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CHAPTER XIV: SUBSISTENCE - Carl von Clausewitz, On War, vol. 2 
On War, trans. Col. J.J. Graham. New and Revised edition with Introduction and Notes by Col. F.N. Maude, in Three Volumes (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & C., 1918). Vol. 2.
Part of: On War
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This subject has acquired much greater importance in modern Warfare from two causes in particular. First, because the Armies in general are now much greater than those of the middle ages, and even those of the old world; for, although formerly Armies did appear here and there which equalled or even surpassed modern ones in size, still these were only rare and transient occurrences, whilst in modern military history, since the time of Louis XIV., Armies have always been very strong in number. But the second cause is still more important, and belongs entirely to modern times. It is the very much closer inner connection which our Wars have in themselves, the constant state of readiness for battle of the belligerents engaged in carrying them on. Almost all old Wars consist of single unconnected enterprises, which are separated from each other by intervals during which the War in reality either completely ceased, and only still existed in a political sense, or when the Armies at least had removed so far from each other that each, without any care about the Army opposite, only occupied itself with its own wants.
Modern Wars, that is, the Wars which have taken place since the Peace of Westphalia, have, through the efforts of respective Governments, taken a more systematic connected form; the military object, in general, predominates everywhere, and demands also that arrangements for subsistence shall be on an adequate scale. Certainly there were long periods of inaction in the Wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, almost amounting to a cessation of War; these are the regular periods passed in cantonments; still even those periods were subordinate to the military object; they were caused by the inclemency of the season, not by any necessity arising out of the subsistence of the troops, and as they regularly terminated with the return of summer, therefore we may say at all events uninterrupted action was the rule of War during the fine season of the year.
As the transition from one situation or method of action to another always takes place gradually so it was in the case before us. In the Wars against Louis XIV. the Allies used still to send their troops into winter cantonments in distant provinces in order to subsist them the more easily; in the Silesian War that was no longer done.
This systematic and connected form of carrying on War only became possible when States took regular troops into their service in place of the feudal levies. The obligation of the feudal law was then commuted into a fine or contribution: personal service either came to an end, enlistment being substituted, or it was only continued amongst the lowest classes, as the nobility regarded the furnishing a quota of men (as is still done in Russia and Hungary) as a kind of tribute, a tax in men. In every case, as we have elsewhere observed, Armies became henceforward an instrument of the Cabinet, their principal basis being the Treasury or the revenue of the Government.
The same kind of thing which took place in the mode of raising and keeping up an establishment of troops could not but follow in the mode of subsisting them. The privileged classes having been released from the first of these services on payment of a contribution in money, the expense of the latter could not be again imposed on them quite so easily. The Cabinet and the Treasury had therefore to provide for the subsistence of the Army, and could not allow it to be maintained in its own country at the expense of the people. Administrations were therefore obliged to look upon the subsistence of the Army as an affair for which they were specially responsible. The subsistence thus became more difficult in two ways: first, because it was an affair belonging to Government, and next, because the forces required to be permanently embodied to confront those kept up in other States.
Thus arose a separate military class in the population, with an independent organisation provided for its subsistence, and carried out to the utmost possible perfection.
Not only were stores of provisions collected, either by purchase or by deliveries in kind from the landed estates (Dominial-lieferungen), consequently from distant points, and lodged in magazines, but they were also forwarded from these by means of special waggons, baked near the quarters of the troops in ovens temporarily established, and from thence again carried away at last by the troops, by means of another system of transport attached to the Army itself. We take a glance at this system not merely from its being characteristic of the military arrangements of the period, but also because it is a system which can never be entirely done away; some parts of it must continually reappear.
Thus military organisation strove perpetually towards becoming more independent of people and country.
The consequence was that in this manner War became certainly a more systematic and more regular affair, and more subordinated to the military, that is the political object; but it was at the same time also much straitened and impeded in its movement, and infinitely weakened in energy. For now an Army was tied to its magazines, limited to the working powers of its transport service, and it naturally followed that the tendency of everything was to economise the subsistence of the troops. The soldier fed on a wretched pittance of bread, moved about like a shadow, and no prospect of a change for the better comforted him under his privations.
