Chapter VI

Mahan’s Outpost


 329. Detachments consist of small bodies of troops, composed of one, or several arms, to which are entrusted some mission connected with the operations of the main-body, but, for the most part performed beyond the sphere of its support; such, for example, as the occupation of some post, or defile, which is to be held temporarily, as necessary to the movements of the main-body; the surprise of a post held by the enemy; the seizure of a convoy, &c.

330. The composition of a detachment will depend upon the nature of the duty to be performed; the character of the country in which it is to operate; the distance of the point to be reached; and the more or less celerity required in the operation. As a general rule, detachments should be formed only of light troops, well acquainted with their duties; and, in every case where it can be done, they should consist of a proper proportion of each arm of the service, if the duty upon which they are sent is at all of an important character. By this combination each arm is enabled to act with more boldness and vigor, from the support with which it will meet in the others; and can better select its moment for action, according to the character of the ground on which it finds itself.

331. The combats of detachments will be mostly restricted to firing, and the skillful employment of skirmishers. The troops must be kept perfectly in hand for mutual support, the artillery keeping near the infantry, and the cavalry, whenever the opportunity is presented, hazarding only short but vigorous charges against the enemy.

332. The officer placed in command of a detachment, should be thoroughly conversant with the handling of troops; so as to insure constant reciprocity of support; and to be able to seize upon those opportunities of bringing the proper arm into action, and for passing from the defensive to the offensive, which combats between small bodies of troops so frequently present.

333. March of Detachments. As a detachment must rely mainly on its own resources, the personnel and material of the troops should be rigidly inspected before marching; to see that the men and horses are in a sound state; that nothing is wanting in their equipments; that the gun and other carriages are in good travelling order; and that the necessary amount of ammunition, provisions, and forage have been provided for the expedition.

334. Every source of information should be consulted with respect to the nature of the roads, and the country over which the column is to march; and good maps, telescopes, and guides should be provided. If a reconnaissance of the line of march has been directed, it should be placed in charge of a well informed staff, or other officer, conversant with the duties required of him; so that the commander of the detachment may be accurately informed of the state of the roads, as to their practicability for men, horses, and carriages; particularly the number of hours of march from station to station; and the character of the obstacles with which he may be liable to meet, from the state of the bridges, the nature of the water-courses, and the defiles along the route.

335. In order to avoid being anticipated in our object by the enemy, every attention should be paid to preserve strict order among the troops, and to advance with celerity; so that secrecy maybe kept until the detachment reaches its destination, The troops, for this purpose, should be kept as closely together as the character of the ground will permit; and when the guides are employed, they must be strictly watched, and not dismissed until the march is completed.

336. The distribution of troops, or the order of march, will mainly depend upon the character of the country; the general rule to be followed is so to place each arm in the column, that the troops may be formed for action by the most prompt and simple movements. In a very open country, the greater part of the cavalry will be at the head of the column; where it is somewhat broken, half of the cavalry may be in front, and the remainder in the rear; and in a very difficult country the infantry will lead. The artillery may be placed in the intervals of the column where the country is not difficult; in the contrary case it will be in the rear, but covered by a small detachment which it precedes.

337. The column must be secured from a sudden attack of the enemy by an advanced-guard, flankers, and a rear-guard. The advanced-guard will be composed of cavalry or infantry, or of the two combined, according to the character of the country. In some cases it may be well to have two or three light pieces with the advanced-guard. The strength of the advanced-guard, for detachments not over two thousand men, need not be greater than one-fifth of the whole; for larger bodies it may be between a fourth and a third, according to the degree of resistance it may be required to offer.

338. The advanced-guard of a detachment should seldom leave a wider interval than about a thousand paces between it and the main-body. In a broken country, when this force consists of infantry alone, the distance should be less, to avoid an ambush. The main-body of the advanced-guard should always be proceeded by a few hundred paces by a strong patrol of cavalry or infantry, to search the ground and secure the advanced-guard from falling into an ambush, or from a sudden attack.

339. The flankers will consist mainly of a few detachments, which march parallel to the column and a few hundred paces from it, according to the character of the ground; these will throw out a few men, from a hundred to a hundred and fifty paces, on their exposed flank, to keep a vigilant look-out, in that direction, for the enemy-. Occasional patrols may also be sent out on the flanks, when it is deemed necessary to push an examination to some distant point, or to gain a height offering a commanding view of the country. As the object of the flankers is rather to give timely notice to the main-body of an enemy’s approach, than to offer any serious resistance, the detachments of which they are composed need only consist of a few men.

340. The rear-guard, except in a very broken or mountainous country, which would offer facilities to the enemy for slipping to the rear, need only be a small detachment, placed more to prevent stragglers from falling to the rear than for any other object.

341. Night marches should not be made, except in case of necessity. When their object is to surprise an enemy, if there be an advanced-guard, it should be kept near the head of the column. Patrols should be sent forward, with orders to advance with great caution, and not push on too far. Flying patrols may, if requisite, be kept up on the flanks. The most exact order and silence should be maintained,and extreme vigilance be exercised to avoid placing the enemy on the alert.

