Chapter VIII

Mahan’s Outpost


439. These two classes of operations depend for their success upon the same point, that being able to attack the enemy suddenly when he is not prepared to resist. The term surprise is applied to unexpected attacks upon an enemy’s position; that of ambuscade where a position is taken for the purpose of falling suddenly upon the enemy when he reaches it. Secrecy, good troops, and a thorough knowledge of the localities, are indispensable to the success of either of these operations.

440. Surprise. In planning a surprise, the officer must spare no pains in ascertaining the face of the country leading to and in the immediate vicinity of the enemy’s position; the character and disposition of his troops; and the state of preparation of the defenses of the position. Information may be obtained on these points from spies, deserters, inhabitants of the locality occupied by the enemy, good maps, &c.

441. The troops to be employed in the expedition, as well as the other necessary arrangements, will depend upon the information gained on these points. If the position be an intrenched one, infantry will constitute the main force; cavalry and artillery can be of little other use than to cover the retreat of the infantry, and to make prisoners of those who may escape from the position. A body of engineer troops or of picked men used to handling tools, will accompany the infantry, carrying with them such implements as may be requisite from the character of the defenses, as axes, saws, crowbars, small scaling ladders, &c.

442. If the position be not entrenched, as an open village, &c., cavalry may perform a very important part, by a sudden dash among the enemy, in creating confusion and alarm.

443. As the success of the affair will greatly depend upon the secrecy with which these preparations are made, and the celerity with which it is conducted, all orders for collecting the necessary implements and assembling the troops, should be given at the shortest notice; no more troops should be taken than are indispensably necessary; and they should carry nothing with them but their arms, and the requisite amount of ammunition.

444. Midnight is the best hour for small bodies of troops to carry out such enterprises; as they must effect all they desire to do and be off before daybreak. A few hours before daylight is the best time for large expeditions; as the dawn of day will be favorable to their retreat, by which time they will have been able to effect their purposes. The season of the year and the state of the weather should be taken advantage of. Winter and bad weather are most favorable, as the enemy’s sentinels and out-posts will then, in all probability, be less on the alert, and more disposed to keep under such shelters as they can procure.

445. As our purpose may be divined by the enemy, measures should be taken against such a contingency. These will mainly consist, in securing by detachments all defiles and roads by which our retreat might be cut off; and by designating a rallying point, on which our force will fall back, if repulsed, which should be strongly occupied by cavalry and artillery, if they constitute a part of the force.

446. In conducting the march, the troops will be kept well together; the greatest order and silence be observed. Instead of the ordinary precautions of an advanced-guard and flankers, reliance should rather be placed upon a few active and intelligent scouts, to gain timely notice of any movement on the part of the enemy.

447. Concerted attacks upon several points are good means of creating confusion and paralyzing the enemy’s efforts, when they can be successfully carried out; but, as they may require some of the detachments to make considerable circuits to reach their points, much will depend upon chance as to their success. In such cases, some signal must be agreed upon, to let the detachments, already in position, know when those, which are likeliest to reach theirs latest, are ready; but this may have the inconvenience of giving the alarm to the enemy. Rockets may be used for this purpose, and also to give notice to the troops to retire together.

448. The retreat after a successful issue should be conducted with the same promptitude as the advance. Time must not be lost in waiting too long for all the detachments to come in at the rallying point, as the safety of the whole command might be compromised.

449. Ambuscade. In planning an ambuscade, we should be well acquainted with the enemy’s force, and the state of discipline shown by it. The position chosen for the attempt must be favorable to the concealment of troops, and if practicable it should be reached by night, every precaution being taken to insure secrecy. The best positions are those where the enemy is closed in a defile, or village, and has in not taken the proper precautions to secure himself from an attack. By seizing the outlets of the defile by infantry, in such cases, and making an impetuous charge of cavalry into it, the enemy way be completely routed.

450. Ambuscades may frequently be attempted with success in the affairs of advanced and rear-guards; by pushing the enemy vigorously and then falling back, if he offers a strong resistance, so as to draw him upon a point where troops are posted in force to receive him.

451. To trace anything more than a mere outline, as a guide in operations of this kind, which depend upon so many fortuitous circumstances, would serve but little useful purpose. An active, nation fertile in the seldom be at a lose occasion offers; to one without these qualities, opportunities present themselves in vain.

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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 IV – Advanced-Guards and Advanced-Post
Chapter V – Reconnaissances
Chapter VI – Detachments
Chapter VII – Convoys