Whoever treats this miserable way of feeding soldiers as a matter of no moment, and points to what Frederick the Great did with soldiers subsisted in this manner, only takes a partial view of the matter. The power of enduring privations is one of the finest virtues in a soldier, and without it no Army is animated with the true military spirit; but such privation must be of a temporary kind, conditioned by the force of circumstances, and not the consequence of a wretchedly bad system, or of a parsimonious abstract calculation of the smallest ration that a man can exist upon. When such is the case the powers of the men individually will always deteriorate physically and morally. What Frederick the Great managed to do with his soldiers cannot be taken as a standard for us, partly because he was opposed to those who pursued a similar system, partly because we do not know how much more he might have effected if he had been able to let his troops live as Buonaparte allowed his to do whenever circumstances permitted.
The feeding of horses by an artificial system of supply is, however, an experiment which has not been tried, because forage is much more difficult to provide on account of its bulk. A ration for a horse weighs about ten times as much as one for a man, and the number of horses with an Army is more than one-tenth the number of men, at present it is one-fourth to one-third, and formerly it was one-third to one-half, therefore the weight of the forage required is three, four, or five times as much as that of the soldier’s rations required for the same period of time; on this account the shortest and most direct means were taken to meet the wants of an Army in this respect, that is by foraging expeditions. Now these expeditions occasioned great inconvenience in the conduct of War in other ways, first by making it a principal object to keep the War in the enemy’s country; and next because they made it impossible to remain very long in one part of the country. However, at the time of the Silesian War, foraging expeditions were much less frequent, they were found to occasion a much greater drain upon the country, and much greater waste than if the requirements were satisfied by means of requisitions and imposts.
When the French Revolution suddenly brought again upon the War stage a National Army, the means which Governments could command were found insufficient, and the whole system of War, which had its origin in the limited extent of these means, and found again its security in this limitation, fell to pieces, and of course in the downfall of the whole was included that of the branch of which we are now speaking, the system of subsistence. Without troubling themselves about magazines, and still less about such an organisation as the artificial clockwork of which we have spoken, by which the different divisions of the transport service went round like a wheel, the leading spirits of the Revolution sent their soldiers into the field, forced their Generals to fight, subsisted, reinforced their Armies, and kept alive the War by a system of exaction, and of helping themselves to all they required by robbery and plunder.
Between these two extremes the War under Buonaparte, and against him, preserved a sort of medium, that is to say, it made use of such means as suited it best amongst all that were available; and so it will be also in future.
The modern method of subsisting troops, that is, seizing every thing which is to be found in the country without regard to meum et tuum may be carried out in four different ways: that is, subsisting on the inhabitant, contributions which the troops themselves look after, general contributions, and magazines. All four are generally applied together, one generally prevailing more than the others: still it sometimes happens that only one is applied entirely by itself.
LIVING ON THE INHABITANT, OR ON THE COMMUNITY, WHICH IS THE SAME THING.
If we bear in mind that in a community consisting even as it does in great towns, of consumers only, there must always be provisions enough to last for several days, we may easily see that the most densely populated place can furnish food and quarters for a day for about as many troops as there are inhabitants, and for a less number of troops for several days without the necessity of any particular previous preparation. In towns of considerable size this gives a very satisfactory result, because it enables us to subsist a large force at one point. But in smaller towns, or even in villages, the supply would be far from sufficient; for a population of 3000 or 4000 in twenty-five square miles which would be large in such a space, would only suffice to feed 3000 or 4000 soldiers, and if the whole mass of troops is great they would have to be spread over such an extent of country as would hardly be consistent with other essential points. But in level countries, and even in small towns, the quantity of those kinds of provisions which are essential in War is generally much greater; the supply of bread which a peasant has is generally adequate to the consumption of his family for several, perhaps from eight to fourteen days; meat can be obtained daily, vegetable productions are generally forthcoming in sufficient quantity to last till the following crop. Therefore in quarters which have never been occupied there is no difficulty in subsisting troops three or four times the number of the inhabitants for several days, which again is a very satisfactory result. According to this, where the population is about 2000 or 3000 per twenty-five square miles, and if no large town is included, a column of 30,000 would require about a hundred square miles, which would be a length of side of ten miles. Therefore for an army of 90,000, which we may reckon at about 75,000 combatants, if marching in three columns contiguous to each other, we should require to take up a front thirty miles in breadth in case three roads could be found within that breadth.