342. The following remarks, on the subject of marches, are taken from a little work, “On the Duties of Troops composing the Advanced Corps of an Army,” by Lieut.-Col. Leach, of the British Army; a work which, for its sound practical views, made in the vein of a judicious, well-informed soldier, who has seen service, commends itself to the juniors of the profession generally. “At the time the following orders were first issued for the march of the light-division, in the summer of 1809, on its route from Lisbon to Talavera, the troops moved off by whole or half sections, according to the width or the road; but, at a later period, a general order appeared, which directed that the infantry should march by threes. “The division having formed in rear of the leading battalion, at whole, half, or quarter distance, or in close column, and the baggage being assembled in rear of it, the march was commenced with precisely the same regularity as would be observed by a regiment or regiments moving in or out of a garrison town; the bands playing, the light-infantry with arms sloped, and those of the riflemen slung over the shoulder, the officers with swords drawn, and exact wheeling distances of the sections preserved, and perfect silence observed. After having proceeded a short distance in this manner, the word of command, ‘March at ease,’ was given by the general at the head of the leading battalion, and this was passed quickly on to the rear from company to company. The captains, instead of continuing at the head of their companies, dropped back to the rear of them: the reasons for allotting this station to them was, that they might see any men of their respective companies who attempted to leave the ranks without leave. The officers and non-commissioned officers preserved the wheeling distances. The soldiers now carried their arms in any manner most convenient. Some slung them over their shoulders, (most of them, indeed, preferred this mode as the least fatiguing,) others sloped them, and many trailed them, and they constantly changed from the right hand or right shoulder to the left. Whilst some lighted their short black pipes, others sung or amused their comrades with stories and jests, as is usual on those occasions. Although allowed to prosecute the march in this easy and unrestrained manner, a heavy penalty, nevertheless, awaited the man who quitted the ranks without permission from the captain or officer commanding his company. The captains were always provided with tickets bearing their own signature, on each of which was written, ‘The bearer has my permission to fall out of the ranks, being unable to proceed with the regiment.’ Any soldier found on the line of march by the rear-guard, without a ticket, was liable to be punished for disobedience of orders; and, as no difficulty was ever experienced by men who were sick, or knocked up, in procuring this certificate of inability to keep up with their regiments, such offenders certainly merited punishment. If a soldier wanted to fall out of the ranks for a few minutes only, he was required to ask leave of the captain to do so, and, moreover, to take off his knapsack, and to give it, together with his musket, in charge of the men of his own section, to be carried by them until he rejoined them. This was an admirable order, and it operated in two ways; first, the soldier was enabled, not being encumbered with either knapsack or musket, more speedily to overtake the column on its march; and secondly, if he loitered unnecessarily on the way to rejoin his comrades, who were doubly burdened with his arms and pack, he would be certain to incur their displeasure. About once in every hour and a quarter or half, a halt was ordered, and ten or twelve minutes allowed for the men to rest. When practicable, this was done on ground near which there was water; but it is a]most unnecessary to add, that very frequently it was not possible to find such favorable spots. Preparatory to those temporary halts, the word of command, ‘ Attention!’ was given at the head of the leading regiment, and passed on rapidly (as already stated) from company to company. Upon this, the captains moved quickly from the rear of their companies to the front; the arms of the soldiers were regularly shouldered or slung; perfect silence was observed; the pipes were instantaneously put out of sight, either in the haversacks or elsewhere; the dressing and the wheeling distances of the sections were correctly kept; and in an instant there was a magical change from apparent irregularity to most perfect discipline and order. On resuming the march after those halts, the troops observed the same extreme regularity during the first hundred or two of yards, as I have already described. The words ‘ March at ease’ being again given, they returned to the song, the story, and the tobacco-pipe. On approaching rivulets or shallow pieces of water, which it was necessary should be passed, neither officers nor soldiers were allowed to pick their way through, nor was the smallest break or irregularity permitted to exist in the ranks; but the column marched through by half sections, sections, or subdivisions, (according to the width of the ford,) preserving the same order as if moving alone a road. That this regulation was, on some occasions, too rigidly enforced, I have never heard disputed; still, the object at which it aimed, viz. that of expending as little time as possible on each day’s march, so as to give the soldiers time to take their rest, to construct huts in the bivouac, to wash their linen, to mend their clothes or shoes, to draw their rations, and to cook their meals, that they might be fresh for whatever fatigues happened to be in store for them, was indisputably a most desirable one. Those who have campaigned know, that in advancing to attack an enemy, or in retiring before one, the passage of rivers in the line of march, even if so deep as to reach their middles, and under the fire of an enemy also, are expected to be crossed by the troops without a greater derangement taking place in their order of march than the obstacles which they are in the act of encountering, must necessarily produce in a greater or less degree. With a detachment consisting of a few hundred men, at a distance from an enemy, and with ample time before them to get over their day’s march, it would appear that this order might well be dispensed with; but with a division of four or five thousand men, the case is widely different. Let it be supposed that it has arrived at a stream which admits of being passed by sections, subdivisions, or even by companies; and that, instead of proceeding straight through it in this manner, every soldier is permitted to pick his way across in any manner he may think proper, and to break Off from his place in the ranks,–what a vast loss of time would this occasion! When would the rear of the column have effected its passage? Surely the patience of those belonging to the front, centre, and rear of this body of four thousand soldiers, would be pretty well exhausted Iong before the opposite bank was gained by the whole, and the march resumed. In the rugged and mountainous districts which the army so frequently traversed in the Peninsula, it encountered various defiles and other obstacles, which precluded the possibility of their being passed except by a very small number of men at a time; and the following mode was therefore adopted by each company in making its wav along. The first company of the leading battalion, as soon as it had disentangled itself from the defile, or broken ground, was directed to march forward, perhaps about a quarter of a mile; there to pile arms, and the men to rest. The head of the next company, when it had cleared the defile, halted about thirty or forty yards on the other side, until all the men belonging to it came up in succession. This done, the captain moved it forward independently until it joined the leading company, where it piled arms. Thus, each company, as soon as it had cleared the obstacle, was brought up en masse, and at a regular pace, without reference to those in its rear. By those means that most unmilitary exhibition of file after file running on, like a string of wild geese, to catch those in their front, was entirely avoided. Few things tend so effectually to fatigue and irritate soldiers who are already jaded, as that of trotting on, bending under the weight of pack, belts, and musket, to overtake those who continue to march on in their front.”

343. “When the division was about to perform a march not in the immediate vicinity of an enemy, the following arrangements were made either for bivouacking or quartering it, (as the case might be,) so that no time should be lost after it had reached its destination. A staff-officer, accompanied by the quartermasters of the division, or (if other duties at that moment were required to be performed by the quartermasters) by a subaltern of each regiment, preceded the troops on horseback, so as to arrive long before them at the ground on which they were to halt for the day, or at the town or village in which it was intended they should be quartered. A whole street, or part of one, (as circumstances admitted,) was allotted by the staff-officer to the quartermasters for each of their regiments, who immediately divided the street into equal portions for the different companies, reserving a house or two for the staff of the regiment. A sergeant of every company of the division being sent forward so as to arrive long before the troops, and being told by his quartermaster how many and what buildings were set apart for his own people, again subdivided the houses into four equal parts for each of the sections.”

