Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.

discussion instead of an axiom of class pride. The question of cavalry versus infantry, hotly disputed in all ages, is a matter affecting general tactics, and does not come within the scope of the present article (see further CAVALRY). Expert opinion indeed was still on the side of the horsemen. It was on their cavalry, with its speed, its swords and its pistols that the armies of the 16th century relied in the main to produce the decision in battle. Sir Francis Vane, speaking of the battle of N ieupoort Mamry in 1600, says, “Whereas most commonly in battles H, wa the success of the foot dependeth on that of the horse, here it was clean contrary, for so long as the foot held good the horse could not be beaten out of the field.” The “success ” of the foot in Vane's eyes is clearly resistance to disintegration rather than ability to strike a decisive blow.

It must be remembered, however, that Vane is speaking of the Low Countries, and that in France at any rate the solidity which saved the day at Nieupoort was less appreciated than the élan which had won so many smart engagements in the Wars of Religion. Moreover, it was the ojensive, the decision-compelling faculty of the foot that steadily developed during the 17th century. To this, little by little, the powers of passive resistance to which Vane did homage, valuable as they were, were sacrificed, until at last the long pike disappeared altogether and the firearm, provided with a bayonet, was the uniform weapon of the foot soldier. This stage of infantry history covers almost exactly a century. As far as France was concerned, it was a natural evolution. But the acceptance of the principle by the rest of the military world, imposed by the genius of Gustavus Adolphus, was rather revolution than evolution.

In the army which Louis XIII. led against his revolted barons of Anjou in 1620, the old regiments (les vieux-Picardie, Piedmont, &c.) seem to have marched in an open chequer-wise Gustavus formation of companies which is interesting not only Adolphus.

as a deliberate imitation of the Roman legion (all soldiers of that time, in the prevailing confusion of tactical ideas, sought guidance in the works of Xenophon, Aelian and Vegetius), but as showing that flexibility and handiness was not the monopoly of the Swedish system that was soon to captivate military Europe. The formations themselves are indeed found in the Spanish and Dutch armies, but the equipment of the men, and the general character of the operations in which they were engaged, probably failed to show ofi the advantages of this articulation, for the generals of the Thirty Years' War, trained in this school, formed their infantry into large battalions (generally a single line of masses). Experience certainly gave the troops that used these unwieldy formations a relatively high manoeuvring capacity, for Tilly's army at Breitenfeld (x631) “changed front half-left ” in the course of the battle itself. But the manoeuvring power of the Swedes was higher still. Each party represented one side of the classical revival, the Swedes the Roman three-line manipular tactics, the Imperialists and Leaguers those of the Greek line of phalanxes. The former, depending as it did on high moral in the individual foot-soldier, was hardly suitable to such a congeries of mercenaries as those that Wallenstein commanded, and later in the Thirty Years' War, when the old native Swedish and Scottish brigades had been annihilated, the Swedish infantry was little if at all better than the rest.

But its tactical system, sanctified by victory, was eagerly caught up by military Europe. The musket, though it had finally driven out the arquebus, had been lightened by Gustavus Adolphus so far that it could be fired without a rest. Rapidity in loading had so far improved that a company could safely be formed six deep instead of ten, as in the Spanish and Dutch systems. Its fire power was further augmented by the addition of two very light field-guns to each battalion; these could infiict loss at twice the effective range of the shortened musket. Above all, Gustavus introduced into the military systems of Europe a new discipline bas&l on the idea of exact performance of duty, .which made itself felt in every part of the service, and was a welcome substitute for the former easy-going methods of regimental existence! The adoption of Swedish methods indeed was facilitated by the disrepute into which the older systems had fallen. Men were beginning to see that armies raised by contract for a few months' work possessed inherent vices that made it impossible to rely upon them in small things. Courage the mercenary certainly possessed, but his individual sense of honour, code of soldierly morals, and sometimes devotion to a particular leader did not compensate for the absence of a strong motive for victory and for his general refractoriness in matters of detail, such as march-discipline and punctuality, which had become essential since the great Swedish king had reintroduced order, method and definiteness of purpose into the conduct of military operations. In the old-fashioned masses, moreover, individual weaknesses, both moral and physical, counted for little or were suppressed in the general soldierly feeling of the whole body. But the six-deep line used by Gustavus demanded more devotion and exact obedience in the individual and a more uniform method of drill and handling arms. So shallow an order was not strong enough, under any other conditions, to resist the shock of cavalry or even of pikemen. Indeed, had not the cavalry (who, after Gustavus's death, were uninspired mercenaries like the rest) ceased to charge home in the fashion that Gustavus exacted of them, it is possible that the new fashioned line would not have stood the test, and that infantry would have reverted to the early 16th-century type. The problem of combining the maximum of fire power with the maximum of control over the individual firer was not fully solved until 1740, but the necessity of attempting the problem was realised from the first. In the Swedish $258232 army, before it was corrupted by the atmosphere of the Thirty Years' War, duty to God and to country were the springs of the punctual discipline, in small things and in great, which made it the most formidable army, unit for unit, in the world. In the English Civil War (in which the adherents of the “ Swedish system ” from the first ousted those of the “ Dutch ”) the difficulty was more acute, for although the mainsprings of action were similar, the technical side of the soldier's business-the regimental organization, drill and handling of arms-had all to be improvised. Now in the beginning the Royalist cavalry was recruited from “gentlemen that have honour and courage and resolution ”; later, Cromwell raised a cavalry force that was even more thoroughly imbued with the spirit of duty, “ men who made some conscience of what they did, ” and throughout the Civil War, consequently, the mounted arm was the queen of the battlefield.

The Parliamentary foot too “made some conscience of what it did, ” more especially in the first years of the war. But its best elements-the drilled townsmen-were rather of a defensive than of an offensive character, and towards the close of the struggle, when the foot on both sides came to be formed of professional soldiers, the defensive element decreased, as it had decreased in France and elsewhere. The war was like Gustavus's German campaign, one of rapid and far-ranging marches, and the armoured pikeman had either to shorten his pike and' to cast off his armour or to be left at home with the heavy artillery (see Firth's Cromwelllv Army, ch. iv.). Fights “ at push of pike ” were rare enough to be specially mentioned in reports of battles. Sir.]ames Turner says that in 16 57, when he was commissioned with others to raise regiments for the king of Denmark, “ those of the Privy Council would not suffer one word to be mentioned of a pike in our Commissions.” It was the same with armour. In 1658 Lockhart, the commander of the English contingent in France, specially asked fora supply of cuirasses and headpieces for his pikemen in order to impress his allies. In 1671 Sir James Turner says, “ When we see battalions of pikes, we see them everywhere naked unless it be in the Netherlands.” But a small proportion of pikes was still held to be necessary by experienced soldiers, for as yet the socket bayonet had not been invented, and there was still cavalry in Europe that could be trusted to ride home.

1 In France it is recorded that the Gardes françaises, when warned

for duty at the Louvre, used to stroll thither in twosand threes.