If several columns follow one another into these cantonments, then special measures must be adopted by the civil authorities, and in that way there can be no great difficulty in obtaining all that is required for a day or two more. Therefore if the above 90,000 are followed the day after by a like number, even these last would suffer no want; this makes up the large number of 150,000 combatants.
Forage for the horses occasions still less difficulty, as it neither requires grinding nor baking, and as there must be forage forthcoming in sufficient quantity to last the horses in the country until next harvest, therefore even where there is little stall-feeding, still there should be no want, only the deliveries of forage should certainly be demanded from the community at large, not from the inhabitants individually. Besides, it is supposed that some attention is, of course, paid to the nature of the country in making arrangements for a march, so as not to send cavalry mostly into places of commerce and manufactures, and into districts where there is no forage.
The conclusion to be drawn from this hasty glance is, therefore, that in a moderately populated country, that is, a country of from 2000 to 3000 souls per twenty-five square miles an Army of 150,000 combatants may be subsisted by the inhabitants and community for one or two days within such a narrow space as will not interfere with its concentration for battle, that is, therefore, that such an Army can be subsisted on a continuous march without magazines or other preparation.
On this result were based the enterprises of the French Army in the Revolutionary War, and under Buonaparte. They marched from the Adige to the Lower Danube, and from the Rhine to the Vistula,* with little means of subsistence except upon the inhabitants, and without ever suffering want. As their undertakings depended on moral and physical superiority, as they were attended with certain results, and were never delayed by indecision or caution, therefore their progress in the career of victory was generally that of an uninterrupted march.
If circumstances are less favourable, if the population is not so great, or if it consists more of artisans than agriculturists, if the soil is bad, the country already several times overrun—then of course the results will fall short of what we have supposed. Still, we must remember that if the breadth of the front of a column is extended from ten miles to fifteen, we get a superficial extent of country more than double in size, that is, instead of one hundred we command two hundred and twenty-five square miles, and that this is an extent which in ordinary cases will always admit of concentration for action; we see therefore that even under unfavourable circumstances this method of subsistence will still be always compatible with a continuous march.
But if a halt of several days takes place, then great distress must ensue if preparations have not been made beforehand for such an event. Now these preparatory measures are of two kinds, and without them a considerable Army even now cannot exist. The first is equipping the troops with a waggon train, by means of which bread or flour, as the most essential part of their subsistence, can be carried with them for a few, that is, for three or four days; if to this we add three or four days’ rations which the soldier himself can carry, then we have provided what is most indispensable in the way of subsistence for eight days.
The second arrangement is that of a regular commissariat, which whenever there is a moment’s halt gathers provisions from distant localities, so that at any moment we can pass over from the method of quartering on the inhabitants to a different system.
Subsisting in cantonments has the immense advantage that hardly any transport is required, and that it is done in the shortest time, but certainly it supposes as a prior condition that cantonments can be provided for all the troops.
SUBSISTENCE THROUGH EXACTIONS ENFORCED BY THE TROOPS THEMSELVES.
If a single battalion occupies a camp, this camp may be placed in the vicinity of some villages, and these may receive notice to furnish subsistence; then the method of subsistence would not differ essentially from the preceding mode. But, as is most usual, if the mass of troops to be encamped at some one point is much larger, there is no alternative but to make a collection in common within the circle of districts marked out for the purpose, collecting sufficient for the supply of one of the parts of the Army, a Brigade or Division, and afterwards to make a distribution from the common stock thus collected.
The first glance shows that by such a mode of proceeding the subsistence of a large Army would be a matter of impossibility. The collection made from the stores in any given district in the country will be much less than if the troops had taken up their quarters in the same district, for when thirty or forty men take possession of a farmer’s house they can if necessary collect the last mouthful, but one officer sent with a few men to collect provisions has neither time nor means to hunt out all the provisions that may be stored in a house, often also he has not the means of transport; he will therefore only be able to collect a small proportion of what is actually forthcoming. Besides, in camps the troops are crowded together in such a manner at one point, that the range of country from which provisions can be collected in a hurry is not of sufficient extent to furnish the whole of what is required. What could be done in the way of supplying 30,000 men, within a circle of five miles in diameter, or from an area of fifteen or twenty square miles? Moreover it would seldom be possible to collect even what there is, for the most of the nearest adjacent villages would be occupied by small bodies of troops, who would not allow anything to be removed. Lastly, by such a measure there would be the greatest waste, because some men would get more than they required, whilst a great deal would be lost, and of no benefit to any one.