344. “In the event of any noise or disturbance taking place, whether by day or by night, the probabilities were, that the officers belonging to the companies where such irregularities were going on, would certainly hear it, and as instantaneously put an end to it. If, then, the division marched into a town, each company was by its sergeant conducted to the houses allotted to it; in which they were established in a very few minutes. It rarely happened, therefore, that the soldiers were kept waiting in the streets for any length of time, as has too often been the case. Should it, on the other hand, have been intended to bivouac the division, instead of putting it into houses, arrangements of a singular nature were adopted, by sending forward officers and sergeants to take up the ground; by which means each company marched at once up to its own sergeant, on whom they formed in open column. The rolls were immediately called; the men first for duty were warned for guards, (also inlying and outlying pickets, if near the enemy,) for fatigue duties, to draw the rations, to procure wood for cooking if none was near at hand, to go for water if no river flowed near the encampment, &C. &C. This done, and the alarm-post, or place of general assembly, having been pointed out to every one, the men were dismissed; the arms piled, the cooking immediately commenced, and all further parades were dispensed with for the day, except a roll-call about sunset. Parties to procure forage, whether green or dry, were sent out in charge of an officer as soon as the troops were dismissed.”

344. “Amongst the various regulations laid down for the light-division, I must not omit to mention what were termed mule-guards. A corporal and three privates of every company, mounted guard at nightfall, whenever the division was encamped. The particular duty expected from the sentinels of these company guards, was to keep an eye to the baggage animals belonging to their officers, (which were picketed to the trees or fastened in some other manner,) and to prevent them from breaking loose. After the establishment of those little guards, but few instances occurred of whole troops of noisy mules, horses, and asses, chasing each other round and through the camp or bivouac, and galloping over the faces and bodies of the soldiers whilst they were asleep. Independent of their utility in this way, every company in the division, having its own sentinel, was sure to be instantly apprized of any alarm during the night from the pickets in front; and they were enabled, also, to communicate to their respective companies, without the least delay, any orders arriving at the camp. Those only who have witnessed it can thoroughly understand with what uncommon facility a dispatch the division could suddenly get under arms, form in column of march, load the baggage, and proceed on the route chalked out for it.”

345. Defensive measures of Detachments. In the combats of detachments, whether offensive or defensive, as the employment of skirmishers is the principal means resorted to, and the troops, but in rare cases, act in mass against the enemy, positions should be chosen which will be favorable for this kind of combat. It but seldom happens, in selecting a position for the defensive, that strong points can be found to secure the wings from an attack; but no position should be taken up which does not present covers for the infantry; good points for the action of the artillery, where it will be but little exposed; as well as shelters where the cavalry may be kept at hand, ready for any emergency, and unexposed to the fire of the enemy’s artillery.

346. The natural features of the position will necessarily determine the dispositions for the defence. It must, however, be borne in mind that, as it is essential to keep the troops well in hand for mutual support, they must not be too much dispersed; and that a position which requires this cannot be vigorously defended. The artillery should be kept within a hundred paces of the main-body of the infantry; and the cavalry at about two hundred paces. Offensive movements will be mostly left to the cavalry, which should be held in reserve as long as possible, in order that it may act with the more effect upon the enemy when he is weakened. The infantry should only resort to the bayonet under very favorable circumstances; as, when acting in mass, it will be more exposed to the enemy’s fire, and be more in danger of being surrounded.

347. Defiles in the rear of a position do not present the same dangers to small as they do to large bodies of troops, and may indeed be very favorable to the defence in a retreat; but a position should not be taken up too far in advance of a defile, as it might give the enemy an opportunity of cutting off the retreat of the detachment. Whenever this danger is to be apprehended, it must be guarded against by flankers; whose duty it will be to give timely warning to the main-body of any movement of the enemy to gain their rear.

348. If the detachment is forced to retreat, the greatest attention must be given to keep the troops well together, and to inspire them with confidence in their mutual support. Every advantage should be taken of the strong features of the ground for checking the enemy, by occupying it with skirmishers. A portion of the cavalry should be always at hand, to act offensively when occasion offers. The artillery will retire by half batteries, or sections, for the purpose of taking up successive positions to secure the retreat of the main-body. When ever a defile is met on the line of retreat, the entrance to it should be timely secured, by occupying every strong point near it, to cover the retreating column. If the defile is of a character that admits of interior defence, some men should be sent in advance to raise, at suitable points, barriers, or any other obstacles that Will serve as shelters from which the enemy can be held in check.

349. Defence of Defiles. The term defile is applied to any narrow passage through which troops can only pass in column, or by a flank; such, for example, as roads confined between mountains, causeways through marshes, a bridge, &c.

350. Defiles are occupied either to secure them for our own purposes, or to prevent an enemy from passing them. In either case, the position taken up by the troops, whether in advance of, or in the rear of the defile, to hold it, will depend upon its length and the features of the ground at its outlets. If the ground in advance is open to the enemy’s fire, the entrance to the defile cannot be defended with any chance of success. In like manner, if the ground in the rear is of the same character, and within range of the enemy’s fire, it will not be practicable to prevent the enemy from debouching if in sufficient force.

351. When the defile is to be secured for our own use, the ground in advance must be occupied, by taking advantage of all the natural features favorable to the defence. The flanks of the position should, if practicable, rest upon points that the enemy will not be able to turn. The entrance will be guarded by a strong detachment; and if there are points within the defile which would be favorable for checking the enemy, in case of retreat, they should be prepared for defence, by using such means as may be found at hand for strengthening them.

352. If it be deemed advisable to take position in rear of the defile rather than in front, the entrance to it should be occupied by a small detachment, for the purpose of observing the enemy; and if there are points on the flanks of the defile which, if in possession of the enemy, would render him master of it, they must be strongly guarded.

