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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/123

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113
REMARKS ON MODERN WARFARE.

him, begins to flow in; but these are as mere raindrops in the vast desert of misery; and, indeed, what money, what gifts, what kindness can compensate him for such misfortunes? And the worst of it is that there is no remedy for him. So long as the possession of the capital or other large town is the great goal of the military race, so long must armies traverse the country to reach it Thus we see that while everything is done to preserve the life, mitigate the sufferings, and supply the wants of the soldier, no thought is given to the civilian. In war everything must give way to military considerations, and every soldier's life is of definite value.

It has already been shown how the proportion of killed and wounded becomes less as science advances; and, as far as the light of history is shed on war, the diminution has indeed been great. We have seen how the slaughter at Zorndorf exceeded that of Sedan; and, according to history, Zorndorf was child's play to Cressy, where the French loss is stated to have been, in killed alone, eleven princes, one thousand two hundred knights, and thirty thousand men.[1] This again is exceeded at Cannæ, where, out of an army of eighty thousand Romans, fifty thousand were left on the field when the battle was over;[2] and, to take another instance from the same war, the battle of the Metaurus, where an army hastening to reinforce Hannibal was not merely defeated, but destroyed.

Truly war was butchery in those days! But why, the non-professional reader may ask, are battles less proportionately sanguinary than they were, in spite of modern improvements? Because every improvement made in weapons from the earliest recorded history of war has entailed corresponding alterations in tactics to meet it, and obviate, as far as possible, its effects. Instead of standing in massive columns, or in line with close ranks two and three deep, and reserving their fire until they could "see the whites of their enemy's eyes," troops now engage at longer distances, in loose order, and take advantage of whatever cover is to be found.

But it is not merely on the battle-field, as already observed, but throughout the campaign, that the soldier's life is now more jealously guarded. The noble efforts made by charitable societies have been mentioned; but other and far more powerful agencies are at work to do more than mitigate, to prevent. The great social feature of the present day is "pace;" everything goes ahead, and armies must conform to this rapid order of things. Accordingly military operations and results which used to occupy years are now compressed into months; it might almost be said, weeks. The war of 1859 was declared by Austria on April 26; the first action, Montebello, was fought on May 19; and the war was finished at Solferino on July 24. In 1866 the Prussians virtually declared war by crossing the Austrian frontier on June 23, and in seven weeks the latter power was forced to come to terms at the very gates of her capital. Prussia received the French declaration of war on July 19, 1870. On September 2 France's last army in the field was destroyed at Sedan, and the last shots were fired on February 2, 1871. Here, then, we have at once an immense saving of life. The long delays, which meant, for the soldier, exposure to the weather and to sickness; the defective communications, entailing insufficient food; the slowly dragging campaign with all its privations and hardships — all these fertile sources of disease and death have vanished, or are vanishing. It is true that the French soldiers both in and out of Metz suffered terribly from want of proper food and supplies; but it must be remembered that their administration was exceptionally bad, and the very magnitude of their defects will prevent a repetition of them.

Let us, for comparison, take one or two instances from the wars of the first Napoleon. Here is the state of his army during the invasion of Russia in 1812, not after but before meeting the enemy otherwise than in small skirmishes: —

From the want of magazines and the impossibility of conveying an adequate supply of provisions for so immense a host, disorders of every kind had accumulated in a frightful manner on the flanks and rear of the army. Neither bread nor spirits could be had; the flesh of overdriven animals and bad water constituted the sole subsistence of the soldiers . . . and before a great part of the army had even seen the enemy, it had undergone a loss greater than might have been expected from the most bloody campaign. When the stragglers and sick were added to the killed and wounded the total reached one hundred thousand.[3]

Again: Masséna entered Portugal in

  1. Kausler's "Ancient Battles."
  2. Kausler's "Ancient Battles."
  3. Alison's "History of Europe."