the material, and above all to turn the personnel into disciplined soldiers. Cavalry was organized in regiments and squadrons, and armed with sabre and pistol. Infantry had by 1703 begun to assume its three-deep line formation and the typical weapons of the arm, musket and bayonet. Regiments and battalions were the units of combat as well as organization. In the fight the company was entirely merged in the higher unit, but as an administrative body it still remained. As for the higher organization, an army consisted simply of a greater or less number of battalions and squadrons, without, as a rule, intermediate commands and groupings. The army was arrayed as a whole in two lines of battle, with the infantry in the centre and the cavalry on the flanks, and an advanced guard; the so-called reserve consisting merely of troops not assigned to the regular commands. It was divided, for command in action, into right and left wings, both of cavalry and infantry, of each line. This was the famous “linear” organization, which in theory produced the maximum effort in the minimum time, but in practice, handled by officers whose chief care was to avoid the expenditure of effort, achieved only negative results. To see its defects one need only suppose a battalion of the first line hard pressed by the enemy. A battalion of the second line was directly behind it, but there was no authority, less than that of the wing commander, which could order it up to support the first. All the conditions of the time were opposed to tactical subdivision, as the term is now understood. That the 18th century did not revive schiltrons was due to the new fire tactics, to which everything but control was sacrificed. This “control,” as has been said, implied not so much command as police supervision. But far beyond any faults of organization and recruiting, the inherent vice of these armies was, as Machiavelli had pointed out two centuries previously, and as Prussia was to learn to her cost in 1806, that once they were thoroughly defeated, the only thing left to be done was to make peace at once, since there was no other armed force capable of retrieving a failure.
31. Frederick the Great.—The military career of Frederick the Great is very different from those of his predecessors. With an army organized on the customary system, and trained and equipped, better indeed, but still on the same lines as those of his rivals, the king of Prussia achieved results out of all proportion to those imagined by contemporary soldiers. It is to his campaigns, therefore, that the student must refer for the real, if usually latent, possibilities of the army of the 18th century. The prime secret of his success lay in the fact that he was his own master, and responsible to no superior for the uses to which he put his men. This position had never, since the introduction of standing armies, been attained by any one, even Eugene and Leopold of Dessau being subject to the common restriction; and with this extraordinary advantage over his opponents, Frederick had further the firmness and ruthless energy of a great commander. Prussia, moreover, was more strictly organized than other countries, and there was relatively little of that opposition of local authorities to the movement of troops which was conspicuous in Austria. The military successes of Prussia, therefore, up to 1757, were not primarily due to the system and the formal tactics, but were the logical outcome of greater energy in the leading, and less friction in the administration, of her armies. But the conditions were totally different in 1758-1762, when the full force of the alliance against Prussia developed itself in four theatres of war. Frederick was driven back to the old methods of making war, and his men were no longer the soldiers of Leuthen and Hohenfriedberg. If discipline was severe before, it was merciless then; the king obtained men by force and fraud from every part of Germany, and had both to repress and to train them in the face of the enemy. That under such conditions, and with such men, the weaker party finally emerged triumphant, was indeed a startling phenomenon. Yet its result for soldiers was not the production of the national army, though the dynastic forces had once more shown themselves incapable of compassing decisive victories, nor yet the removal of the barrier between army and people, for the operations of Frederick’s recruiting agents made a lasting impression, and, further, large numbers of men who had thought to make a profession of arms were turned adrift at the end of the war. On the contrary, all that the great and prolonged tour de force of these years produced was a tendency, quite in the spirit of the age, to make a formal science out of the art of war. Better working and better methods were less sought after than systematization of the special practices of the most successful commanders. Thus Frederick’s methods, since 1758 essentially the same as those of others, were taken as the basis of the science now for the first time called “strategy,” the fact that his opponents had also practised it without success being strangely ignored. Along with this came a mania for imitation. Prussian drill, uniforms and hair-powder were slavishly copied by every state, and for the next twenty years, and especially when the war-trained officers and men had left active service, the purest pedantry reigned in all the armies of Europe, including that of Prussia. One of the ablest of Frederick’s subordinates wrote a book in which he urged that the cadence of the infantry step should be increased by one pace per minute. The only exceptions to the universal prevalence of this spirit were in the Austrian army, which was saved from atrophy by its Turkish wars, and in a few British and French troops who served in the American War of Independence. The British regiments were sent to die of fever in the West Indies; when the storm of the French Revolution broke over Europe, the Austrian army was the only stable element of resistance.
32. The French Revolution.—Very different were the armies of the Revolution. Europe, after being given over to professional soldiers for five hundred years, at last produced the modern system of the “nation in arms.” The French volunteers of 1792 were a force by which the routine generals of the enemy, working with instruments and by rules designed for other conditions, were completely puzzled, and France gained a short respite. The year 1793 witnessed the most remarkable event that is recorded in the history of armies. Raw enthusiasm was replaced, after the disasters and defections which marked the beginning of the campaign, by a systematic and unsparing conscription, and the masses of men thus enrolled, inspired by ardent patriotism and directed by the ferocious energy of the Committee of Public Safety, met the disciplined formalists with an opposition before which the attack completely collapsed. It was less marvellous in fact than in appearance that this should be so. Not to mention the influence of pedantry and senility on the course of the operations, it may be admitted that Frederick and his army at their best would have been unable to accomplish the downfall of the now thoroughly roused French. Tactically, the fire of the regulars’ line caused the Revolutionary levies to melt away by thousands, but men were ready to fill the gaps. No complicated supply system bound the French to magazines and fortresses, for Europe could once more feed an army without convoys, and roads were now good and numerous. No fear of desertion kept them concentrated under canvas, for each man was personally concerned with the issue. If the allies tried to oppose them on an equal front, they were weak at all points, and the old organization had no provision for the working of a scattered army. While ten victorious campaigns had not carried Marlborough nearer to Paris than some marches beyond the Sambre, two campaigns now carried a French army to within a few miles of Vienna. It was obvious that, before such forces and such mobility, the old system was doomed, and with each successive failure the old armies became more discouraged. Napoleon’s victories finally closed this chapter of military development, and by 1808 the only army left to represent it was the British. Even to this the Peninsular War opened a line of progress, which, if different in many essentials from continental practice, was in any case much more than a copy of an obsolete model.
33. The Conscription.—In 1793, at a moment when the danger to France was so great as to produce the rigorous emergency methods of the Reign of Terror, the combined enemies of the Republic had less than 300,000 men in the field between Basel and Dunkirk. On the other hand, the call of the “country in