353. The detachment for the defence of a defile will be composed of one or several arms, according to the character of the ground. Each arm will be posted on the points most favorable to its action, and for mutual support. If the position taken up be in rear of the defile, the artillery should be placed at three or four hundred paces in the rear, so as to command by its fire the interior and outlet. The cavalry should be at some two hundred paces back, ready to charge the enemy in flank as he debouches. The skirmishers should seize upon every point near the outlet from which the enemy can be reached, both within the defile and as he debouches from it; whilst the main-body of the infantry will be posted on the right and left of the outlet, in the best positions for throwing in a heavy, and then driving back the enemy with the bayonet.

354. When a position taken in advance of a defile is likely to be forced, the retreat should be commenced by sending all the artillery except two to the rear, to take a position to secure the outlet. A portion of the cavalry will next retire, the rest remaining with the rear-guard, to check by its charges, the enemy, should he press on with vigor to seize the entrance. The main-body of the infantry will next retire by the usual movements, either from the centre or the wings, as the case may require. The rear-guard having secured the entrance until the main-body is far enough to the rear to be out of danger, will retire; the cavalry, or the infantry leading, as the defile may present features most favorable to the action of the one or the other arm. As the troops successively clear the outlet, they will take position to receive the enemy should he attempt to force a passage.

355. In mountainous passes, where the flanks of the defile can be attained by the heights falling into the hands of the enemy’s skirmishers, these points must be occupied by detachments, as well as all paths, or roads leading to the flanks, or to the rear of the defile. The reserves of the detachments should occupy in preference points where crossroads meet. The communications between the detachments and the main-body must be well preserved; and if the detachments are driven in, they must fall back on their supports, and occupy other points on the flanks previously designated. A retreat, under such circumstances, will demand the greatest circumspection, and great unity of action. To secure the retreat of the rear-guard, the lateral issues should be well guarded by detachments.

356. Bridges and dikes are defended in the same manner as other defiles. A bridge in an open country, particularly one over a small water-course, is not susceptible of a good defence, and the beat thing to be done, to render the passage useless to the enemy, is to destroy it. If the country on the side towards the enemy is open, whilst on the opposite side it is broken so as to present good covers for the troops, a position may be taken up behind the bridge, and the defence be conducted in the usual manner. If, on the enemy’s side, the ground is broken, whilst the other side is open, a defence can only be attempted at great risk; as, in case of being forced to retreat, the movement must be made under strong disadvantages, arising from the exposed position of the flanks of the retreating force, whilst on the bridge, to fire, as well as that of the position which must be taken up on the opposite side, if an attempt is made to arrest the enemy at the outlet of the bridge. When both ends of the bridge are favorable to defence, the side towards the enemy may be occupied by a detachment whilst the main-body takes position on the opposite side.

357. Fords can only be defended with safety by taking up a position behind them when the ground presents good covers, near enough to the point of crossing to bring a strong fire on the enemy whilst fords are usually the more difficult of defence, as several are frequently found in the same vicinity. The best plan to be resorted to generally, is to endeavor to obstruct them by any means at hand.

358. Villages, &c. Villages which are accessible on all sides should not be occupied by a detachment which is obliged to rely only on its own resources; but when they are so situated that they can be approached by the enemy only in front, having their flanks covered by natural obstacles, and the ground in their rear being favorable to a movement of retreat, they may be defended with success, provided they are not commanded by the ground in advance, within the range of fire-arms, and that the approaches to them can be swept by the fire of the defence.

359. On occupying a village, the commanding officer should immediately make himself acquainted with the environs to at least within the range of fire-arms; and lose no time in erecting such obstacles, as barricades across the streets, abatis, &c., as the means at his disposal will permit.

360. The defence will mainly fall upon the infantry, which should be divided into three parties for this object; the one will occupy all favorable points where cover can be obtained on the outskirts of the village, such as ditches, enclosures, &c.; another, divided into a suitable number of detachments, will be posted, under cover, on the most accessible avenues to the position occupied by the first, of which they will form the supports; the third will form one or more reserves, according to the extent of ground taken up, and will be posted at some central point most convenient to act, according as circumstances may demand.

361. The artillery will be placed at those points where it can best sweep the ground over which the enemy must approach to attack the weak points of the position. It should be covered by an epaulment, and be masked until it is necessary to open its fire.

362. Cavalry can aid but little in the interior defence of a village; if it form a part of the detachment, it may take post so as to secure the flanks of the village, if they are not well covered; otherwise a position should be taken by it in rear, to be ready to cover the retreat, if the other troops should be driven out by the enemy.

363. In the defence of a village, the detachment, unless it should find itself decidedly superior to the enemy, will rely mainly upon the-effects of its fire. Sorties may be attempted, if the enemy commits any blunder; such as exposing himself to a flank attack, or not supporting well his advanced line. When a sortie is decided upon, the point from which it is made should be strongly occupied, to cover the party sallying out in case of a repulse. The party for the sortie should attack with vigor, but with due precautions against being cut off; and if they succeed in driving back the enemy, they must not engage in a headlong pursuit, but fall back under cover of the party holding the point from which they sallied.

364. If the troops occupying the exterior line are in danger of being turned by a flank attack, they must retire upon the village, and take up positions previously designated for this contingency. To insure good order and steadiness in this movement, the supports should hold the enemy in check by a sortie on his flank.

365. When it is found that the village must be evacuated, the supports will act with the line of skirmishers, to delay the progress of the enemy, by disputing every favorable point, in order that the reserves may have time to retire and take up a position in the rear, to secure the retreat of the troops still engaged.

In the retreat, the troops falling back on their supports, or reserves, should be careful not to place themselves so as to obstruct either their movements, or their fire upon the enemy.