The result is, therefore, that the subsistence of troops by forced contributions in this manner can only be adopted with success when the bodies of troops are not too large, not exceeding a Division of 8000 or 10,000 men, and even then it is only to be resorted to as an unavoidable evil.
It cannot in general be avoided in the case of troops directly in front of the enemy, such as advance guards and outposts, when the Army is advancing, because these bodies must arrive at points where no preparations could have been made, and they are usually too far from the stores collected for the rest of the Army; further, in the case of movable columns acting independently; and lastly, in all cases where by chance there is neither time nor means to procure subsistence in any other way.
The more troops are accustomed to live by regular requisitions, the more time and circumstances permit the adoption of that way of subsisting, then the more satisfactory will be the result. But time is generally wanting, for what the troops get for themselves directly is got much quicker.
BY REGULAR REQUISITIONS.
This is unquestionably the simplest and most efficacious means of subsisting troops, and it has been the basis of all modern Wars.
It differs from the preceding way chiefly by its having the co-operation of the local authorities. The supply in this case must not be carried off forcibly just from the spot where it is found, but be regularly delivered according to an equitable division of the burden. This division can only be made by the recognised official authorities of the country.
In this all depends on time. The more time there is, the more general can the division be made, the less will it press on individuals, and the more regular will be the result. Even purchases may be made with ready money to assist, in which way it will approach the mode which follows next in order (Magazines). In all assemblages of troops in their own country there is no difficulty in subsisting by regular requisitions; neither, as a rule, is there any in retrograde movements. On the other hand, in all movements into a country of which we are not in possession, there is very little time for such arrangements, seldom more than the one day which the advance guard is in the habit of preceding the Army. With the advance guard the requisitions are sent to the local officials, specifying how many rations they are to have ready at such and such places. As these can only be furnished from the immediate neighbourhood, that is, within a circuit of ten miles round each point, the collections so made in haste will never be nearly sufficient for an Army of considerable strength, and consequently, if the troops do not carry with them enough for several days, they will run short. It is therefore the duty of the commissariat to economise what is received, and only to issue to those troops who have nothing. With each succeeding day, however, the embarrassment diminishes; that is to say, if the distances from which provisions can be procured increase in proportion to the number of days, then the superficial area over which the contributions can be levied increases as the squares of the distances gained. If on the first day only twenty square miles have been drawn upon, on the next day we shall have eighty, on the third, one hundred and eighty.
Of course this is a mere rough estimate of what may take place, subject to many modifying circumstances which may intervene, of which the principal is, that one district may not be capable of contributing like another. But on the other hand, we must also remember that the radius within which we can levy may increase more than ten miles a day in width, perhaps fifteen or twenty, or in many places still more.
The due execution of these requisitions is enforced by detachments placed under the orders of the official functionaries, but still more by the fear of responsibility, punishment, and ill-treatment which, in such cases, presses on the whole population like a general weight.
However, it is not our intention to enter into details—into the whole machinery of commissariat and army subsistence; we have only results in view.
The result to be derived from a common-sense view of all the circumstances in general, and the view which the experience of the Wars since the French revolution tends to confirm is,—that even the largest Army, if it carries with it provisions for a few days, may undoubtedly be subsisted by contributions which, commencing at the moment of entering a country, affect at first only the districts in the immediate vicinity of the Army, but afterwards, in the course of time, are levied on a greater scale, over a range of country always increasing, and with an ever increasing weight of authority.
