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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/619

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SOME PRINCIPLES OF WARFARE.

duce better results than the project of some dashing subaltern, anxious for the bauble reputation.

For such an attack an hour near midnight is usually selected, that the information may be gathered or the mischief done and a retreat effected under cover of darkness. A dark, wet, blustering, or—if the time be winter—an especially cold night is chosen. The degree of success to be attained depends naturally upon the element of surprise. Unless this be complete the attacking party will find their attempt usually quite futile.

The other sort of attack—that which has for its object the capture of the position—is usually planned to take place during the extreme darkness just preceding daybreak. The enemy has perhaps crawled on hands and knees up the slopes towards the line of sentinels. The van of this force is composed entirely of picked men, officered by the coolest heads. Signals are agreed upon, exact times for action arranged, and everything calculated to a nicety to insure that suddenness which is the very soul of success.

It is in the planning of such an expedition that true qualities of generalship are shown. It is the fashion rather to decry the military merits of Washington; yet I know of few events in history that show more sagacity than the swift crossing of the wintry Delaware and the surprise of Trenton. It was sagacious chiefly for the accurate comprehension of the probabilities. Washington knew the convivial habits of Rahl's Hessians, especially at Christmas-tide; he reckoned upon finding them in the midst of carousals, and the result proved the value of his forethought.

Under ordinary circumstances, on the march, to quarter a command inside four walls is never advisable. The men are not as readily under the eye of their officers; in case of surprise they cannot be called into the ranks as quickly; discipline insensibly relaxes, and the machine (for an armed force ought to be that, however intelligent its units) fails to respond instantaneously to the word of the chief. In case of a serious attack, however, the village may serve a most important purpose. Should the houses be substantial ones of stone or brick, each may become a most efficient, if temporary fortification. One consideration which might have prevented its occupation has now no longer any weight. Apart from any natural feeling of good will for our fellow citizens, how unwise it would be to unnecessarily exasperate them. But now in the face of the enemy, it will be surprising if any soul is churl enough to grudge a patriotic hospitality. Most of the denizens will, indeed, make haste to hide their precious persons in the cellar, but will seldom grumble at the necessity.

With the utmost celerity the baggage and horses are moved to the most sheltered spot; the guns, under strong guards, posted where they