366. Inclosures and Houses. In the defence of posts, it frequently becomes necessary to occupy isolated houses and strong farm-yard enclosures, to prevent the approach of the enemy on some point. In such cases the doors and windows, through which an enemy might force his way in, must be strongly barricaded, those from which a good fire can be brought to bear upon the enemy, should be arranged to give the men secure shelter whilst firing; loop-holes must also be made through the walls to give more fire. If circumstances require that the house be held until the last extremity, the arrangements in the interior must be made to defend it story by story, until the object to be attained is accomplished.

367. The distribution of the troops will depend on the character of the enclosure. When it is spacious and open, the usual distribution of a line of troops around the walls, with supports and a reserve, will be made. In a house, the troops will be divided into several parties, each under the command of a subaltern, or non-commissioned officer, who will direct the defence of their respective stories. When there are men enough, two should be placed at each loop-hole, and a small reserve be kept in the most sheltered spot at hand. The main reserve will occupy the point most convenient to fall upon the enemy should he force his way in. The men at the loop-holes should be cautioned not to throw away their fire, and at suitable intervals they should be relieved by men from the reserve.

368. It is but seldom that artillery can be used in these cases. Some pieces may be posted with advantage in enclosures. Cavalry can be of no service, except it can act in ambush from some point where it may fall on the enemy’s flank.

369. General Measures for the Attack. The dispositions made for the attack by the commanding officer of a detachment, will necessarily be based upon the defensive measures of the enemy. Therefore, in the first place, a correct knowledge should be gained of the position taken up by the enemy, and the manner in which his troops are distributed for its defence. The points to which attention will be directed in these respects, are first, the natural features of the position as adapted to a good defence; and second, the distribution of the troops.

370. On the first point, the character of the ground in front of the enemy’s position, as to its capabilities for the effective action of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, must be carefully examined; the flanks of the position, as to the practicability of turning them; finally, its rear, as offering a secure retreat to the enemy.

371. On the second point, we must endeavor to ascertain whether the enemy, in posting his troops, has taken advantage of the features of ground in his front, by placing each arm on those points most favorable to its action; whether the extent of ground taken up by the enemy is susceptible of a strong defence by the troops which occupy it; whether the different arms are so posted as to give a mutual support; whether the enemy has neglected to give proper supports and reserves, or to place them within suitable distances; whether he has crowded too many troops upon one point, or has posted too few on another; whether the points occupied by any portion of the troops, particularly by the artillery, or cavalry, are exposed to an enfilading fire of our own artillery; whether his flanks are assailable; whether there are defiles to his rear which he has omitted to occupy; finally, whether he has neglected to guard avenues by which either his flanks or rear may be reached.

372. If the enemy’s troops are well posted in front, occupying all the advantageous points presented by the ground, and well supported, we must look to see what can be done by operating on his flanks, or by turning his rear, whilst a feigned attack is made on his front. If the extent of his position is too great, and his troops too much dispersed, his flanks may be menaced whilst a serious attack is made on his front.

373. Attacks on the flanks by a portion of the troops are very favorable against an enemy not prompt at maneuvring; but, when made against a skilful active enemy, we expose ourselves to the same attack that we attempt against him, besides weakening our front.

374. In moving forward to the attack, the troops should be kept well in hand for mutual support. The artillery and cavalry should avail themselves of all covers presented by the ground, to avoid exposure to the enemy’s artillery. The artillery could reserve its fire until it can open with a decided effect to clear the way for the action of the main-body; leaving to the skirmishers to push forward, and by their fire drive the enemy from his covers. If, however, there are points from which the enemy cannot be well dislodged without the aid of artillery, it should be brought early into action, to avoid the blood-shed of unavailing attacks of the infantry. In no case should the artillery be isolated, but always covered by a strong escort; otherwise it might at any moment fall into the enemy’s hands.

375. In attacks of the character in question, where the skirmishers play so important a part, they will be required to resort frequently to the bayonet, to dislodge the enemy fully from his covers whenever an opportunity offers, some cavalry should be at hand to take advantage of the retreat of the enemy when driven from such points.

376. The cavalry in its charges, however dashingly made, should use due circumspection, and not venture too far in a headlong pursuit, for fear of being brought up suddenly by the enemy, advantageously posted to profit by such faults.

377. The infantry will only act in mass and with the bayonet when the enemy has been well wearied by the fire of its skirmisher’s and artillery; if, when driven from his position, the enemy can be forced upon a defile, a few rounds of grape followed up by the bayonet can seldom fail of completing his destruction.

378. Attack of Defiles. The length of a defile, and the circumstance of its being prepared by barricades within it, to protract the defence, are points of grave importance in planning an attack. When the length is so great that the outlet is beyond the range of our cannon, the troops will not be able to pass it, except under the most favorable circumstances, as the enemy can make the best dispositions at a short distance from the outlet, to crush the troops which first attempt to debouche. Ifthe defile is barricaded, the barricades should not be attacked in front, except for very grave reasons, as, if skillfully defended, they can only be carried at great cost of life.

379. In attacking the entrance of a defile, the troops should approach along the most convenient and best sheltered avenues, and deploy when a little beyond musket range. The skirmishers and the artillery should profit by the ground, in taking positions favorable both for shelter, and to reach with their fire the enemy’s troops. Skirmishers should be directed to close in, particularly on the obstacles by which the flanks of the enemy’s position are strengthened, and endeavor to dislodge his troops from them. The main-body, held in reserve to carry the entrance with the bayonet, so soon as it is seen that a serious impression has been made by the fire, should be kept under cover, and as near at hand as the ground will permit. If the enemy gives way, the main-body should make a vigorous attack in mass with the bayonet; and, following up closely the retreating troops, endeavor to secure the outlet by debouching from it before the front is so far unmasked by the retreating troops as to enable those, in action for its defence, to act with freedom. As fast as the troops debouche, they must occupy the ground in front of the outlet strongly, leaving a sufficient force for the immediate defence of the outlet. The reserve should remain at the other extremity of the defile to act as circumstances may require. So soon as we find ourselves in secure possession of the defile, a part of the reserve, with all of the cavalry, should pass and take positions indicated on the opposite side. The greater part of the artillery follows, and takes position on the flanks to open its fire on the retiring enemy.

