all the necessary dispositions against surprise of any other body marching independently; having their advanced-guard, &C., &C.

284. These patrols keep on a level with their column; and particularly secure all lateral roads, or defiles, by which it might be suddenly attacked, until the column is beyond danger. Great activity, watchfulness, and caution, should characterize this service. The officer in command of a flank patrol must use his discretion, in meeting an enemy, whether to attack him, or to let him pass, if he has not himself been observed.

285. Rear-Guard. The duties of a rear guard, in retreat, will depend upon the more or less of activity and vigor shown by the enemy in pursuit. If the enemy is enterprising, then it will require all the sagacity of the commanding-officer; all the firmness of the soldiers; to cover and defend the rear of the column, and to guard against demonstrations upon its flanks. To hold the enemy in check, just the time necessary to enable the retreating column to extricate itself from unfavorable ground; and then to withdraw from the fight, without being to far compromised; to prevent the enemy from pressing on so hotly as to force the main-body of the rear-guard upon the tail of the column whose retreat is to be secured, are problems of no easy solution; and call for all the best military qualities, both in the officer and the troops to whom the solution is assigned.

286. In mutual support among all the arms; aptitude for turning to advantage all variations in the features of the ground; and tenacity in keeping every advantage until the last safe moment; reside the excellence of a rear-guard. In interdicting by the fire of its skirmishers all approach to its covers; in occasional bold maneuvers of its light-artillery, when the enemy’s columns are open to its fire; in daring rapid charges of its cavalry, when the enemy presses forward to gain some critical point; a rear-guard may give an enemy such lessons as will force him to adopt that prudential course, on which its own safety, and that of its column, alone depend.

287. As the march of a rear-guard is an almost continual running fight, its dispositions should be taken for phase of its duties. Its rear should accordingly be closed by a line of skirmishers, properly supported by the other arms. This line must equally exhibit caution, coolness and firmness; giving way to no hasty movements; and reserving its fire until it can be thrown in with murderous effect. If forced back by superior numbers, the skirmishers should concentrate on the flanks of the other troops, leaving the road clear, either for the fire of the artillery, or for the action of cavalry, or of infantry in mass.

288. In all its actions, the rear-guard should never lose sight of the danger it continually runs of being surrounded, or cut off, by a movement on its flanks, or rear. Against this; its only course is to push out flank patrols, as far as they can safely venture; restricting these to the duties of conveying timely warning, to the main-body of the rear-guard of any appearance of a movement of the kind referred to; and of preventing it, if attempted, by a bold stand, either defensive, or offensive, as circumstances may demand.

289. Advanced-Posts in Cantonments. As cantonments are taken up either during seasons when operations cannot be well carried on; or to give the troops some extraordinary repose, after a harassing campaign; more advanced-posts will generally be necessary than under ordinary circumstances; and to fulfill their end they ought to be placed on ground favorable to a strong resistance; in order to give the separated corps time to concentrate against an earnest attack of the enemy.

290. A good disposition of stations for out-posts, from which the enemy can be seen at a distance; a line of supports placed on strong ground in the rear; easy communications for concentration on the main-body; active and vigilant patrols, kept moving not only along the front, but penetrating on the flanks, and rear of the enemy, to get wind of his strategical plans: such are the general precautions demanded of its advanced-posts, by an army in station for some time.

291. In the disposition of the main force, to concur with the preceding, one precaution should not be omitted in a stay of any duration; and that is, not to allow any one body to remain long enough in a village, or inhabited place, to become in a degree domesticated. Nothing is more likely than this to injure the morale of the best troops. The seductions of otherwise harmless pleasures, may lead to fatal habits of remissness in duty; and the officer quietly indulging in his game at cards, in a family circle, may receive his summons for surrender, as he is gathering up his last trick.

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Mahan’s Outpost Main Page
Chapter Introduction
Chapter I – Tactics
Chapter II – Manner Of Placing and Handling Troops
Chapter III – Positions
Chapter V – Reconnaissances
Chapter VI – Detachments
Chapter VII – Convoys
Chapter VIII – Surprises and Ambuscades