This resource has no limits except those of the exhaustion, impoverishment, and devastation of the country. When the stay of an invading Army is of some duration, the administration of this system at last is handed over to those in the highest official capacity; and they naturally do all they can to equalise its pressure as much as possible, and to alleviate the weight of the tax by purchases; at the same time, even an invader, when his stay is prolonged in his enemy’s country, is not usually so barbarous and reckless as to lay upon that country the entire burden of his support; thus the system of contributions of itself gradually approaches to that of magazines, at the same time without ever ceasing altogether, or sensibly losing any of that influence which it exercises on the operations of the War; for there is a wide difference between a case in which some of the resources which have been drawn from a country are replaced by supplies brought from more distant parts (the country, however, still remaining substantially the source on which the Army depends for its supplies), and the case of an Army which—as in the eighteenth century—provides for all its wants from its own resources, the country in which it is operating contributing, as a rule, nothing towards its support.
The great difference consists in two things,—namely, the employment of the transport of the country, and its ovens. In this way, that enormous burden of any Army, that incubus which is always destroying its own work, a military transport train, is almost got rid of.
It is true that even now no Army can do entirely without some subsistence waggons, but the number is immensely diminished, and little more is required than sufficient to carry the surplus of one day on till the next. Peculiar circumstances, as in Russia in 1812, may even again compel an Army to take with it an enormous train, and also field-ovens; but these are exceptional cases; for how seldom will it happen that 300,000 men make a hostile advance of six hundred and fifty miles upon almost a single road, and that through countries such as Poland and Russia, shortly before the season of harvest; in such a case, any means of supply attached to an Army may be looked upon as only an assistance in case of need, the contributions of the country being always regarded as the groundwork of the whole system of supply.
Since the first campaigns of the French Revolutionary War, the requisition system has formed constantly the mainstay of their Armies, the Armies opposed to them were therefore obliged to adopt the same system, and it is not at all likely that it will ever be abandoned. There is no other which can be substituted for it with the same results, both as regards its simplicity and freedom from restraint, and also as respects energy in the prosecution of the War. As an Army is seldom distressed for provisions during the first three or four weeks of a campaign whatever direction it takes, and afterwards can be assisted by magazines, we may very well say that by this method War has acquired the most perfect freedom of action. Certainly difficulties may be greater in one direction than in another, and that may carry weight in preliminary deliberation; but we can never encounter an absolute impossibility, and the attention which is due to the subject of subsistence can never decide a question imperatively. To this there is only one exception, which is a retreat through an enemy’s country. In such a case many of the inconveniences connected with subsistence meet together. The operation is one of a continuous nature, generally carried on without a halt worth speaking of; there is, therefore, no time to procure provisions; the circumstances under which the operation commences are generally unfavourable, it is therefore necessary to keep the troops in masses, and a dispersion in cantonments, or even any considerable extension in the width of the column cannot be allowed; the hostile feeling of the country precludes the chance of any collection of contributions by mere orders issued without the support of a force capable of executing the order; and, lastly, the moment is most auspicious for the inhabitants to give vent to their feelings by acts of hostility. On account of all this, an Army so situated is generally obliged to confine itself strictly to its previously prepared lines of communication and retreat.
When Buonaparte had to retreat in 1812, it was impossible for him to do so by any other line but the one upon which he had advanced, on account of the subsistence of his Army; and if he had attempted any other he would only have plunged into more speedy and certain destruction; all the censure therefore passed on him by even French writers as well as by others with regard to this point is sheer nonsense.
SUBSISTENCE FROM MAGAZINES.
If we are to make a generic distinction between this method of subsisting troops and the preceding, it must be by an organisation such as existed for about thirty years at the close of the seventeenth and during the eighteenth century. Can this organisation ever reappear?
Certainly we cannot conceive how it can be dispensed with if great Armies are to be bound down for seven, ten, or twelve years long to one spot, as they were formerly in the Netherlands, on the Rhine, in Upper Italy, Silesia, and Saxony; for what country can continue for such a length of time to endure the burden of two great Armies, making it the entire source of their supplies, without being utterly ruined in the end, and therefore gradually becoming unable to meet the demands?
But here naturally arises the question: shall the War prescribe the system of subsistence, or shall the latter dictate the nature of the War?* To this we answer: the system of subsistence will control the War, as far as the other conditions on which it depends permit; but when the latter are encroached upon, the War will react on the subsistence system, and in such case determine the same.