380. If the attack on the entrance to the defile is unsuccessful, the troops will retire behind their reserves, the latter covering this movement, and holding the enemy in check should he attempt a pursuit. If a renewed attack is ordered, the troops first in action will form a reserve for the fresh troops thrown forward.

381. When it is found impracticable to force the entrance by a direct attack, resort must be had to stratagem, by pushing forward a few troops to act on the enemy’s flanks, and try to dislodge him from the obstacles by which they are covered. If this attempt is successful, the troops in action must be gradually reinforced to gain supports for the flanks of the column of attack in its advance movement. As the column penetrates the defile, ground must be gradually gained by throwing forward fresh troops which dislodge the enemy, secure the issues in case of retreat, and hold the points of support of the flanks.

382. In the attack of defiles forming mountainous passes, the column of attack must be well covered on the flanks, by detachments which make a simultaneous attack on the enemy’s posts on the heights, to prevent the one from affording support to the other. These detachments should be strong enough for the duty assigned, so that should any post offer a vigorous resistance, they may be enabled to renew their attacks with fresh troops.

383. Two-thirds of the detachments will act as skirmishers, the other third will be held in reserve. So soon as any post is carried, the reserves will occupy it. When the skirmishers move forward, a portion of the whole of the reserve will follow, as circumstances may demand. There should be no intermission in the attacks when once commenced, but the enemy be driven by alternate attacks of fire and the bayonet, from point to point, to enable the detachments gradually to gain the immediate borders of the defile, so as to reach the rear of the enemy’s troops, and force them to retire. The main-body, in meantime, should occupy the enemy in front, to prevent him from sending succor to the posts that secure his rear and flanks.

384. Attacks of Villages, &c. As villages, when occupied with a view to defence, are usually prepared for it by the addition of artificial obstacles to those which the position naturally presents, an open attack upon them should, when practicable, be avoided, as it can only succeed, if the assailed perform their duty, at great loss of life to the assailant. In any case, whether made openly or otherwise, attacks of this kind ought not to be hazarded except with superior numbers, unless the enemy be very inferior in discipline.

385. In conducting the attack of a village, the troops should endeavor to approach their points of attack by avenues which will afford them cover from the enemy’s fire until they arrive near then4 and should particularly try to gain any commanding points from which a plunging fire may be brought to bear on the enemy’s covered defences.

386. The most favorable points of attack are those which are salient; as they are naturally weak; those where there are no prepared defences, or where they are but slight; and the flanks and rear, when they are accessible, or axe not well secured by troops so posted as to cover them.

387. The attack will mainly devolve upon the infantry. The artillery, by taking suitable positions either to enfilade any part of the enemy’s line which lies exposed to its fire, to dismount the enemy’s guns, or to throw shells from its howitzers into inclosures, will prepare the way for the infantry. The cavalry can only act as a reserve, to cover the infantry it repulsed, and to secure the flanks from an offensive movement against them.

388. The infantry will be divided into three parties for the attack; one, which will display as skirmishers, may be a sixth of the whole; another which will act as the supports of the first, may be about the one-half of the whole; and the remaining third will form the reserve. The party in advance, in dispersed order, will get over the ground as rapidly as possible, and endeavor to close with the enemy’s skirmishers; relying almost exclusively on the bayonet. Their supports will follow in line, at from one hundred to one hundred and fifty paces in their rear; the reserves at about the same distance in rear of the supports, taking advantage of the ground to screen themselves from the enemy’s fire. If the advanced party succeeds in its attack upon the interior defences, they will follow up the enemy closely, and give him no opportunity to halt and make a stand; the supports will advance and clear the streets with the bayonet. Should the enemy form across a wide street to stop the advance, the skirmishers will move forward in open order, taking advantage of any shelters to cover themselves, and by their fire force the enemy to deliver his, and the supports and reserve in mass will attack with the bayonet. So soon as an entrance is secured, the skirmishers and supports will drive the enemy from the interior defences in their front, whilst the reserve will push forward to the central point, to attack his reserve if posted there, and to be in readiness, to support the advanced parties at any point where succor may be necessary.

389. Whenever they can be procured, a party of well-trained sappers should be sent forward with tile advance, to clear any obstacles by which their progress might be impeded. If this description of troops is not to be obtained, a few active men, used to handling the axe and pick, should be detailed for this necessary duty.

390. In case of the repulse of the advance, they will fall back to the nearest cover from which they can open a fire on the enemy, and after being joined by their supports will renew the attack.

391. Handling of Skirmishers. Skirmishers play so important a part in all affairs of detachments, as well as in engagements of larger bodies, the circumstances being rare, either in the attack or defence, where they cannot be employed with considerable effect, either to harass or occupy the enemy, that a few words may be here especially given to the manner of handling them; even at the risk of repeating what has been already laid down.

392. The number of skirmishers employed will greatly depend an the features of the ground, as being more or less favorable to the action of cavalry, or of infantry in mass. In no case, however, should the main-body be unduly weakened by detaching too many skirmishers. A third of the entire force is the most that can be safely thrown forward for this duty; and, if it be found that they are unable to maintain their ground in the presence of the enemy, it will be safer to cause them to fall back and reinforce the main-body, by forming on the flanks, or any previously designated point, than to detach from the main-body for their support.

393. The manner of forming a line of skirmishers, and posting their supports and reserves, with the other ordinary maneuvers for extending, advancing, retiring, &c., belong to elementary tactics, and require no comment here. A few precepts, however, may be mentioned, as connected with this subject. The line of skirmishers should not be pushed so far in advance of the main-body that the latter will not be able to come to their aid in time it they should be vigorously pressed by the enemy; or be able to profit by any advantages obtained by them. The reserves to support the line should in all cases be near enough for this object and, as far as practicable, be posted where they can readily find cover from the enemy’s fire; taking advantage, for this purpose, of any irregularities of ground or shelters, like walls, hedges, ditches, &c. The reserves may be of less strength in broken than in open ground; being, however, never less than a fourth in the former, nor a third in the latter case.

394. The position of skirmishers in advance of the main-body will depend on the natural features of the ground. As a general rule, they ought to cover both the front and flanks of the main-body, extending far enough beyond each flank for the latter purpose; and, in all maneuvres of the main-body in the face of the enemy, it should be protected by skirmishers until the new position is taken up.

395. It is seldom necessary to throw forward the skirmishers before the main-body is ready to commence the action. They should deploy and extend before coming within reach of the enemy’s musketry; and, when the lines are near enough to engage, they should retire to the positions previously assigned them.

396. A quick eye, presence of mind, and good judgment in taking up ground are indispensable to an officer in command of skirmishers, to enable him to keep his troops easily in hand; preventing them from rushing on headlong in the it, when any success is gained; and directing them to seize upon every cover, either in advancing or retiring, from which they can with advantage annoy the enemy or hold him in check.

397. The accuracy of aim, upon which the good effects to be obtained by skirmishers depends, requires that the men should be kept cool and in good order. All hurried and violent movements, by which the men may lose breath and become exhausted, should be avoided; and they should be frequently cautioned against rapid firing, which soon impairs the aim, and be directed never to raise the piece until they feel sure of their shot.

398. In an advance movement of skirmishers, their line will necessarily have to conform to the features of the ground; when this is open, the alignment should, as far as practicable, be preserved; and when broken, the officers should see that mutual support is given throughout between the detached portions; and that those on the flanks be particularly cautioned not to suffer their attention to be so much taken up by the enemy in front as to neglect securing the flanks from any attempt upon them, either openly or by ambush.

399. Wherever an open portion of ground occurs, it should be gotten rapidly over, so that the men shall be exposed as little as may be; and, if there is any apprehension from the enemy’s cavalry in such cash, the men should be kept well together, or even be rallied on the reserves, until the character of the ground will enable them to deploy with safety.

400. If the more advanced portions come upon the enemy in force, they should halt and occupy him in front; whilst a portion may try to turn him, or to annoy his flanks. In like manner, in a successful attack on the enemy’s out-posts, the skirmishers should endeavor to maintain their ground when they come upon his main-body, by occupying its attention until their own main force can come up.

401. In the attack upon all covered positions held by the enemy, skirmishes play the most important part; and, although it may require the action of masses to dislodge the enemy under some circumstances, there are but few in which, by a judicious selection of ground, skirmishers may not greatly bother him. The broken features presented by wooded and rocky ravines, or the beds of small fordable streams, from the opposite side of which an enemy must be rooted out before ground can be gained forward, are ugly circumstances in an advance movement; and great skill and patience are requisite on the part of both officers and men to accomplish their object. Points which afford a good cover for a few men, or from which a commanding or a flanking view of the enemy’s line can be obtained, should be sought for; and, where the men would be much exposed in gaining such points, from the open character of the intervening ground, they should be sent forward singly, with directions as to the best probable manner of attaining their object, and be particularly cautioned against exposing themselves in little knots of three or four together, as the chances of casualties will be thereby increased. If the crest of a hill intervenes in a pursuit, it should be gained with great caution, for fear of coming suddenly upon the enemy in force on the opposite side.

402. When the enemy occupies strong artificial obstacles, as palisades, an abatis, yards, of which the walls are loop-holed, &c., an attempt should be made to dislodge him by shells from howitzers; the troops for the assault may then be advanced as skirmishers, and when within about two hundred paces, should clear the intervening ground at full speed, in closing.

403. In attacks upon forests, the intervening open ground must be cleared in a similar and after the enemy has been dislodged from the skirts, the further advance should be cautiously made; attention being paid to preserving the general alignment; the men taking care to avoid leaving any considerable gaps between them, or of losing sight of each other. A vigilant eye should be kept upon securing the communications to the rear by the reserves, in case of being forced to retire; and, before passing cross-roads, it should be well ascertained that they do not offer any facilities for an offensive movement of the enemy.

404. Whenever a defile met wit which is not strongly guarded, some of the line of skirmishers may enter it boldly, relying on the bayonet, whilst others take up points from which they can enfilade it; but if the enemy makes a show of a vigorous resistance, the skirmishers should seize upon the best points on its flanks from which a warm steady fire can be kept up on it, and hold them until their reserves, or if necessary the main-body, can come up and force their way with the bayonet. When the defile is carried, the reserves follow the onward movement of the line of skirmishers, leaving it to be held, if it be thought necessary, by a detachment from the main-body.

405. Skirmishers necessarily play a very important part in mountainous warfare, as the broken character of the ground presents many points from which it may become exceedingly difficult to dislodge an enemy thoroughly conversant, from some days occupancy, with all its resources. In such attacks, as he valley-passes will usually be occupied by the strength of the enemy, the skirmishers must try to gain successively the heights on the flanks of the main position; care being taken that no party gets too much in advance of the other. If the enemy retires, a portion of the skirmishers should follow closely upon his rear, whilst others occupy commanding points from which they can keep up a well-directed fire on him. If, in the pursuit, paths should be found leading to the flanks, or rear of the enemy’s main-position, some detachments may be pushed forward in these directions, to bother the enemy, whilst the rest join in the main attack.

406. If a vigorous resistance is offered by the enemy, it will be necessary to employ a number of small detachments to dislodge him from every cover. These should advance along the most advantageous paths, proceeding with great caution, and leaving no suspicious points to the rear, until they are thoroughly searched and their character ascertained. The communications to the rear, by which the skirmishers will have to retire if repulsed, must be well secured by the reserves, who will usually take post at the junction of cross-roads, or in other positions favorable to receiving the skirmishers and covering their retreat.

407. If an isolated post of the enemy is met with every point around it, from which a fire can be brought to bear, should be occupied by skirmishers; and a steady unintermitted fire be kept up against it until fie is dislodged, or driven from it by an attack with the bayonet by the reserves.