A War carried on by means of the system of requisitions and local supplies furnished on the spot has such an advantage over one carried on in dependence on issues from magazines, that the latter does not look at all like the same instrument. No State will therefore venture to encounter the former with the latter; and if any War Minister should be so narrow-minded and blind to circumstances as to ignore the real relation which the two systems bear to each other, by sending an Army into the field to live upon the old system, the force of circumstances would carry the Commander of that Army along with it in its course, and the requisition system would burst forth of itself. If we consider besides, that the great expense attending such an organisation must necessarily reduce the extent of the armament in other respects, including of course the actual number of combatant soldiers, as no state has a superabundance of wealth, then there seems no probability of any such organisation being again resorted to, unless it should be adopted by the belligerents by mutual agreement, an idea which is a mere play of the imagination.
Wars therefore may be expected henceforward always to commence with the requisition system; how much one or other government will do to supplement the same by an artificial organisation to spare their own country, &c., &c., remains to be seen; that it will not be overmuch we may be certain, for at such moments the tendency is to look to the most urgent wants, and an artificial system of subsisting troops does not come under that category.
But now, if a War is not so decisive in its results, if its operations are not so comprehensive as is consistent with its real nature, then the requisition system will begin to exhaust the country in which it is carried on to that degree that either peace must be made, or means must be found to lighten the burden on the country, and to become independent of it for the supplies of the Army. The latter was the case of the French Army under Buonaparte in Spain, but the first happens much more frequently. In most Wars the exhaustion of the State increases to such a degree that, instead of thinking of prosecuting the War at a still greater expense, the necessity for peace becomes so urgent as to be imperative. Thus from this point of view the modern method of carrying on War has a tendency to shorten the duration of Wars.
At the same time we shall not positively deny the possibility of the old system of subsistence reappearing in future Wars; it will perhaps be resorted to by belligerents hereafter, where the nature of their mutual relations urge them to it, and circumstances are favourable to its adoption; but we can never perceive in that system a natural organisation; it is much rather an abnormal growth permitted by circumstances, but which can never spring from War in its true sense. Still less can we consider that form or system as any improvement in War on the ground of its being more humane, for War itself is not a humane proceeding.
Whatever method of providing subsistence may be chosen, it is but natural that it should be more easily carried out in rich and well-peopled countries, than in the midst of a poor and scanty population. That the population should be taken into consideration, lies in the double relation which that element bears to the quantity of provisions to be found in a country: first because, where the consumption is large, the provision to meet that consumption is also large; and in the next place, because as a rule a large population produces also largely. From this we must certainly except districts peopled chiefly by manufacturers, particularly when, as is often the case, such districts lie in mountain valleys surrounded by unproductive land; but in the generality of cases it is always very much easier to feed troops in a well populated than in a thinly inhabited country. An Army of 100,000 men cannot be supported on two thousand square miles inhabited by 400,000 people, as well as it would be on two thousand square miles with a population of 2,000,000 inhabitants, even supposing the soil equally good in the two cases. Besides, the roads and means of water-carriage are much better in rich countries and afford a greater choice, being more numerous, the means of transport are more abundant, the commercial relations easier and more certain. In a word, there is infinitely less difficulty in supporting an Army in Flanders than in Poland.
The consequence is, that War with its manifold suckers fixes itself by preference along high roads, near populous towns, in the fertile valleys of large rivers, or along such sea-coasts as are well frequented.
This shows clearly how the subsistence of troops may have a general influence upon the direction and form of military undertakings, and upon the choice of a theatre of War and lines of communication.
The extent of this influence, what weight shall attach to the facility or difficulty of provisioning the troops, depends very much on the way in which the War is to be conducted. If it is to be carried on in its real spirit, that is, with the unbridled force which belongs to its being, with a constant pressing forward to, or seeking for the combat and decisive solution, then the sustenance of the troops although an important, is but a subordinate, affair; but if there is to be a state of equilibrium during which the Armies move about here and there in the same province for several years, then the subsistence must often become the principal thing, the intendant the Commander-in-Chief, and the conduct of the War an administration of waggons.*
There are numberless campaigns of this kind in which nothing took place; the plans miscarried, the forces were used to no purpose, the only excuse being the plea of a want of subsistence; on the other hand Buonaparte used to say “Qu’on ne me parle pas des vivres!”