408. In the retreat, every advantageous point which offers cover to skirmishers, should be seized on by them, to hold the enemy in check, and thus give time to the main-body to retire in good order. The skirmishers, however, should not fall too far to rear, so as not to compromise their own safety; whenever obliged to this, a part of the reserves may be thrown forward, to reinforce the line, and give more vigor to its fire; but a part should always be kept in reserve to be ready for any emergency. If the retreat be through a defile, and the enemy’s pursuit is feeble, it will usually be only necessary to deploy the reserves of the skirmishers on such ground on the right and left of the entrance to it, as may be favorable to bringing a good fire to bear on the enemy. As soon as the main-body has cleared the defile, or is sufficiently beyond the reach of an active pursuit, the skirmishers and their reserves retire by sections; keeping at from two to three hundred paces in the rear of the main-body. In case the enemy should push forward with vigor, the skirmishers adopt e same measures; but the additional precaution should be taken of holding the outlet of the defile, by a detachment posted advantageously for that object, until all the skirmishers have cleared it.

409. In all positions taken up for the defensive in mountainous, or broken ground, whether the valleys or the heights be occupied, those points from which the troops might be annoyed by the enemy’s skirmishers should be guarded by our own, as well as all pathways leading to them; attention should be given so to post our skirmishers as to take the enemy in flank in his assault upon the front of the position.

410. The safety of the communications must be carefully looked to in a retreat; and for this object the position of the reserves should be judiciously selected; taking them at those points where the enemy would be met, should be take paths or cross-roads, passing beyond the flanks of the line occupied by the skirmishers, to gain their rear. The skirmishers themselves should not hold possession too long of any point, in order not to have their safety compromises, by leaving too wide an interval between themselves and the main-body; and whenever they are thrown into enclosures, they should see that easy communications are opened to the rear for a timely exit.

411. Although skirmishers should rely mainly on a steady, well-directed fire, for the attainment of their ends, still a resort to the bayonet by the reserves should not be overlooked; as, by a judicious combination of caution with boldness, the enemy may not only be held in check, and be constrained to a very circumspect course, but may be frequently so forced back as to enable the skirmishers, if it be advisable, to recover lost ground.

412. The fact should never be lost sight of, that a fine of skirmishers is weak in itself; and even powerless when exposed to the attack of cavalry, or that of infantry in mass. It offers but a bad mark to the enemy’s round shot in front, but it may be greatly damaged from an enfilading position; any care should therefore be taken not to post a line behind any obstacle which, like a hedge, or ditch, may so present itself to the enemy’s batteries. The line may also greatly suffer when, maneuvring in open ground, it comes within short range of the grape and canister of the enemy. The true tactics, therefore, of skirmishers, is to avoid open ground, and to throw themselves into that which presents obstacles to the enemy’s movements, and affords covers not exposed to enfilading views of his batteries; to seek for positions from which their fire will annoy the enemy both in front and flank, occupying him in front whilst ground is gained on the flank; and in all changes of position whether advancing or retiring, to move from one to the other, both with celerity and by an orderly simultaneous movement.

413. Escalading. This is a means of attack upon which our English friends rather pique themselves; in spite of some signal failures during the Peninsular campaigns, and some successes in which as much seems to have been owing to chance as to any other cause; as the reader, who may look over Jones’s Journal of the Sieges carried on in these campaigns will find. Since that time it has been successfully used in the attacks made on the stockade forts in India. How far it might succeed against ourselves, we have no means of judging; as in the attempts by our friends on our slight field-works, during the last war, very few of them hadan opportunity of getting further than the ditch, under deadly fire our well-practised citizens. It is a resource, however, when others fail; and, in a favorable moment, may succeed, either through the surprise, or cowardice of the assailed.

414. In a little work, on the Attack of Military Posts &c , by Captain, now, we believe, Colonel Jebb, of the Royal Engineers,–which, as well as his Defence of Out-posts, is cordially commended to the perusal of our young officers, for its practical details and capital common-sense views; maugre its slap-dash flippancy of style, with which the Juniors of the British line, it seems, must be indulged, to cheat them into a little study of their art,–the manner of conducting an assault by escalade is given with some detail. Whether the groups termed rallying columns bythe author, would act more harmoniously towards the attainment of the main object, than the groups of another more celebrated system by their attractional sympathies, experiment alone can determine.

415. The following is the outline of the method of eacalade, proposed by Colonel Jebb in the work referred to. Ladders of suitable length for the enterprise are to be provided for scaling the scarp; the one proposed is three feet longer than the height of the scarp; so that, the foot of the ladder being planted a pace or two from the bottom of the wall, the top may project far enough above the wall to enable the men to step from the ladder with ease, in an upright position. An allowance of one ladder is made for every five feet of the face to be scaled; one hundred feet, for example, requiring twenty ladders.

416. To each ladder, from four to six men are assigned, according to its length. The ladders are borne, in the usual manner, on the shoulders of the men; two or three being placed on each side for this purpose.

The ladders for scaling the scarp are assigned to the advance. A second set of less dimensions, for descending into the ditch only, are assigned to the support. The scarp ladders are placed on the ground in line, at some suitable point, with the proper intervals between them; the men to carry them, properly “told off,” are drawn up in rear of them, at the proper commands, are marched to their places at the sides of the ladders, and raise them ready for the forward movement. Similar dispositions are made for the counterscarp ladders, which are placed in line, from 100 to 150 yards in rear of the others.

417. At a given signal, the whole are to move forward; covered by an advanced firing party, to keep down the fire of the work, and followed by a reserve. The scarp ladders are let down into the ditch, the men descend, carry them across it, plant them against the scarp, and mount to the top. The top of the parapet gained, the men are to group themselves rapidly in rallying columns; and proceed to clear the parapet by charging the assailed in flank.

418. The support and reserve, in the meantime, are to follow on without loss of time, to take their share in the action.

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Mahan’s Outpost Main Page
Chapter Introduction
Chapter 1 – Tactics
Chapter II – Manner Of Placing and Handling Troops
Chapter III – Positions
Chapter IV – Advanced-Guards and Advanced-Post
Chapter V – Reconnaissances
Chapter VII – Convoys
Chapter VIII – Surprises and Ambuscades