Certainly that General in the Russian campaign proved that such recklessness may be carried too far, for not to say that perhaps his whole campaign was ruined through that cause alone, which at best would be only a supposition, still it is beyond doubt that to his want of regard to the subsistence of his troops he was indebted for the extraordinary melting away of his Army on his advance, and for its utter ruin on the retreat.
But while fully recognising in Buonaparte the eager gambler who ventures on many a mad extreme, we may justly say that he and the Revolutionary Generals who preceded him dispelled a powerful prejudice in respect to the subsistence of troops, and showed that it should never be looked upon in any other light than as a condition of War, never as an object.
Besides, it is with privation in War just as with physical exertion and danger; the demands which the General can make on his Army are without any defined bounds; an iron character demands more than a feeble sensitive man; also the endurance of an Army differs in degree, according as habit, military spirit, confidence in and affection towards the Commander, or enthusiasm for the cause, sustain the will and energy of the soldier. But this we may look upon as an established principle, that privation and want, however far they may be carried, should never be otherwise regarded than as transition-states which should be succeeded by a state of abundance, indeed even by superfluity. Can there be anything more touching than the thought of so many thousand soldiers, badly clothed, with packs on their backs weighing thirty or forty pounds, toiling over every kind of road, in every description of weather, for days and days, continually on the march, health and life for ever in peril, and for all that unable to get a sufficiency of dry bread. Any one who knows how often this happens in War, is at a loss to know how it does not oftener lead to a refusal of the will and powers to submit any longer to such exactions, and how the mere bent constantly given to the imagination of human beings in one direction, is capable of first calling forth, and then supporting such incredible efforts.
Let any one then, who imposes great privations on his men because great objects demand such a trial of endurance, always bear in mind as a matter of prudence, if not prompted to it by his own feelings, that there is a recompence for such sacrifices which he is bound to pay at some other time.
We have now to consider the difference which takes place in respect to the question of subsistence in War, according as the action is offensive or defensive.
The defensive is in a position to make uninterrupted use of the subsistence which he has been able to lay in beforehand, as long as his defensive act continues. The defensive side therefore can hardly be in want of the necessaries of life, particularly if he is in his own country; but even in the enemy’s this holds good. The offensive on the other hand is moving away from his resources, and as long as he is advancing, and even during the first weeks after he stops, must procure from day to day what he requires, and this can very rarely be done without want and inconvenience being felt.
This difficulty is felt in its fullest force at two particular periods, first in the advance, before the decision takes place; then the supplies of the defensive side are all at hand, whilst the assailant has been obliged to leave his behind; he is obliged to keep his masses concentrated, and therefore cannot spread his Army over any considerable space; even his transport cannot keep close to him when he commences his movements preliminary to a battle. If his preparations have not been very well made, it may easily happen at this moment that his troops may be in want of supplies for several days before the decisive battle, which certainly is not a means of bringing them into the fight in the highest state of efficiency.
The second time a state of want arises is at the end of a victorious career, if the lines of communication begin to be too long, especially if the War is carried on in a poor, sparsely-populated country, and perhaps also in the midst of a people whose feelings are hostile. What an enormous difference between a line of communication from Wilna to Moscow, on which every carriage must be forcibly seized, and a line from Cologne by Liége, Louvain, Brussels, Mons, and Valenciennes to Paris, where a mercantile contract or a bill of exchange would suffice to procure millions of rations.
Frequently has the difficulty we are now speaking of resulted in obscuring the splendour of the most brilliant victories, reduced the powers of the victorious Army, rendered retreat necessary, and then by degrees ended in producing all the symptoms of a real defeat.
Forage, of which, as we have before said, there is usually at first the least deficiency, will run short soonest if a country begins to become exhausted, for it is the most difficult supply to procure from a distance, on account of its bulk, and the horse feels the effect of low feeding much sooner than the man. For this reason, an over-numerous cavalry and artillery may become a real burden, and an element of weakness to an Army.
[* ]From Berlin to the Vistula they suffered terribly, and the operations about Pultusk, 1806, broke down from want of provisions.—Ed.
[* ]The Civil War in America, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, the Manchurian Campaign 1904, are striking cases in illustration of this point.—Ed.
[* ]e.g. the War in South Africa 1900.—Ed.